Environment & Nature

Citizen's Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito, on left, shows the decrease in single-use plastic bags (in blue) from a survey done in December 2017 to one done in April 2018. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though there are still people in Suffolk County who regularly kick themselves for forgetting to bring their reusable bags into stores, a newly-released survey says the law that enforces a five-cent per bag fee has so far been effective.

Legislature to vote on statewide ban of plastic bags

By Desirée Keegan

At the state level, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced a bill to ban single-use plastic bags across the state April 23, which would begin in January 2019 if passed. The three-page bill, introduced by the governor a day after Earth Day, comes a little more than a year after he blocked a 5-cent surcharge that New York City had sought to place on plastic bags.

Cuomo described the measure as an effort to counteract the “blight of plastic bags” that is taking “a devastating toll on our streets, our water and our natural resources,” he said in a statement.

Seeking re-election for a third term in the fall, Cuomo then quoted an adage: “We did not inherit the Earth, we are merely borrowing it from our children.”

If the bill were to pass, New York would join California, which approved a statewide ban of plastic bags in 2016. Hawaii has a de facto ban on plastic bags; all of its counties have instituted bans.

But the measure faces an uncertain path in the Legislature, where leaders of the Assembly and the Senate had opposed the city’s bill. The measure would very likely face a stiffer challenge in the Republican-majority Senate.

Under Cuomo’s proposal, a variety of bags would be exempt from the ban, including those that contain raw meat, fish or poultry; bags sold in bulk; those used in bulk packages of fruit and dried goods; those used for deli products; newspaper bags; trash, food storage and garment bags; and takeout food bags. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation would also be allowed to exempt certain bags through regulations.

The news comes after advocates from across the state gathered the same day in Albany to hold Cuomo accountable for meeting his climate and clean energy commitments.

“Today, New Yorkers delivered a message to Governor Cuomo: Walk the talk on climate action; follow through on your words, because lasting change only happens through action and putting goals into law,” said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. “New York has a remarkable opportunity to be an international leader on climate if, and only if, we embrace a future powered by renewables. The people of the state will continue to remind Governor Cuomo of this opportunity until he takes advantage of it.”

“And this is only in three months since the law passed,” Executive Director of Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment Adrienne Esposito said to the Suffolk County Legislature’s Health Committee April 19. “This is a great success. Public behavior is changing.”

In November and December of last year, her environmental advocacy group conducted a study that showed 70 percent  of 20,000 Suffolk County shoppers surveyed left a store with a plastic, non-reusable bag in tow. Only 6 percent of customers surveyed used a reusable bag.

After a new survey of 6,000 people this month in 20 grocery stores throughout the county, just 30 percent of those surveyed bought plastic bags and 43 percent were now carrying reusable. Twenty-one percent of people shopping in those grocery stores decided not to take a bag.

“As we celebrate Earth Day it’s great to have news that the bag fee is effective, said Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport). “I know that there were concerns with adopting the bag law, but to see real, tangible results in such a short period of time, I think it’s very exciting.”

Ocean plastics have become a real concern to a number of environmental scientists and advocacy groups, and Esposito said the next goal is to see if there’s a way to reduce the use of other sources of plastic, like straws and utensil.

“Plastic is becoming a real threat to the environment,” she said.

Dr. Rebecca Grella, a Brentwood schools research scientist and teacher, surveyed Flax Pond Marine Laboratory in Old Field in October 2017 and said the amount of plastics found in the water was extremely troubling.

“What we found at the Flax Pond in one square meter [was] 17 grams of microplastics, which are plastics under 5 millimeters [large],” Grella said. “In the entire shoreline of Flax Pond — over a mile of shoreline — we extrapolated there is about 400 pounds of plastic.”

The microplastics are from larger pieces that have eroded along the sea floor until they are smaller in size. They are often ingested by sea life, which not only endangers aquatic creatures but any creature who eat them, including people.

Spencer said that while a total ban on bags would have been more efficient, there was no way to get it passed by the Legislature.

“I think in order to get to this point after years of negotiation, the nickel offered a successful compromise,” Spencer said. “I think the law has worked so well because people don’t want their nickels going to the store.”

“By charging people 5 cents there seems to be a lot of people getting angry and agitated,” Grella said. “In all actuality, it isn’t as easy to put a 5-cent fee on paper or plastic.”

Despite the success, Esposito admitted there is a chance to eventually see an increase in purchased bag use as more people get used to the law.

“We do get concerned about people getting used to the nickel and just paying it,” she said. “So that’s why we need to keep up public education.”

Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment is planning to conduct another survey in November and December to gather a much larger sample size, and survey more than just grocery stores.

By Sara-Megan Walsh

More than 95 Smithtown-area teens rolled up their sleeves to help ready Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve for visitors.

The Town of Smithtown hosted a volunteer cleanup for high school and middle school students at the Commack park April 21 in honor of Global Youth Service Day, also a day ahead of Earth Day. The teens were put to work helping clean up the pollinator and butterfly garden, clearing fallen branches and debris from the apple orchard and sprucing up the animal pens.

Jeff Gurmin, director of Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve, and his staff provided educational lessons on the rescued animals while the students were performing the cleanup. One of these lessons involved learning the importance of Mason bees in the ecosystem and installing new nesting jars for the bees inside the pollinator gardens.

Rare species that live in the Shoreham woods could be without a home if the land is cleared for a solar farm. File photo by Kevin Redding

To preserve it, they plan to purchase it.

For years, Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and his colleagues have fought tooth and nail to make the scenic stretch of woodland surrounding an abandoned Shoreham nuclear power plant off-limits to
developers. In January, he co-sponsored legislation to prevent the site from being dismantled for solar farm installation. 

And as of this month, under legislative approval in the state’s recently passed budget, not only has more than 800 acres of the site been added to the publicly protected Central Pine Barrens preservation area, as well as portions of Mastic Woods, elected officials have pushed for the state to buy the parcel of land altogether.

“[That] property is one of New York’s largest remaining original coastal forest tracts as its rugged terrain historically precluded farming activities and clear cutting.”

— Steve Englebright

Englebright announced Apr. 4 that, as per an agreement passed by state officials the previous week, roughly 840 acres of the property — made up of rolling hills, cliffs and various species of wildlife — is set to be
purchased from its current owner, National Grid, in increments over the course of a few years, beginning in 2019. He said he and his fellow officials will urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to fund the acquisition, projecting that it could cost between $20-$50 million. But a final price won’t be known until the land is appraised, he said. At this point, he said there is roughly $36 million in the state budget this year for land acquisition, from which funds can be pulled to begin the process. 

He said National Grid has signed an agreement for the sale of the property and, since the acreage lies within the Shoreham-Wading River school district, taxes will be paid by the state on behalf of the school.

By turning the Shoreham land into state property, Englebright, as well as state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), longtime ralliers against ecosystem disturbance, hope to be able to better utilize its “unique natural characteristics” and improve its ground and surface water quality and coastal resiliency, as well as support tourism.

“We’ve recovered the Shoreham property and we’re stepping off into the direction of doing positive things, so stay tuned,” Englebright said. In his announcement at the beginning of the month, he said, “[That] property is one of New York’s largest remaining original coastal forest tracts as its rugged terrain historically precluded farming activities and clear cutting. Preservation of this museum-piece landscape as well as ensuring public access is a triumph for the protection of Long Island’s natural history heritage.”

“I think Long Island has made up its mind … and is in the process of putting a provision into their solar codes that say, ‘Thou shall not cut down trees for solar.’”

— Richard Amper

Last year, Englebright proposed building a state park on the site as an alternative to National Grid’s plan to bulldoze its forest to build a solar farm in its footprint.

Together with the help of LaValle at the beginning of the year, Englebright drafted a bill calling for the expansion of the Central Pine Barrens to protect the Shoreham site and Mastic Woods — a 100-acre parcel also in danger of being deforested for a solar farm.The elected officials argued against “pitting greens against greens,” saying that while solar panels provide an important renewable energy source, they should not be installed “on pristine ecosystems.” Cuomo ended up vetoing that bill, but passed the Shoreham portion of it less than a month later.

The Mastic acreage is still slated for a solar farm installation to Englebright’s dismay, but he said he’s not giving up on saving it.

“My hope is that we can still see some leadership at the state level to provide alternative sites for solar development,” he said, suggesting the state office building in Hauppauge, which includes a large section of parking lots. “We should encourage solar installation, but work to move the project to a more worthy, and less destructive, site.”

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, commended the purchase of the property.

“This is one of the most important [proposed state] acquisitions in the history of the Pine Barrens and other woodland preservations over the years,” Amper said. “I think that it’s terrific that we are still protecting our woodlands. I think Long Island has made up its mind … and is in the process of putting a provision into their solar codes that say, ‘Thou shall not cut down trees for solar.’”

Sheryl Cohn stands in her home’s guest bedroom where the ceiling crashed and fell onto the bed during Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though it’s been more than five years since Hurricane Sandy ravaged Long Island, many people, including Huntington Station resident Sheryl Cohn, are still feeling its effects like the storm only happened yesterday.

Black mold in the basement of Cohn’s home is an aftereffect of Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Kyle Barr

In an interview after the April 11 public hearing at Stony Brook University conducted by the Suffolk County Legislature’s Superstorm Sandy Review Task Force, Cohn said her roof was ruined in the wake of the storm, and her house is falling apart around her. The ceiling in her guest bedroom fell and crashed onto the bed, and black mold has sprouted in many rooms around her house. The masonry on the outside of her home — finished only a few months before Sandy hit — fell to pieces on her driveway. She lives in fear that a piece of ceiling will fall on her head while she sits or sleeps.

“My grandson, he turned five in March, he has never been here,” Cohn said. “I would never be able to forgive myself if, God forbid, he contracted something or a piece of sheetrock fell on his head. It makes me feel horrible. He lives a half an hour away, and he’s never been to Nana’s house.”

She first looked into a contractor to fix her roof, but the firm she hired disappeared with all of the money she had already given them. She said the NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program, the state program that was created to provide aid to people whose homes were damaged during the storm, has constantly told her wrong information and switched caseworkers with her multiple times. Now she says they have stopped returning her calls and emails. Five and a half years later she still has no progress on acquiring any financial aid.

As some of the effects of Sandy linger on, Legislator DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), the Legislature’s presiding officer, helped to create the Superstorm Sandy Review Task Force, a 27-member committee of government representatives, scientists, engineers and other experts to make recommendations on how to deal with the lasting effects of Sandy as well as prepare Suffolk County for the next big storm.

“My grandson, he turned five in March, he has never been here. I would never be able to forgive myself if, God forbid, he contracted something or a piece of sheetrock fell on his head.”

— Sheryl Cohn

The task force is divided into four working groups including emergency response, resiliency, recovery and infrastructure.

“As we go and narrow down the issues they want to focus on, we want to look at what went wrong, what are the recommendations, what are the solutions,” said Joshua Slaughter, Gregory’s aide. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but we want to come out with things to make it better.”

The task force plans to have more meetings and come up with a document by December that will provide recommendations for the county.

While much of the focus of the task force is focused on the South Shore, where the damage was much more severe, problems from the North Shore not only deal with damaged property but the severe risk of beach erosion and property loss for people living close to the shore.

Professor of oceanography at Stony Brook University and task force member Malcolm Bowman said there is not enough solid data to say that “storm of the century” Sandy won’t be repeated in the near future and that rising sea levels will make each new storm do more damage.

“Five, 10, 25 years from now it will take less of a storm to do the same amount of damage,” Bowman said. “That is the challenge that we have to think about and be prepared for.”

Malcolm Bowman discusses ways to fix Long Island’s receding beachline at a Superstorm Sandy Review Task Force public hearing held April 11 at Stony Brook University. Photo by Kyle Barr

There are both natural solutions and engineered solutions up in the air for trying to fix Long Island’s receding beachline, according to Bowman. Natural solutions include planting seagrass and reestablishing oyster beds to hold the land in place, while engineering solutions include barriers and other human-made structures. Bowman said that both will come into play when preparing for upcoming storms.

Regarding aiding those who are still affected by Sandy navigate their recovery, Slaughter said the task force was thinking about recovery advocates, somebody who can be hired by the state to work with people on a consistent basis.

“I know it will be difficult, there are a lot of cases, but if you leave it to that one on one, people will be running forever, and not every consumer can get out as well as others,” Slaughter said.

“The vast, vast majority of our contractors did the best to their ability, but of course the ones we hear about are those who put people in a bad position or were unscrupulous,” chair of the task force Dave Calone said. “Our job as a governmental entity is to make recommendations to limit that as much as possible.”

Another task force meeting took place April 18 at the Southampton Town Hall. Two more meetings are scheduled for April 26 at Patchogue-Medford High School and May 2 at Babylon Town Hall.

Cedar Beach waters in Mount Sinai run into the Long Island Sound. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Suffolk County has signed off on joining New York State in suing the Environmental Protection Agency for dumping dredged materials in Long Island Sound.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) announced last summer the state would be taking legal action against the EPA after in 2016 the agency moved to increase the number of open water dumping sites in the Sound from two to three, despite a call from state government leaders of both New York and Connecticut in 2005 to reduce and eventually eliminate the practice of dumping in the Sound.

The Eastern Long Island Sound Disposal Site, now a permanent open water site for the disposal of dredged materials, is midway between Connecticut and New York, and less than 1.5 nautical miles from Fishers Island, which is part of Southold Town and Suffolk County, despite technically being in Connecticut’s waters. The disposal site is in an area that had never before been used for open water disposal.

Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who represents Southold, Riverhead and communities in eastern Brookhaven, initiated the legislation directing Suffolk County to join the action against the EPA.

“This is another step in a decades-long fight to try and get the EPA to play by the rules,” Krupski said. “The Long Island Sound is threatened by pollution, warming waters and acidification, and the last thing that should be done is to dump potentially toxic substances into the estuary.”

Legislators Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) and Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) joined Krupski in sponsoring the legislation authorizing the county to join the lawsuit.

“For more than the 30 years, leaders from both shores of the Long Island Sound have invested heavily on a cooperative effort to restore its life and majesty,” said Hahn, the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee. “As such, the decision by our neighbor to the north to dump potentially toxic pesticides, heavy metals and industrial by-products into the Sound is nearly as dumbfounding as the Environmental Protection Agency’s willingness to allow it.”

Cuomo made the case against expanded dumping when the lawsuit was announced.

“We will continue to do everything in our power to protect New York’s environment, and with the EPA’s unfathomable and destructive decision to turn the eastern Long Island Sound into a dumping ground — now is the time for action,” Cuomo said in 2016. “We will establish that this designation not only poses a major threat to a significant commercial and recreational resource, but that it also undermines New York’s long-standing efforts to end dumping in our treasured waters.”

Last year, Brookhaven and Southold towns joined the lawsuit, which contends the EPA failed to adequately investigate alternatives to open water disposal and overestimated the need for the new site. It also alleges the Long Island Sound Dredged Material Management Plan, which was approved by the EPA, violates the Ocean Dumping Act and Coastal Zone Management Act, and cited a “failure to address environmental impacts on the Long Island Sound.” The body of water was designated an Estuary of National Significance by the EPA in 1988 and is recognized as an important economic engine for Suffolk County and all of Long Island, supporting both recreational and commercial businesses and contributing billions of dollars to the regional economy.

“We’re here to send a very strong message — that we are opposed to dumping in the Sound,” Romaine said during a press conference Aug. 28 at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai. “The State of New York and this governor, Andrew Cuomo, has done a great service to this state and to the residents of Long Island by working to enjoin, in the court, the EPA from allowing continued dumping in the Sound.”

Lee Koppelman, right is presented with a replica of the sign that will mark a nature preserve dedicated in his honor, by Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine. Photo by Alex Petroski

A public servant with more than four decades of planning experience now has a nature preserve with his name on it to honor his life’s work.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) hosted a ceremony at Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket April 13 to dedicate a 46-acre parcel of woodlands in Stony Brook in honor of Lee Koppelman, who served as the first Suffolk County planner, a position he held for 28 years. He also served as regional planner for Suffolk and Nassau counties for 41 years.

“When you come to talk about preserving land; when you come to talk about planning communities; when you come to talk about vision; when you come to talk about master planners and you put that with Suffolk County, only one name comes up,” Romaine said of Koppelman. “When I look at the picture of the woods that will be named for Dr. Koppelman I can think of no better tribute to this man … Suffolk is in a large part what it is today because of this man’s vision, our master planner.”

Romaine lauded Koppelman for his dedication to preserving nature, including shoreline, wooded areas, wetlands and more. State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who served on the Suffolk County Legislature along with Romaine in the 1980s when Koppelman was also working for the county, repeatedly used the word “bold” in thanking Koppelman for his dedication.

“Suffolk is in a large part what it is today because of [Lee Koppelman’s] vision, our master planner.”

— Ed Romaine

“We had a master planner with a vision for this county that was daring and bold and unprecedented for any county in the United States,” Englebright said. “To set aside parkland — not like little pieces of confetti, but as whole sections of ecosystems and landscape segments — bold ideas. Not only was Dr. Koppleman the master planner, he was a master administrator. He hired extraordinary planners, talented people to serve with him.”

According to a press release from the town, Koppelman is regarded as the father of sustainability on Long Island, calling him the first of the “power players” to conceptualize the idea of preserving space in the interest of health and future generations. The Lee Koppelman Preserve is a heavily wooded parcel with a variety of deciduous tree and shrub species, or foliage that sheds its leaves annually. The town has owned the Stony Brook property just east of Nicolls Road and south of Stony Brook University, for about 45 years, using it as passive open space.

Cartright said she was honored to be a part of the dedication to such a prominent figure who had an impact on her district.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much time to work with Dr. Koppleman as it relates to land use and planning, but it is clear to me he has left an indelible mark here within our community,” she said.

Koppelman joked that he wished the ceremony didn’t sound so much like a eulogy, though he said he was honored to be recognized by people he had considered friends for so long.

“Having that from them is a particular pleasure,” he said.

His wife Connie Koppelman was also in attendance and joked she had heard her husband honored so many times it was getting old, but called it very pleasing to hear once again how much his work was appreciated by those around him.

Koppelman currently heads the Center for Regional Policy Studies at Stony Brook University.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks up on behalf of local anglers at Mascot Dock in Patchogue April 8 to refuse the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission’s decision to cut the state’s sea bass allocation. Photo from Lee Zeldin’s office

Local anglers aren’t taking the marine fisheries commission’s bait.

After learning the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission decided it would cut New York’s sea bass allocation quota by 12 percent while increasing that of neighboring states, small business owners and local fisherman joined forces with politicians to make a plea in Patchogue.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) was with state Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) April 9 at Mascot Dock to take what they called an aggressive stand against an unfair decision, saying the cut is coming even though black sea bass stock has rebounded — currently 240 percent greater than target biomass, or the volume of organisms in a given area. By issuing its own set of regulations for black sea bass fishing this season and entering into non-compliance, the state can take a stand against what many are saying is an inequitable decision that could further harm New York’s already struggling anglers.

“Going into non-compliance is never the first option, but it may be the only one in taking a stand for New York anglers who year after year continue to get screwed,” Zeldin said. “With the vast majority of Long Island fishing taking place in waters shared with New Jersey and Connecticut — such as the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound — it is unfair that New York anglers are, once again, being penalized with smaller fishing quotas than neighboring states.”

He pointed to the fact that two boats fishing could be sitting next to each other with one allowed to catch up to double the amount of the others.

“The hard working recreational fishing community is rallied together in an attempt to keep New York anglers on par with its neighboring states,” said Huntington captain James Schneider. “The Sea Bass stocks are extremely healthy. This is a valuable resource for all the citizens to utilize, just like the corn in Iowa and oil in Alaska.”

Long Island’s largest one-day fishing event also took place at St. Joseph’s College the same day in Patchogue, bringing together fishermen and stakeholders of Long Island’s maritime economy from across the Island.

New York State plans to sue the federal government if it loses an appeal against the restrictions on the recreational fishery for black sea bass, state officials have said. Last year, the state of New Jersey successfully fought quota restrictions on fluke and won once going before the U.S. secretary of commerce.

“The people of the marine district of New York will not accept or endorse any options with a cut to our sea bass regulations in 2018,” Center Moriches captain Joe Tangel said. “The time is now for the state, it’s stakeholders, and our representatives to take a stand.”

DEC marine resources chief Jim Gilmore warned that noncompliance, if rejected by federal regulators, could lead to a shortened or eliminated season for 2019 if there is overfishing this year.

Mount Sinai teacher Glynis Nau-Ritter conducts an experiment during class in the 1980s. Photo from Glynis Nau-Ritter

By Desirée Keegan

Glynis Nau-Ritter is not your conventional teacher.

“I know I’m different,” the Mount Sinai educator said. “I’ve been told that a lot, and I think part of it is I’ve had a lot of experience [which] I try to bring into the classroom.”

In life and in teaching, different can be memorable.

Glynis Nau-Ritter, a science teacher, has been at Mount Sinai for 27 years. Photo from Glynis Nau-Ritter

Judith Esterquest, Harvard Club of Long Island chair of the Distinguished Teacher Selection Committee, said she sees how Nau-Ritter has changed student’s lives. After a nomination by former student Seth Brand, now a junior at Harvard College, the 27-year Mount Sinai teacher was awarded the Harvard Club of Long Island’s Distinguished Teacher award.

Nau-Ritter’s experience includes a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s in marine sciences from Stony Brook University. As a teacher’s assistant at Stony Brook, she was stranded on an island while conducting research. The group was soaked, with no food or water while waiting to be rescued. Nau-Ritter said once she told her classes the story, news spread that she’d “lived on Gilligan’s Island.” When she received a teaching position at St. Anthony’s more than 30 years ago, she had no background in education, but Nau-Ritter said it never held her back.

“I was trained in pure science, so I might see things a little differently, but the kids know it and respect it,” she said. “I didn’t need classroom training. You do what you think is right, and it works. Kids constantly say ‘listen to her stories,’ because they’re real world.”

Brand said he thought his former teacher was deserving of the recognition.

“With life experience worth listening to, Mrs. Nau-Ritter is interesting both to learn about and to learn from,” Brand said. “She stands out because she didn’t just connect to elite students, she has taught nearly every type of student our town produces. She’s the zany teacher who painted life into the study of life. She’s the heart of our district.”

Nau-Ritter has run the gamut as far as subjects and levels, teaching Advanced Placement biology classes, A.P. environmental science, marine coastal science, chemistry and earth science, even special education students. She is also an adjunct professor at Stony Brook and Syracuse universities. Her work as a graduate research assistant performing studies in marine environments led to six articles being accepted by research journals. She was an avid diver and now a snorkeler.

“She’s the zany teacher who painted life into the study of life. She’s the heart of our district.”

— Seth Brand

The Port Jefferson Station resident also helped Mount Sinai’s Ocean Bowl team repeat its first-place win in the Bay Scallop Bowl this year, an academic competition testing students’ knowledge of marine sciences, and represented New York in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl. Active in advising many extracurricular activities, Nau-Ritter is also involved in the school’s environmental club, among others, and  rolls up her sleeves for an annual Cedar Beach cleanup each fall, coordinating school efforts with the Ocean Conservancy.

“Mrs. Nau-Ritter understands that academia is not confined to the four walls of the classroom,” Mount Sinai High School principal Rob Grable said of the Mount Sinai fixture. “[She is] the consummate educator and professional. She is well aware of the academic expectations that await students at the college and university level, and she prepares our high school students accordingly.”

Nau-Ritter is the second consecutive Mount Sinai teacher to be honored with the recognition. Gary Kulik, a calculus teacher, received the distinction last year. The science teacher said knowing Kulik for many years, she knows they both focus on getting their students to a higher level of thinking.

Mount Sinai teacher Glynis Nau-Ritter with her Ocean Bowl quiz team. Photo from Glynis Nau-Ritter

“The kids know you’re dedicated,” she said. “I’m there well past the afternoon bell, and I think that’s what truly makes a good teacher. It’s about being there for kids when they have questions that need to be answered. They want help in their careers or want to understand science topics.”

The Queens native also likes to bring news into the classroom, driving home her philosophy of applying the real world to her classroom.

“I’m very much into observing and noticing everything on the outside,” she said. “I like to infiltrate science in any way I can, and I love when I see the lightbulb go off when they get it. I never thought I was going to be a teacher. I was always very much into research, but seeing these kids so excited about learning, I guess I got bit by the bug to be a teacher. Looking back, I know I’ve made a difference in many lives, and for that I’m grateful.”

Nau-Ritter and the 11 other honorees will be recognized at a ceremony at Heritage Club at Bethpage April 15, and Harvard Club of Long Island will announce the distinguished teacher who will also receive a scholarship for a “Harvard experience” at Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“Devoted teachers like Mrs. Nau-Ritter offer Long Island students deep expertise, extraordinary talents and countless hours of attention,” Esterquest said. “By capturing the minds and imaginations of our children and preparing them for challenges that were unknown even a few decades ago, these teachers shape the future of our country.”

The American woodcock is back in town. Photo by Luke Ormand

By John Turner

If, in the next couple of weeks, you visit the fields of the wonderful Avalon Preserve off of Shep Jones Lane in Stony Brook at sunset and cup your ears, you might hear twittering and squeaking in the sky and moments later a more emphatic “peenting” call coming from a patch of ground in front of you. 

Cast your eyes skyward into the evening gloaming and you might catch a chunky-shaped bird zooming up from the ground rapidly and circling several times — “sky dancing” as the great conservationist Aldo Leopold once described it — before plunging earthward, typically close to an interested female. His up-and-down spiral flights at twilight are all part of a display he employs in the hope of attracting a mate. 

What is the source of this crepuscular magic? It’s the annual spring mating flight of the American woodcock, a bird that one birder has described as a “flying meatloaf,” due to its chunky nature and rich brown coloration. The woodcock has other names too, some rich in folklore, including the timberdoodle, Labrador twister, bogborer, bogsucker, night peck, whistling snipe, mud bat and night partridge.  And two names shrouded in mystery — the hookum pake and Cache-cache rouge.

The American woodcock. Photo by Luke Ormand

The woodcock is a member of the shorebird family like the piping plovers that nest at West Meadow Beach, but unlike these plovers is never found near the shore. It is a bird of fields, thickets and woodlands, preferably where they are adjacent — fields for spring displays and thickets and woods for nesting and feeding. The species is a widespread breeding bird on Long Island but is declining in abundance as the natural habitat it requires to meet its needs is destroyed by humans to meet their own needs through the construction of housing, shopping centers and industrial parks.

Not surprisingly, like all animals the American woodcock is well adapted for its lifestyle. Often on the forest floor where it rests and forages, the bird’s highly camouflaged plumage serves it quite well, a fact that was reinforced to me on a bird trip to Ohio several years ago. At a very popular birding hot spot a woodcock decided to nest at the edge of the parking lot in some old grasses with scattered branches. Park staff had found the nest and put ribbon around the nest, creating a 15-foot protective perimeter around the incubating adult. Even with help the first time it took me 15 or so seconds to locate the nesting bird. I passed by the nesting site on several occasions over the next couple of days and would stop each time to peer at the incubating woodcock. Even though I knew precisely where the nesting bird was situated, it took several seconds each time to make out her cryptic shape as she sat Zen-like blended in amid the fabric of leaves, grasses and branches.

The bird’s primary food are earthworms, and the woodcock’s long, sensitive bill can easily probe in the ground and, acting like forceps, pull worms out of the ground.  Evolution has been at work here too, with natural selection, acting over eons of time responding to its feeding strategy, which involves spending much time facing downward with a bill thrust into the soil. How so you might ask? By moving its eye position from the front of its face toward the top and back of its head, and by so doing allowing the bird to have a complete 360-degree field of view of its surroundings (in contrast humans have an approximate 210-degree field of view) including, remarkably, a 20-degree binocular-vision field of view behind its head — a good thing since this is where a woodcock is most vulnerable to attack from a predatory fox or hawk.  

This movement in eye position has caused other anatomical changes. The ears, in most birds behind the eyes, have in woodcock, moved under them. More remarkably, the shift in the position of the eye sockets back and up have caused the woodcock’s brain to rotate so that it is almost upside down!     

As woodcocks feed they rapidly probe the ground and, based on specialized cells in their bill, are able to locate their slippery prey. Walking from one set of probing holes to make another set a couple of feet away, the bird simultaneously rocks back and forth and up and down, “walking-like-an-Egyptian” through the leaf litter. What’s the adaptive value of walking like this? Ornithologists aren’t sure but think it may help them detect earthworm prey. Watch a video on YouTube and this behavior (comical to us, serious to the bird) will undoubtedly put a smile on your face.

The nature of their diet means woodcocks have to vacate colder, snow and ice-covered regions, lest they run the real risk of starvation once the ground freezes. So come autumn they leave Long Island heading south to overwinter in the southeastern United States. But return this time of year they do and right now and for a little while longer the “flying meatloaves” are advertising at Avalon and other natural venues near you!

John Turner, a Setauket resident, is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding and Natural History Tours.

Like driving a car, there are rules and regulations that boaters need to follow. Stock photo

By Herb Herman

Insurance companies recognize that a defensive driving course will make for better automobile drivers. So why not a defensive boating course for the New York State boating community? Perhaps marine insurance companies will give boaters a break in the same way that they discount premiums for drivers who take defensive automobile driving courses. The states of Florida and Kentucky already have such courses, which give the same benefits as defensive driving courses.

We all know that pleasure boating can be great fun, as well as dangerous. In many ways, boating is comparable to driving. Both boats and cars require that the driver pay keen attention and have a strong sense of “situational awareness.” In both cases, we should be cognizant of our surroundings, and to other cars or other boats.

Boating Courses

U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary: Local flotillas offer a variety of safety classes, including basic/introductory boating courses and safety courses, navigation, sailing and personal watercraft safety, among others. The Port Jefferson flotilla offers a range of boating safety courses

U.S. Power Squadron: Offers a wide range of boating courses.

American Boat Operators’ Course: Offers online boating safety courses with online certification tests for a number of states.

Boat/U.S. Foundation Courseline: The Courseline is a searchable database of current boating safety courses around the nation.

BoaterExam.com: Offers online boating safety courses with online certification tests for a number of states.

Boatsafe: Offers an online Basic Boating Certification Course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, and a Coastal Navigation Course.

PWC Safety School: Offers online courses and certification for PWC operators in several states

State Courses: Many states offer boating safety courses. The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators’ online Directory provides contact information for state boating agencies.

To contact the Port Jefferson Flotilla about boating courses, use the following for a prompt reply: info@cgapj.org. Our voicemail number is 631-938-1705.

In fact, it can be argued that pedestrians for cars are analogous to paddle boaters for powerboat drivers. In boating as in driving there are “rules of the road,” the breaking of which can lead to vehicle damage and in the worst cases loss of life. We have air bags and personal floatation devices. There are Very High Frequency radios for boats and cars have horns. Driving under the influence clearly applies to both driving cars and piloting boats: the practice is dangerous and the penalties can be severe. It is becoming more common to read about high speed boats crashing into other boats or breakwaters, where a driver is “boating under the influence.” Texting while driving is particularly dangerous, whether in a car going 30 mph or in a speed boat flying through the water at 30 mph.

But the analogy fails when we compare road maps to nautical charts. While road maps restrict us to clearly narrow paths of driving, charts for boats allow “freedom of expression” on the part of the boat driver. On the other hand, there are limits for boaters as well, being greeted with signs indicating “no wake,” and on charts indicating rocks, wrecks, buoys, marked swim areas, etc. In fog, one drives cars slower and puts on fog lights, where-as, on the water radar is used together with a bell or horn while carefully listening for other boats.

Defensive boaters generally adhere to “rules of the road” and International Maritime Organization’s COLREGS, or Conventions on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, established in 1972. These rules are very real regulations promulgated by the United States Coast Guard, which must be observed by both pleasure boaters and professional captains. These rules refer to collision avoidance regulations, which are considered to have legal basis just as automobile traffic laws determine right and wrong in courts of law. To obtain a captain’s license you must know these regulations by heart; they are the traffic laws on the water, whether on a river, lake or at sea.

Boating accidents occur too commonly, making one wonder why licensing is not required of boaters. More recently, in fact, minimum operational documentation is required for boaters, whether using a stand-up paddle or piloting a 60-foot yacht. Courses do exist, and most states demand some knowledge of the nautical rules. A variety of organizations offer certified courses. For example, the USCG Auxiliary Port Jefferson Flotilla offers a range of study programs, including “America’s Boating Course” and  “Suddenly in Command,” aimed at a passenger should the vessel operator become disabled.

Herb Herman is the Flotilla Staff Public Affairs Officer for the 1st Southern District of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxillary.

The boating regulations for New York State include the following:

Effective May 1, 2014: All individuals born on or after May 1, 1996, are now required to successfully complete an approved course in boater education in order to operate a motorboat. Approved courses include those offered by NYS Parks, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or the U.S. Power Squadron. Individuals less than 10 years of age may not take this course of instruction. Certain allowances to this law have been made for visitors to New York, persons renting a boat from a livery and persons purchasing a new boat for the first time.

Life Jacket Law for Children Under 12: Any youth under the age of 12 on boats 65 feet or less in length must wear securely fastened U.S. Coast Guard approved personal floatation device of appropriate size. It does not apply if the youth is in a fully-enclosed cabin.

Cold Weather Boaters – Personal Flotation Device Laws: Anyone underway in a boat less than 21 feet in length anytime between November 1 and May 1 must wear a securely fastened life jacket. This includes paddle boats and motorboats.

USCG vessels. File Photo

Personal Watercraft operators must:

  • Wear a U.S. Coast Guard PFD
  • Carry a U.S. Coast Guard approved visual distress signal
  • Carry a sound signaling device capable of a two second blast, audible at least 1/2 mile
  • Engine Cutoff if so equipped must be functional and attached to the rider.

Personal Watercraft operators may not:

  • Operate a PWC under the age of 14
  • Operate in excess of 5 mph within 100 feet of shore, a dock, float or anchored boat
  • Operate within 500 feet of a marked swim area
  • Operate between sunset and sunrise
  • Operate in a reckless manner and carrying more passengers than is recommend by the manufacturer

Mandatory Education Requirements for PWC operators: New York requires that anyone operating a personal watercraft complete an approved course in boating safety or otherwise be accompanied, on board, by someone 18 years of age or older who is the holder of an approved boating safety certificate. Certificates are required to be carried at all times when operating the personal watercraft.

Water Skiing: On the navigable waters of NYS, any vessel towing a water skier, parasail, or other similar device must have on board, in addition to the operator, an observer who is specifically charged with watching out for the person towed. The observer must be at least 10 years of age. Waterskiing and similar towed activities are limited to the hours between sunrise and sunset, provided that visibility is not reduced. Anyone towed by a vessel must wear a securely fastened U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD. This includes those on water skis, inner tubes, parasails, inflatable devices, to name a few. The preferred PFD for these activities is the type III special purpose device as it is impact rated, form fitting, and generally affords better visibility for the skier. Remember the skier is considered a passenger and is to be counted against the maximum passengers allowed. Exceeding that number can be considered reckless operation.

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