Environment & Nature

Installation of the pre-treatment septic tank at the O'Dwyer's home in Strong's Neck. Photo from Tom O'Dwyer

When it came to their cesspool being replaced, one Three Village couple based their choice on their concern for local waterways.

Excavation at the O’Dwyer’s home in Strong’s Neck. Photo from Tom O’Dwyer

Tom and Carolyn O’Dwyer decided to install a low-nitrogen septic system on their Strong’s Neck property this spring after learning about the treatment process. Unlike a cesspool where bacteria and nitrogen can seep out, and into local water sources, Tom O’Dwyer said in their new system water percolates through a septic system, and the advanced process removes more nitrogen than a cesspool. Excessive nitrogen can affect the oxygen level in water where it is below the necessary levels to support marine life.

“It’s good for the environment, and it’s good technology,” he said. “I do this stuff every day, so I figured I would lead by example.”

O’Dwyer, an environmental engineer, recently attended classes offered by the county to learn about the systems and the grants Suffolk has to offer to those who choose to install them.

As of July 1, Suffolk County residents who voluntarily decide to replace their cesspools will need to replace them with a system consisting of a septic tank and leaching pool at a minimum. Contractors will need to register the system with the Department of Health Services. While residents can choose a conventional septic system, another option is an advanced device that removes more nitrogen. County grants of up to $20,000 are available for residents who qualify, where the county has been offering the grants for the last two years. There is also an additional state grant of up to $10,000, which can mean a total of up to $30,000.

O’Dwyer said he and his wife bought their house four years ago, and while the cesspool hadn’t given them too many problems, after hearing about the low-nitrogen units, he thought it was the best way to go, especially with living 500 feet from the water, a part of their home they love.

“Our family enjoys swimming, boating, fishing and clamming in the local waterways, so clean water is very important to us,” he said.

“Our family enjoys swimming, boating, fishing and clamming in the local waterways, so clean water is very important to us.”

— Tom O’Dwyer

Involved with larger projects like past work on the Tappan Zee Bridge, he began hearing about low-nitrogen installation projects out East and decided to start learning about the systems and soon began designing them.

O’Dwyer said so far most of the work he has seen has been on the East End of Long Island, and he’s trying to get the word out to his friends about the grants and is currently working on three different homes on the North Shore where the homeowners are tired of their cesspool problems.

He said he found the process to apply for a grant from the county easy. He filled out an application and submitted a deed and tax forms. He said residents can then pick an engineer to design the system and pick a contractor off the list of county-approved contractors. Suffolk then directly pays the contractor.

The engineer said a site can be difficult at times due to certain ground conditions, and homeowners may have to pay more than the average of nearly $20,000. Field testing may be required to see if the ground is clay or sand and how well the soil will drain. As for engineers, the price averages around $2,500.

Treated wastewater effluent sample bottle, right, beside spring water bottle, left. Photo from Tom O’Dwyer

Peter Scully, deputy county executive for administration, said Suffolk County sanitary code requires that the low-nitrogen systems treat down to at least 19 milligrams per liter of total nitrogen, and it’s the most stringent requirement in the northeast. He said while the total nitrogen from cesspool discharge is said to be around 65 milligrams per liter, “the health department staff routinely see samples with concentrations of total nitrogen far in excess of 65 mg/l and in excess of 100 mg/l.” He added that conventional septic systems discharge  61 mg of nitrogen per liter, and the low-nitrogen systems create a 70 percent reduction when compared to cesspools.

George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, calls those who upgrade to low-nitrogen septic systems “harbor heroes” because, he said, they care enough about water quality to do the right thing.

“It’s good to hear that homeowners in our area are installing low-nitrogen septic systems and are having a positive experience and setting an example for their neighbors,” he said. “This is especially important on Strong’s Neck where the transit time for groundwater to Setauket Harbor and Conscience Bay is less than two years.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), a proponent of the bill, said the code was updated to match what was passed in 1972 for new residential construction where conventional septic systems with a leeching pool needed to be installed.

“They knew way back — almost 50 years ago — they knew the cesspool itself was not enough,” she said. “It’s essentially a hole in the ground.”

Hahn said studies of subwatersheds in the county, where more than 70 percent of structures are not hooked up to sewer systems, have shown quite a bit of nitrogen from residential waste.

She said while the low-nitrogen septic systems are not yet mandated like the conventional septic systems, it’s possible as early as next year that they could be for new home construction.

“They knew way back — almost 50 years ago — they knew the cesspool itself was not enough.”

— Kara Hahn

Hahn said the commitment of the county executive, legislators and county staff members has included working with the wastewater industry to find ways homeowners can switch over to the new system, how to install and to know exactly what the systems do.

“It’s been a tremendous accomplishment to get where we’re at,” she said.

She said many residents might save money with the low-nitrogen systems if faced with replacing a cesspool or at least break even instead of choosing a conventional septic system. She did say there is a small electric charge based on the system annually and a little more maintenance that residents should be aware of when choosing the system.

As for the grants, it must be the applicant’s primary residence occupied year-round. Most residents who have applied have qualified, Hahn said.

Last week O’Dwyer sampled his new system, and he said the effluent looked clear with no odor. The field samples also showed reduced nitrogen levels. The environmental engineer said he and his wife are happy they installed the system, and now through his business, he plans to help others do the same.

“My whole career I was searching for something,” he said. “I was passionate about a lot of things, but this intertwines my passion and my hobbies with my education and engineering background, so it’s a nice match.”

Interested residents can call Suffolk County Department of Health Services, 631-852-5811, for more information.

Juvenile clams maturing in Brookhaven’s hatchery. File photo by Alex Petroski

The Town of Huntington and the State Department of Environmental Conservation have separate rules and regulations related to shellfishing, which may confuse some people. Erica Ringewald, a spokesperson for the DEC agreed to answer a few general questions about shellfish harvesting in local bays and harbors. 

Are diesel boats dredging or sail dredging in Huntington Harbor and have they “stolen” millions of dollars’ worth of clams and oysters? Does the state punish this? 

The Town of Huntington has jurisdiction over the method of shellfish harvesting in town waters, which comprise Huntington Bay, Hunting Harbor, Centerport Harbor and Northport Harbor. Shellfish harvesting, regardless of method, is prohibited by DEC in Huntington Harbor, which is closed to the taking of shellfish year-round. 

Has shellfish dredging been identified as a problem?

DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement responds to a few complaints each year, particularly in winter, and often works with the Town of Huntington to investigate depending on the type of complaint made and where the alleged harvesting may be taking place. DEC has not received reports of the illegal harvest of millions of dollars of shellfish at this location.

Fines for violations include: 

First offense for taking shellfish in closed section ranges from $250 to 1,000 (misdemeanor) and value of shellfish illegally taken can be added to the fine. First offense for taking shellfish by mechanical means ranges from $250 to 1,000 (misdemeanor) and the subject could lose the boat and all equipment. In addition, two convictions within a five-year period would result in mandatory license revocation and an administrative suspension of up to 6 months.

Are there different rules and catch limits for commercial vs. recreational shellfish harvesting? 

No permit is required for recreational shellfish harvesting from state lands. Local towns have additional restrictions on catch limits, size limits, season, type of gear and may require residency and additional permits. Recreational harvesters are required to check with the local town they are harvesting from for specific information.

Commercial shellfish harvesters are required to obtain a New York State Shellfish Digger Permit. This permit allows only the permit holder to harvest, cull, sort or tag clams, oysters, mussels and scallops taken from certified or open waters for commercial purposes. An additional Shellfish Digger Vessel Endorsement is required to allow a Shellfish Digger Permit holder to endorse his or her permit to a single vessel which covers all people on board the vessel while harvesting, culling, sorting or tagging hard clams and oysters. For state shellfish harvest limits visit www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/29870.html.

How long has shellfishing been prohibited in Huntington Harbor?

Huntington Bay is certified (open) for the harvest of shellfish. Approximately 50 percent of Huntington Harbor (southernmost portion) was closed to shellfish harvesting in 1975. The harbor was entirely closed to shellfish harvesting by 1986. For information on shellfish closures in Huntington Harbor, refer to www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/103483.html#Huntington_Harbor11.

Huntington Harbor

It was baymen versus baymen at the podium during Huntington’s town meeting last month, with two sides arguing whether or not the shellfish harvesting technique known as sail dredging should be banned.

Water quality concerns prompt discussions about harvesting shellfish using mechanical and sail dredging techniques. The state prohibits harvesting shellfish in Huntington Harbor. Rendering from New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Charles Murphy, the president of the North Shore Baymen’s Association, said that the practice of raking with mechanical means through the bay floor is barbaric, destroys underwater lands and results in overharvesting. He recommends only hand-harvesting shellfish.

“Over the last six years, the operators of four diesel powered boats have stolen millions of dollars’ worth of clams and oysters from the Town of Huntington’s waters,” Murphy said in  a letter circulated in the community. “These diesel boats, as well as some of the smaller boats, have put a big time hurting on the bay.”

Other baymen said a ban or regulation over the practice of sail dredging, which differs from mechanical dredging, is unwanted and likely even unnecessary, pointing out that the last 10 years’ oyster harvests have been particularly good.

“We’re getting squeezed,” Bob Cannon, a fisherman who spoke at the meeting, said to the town council. “I prefer if you don’t make our lives any more difficult.” 

George Doll has been a Northport fisherman since 1958 and formerly served as Northport’s mayor for the last 12 years. Sail dredging, he explained in an interview, is mainly used during the winter months when fishermen struggle to make ends meet. It relies on wind in a sail to drive a rake through the bay floor to harvest shellfish. 

Dom Spada, the deputy mayor and police commissioner of the Village of Huntington Bay, said in a phone interview that mechanical dredging, using motorized engines to harvest shellfish, has always been prohibited.

The town, he said, has issued in recent years summons to people harvesting shellfish using mechanical equipment. He was unable to provide statistics on the problem.

As for sail dredging, he said it’s status quo. The seasonal and locational restrictions that apply for hand-harvesting also apply to sail dredging. 

The board has 90 days from May 29 to vote on the issue. However, the topic is currently not on the next town meeting agenda.

Core issue: Water quality 

The dredging debate is surfacing just as New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is advancing a major $10.4 million Long Island Shellfish Restoration Project. Huntington Harbor was selected as one of five bodies of water where hundreds of millions of clams and oysters are being sowed to improve water quality.

Christopher Gobler, the chair of Coastal Ecology and Conservation at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, is a co-chair for the project. He said he knows of no good information about the shellfish population trends for Huntington Harbor over time that might indicate whether or not shellfish are overharvested. One trend is clear: Huntington Harbor’s water quality needs improving. Gobler said his team identified five ecosystems that would most benefit from additional filtration, and Huntington ranks among the chosen few.  

Suffolk County Health Department has documented 139 beach closures over the last decade in Huntington Harbor caused by high levels of Enterococcus bacteria, a fecal bacterium. 

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, together with the Town of Huntington, Stony Brook University and the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, will plant up to 650,000 adult clams, 5.1 million seed clams and 1 million oysters spat-on-shells this summer and fall, based on availability.

The project hopes to improve water quality, mitigate harmful algal blooms, restore shellfish populations and increase biodiversity in coastal waters.  

“Let’s hope the dredge boats don’t steal these clams,” Murphy stated in the document that he circulated in the community. 

Forsythe Meadow County Park. Photo from Suffolk County

Soon a walk in the park could turn into park stewardship for interested Suffolk County residents thanks to a Ward Melville High School student’s love for a Stony Brook park.

East Setauket teen Jake Butkevich inspired a pilot park program in Suffolk County. Photo from Maryann Butkevich

Recently, county legislators approved a plan to create a parks stewardship pilot program that will be rolled out in 10 unstaffed Suffolk parks. The idea began when East Setauket resident Jake Butkevich, 17, approached Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) about volunteering in Forsythe Meadow County Park in Stony Brook.

Butkevich said in an email that he was inspired to propose a program after volunteering in the Adirondacks where he was assigned a trail to maintain. He chose Forsythe Meadow because he wanted to give back to his community.

“Nonstaffed parks like Forsythe Meadow are perfect for stewards to take care of,” he said. “Much of the work that I have done while taking care of this park throughout the fall of 2018 and this spring is menial like trimming back bushes and picking up fallen branches, both of which make walking the trails a much more enjoyable experience.”

Hahn, who sponsored the bill to create the stewardship program, said she’s excited about the program, and while Scout troops and other groups have adopted parks in the past, she said the new initiative will allow individuals to become park stewards.

Butkevich said he’s excited about the pilot program, and he was appreciative of Hahn working with him on the idea.

“I hope this program will be effective in keeping our county parks better maintained and inspiring young people like myself to give back to the community and to be passionate about the outdoors,” he said.

Hahn said she hopes neighbors of unstaffed parks will volunteer to walk it once a week, pick up small pieces of trash and report back to the county about trees that need to be trimmed, branches that have fallen or any kind of vandalism. She said stewards will enable the county to be more on top of what is going on at the unstaffed parks, and in turn staff workers can then be dispatched to mow grass or trim trees. The legislation doesn’t name specific parks, which allows for 10 stewards to work on a park they choose.

“It would give us real eyes on the park,” Hahn said.

According to Hahn’s office, there are more than 63,000 acres of county parkland.

The pilot program will run for one year to determine the program’s feasibility for possible expanded use within the county, and after the year is up, the parks department will make the decision about fully implementing and continuing the stewardship program.

In a statement, Philip Berdolt, commissioner of Suffolk County Parks and Recreation, said the program would help to engage residents in the conservation of local parklands.

“By becoming a steward of Suffolk County Parks’ green spaces, you will help ensure that our county’s natural resources are cared for and kept safe for future generations,” he said.

The bill now awaits County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) signature.

NATURE’S WONDER

Bev Tyler of East Setauket submitted this sweet photo taken on May 22. He writes, ‘A  robin’s nest discovered in a boxwood at home gave me the opportunity to take pictures of the babies as they progressed from just born and sleeping, above, to wide awake and hungry. The nest is now empty as of May 27.’

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com

By John Turner

One of the many joys of summer in Setauket is spending time in the backyard relaxing with a book, swimming in the pool, gardening or enjoying a family meal together. I’ve come to realize that during these backyard experiences we’re often not alone. We’re sharing the space around us — as wrens, orioles and robins fly about and butterflies dance among flowers. Sometimes I’ll catch a glimpse of a chipmunk or squirrel scampering around, all going about their daily lives.

I’ve come to look especially forward to seeing one creature each summer and to do so I must gaze skyward to look for a small bird in ceaseless flight, dipping and zooming here and there, all the while twittering away.

Photo courtesy of the National Audubon Society

I’m referring to the chimney swift (Chaetura pelagica), a sooty brown bird with sharp sickle-shaped wings that’s been aptly described as a “cigar with wings.” I think that’s a little bit inaccurate — it’s more like a “half-smoked cigar with wings,” with its stubby tail reminiscent of the chewed on end of the cigar. The genus name Chaetura means “bristle tailed” in Greek, a reference to the stubby tail, tipped with small pointy feathers (these bristles help anchor the bird when roosting on vertical surfaces).

The chimney swift is one of four swift species native to North America; the other three — the slightly smaller Vaux’s swift and the slightly larger black- and white-throated swifts are western birds.

When nesting and roosting, chimney swifts live up to their names, taking refuge within chimneys, old wells, the eaves of barns and other human structures. Before human structures became available, they presumably nested on cliffs and in caves and tree hollows, which a few still do today.

Swifts don’t so much fly as appear to flutter. With surprisingly shallow wing beats, this fluttering bird cuts through the air remarkably well, flying ceaselessly about in wide and tight circles as it searches for the aerial prey that sustains them.

In fact, swifts are the most aerial of all birds. A study published in 2016 documented a common swift, the European counterpart to our chimney swift, staying in the air for 10 months; that’s right, flying around for 10 entire months, not 10 weeks or 10 days, which would be enough of an outstanding feat to make any ultra-marathoner proud, but 10 months of not touching land! Scientists made the obvious conclusion the bird routinely slept on the wing, shutting down half its brain at a time while keeping the other half active. She finally came back to earth to mate, lay eggs and raise young.

Occasionally swifts break from their typical fluttery flights to display courtship behavior. During these displays a mated pair flies together, about a foot or two apart, and synchronously throw their wings into a deep V-shaped position and glide for a second or two before resuming regular flight. It’s a little joy to behold and life is worth living due to little joys, right?

Chimney swifts raise their young in small, half-moon-shaped nests made of small sticks built onto the sides of walls. Both sexes help to build the nest and they employ an interesting material to bind the nest together — saliva. During the breeding season the salivary glands of both sexes swell, producing a gluelike saliva that hardens to hold the nest together.

On a related note: If you’ve ever heard of, or perhaps tried, bird’s nest soup, you’re consuming a food made from the edible saliva of two bird species related to the chimney swift — Asian swiftlets. These nests support an industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually. In fact, the nests of swiftlets are among the most expensive animal products in the world, fetching as much as several thousand dollars per kilogram. So if you’ve tried the soup, kudos to you because you’re obviously financially well off!

The eggs are incubated for about three weeks and, once born, the young grow rapidly, fledging in about the same amount of time. Development of the young is accelerated by “helpers at the nest”; unpaired adult swifts that sometimes assist in the raising the young of paired swifts, helping the young birds to fledge more quickly.

Ornithologists aren’t exactly sure why the helpers do this although it is a behavior seen in a few other bird species. Research has shown that some of the unpaired birds are young from the previous year so perhaps they know they’re helping to pass along genes similar to their own.  

Wooden chimney swift towers at West Meadow Beach. Photo by John Turner

One last fascinating aspect of chimney swifts is their ability to go into torpor, a physical condition halfway between full active mode and hibernation. In torpor a swift’s breathing and heart rate diminishes, as does its overall metabolic activity, thereby helping to get them through periods of cold, inclement weather when little to no food, in the form of small aerial insects, is available. 

Some good places nearby to see chimney swifts are the Stony Brook Village Center and Port Jefferson Village. A little further afield you can enjoy their flight over more urban areas of Long Island, where chimneys are available, including downtown Riverhead, Islip and Bay Shore.

As part of an Eagle Scout project, wooden chimney swift towers were constructed at West Meadow Beach in the hopes of attracting them but to date do not appear to be used. Perhaps someday they will be.

A resident of Setauket, John Turner 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 & Natural History Tours.

East Beach in Port Jefferson is getting smaller due to erosion, according to a consulting firm contracted by the village. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Town of Brookhaven has finally accepted a bid for the Mount Sinai Jetty restoration project, setting the town up to start reconstruction on the damaged jetty at the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor.

Bay Shore-based H&L Contracting won the bid at a total of just over $7.4 million. The next lowest bid came in from SumCo Eco-Contracting of Massachusetts at almost $8 million.

“Quite frankly this was the hardest part.”

— Jane Bonner

Issues with the jetties have been on the town’s radar from way back. “It’s been 11 long years,” said Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point). “But good things come to those who wait.”

Rocks have collapsed, submerging the seaward ends of the jetties at high tide, while the elevation of the jetty stones above the water at high tide was less than 4 feet in some places. Holes in the jetty had also allowed sand to run through, causing further erosion to surrounding bluffs and beachfronts. The western jetty has been of particular concern to neighboring Port Jefferson village and its beaches.

At the June 6 meeting, town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) thanked Bonner for her work on acquiring the funds for the jetty repairs.

“It will benefit all those who use the harbor,” he said.

In September 2016, the town received $3 million in a Dormitory Authority of the State of New York grant, originally secured through New York state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). An additional $5.6 million for the project is coming from the town, partially out of a bond.

Bonner said there is another follow-up meeting required before the date can be set when the repairs will take place, though she suspects construction should begin in either fall or winter of this year or the start of next year, well after the summer season has ended. 

Further meetings will be held to determine where and when the project will begin, though the councilwoman said she hopes construction will last only one season, but it’s dependent on how mild the following winter will be.

Mount Sinai Harbor. File photo by Alex Petroski

“Quite frankly this was the hardest part,” Bonner said about coming up with funds for the project. “We’re very pleased with the bid, and then we roll it out.”

The town is hoping Suffolk County will complete their annual dredging after the jetties are fully repaired.

Meanwhile, officials in the Village of Port Jefferson relished the news of the bids being awarded for the dredging project. Trustees have held off on several major renovations to East Beach surrounding the country club because of those damaged jetties. 

Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant said the village is in contact with the county about getting that sand back for East Beach once the harbor is dredged.

The news about the finalized bid was met with pleasant surprise at the village’s June 3 meeting. Garant said the village hopes they will receive a permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to start construction of a retaining wall on the bluffs outside of the Port Jefferson Country Club. She said the DEC approved the village’s plans May 15. 

Officials said they may wait until after the county finishes their dredging to get their sand back before starting on repairs to the bluff.

Many who attended the 3rd annual Eastern Long Island Mini Maker’s Faire in Port Jefferson were first greeted to was a bear — hulking, rusted statue of a bear with arms of wood and corroded steel, a torso of used tires and organs made from oil filters and oil sumps. In the center of his chest was a cow heart suspended in formaldehyde.

“Bear” the sculpture by local team Dirt People Studios, was just one of many demonstrations of science, art and ingenuity at the fair, hosted by the nonprofit Long Island Explorium.

Scientists demonstrated the dangers of storm surges on Long Island, while robotics teams from Stony Brook University and other local high schools showed off what they have worked on for the past year.

Local DiYers like Jim Mason of LB Robotics, a maker of strange and interesting robotics, showed his work with a 3D printer and his projects using parts and tools he has found around his home.

“The music, the sun, the fun and play, see ya next year, Robo say,” Mason posted to his Facebook page.

From left, Brian X. Foley, Leg. Kara Hahn, Adrienne Esposito, Robert DiGiovanni Jr. and artist Jim Swaim
Environmental sculpture to highlight the plastic pollution crisis

By Heidi Sutton

The community came out to Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park last Sunday morning to celebrate the unveiling of Shelley the Sea Turtle, a six-foot metal sculpture that was installed at Field 1 to serve as a teaching tool to bring attention to the plastic pollution crisis around the world. It is the first of its kind in New York state.

The installation was made possible by a grant from The Long Island Futures Fund, an organization that supports projects that aim to protect and restore the Long Island Sound and unites federal and state agencies, foundations and corporations to achieve high-priority conservation objectives.

From left, Robert A. DiGiovanni Jr., Leg. Kara Hahn, Adrienne Esposito and Brian X. Foley at the unveiling;

The unique 3-D piece was created by artist Jim Swaim of Environmental Sculptures who attended the June 2 event. Based in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the company designs and builds large metal renditions of animals with the sole purpose to create art that inspires action. The sculptures are hollow and the community is encouraged to fill them with plastic items that would otherwise litter the landscape or waterways.

Since 2014, the company has installed over 20 environmental sculptures across the country in the shape of pelicans, whales, fish, frogs and a buffalo to, according to its website, “Serve as visual symbol of why we should protect the environment we enjoy.”

The unveiling, which was preceded by a beach cleanup, was hosted by Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society and the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

“This outstanding metal sculpture was undertaken for a very, very important reason — to highlight the importance of combating plastic pollution in Long Island Sound and all our waterways throughout the state, throughout the country and indeed throughout the world,” said Brian X. Foley, deputy regional director of the Long Island region for the state’s park system at the unveiling.

Plastic pollution is a global epidemic and considered one of three top concerns for ocean health. According to National Geographic, 73 percent of all beach litter is plastic and includes filters from cigarette butts, bottles, bottle caps, food wrappers, grocery bags and polystyrene containers.

“Today’s event is about combining art with the environment in order to fight plastic pollution.” Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, concurred. “Seals, turtles, whales, dolphins unfortunately are eating all of the plastic pollution that humans are leaving on the beach that washes out into the sea and when they ingest that plastic pollution it kills them,” she said.

Christina Faber of the Northport High School E Team deposits a plastic bottle into the sculpture.

George “Chip” Gorman, deputy regional director for New York state parks spoke about how the new sculpture complements the recent environmentally sensitive renovations to the park and a new environmental education center. “[Shelley] is going to educate people as they walk by that eliminating plastic will protect the environment but will also protect sea mammals and it’s a great project,” he said.

Chief Scientist Robert A. DiGiovanni Jr. of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society was hopeful for the future. “We are seeing more sea turtles and humpback whales in the Long Island Sound. We can make a difference about marine debris. There’s no reason why it needs to be there and to pick it up and move it off the beach is pretty easy,” he said.

“Clearly there has been a sea change in public attitude about plastics and it’s because of people like you who are taking a stand,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Port Jefferson).“We were successful in our plastic straw ban, our polystyrene ban, in reducing water bottle use and the plastic bag ban that now is statewide because people like you have said ‘No more.’ We don’t want to litter our landscape. We want to take care of what we have and we need to continue that fight,” she said.

The event concluded on a symbolic note, with children and students from Northport High School filling Shelley with plastic debris.

“Shelley will be a symbol for how important it is to remove the plastic that you bring onto the beach and maybe never bring any more the next time you come,” said Hahn.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

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