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Climate Change

Cutting costs, growing local economy, combatting climate change, modernizing transportation among Romaine’s goals for ‘18

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine at his state of the town address April 3. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) is nothing if not confident about the future of the town he oversees.

Brookhaven Town’s leader delivered his annual state of the town address at Town Hall April 3 in which he touted its financial footing while also looking toward the future.

“The state of Brookhaven Town is good and getting better,” Romaine said. “Brookhaven Town, though not perfect, is still a town full of promise and hope. It is up to all of us who live here to help realize that promise.”

“Brookhaven Town, though not perfect, is still a town full of promise and hope. It is up to all of us who live here to help realize that promise.”

—Ed Romaine

Brookhaven has a structurally balanced budget for the current fiscal year that stays within the state mandated tax levy increase cap, in addition to maintaining its AAA bond rating from Standard & Poor’s financial services company. Romaine detailed a few cost-saving measures he said he’d like to accomplish going forward, including more sharing of services amongst other municipalities as a way to streamline government and save taxpayer money.

“Sharing resources and services to reduce the size, scope and cost of government is one of the best ways to control and reduce expenses,” he said, adding the town remains in the running for a shared services grant from New York state that, if selected, would add $20 million to Brookhaven’s effort. “We must continue to closely monitor our capital and operating expenses. Our residents cannot pay more in taxes. Too many Long Islanders are leaving.”

He said growing the local economy through additional jobs was another priority for him and the town going forward. Romaine said he still hopes Brookhaven will be selected as the second national headquarters for Amazon, which he said could bring in about 50,000 jobs to the town. He also praised the work of the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, an arm of municipalities dedicated to funding projects that will stimulate job creation and economic growth.

“The IDA closed on 20 projects that will result in $435 million of private investment and the creation of 4,050 permanent or construction jobs,” the supervisor said. “In addition, the IDA has 13 approved projects that have or are about to close in 2018, with the potential for another $440 million of private investment into our town, creating or retaining another 1,000 jobs.”

Romaine detailed several “green” initiatives already underway or on the horizon in 2018, noting the real threat to Brookhaven posed by climate change and sea level rise.

“With the largest coastline of any town in New York state, the Town of Brookhaven knows full well that global climate change and sea level rise is real and poses significant challenges in the decades ahead.”

— Ed Romaine

“With the largest coastline of any town in New York state, the Town of Brookhaven knows full well that global climate change and sea level rise is real and poses significant challenges in the decades ahead,” he said.

He said the town has adopted a practice of “strategic retreat” from commercial and residential development in low lying areas to allow nature to reclaim wetlands. He called land use and zoning among the most important powers a town government possesses. He also pointed to the imminent closure of Brookhaven’s landfill as a wakeup call in need of attention in the coming years. He said the town is ready to work with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and other towns to formulate a regional plan for solid waste disposal.

The supervisor also made an impassioned call for updates to the Long Island Rail Road, including electrification of the Port Jefferson line east beyond the Huntington station, adding he co-authored a letter to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority asking for just that with Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) and Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R).

“It is time for a better transportation system, one based on 21st century innovation, not 19th century technology,” Romaine said.

An eroding bluff at Long Beach has been stabilized by constructing a stone seawall at the bluff’s base. The bluff has been terraced to capture material that rolls down from the top and can be planted with vegetation that will help stabilize it. Photo from R. Lawrence Swanson

By R. Lawrence Swanson

Much has been proposed, written, and even implemented, to sustain, armor, adapt, make resilient and conserve the low-lying areas of Long Island’s South Shore since Hurricane Sandy five years ago. That coast is vulnerable to extensive inundation by accelerated sea level rise, the vagaries of storm surges and climate change. Indeed, there are core areas that now flood regularly on the semi-monthly spring tides.

The North Shore of the Island has been largely neglected in the sea level rise/storm surge discussions and planning even though it is equally vulnerable to these processes. The entire geomorphology of the North Shore is subject to change with or without anthropogenic intervention. The challenge is to be able to manage this change so that the environmental services — harbors of refuge, beaches, wetlands, fisheries, aesthetics — provided by the complex, precarious topography of the North Shore remain functionally stable for the region, communities and private interests.

Much of the North Shore is composed of unconsolidated morainal bluffs — many 50 feet or higher — accompanied by down-current cobble barrier beaches. These spits form the small pocket bays and harbors that are the locations of historic settlements. They provide refuge for people and marine ecosystems from the energy of waves and storms. The beautiful pocket bays of Mount Sinai, Port Jefferson, Stony Brook, Northport, Huntington, Cold Spring Harbor and Oyster Bay are now the cultural centers of the North Shore.

The protective spits that form these bays are fed by erosion of the adjacent coastal bluffs. In order for the pocket bays to be maintained, spits must have a sufficient sediment supply to overcome erosional forces and sea level rise, which is currently increasing at about 1.5 feet a century in Long Island Sound, but undoubtedly will accelerate here and globally. The general process is that the bluffs are undercut at their base or toe by waves and extreme tides. This undercutting will become more severe as sea level rises and we experience greater and longer lasting storm surges in the coming years. The bluffs then slump — about 2 feet per year — creating new beach material, some of which is transported by littoral (near-shore) currents to create and sustain the barrier spits. The small beaches at the toe of the bluffs reduce the wave run-up and thus bluff erosion.

“The North Shore of the Island has been largely neglected in the sea level rise/storm surge discussions and planning even though it is equally vulnerable to these processes.”

— R. Lawrence Swanson

Construction of seawalls for which there is increasing demand along the bluff faces hinders these natural processes. Beaches fronting the bluffs will disappear so that waves will be beating directly on the seawalls. Little material will be available for transport to maintain the barrier spits with rising sea level. Those spits will then be subject to overwashing — perhaps exposing the embayments behind continuously to the open waters of the Sound.

What can be done in the way of resiliency to preserve the character of the North Shore and yet also protect individual properties on the Sound — both those on the cliffs and those on the barrier spits? Is hardening the bluffs and beaches at great expense the answer? Do we let nature take its course? Do residents on the barrier beaches have rights to the sediment of eroding cliffs in much the same way that downstream California claims rights to Colorado River water? If hardening of bluffs is allowed, will there be enough sediment at the toe to maintain a beach to reduce wave run-up?

New York State needs to examine this issue and develop guidance that works for all. Current policies are confusing and perhaps conflicting. This is a regional issue that cannot be solved property by property or even on a town-by-town basis.

With the state of development on the North Shore, some form of intervention or adaptation is probably required; nature cannot be left totally unchecked, given the grim climate projections for this coming century. Extensive hardening of the shoreline is equally unpalatable. There are negative downstream effects from almost all anthropogenic solutions. We need to understand and minimize them. Once started, hardening will eventually result in entombing us, totally eliminating the natural beauty and functionality of the North Shore that we enjoy. Perhaps there are softer forms of resilience that will allow preservation of natural processes yet significantly reduce the anticipated severe erosion from wind, rain, accelerated sea level rise and climate change. We need to find those techniques and implement them consistently.

In the meantime, there are zoning measures that can be practiced that will reduce erosion of these steep coastal faces — establish respectable setbacks, reduce or eliminate clearing, minimize variances resulting in overbuilding and consider downstream impacts of stabilization measures.

Long Island’s low-lying South Shore is at risk to the negative impacts of storm surge, sea level rise and climate change and much attention is being given to it. The North Shore, while seemingly elevated from these impacts, is not. Because its steep coast consists of unconsolidated sediments, it will experience extensive erosion. We need to understand, plan for and implement regional adaptive measures to reduce potential adverse effects to assure resilience of this vulnerable coastal environment.

R. Lawrence Swanson is the interim dean and associate dean of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

Under sunny skies on a warm spring day, hundreds gathered at the corner of Nesconset Highway and Patchogue Road in Port Jefferson Station April 29 to make their voices heard in opposition of policies and promises from President Donald Trump (R) that reversed environmental protections.

On March 28, Trump signed an executive order to rescind two actions taken by the Obama administration that sought to establish a climate action plan and reduce methane emissions. It also established a review to determine if the Clean Power Plan, another Obama administration policy designed to reduced carbon pollution from power plants, should remain in place. Trump’s budget blueprint for the 2017-18 fiscal year released in March included significant cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, and he has also publicly stated his intention to consider withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a United Nations convention on climate change. He has said the goal in rolling back measures designed to protect the environment is to relieve the financial burden the measures create for American businesses.

The North Country Peace Group and Long Island Rising, two activist groups who have been quick to break out the poster board and markers to congregate and send a message to Trump and politicians who support his policies, organized a sister march of the People’s Climate March in Washington D.C. The Port Jefferson Station march saw several hundred protestors armed with signs and chants line the streets to voice their opinion.

“I knew that the people’s climate march was happening and I wanted us to have a local event for Long Island, for Suffolk County,” Rosemary Maffei, a member of both activists groups and an organizer of the Port Jeff Station march said in an interview during the event. “The reasons being, of course, I believe in climate change. I believe it’s happening and unfortunately we have someone in the White House right now who doesn’t believe in it. I think it’s important for us to come out in numbers and to show our representatives that this is an important topic for us and that we want them to represent us and how we want them to vote.”

A press release advertising the event also stated the two groups’ intentions.

“The rally will be an event for our community to come together and voice our concerns about the policies this administration is enacting which will have devastating effects on our planet,” the statement said. “We rally for our planet because if we don’t stop the insanity who will?”

Other residents from the North Shore shed light on their reasons for attending.

“We protect ourselves in all sorts of ways for the future, and here we are allowing the future of our children and grandchildren to be so jeopardized,” John Robinson from Setauket said.

A Port Jefferson resident shared Robinson’s concerns.

“He’s undoing incredibly important legislation that was designed to save the environment,” Merle Neidell said.

A view of the Stony Brook house, a half a mile from the water. Photo from Donna Newman

Erratic weather patterns have become more prevalent, causing climate change believers to cite them as evidence of the declining health of the Earth. Still, for many people the changes have had no tangible effect on their daily lives. I experienced my first, rather distressing significant outcome of the climate crisis seven years ago. It had to do with my homeowners insurance.

Donna Newman. File photo.

We purchased our first — and only— home in northern Stony Brook in 1973. Major selling points for our little white cape cod house were: it was located in the renowned Three Village school district; it was on a large, beautifully landscaped piece of property in charming Old Field South; and it was not far from West Meadow Beach on the Long Island Sound.

When choosing homeowner’s insurance we selected a major company with a solid reputation. It was already providing our automobile coverage and even offered a discount if you took out multiple policies.

Over the years I only remember submitting one insurance claim, when a burst pipe damaged the wall-to-wall carpeting in our living room and dining room. Even through major hurricanes like Gloria and Sandy we never experienced any flooding in our basement.

Then in 2010 — quite out of the blue — a letter arrived from the company informing us it would no longer be able to provide us with the homeowner’s insurance we had counted on for 27 years.

What? Why?

We always paid our premiums on time. We had only one claim in all those years. I was completely bewildered.

I placed a call to the office of the president of the company and was told that, due to recent statistical data evaluations, the company had determined it was necessary not to renew coverage for anyone living within a mile of the water.

“But,” I argued, “you have insured us for 27 years. Our house is in the exact same location as it always has been. I just don’t understand.”

She explained that things had changed; that there would be no exceptions; and that I needed to look for a new insurance carrier.

“What about longevity,” I countered. “What about loyalty?”

She said it wasn’t personal and that she was sorry.

I threatened to drop the auto coverage on our two cars and to tell everyone I knew about this upsetting turn of events.

“Whatever you need to do,” she replied, and she apologized again.

So it was that, already in the year 2010, climate change was being taken very seriously by big insurance companies seeking to minimize their liability.

I began to wonder if we’d even be able to get insurance, considering that “things had changed.”

It took us some time to locate a company that would provide the same level of insurance coverage we’d previously obtained. Thankfully, with the help of a local broker, we were able to get a policy with a much smaller company that we had never heard of before.

And here we are in 2017, hoping that our policy with our current insurer will be renewed come the fall. We’re also hoping we’ll never again have the need to file a claim.

Donna Newman is a former editor of The Village Times Herald.

Ben May is a Mount Sinai High School senior student. Photo from Ben May.

It doesn’t take much to start helping the environment.

Eight-year-old me was exploring a stream with my brother and our friends. As we began heading home, I spotted a large plastic container sitting on the bank. Everyone else seemed to ignore it, but I wandered over to examine its contents. After a quick examination, I decided it contained nothing of interest and threw it back to the ground. My brother yelled up at me to ask why I was not recycling it.

I responded, “No one else is going to do that, why do I have to clean it up?”

With a stern face, he said, “For exactly that reason.”

From this quick conversation, my outlook on the world was forever changed. Humanity faces many challenges, but not everyone chooses to help confront them. The environment is in danger of destruction; it is our obligation to save it.

I began my environmental activism at Mount Sinai High School. As a sophomore, I founded the Environmental Outreach Club. This club implemented a recycling program and facilitated annual beach cleanups each year with a turnout of more than 70 students. It amazed me how many people were ready to help. Even a small group of passionate youth can make an observable difference. Then, last fall, I found myself one of three high school students on the planning committee for the first Long Island Youth Ocean Conservation Summit. This event, where participants heard from environmentalists such as Fabien Cousteau, was meant to bring about youth-driven conservation efforts. Since earning a minigrant from the summit, the Environmental Outreach Club has been pressing for the elimination of one-use bottles and cans from the cafeteria of Mount Sinai High School.

Thus far, we have installed three water bottle refill stations throughout the school and plan on selling reusable bottles at the cafeteria. We hope to later replace the vending machines with beverage fountains to eliminate the need for one-use cans and bottles. Local projects usually have the most powerful impact to someone’s community with small-scale actions creating large-scale changes; however, national endeavors bring a far-reaching aspect to environmentalism.

Last year, I had the honor to be a member of the seven-person Sea Youth Rise Up delegation to lobby President Barack Obama (D) to establish a new marine protected area off the coast of Cape Cod. We met with the Environmental Quality Council at the White House, ran a live international broadcast on World Oceans Day, filmed a documentary and visited the United Nations in New York City to bring attention to the cause. As a teenager, it is difficult to enact change at the federal level, but this opportunity enabled me to engage in debates that directly affected legislation. When Obama heard our collective voices and established the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument, which protects large sections of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Cod, I realized change can be created by anyone — no matter their age. After returning from the Sea Youth Rise Up campaign, I was appointed communications coordinator for the national Youth Ocean Conservation Summit organization, was a guest speaker at this year’s Long Island YOCS, and have been invited to speak at an upcoming TEDx event in London this June.

From my limited personal experience so far, the world of environmentalism is composed of smart, passionate people. Today — even when temperatures and sea level are rising, fish stocks are being depleted, water is becoming scarce, petrochemicals are being added to the oceans at an exponentially increasing rate and a mass extinction is occurring — I am still extremely hopeful. After meeting other people who help mitigate these ailments of our society,  both by small-scale and large-scale actions, I am confident in our collective ability to save our world.

Over my few years of being an environmental advocate, I have learned two things: the opportunities to get involved are endless, and an open door foreshadows more doors to come. Every opportunity that presented itself to me has been the product of some previous action I had taken — all tracing back to my brother yelling at me to throw out a piece of plastic.

Ben May is a Mount Sinai High School senior and is the founder of the Environmental Outreach Club at the school.

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Today I am going to pull back the curtain and let you see what is going on backstage at the newspaper office. To begin, there is the issue of the newspaper that you are now holding in your hands. You have probably noticed that it looks different from the typical weekly offering. Almost the entire edition is devoted to a single concerning theme. We did this last year for the first time, devoting space to the opioid epidemic that is affecting the ranks of our young. We had hoped to get the conversation going in our communities about this troubling scourge, which too often is hidden away for its stigma. The resulting issue was so positively received that we decided to pick some of the other urgent subjects and, likewise, concentrate attention on them individually from time to time. It is our belief that when the community is unified at recognizing and dealing with a challenge, we can overcome.

The current issue deals with climate change. We are not entering into discussion here about whether or not it is real. Instead we are reporting on changes to our local environment that are taking place, organizations that are tracking and dealing with those changes, governmental programs that have been formed in response to weather-related events and some of the economic effects of the above that touch all of us. We are especially interested, as always, in finding out what our residents are thinking and feeling, and helping you to understand the many aspects of the subject.

We hope we have done that this week. Look on our website for a video that accompanies this theme at tbrnewsmedia.com. We welcome your responses, via email, texts or letters to the editors.

On a more joyful note, we partied hearty Sunday night celebrating the 2016 People of the Year. As you know, we fill the last issue of each year with profiles of those working hard to make our towns and villages the wonderful places that they are. Some of those we salute are rather obvious, some are hidden from sight and largely unappreciated. You, our readers and our reporters who are covering the news have nominated most. We offer the spotlight of publicity to help the winners in their efforts and also to express our appreciation for their ongoing work. We limit the candidates to those who work here, live here or are doing something valuable that makes our lives better.

Then, the following March, in a grand hands-across-the-community collaboration, the Three Village Inn, Stony Brook University and Times Beacon Record News Media throw a fun party for the winners in Brookhaven Town and their guests, along with community leaders and some previous winners. Framed certificates and explanations are offered at that time. It’s a perfect setting for productive cross-pollination of ideas and resources, and sometimes the Inn has to urge us out because guests are reluctant to leave the conversations at the end. Normally we would run some of the photos from the party kindly taken by Setauket resident Bev Tyler in the following issue to remind readers of the winners, but that feature will have to await next week’s edition.

Also, did you know that nine first ladies among the 45 so far were born in New York state? That’s a concentration of 20 percent born in what amounts to 2 percent of the union. And they are a fascinating bunch, with stories surrounding them all. We have made a video of them, “The Ladies of Liberty,” narrated by Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan, complete with photographs and artifacts, and we showed a bit of it at the party. If you would like to use the video at fundraisers or other group meetings, ask us for the link. It’s free, it’s a service we offer, it runs for about an hour and it’s engaging for the history painlessly learned. Or you can view it soon on YouTube or our website.

So that is some of what has been happening in our world.

  

Image by TBR News Media.
Image by TBR News Media.

By Victoria Espinoza

Fishing is a nearly $2 billion industry on Long Island, bringing hundreds of jobs to Suffolk County annually. Rising water temperature has the potential to drastically change the business.

Water temperatures have been consistently increasing, and scientists and professionals said this trend could disrupt and permanently alter the species of fish that reside in local waters.

Lobster

More than twenty years ago, Northport and other coastal towns and villages on Long Island enjoyed a prosperous lobster fishing market. Flash forward to 2017, and that market is a distant memory. In the late 1990s, the lobster population effectively “died out” in the Long Island Sound. Kim McKown, unit leader for marine invertebrates and protected resources for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said at the time scientists declared it “a  commercial fishing disaster.”

“Researchers felt that it was the perfect storm,” McKown said in a phone interview. She said studies done concluded increased water temperatures led to added stress for lobsters, which affected their immune system and caused their demise. It was discovered lobsters in the Sound had suffered from hypoxia, a lack of oxygen in the water. Hypoxia is caused by warmer water, as warm water is able to hold less oxygen than cold — and this condition can also cause an increase in nitrogen levels, another harmful effect on fish. Hypoxia has occurred in the summer months in the Sound for decades, varying in longevity and density.

According to the Long Island Sound Study, “Sound Health 2012,” conducted by the NYSDEC, the area where hypoxia occurred in that summer “was the fifth largest since 1987 — 289 square miles, about 13 times the size of Manhattan.” It also lasted “80 days, 23 more than average between the years 1987 and 2012.” As water temperature levels rise, so does the duration of hypoxia in the water.

“Water temperatures were so high [then], scientists also found a new disease in lobster.”

—Kim McKown

“Water temperatures were so high [then], scientists also found a new disease in lobster,” McKown said. The disease was calcinosis, which results in calcium deposits forming crystals in the lobsters’ antenna glands. It was discovered in the remains of dead lobsters.

According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the organization tracking lobster population in southern New England, including the Long Island Sound, the population has continued to dwindle since the late ’90s. A record low population count occurred in 2013 and the organization said the stock is “severely depleted.”

“These declines are largely in response to adverse environmental conditions including increasing water temperatures over the last 15 years,” the ASMFC said in a study.

Huntington fishing captain James Schneider substantiated the data based on his own observations, saying the lobster population has not bounced back in full since then, although he has started to see more in recent years.

Winter flounder

Lobsters are not the only species in the Sound impacted by increased water temperatures. “Ask any fisherman the last time they caught a winter flounder,” Mark Tedesco, the director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Island Sound Office, said in a phone interview. “They’ll probably tell you, boy, there aren’t too many of them out there.”

Tedesco’s claim was backed up by another captain. “Winter flounder have been diminished big time,” Northport fishing captain Stuart Paterson said in a phone interview.

He remembers fishing for winter flounder all the time as a kid in the spring and the fall. That’s no longer the case. “It’s really been a shame,” he said.

The ASMFC’s tracking of winter flounder proves the fish has had a species dip mirroring the southern New England lobster. In 1984 winter flounder landing, or total catch, was at almost 35 million pounds. In 2010 the winter flounder hit their lowest landing total — just 3.5 million pounds.

“The flounders are on the same levels as the lobsters, it’s a slow and grueling comeback,” Schneider said. He also said he saw winter flounder suffering from a familiar foe — hypoxia and increased levels of nitrate.

The reason for the disappearing fish is indicated  in its name — a winter flounder has a hard time thriving in a Long Island Sound with warming temperatures. The ASMFC cites habitat degradation as one of the reasons the population has decreased, along with overfishing and low genetic variability.

That’s not to say all flounder species are vanishing from the water. Fishermen agree flukes, also known as summer flounder, are seeing steady growth.

“There is a lot more fluke flounder than there used to be,” Paterson said. “Their stock is vibrant.”

The trend is not surprising to the Long Island Sound Study. “Many cold water species common in Long Island Sound have been declining in abundance over the last two decades, while many warm water fishes have been increasing,” its “Sound Health 2012” report stated.

“Historic sea surface temperature data…show[s] a significant warming trend along the U.S. coast… that exceeds local atmospheric temperature increases and is comparable to the warming rates of the Arctic.”

—University of Connecticut study

Lori Severino, public information officer for the NYSDEC said in an email as black sea bass numbers have increased, fish like winter flounder have dwindled.

“A number of colder water species have declined, including American lobster and the winter flounder,” she said.

Long Island Sound Study leader Tedesco said he wouldn’t rule out the possible impact of water temperatures in the shifts in population of fish species in the Sound.

“Fishermen are used to seeing changes in populations, and sometimes that’s because of fishing pressure but it can also be because of these larger changes in climate,” Tedesco said.

The future of species in the Sound is far from clear if climate change continues and water temperatures continue to rise.

“It’ll change the mix of species,” Tedesco said. “You had one species [lobsters] that were obviously important
to humans, but also helped structure the 
environment in the Long Island Sound. You lose that and there are other species that will take its place — and we’ll see that [happening] if waters continue to warm. Some species will get a competitive advantage over others.”

In a study conducted by the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection and the University of Connecticut from 1984 to 2008, it was proven — from tracking finfish in the Sound — water temperatures were causing warm water fish species to increase and cold water fish species to decrease. It also confirmed average catch in the spring has significantly decreased throughout the years — when the water is colder — while mean catch in the fall has increased, when the water is warmer.

“Collectively the abundance of cold-adapted species declined significantly over the time series in both spring and autumn,” the study found. “In contrast the abundance of warm-adapted species increased.”

The Connecticut research also said the trend in the Long Island Sound is consistent with trends and forecasts at larger biogeographic scales.

“Historic sea surface temperature data recorded from 1875 to 2007 show a significant warming trend along the U.S. coast north of Cape Hatteras [North Carolina] that exceeds local atmospheric temperature increases and is comparable to the warming rates of the Arctic,” the study continued. “It should be expected that the warming trend along the northeastern coast will continue.”

NYSDEC spokesperson Severino agreed North Shore water is rapidly warming.

“The western north Atlantic, Long Island Sound included, is one of the fastest warming places on the earth,” she said.

And the fishermen on Long Island may be discovering firsthand what a more powerful predatory species could do to diversity among fish in the Sound.

Black sea bass

“The problem is the predation from the black sea bass, we see lobster antenna in their mouths when we catch them,” Schneider said. “They’re expanding and spreading.”

His fellow North Shore fisherman agreed. “They’re eating everything — they eat juvenile everything,” Paterson said. “I would say [black sea bass] is 200 percent above even where they were last year.”

Severino, confirmed the warming water temperature in the Sound has played a part in the black sea bass population increase.

“Black sea bass are aggressive, highly opportunistic predators feeding on everything from amphipods to crabs to squid to fish.”

—Lori Servino

“Shifts in the distribution in the number of fish possibly associated with warming waters have been seen over the last decade,” she said in an email. “Generally, fish formerly associated with the Mid-Atlantic [area] are now more prominent in southern New England, including … the Long Island Sound. Black sea bass is an example of this.”

Severino also agreed black sea bass can be a formidable carnivore.

“Black sea bass are aggressive, highly opportunistic predators feeding on everything from amphipods to crabs to squid to fish,” she said. Further upstate in New York, the same changes in aquatic life are happening.

Hemlock forests, known for the shade and cool temperatures, have been declining due to an increase of an invasive insect population that’s thriving due to warmer winters. As hemlock habitats decline, so do New York state’s fish — and the brook trout that rely on that habitat.

“The loss of brook trout will cause changes in New York’s fishing economy and may have disproportionate effects on small, fishing-dependent communities in which millions of dollars are spent by tourists who come to fish for trout,” a study entitled “Responding to Climate Change in New York State” said. The report was carried out by Columbia University, CUNY and Cornell University for the state Energy Research and Development Authority. “Hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing make significant contributions to New York state’s economy. More than 4.6 million people fish, hunt or wildlife watch in the state, spending $3.5 billion annually.”

The future of the Long Island Sound remains uncertain, but in a warming climate the one thing guaranteed is change.

Beetles, which thrive in warmer temperatures, are threatening pine trees

Residents from Cutchogue work together to place sand bags at the edge of the Salt Air Farm before Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Photo by Prudence Heston

While surrounded by salt water, Long Island is in the midst of a drought that is heading into its third year. Amid a trend towards global warming, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation sent a letter to water district superintendents throughout Suffolk and Nassau County to ask them to lower their water consumption by 15 percent in the next three to four years.

“The primary area that is ripe for reduction is summertime watering,” said Bill Fonda, a spokesman for the DEC. The department has asked the water districts to reduce consumption, but it’s up to the districts to determine how they will reach those goals, he said.

The letter, written by Tony Leung, the regional water engineer, indicated that “results for 2015 show both Nassau and Suffolk County have exceeded the safe yield as cited in the 1986 Long Island Groundwater Management Program,” and that “a concerted effort is needed to reduce peak season water demand.”

The letter, which doesn’t cite global warming, indicates that salt water intrusion, contaminant plumes migration, salt water upconing and competing demand have raised concerns about a need to reduce peak season water demand.

Observers suggested the demand was likely rising for a host of reasons, including increased use of underground irrigation systems and a rise in the population of Long Island.

Water experts welcomed the DEC’s initiative, which is one of many steps Long Islanders can and are taking to respond to a changing environment.

“Most people have no clue how much water they use…They get their water bill, it is what it is, and then they write a check and send it in.”

— Sarah Meyland

Sarah Meyland, the director of the Center for Water Resources Management and associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology, commended the DEC for asserting control over water withdrawals.

“Most people have no clue how much water they use,” Meyland said. “They get their water bill, it is what it is, and then they write a check and send it in.”

She admitted changing consumer behavior will be challenging.

The first step in ensuring water suppliers meet this request, Meyland suggested, is to inform the public about the need for less water use, particularly during the summer months. One possible solution is for irrigation systems that turn off automatically after a rainstorm.

The change in climate has posed a threat to trees that commonly grow on Long Island.

Pine trees have faced an invasion from the southern pine beetle, which extended its range onto Long Island in 2014 and is now a pest that requires routine managing and monitoring.

Long the scourge of pine trees in southern states, the pine beetle, which is about the size of a grain of rice, has found Long Island’s warmer climate to its liking.

“We’re assuming either [Hurricane] Irene or Sandy brought it in,” said John Wernet, a supervising forester at the DEC. “Because it’s getting warmer, the beetle has been able to survive farther north than they have historically.”

Forestry professionals in the south have waged a battle against the beetle for years, trying to reduce the economic damage to the timber market. On Long Island, Wernet said, they threaten to reduce or destroy the rare Pine Barrens ecosystem.

The beetle can have three or four generations in a year and each generation can produce thousands of young.

The first step relies on surveying trees to find evidence of an infestation. Where they discover these unwanted pests, they cut down trees and score the bark, which creates an inhospitable environment for the beetle.

“If left alone, the beetle is like a wildfire and will keep going,” Wernet said. Without direct action, that would be bad news for the pine warbler, a yellow bird that lives near the tops of pine trees, he said.

Wernet added Long Island’s drought also increases the risk of
wildfires.

Farmers, meanwhile, have had to contend with warmer winters that trick their crops into growing too soon while also handling the curveballs created by unexpected cold snaps, frosts, and the occasional nor’easter.

Dan Heston and Tom Wickham survey waters that entered Salt Air Farm after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Prudence Heston

Last year, the colored hydrangeas of Salt Air Farm in Cutchogue budded early amid warmer temperatures in March, only to perish amid two eight-degree nights.

“We lost [thousands of dollars] worth of hydrangeas in two nights,” said Dan Heston, who works on the farm with his wife Prudence, whose family has been farming on Long Island for 11 generations. “Our whole colored hydrangea season was done.”

Heston said he’s been a skeptic of climate change, but suggested he can see that there’s something happening with the climate on Long Island, including the destructive force of Hurricane Sandy, which flooded areas that were never flooded during large storms before.

“I think the climate is shifting on Long Island,” Prudence Heston explained in an email. “Farmers are constantly having to adapt to protect their crops. In the end, pretty much every adaptation a farmer makes boils down to climate.”

Changes on Long Island, however, haven’t all been for the worse. Warmer weather has allowed some residents to grow crops people don’t typically associate with Long Island, such as apricots and figs. For three generations, Heston’s family has grown apricots.

Other Long Islanders have attempted to grow figs, which are even more sensitive to Long Island winters, Heston said. This was not an economically viable option, as each plant required individual wrapping to survive. That hasn’t stopped some from trying.

“People are now finding our winters to be warm enough to make [figs] a fun back yard plant,” Prudence Heston said.

In other positive developments, the Long Island Sound has had a reduction in hypoxia — low oxygen conditions — over the last decade, according to Larry Swanson, the interim dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.

“The state and the Environmental Protection Agency have agreed to a nitrogen reduction program,” Swanson said. “It appears that the decline in nitrogen may be having a positive effect.”

Brookhaven Town took a similar step in 2016.

The town board approved a local law proposed by Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) last summer that established nitrogen protection zones within 500 feet of any body of water on or around Long Island. The zones prohibit new structures or dwellings being built in that range from installing cesspools or septic systems.

Ryan Madden from the Long Island Progressive Coalition leads a march calling for renewable energy in the form of wind. Photo from Ryan Madden

Scientists and politicians are relied upon to do the bulk of the work to reduce the effects and pace of climate change, but local activist organizations on Long Island are taking on the burden as well.

“I think it’s really important for grassroots and local solutions to tackle this crisis — to be at the forefront of the solutions,” Ryan Madden, with the Long Island Progressive Coalition said. “A lot of the problems we see in this country, in New York State and on Long Island, whether it’s rampant income inequality, access to education, just issues of local pollution and ailments related to the combustion of fossil fuels, all of this connects into a larger system that informs why climate change is a problem in the first place.”

The LIPC, a community-based grassroots organization that works on a range of issues related to sustainable development as well as achieving social, racial and economic justice, has a program for improving energy efficiency. The group helps low- to moderate-income homeowners take advantage of free energy assessments and obtain financial resources to be able to go through energy-efficient retrofits and ultimately help reduce carbon footprints. The organization also recently entered the solar arena.

Members of Sustainable Long Island’s youth-staffed farmers market in New Cassel. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

“It’s part of a larger push to democratize our energy system so that communities have a say in the build out of renewable energy and have ownership or control over the systems themselves,” Madden said. “We’re pushing for constructive and far-reaching changes, which is what we think is needed in this time.”

Madden added he has fears about the future because of comments President Donald Trump (R) has made in the past regarding climate change and his previously stated belief it is a hoax. Trump signed an executive order March 28 that served as a rollback of the Clean Power Plan, an initiative meant to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. The order infringes on commitments to the Paris Agreement, a universal, legally binding global climate deal.

“We’re trying to meet that with really bold, visionary climate policy that has a wide range of economic transformative impacts, while also remaining on the ground helping homeowners and institutions make that switch through energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Madden said.

Other organizations like the Sierra Club, a nonprofit, are also focused on renewable energy, but in the form of offshore wind.

“Offshore wind is the best way to meet our need for large-scale renewable energy that can help us fight climate change and provide good jobs for New Yorkers, but we aren’t used to getting our energy this way in the United States,” Sierra Club organizer Shay O’Reilly said. “Instead, we’re used to relying on dirty fossil fuels, and our energy markets and production systems are centered on these ways of producing electricity.”

Gordian Raacke, with Renewable Energy Long Island also works on this front. He and his group advocated for and eventually convinced the Long Island Power Authority to do a study on offshore wind power.

“January of this year, LIPA agreed to sign a contract for New York’s first, and the country’s largest, offshore wind project,” he said.

New York Renews hosted a town hall to get community members together to talk about climate change issues. Photo from Ryan Madden

Deepwater Wind will build and operate the 90-megawatt project 30 miles east of Montauk Point in the Atlantic Ocean. The project will generate enough electricity to power 50,000 homes.

In 2012, the group also commissioned a study to evaluate whether Long Island could generate 100 percent of its annual electricity consumption from renewable energy sources. The study, The Long Island Clean Electricity Vision, showed that it would not only be possible, but also economically feasible.

Currently, the LIPC has a campaign to pass the Climate and Community Protection Act in New York State, which would decarbonize all sectors of New York’s economy by 2050, redirect 40 percent of all state funding to disadvantaged communities — which would decrease pollution over decades — and ensure a transition away from fossil fuels.

These topics and others are taught in classes at Stony Brook University under its Sustainability Studies Program. Areas of study include environmental humanities, anthropology, geology, chemistry, economy, environmental policies and planning. Students do hands-on and collaborative work and take on internships in the field. They also clear trails and develop businesses to help increase sustainability among other hands-on initiatives.

“Our mission is to develop students who become leaders in sustainability and help to protect the Earth,” Heidi Hutner, director of the program said. “Climate change and pollution is the most important issue facing us today. We have to find a way to live on this planet and not totally destroy it and all of its creatures. Our students are skilled in many different ways, going into nongovernmental or not-for-profit organizations, becoming law professors, lawyers, journalists, scientists, educators, but all focused on the environment. A former student of ours is the sustainability director at Harvard Medical School.”

Students from the program organized to march in the People’s Climate March in 2014, and will be doing so again April 29. The purpose of the march is to stand up to the Trump administration’s proposed environmental policies.

Students and staff at East Islip High School work with Sustainable Long Island to build a rain garden. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

Undergraduates in the program also work closely with environmentally active local legislators like state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), and county Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport). There is also a Sierra Club on campus.

The LIPC regularly hosts round tables to show other environmental groups what it’s up to and town halls to let community members share their stories and even visit assembly members to lobby for support. Sustainable Long Island, a nonprofit founded in 1998 that specialized in advancing economic development, environmental health and social equality for Long Island, also focuses on low-income communities through its programs.

Food equality and environmental health are the group’s biggest areas of concentration because according to Gabrielle Lindau, the group’s director of communications, the issues are tied to each other.

“There is a polarization here on Long Island,” she said. “We have extremely rich communities, and then we have extremely poor communities.”

According to Lindau, 283,700 people receive emergency food each year, so Sustainable LI builds community gardens and hosts youth-staffed farmers markets to combat the problem.

“It’s a game-changer for low income communities,” she said. “These communities gardens are great because they give people access to fresh, healthy food, and it also puts the power in their hands to find food and also, the learning skills to be able to grow that food. It’s also a paid program, so it’s giving them an opportunity to earn what they’re working toward.”

The youth-staffed farmers markets, which began in 2010, have been a real catalyst for change in communities like Farmingdale, Roosevelt, Freeport, Flanders, New Castle and Wyandanch where access to fresh food is not a given.

Children help Sustainable Long Island build a community garden. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

“We have so much farming going on out east here on Long Island and I don’t think people who live here ever step back to look at all the food we have here in our own backyard,” Lindau said. “These markets are an incredible program because they’re not only teaching kids in communities about agriculture where they wouldn’t have necessarily had the opportunity to do that, but they’re also teaching them financial literacy skills, and, at the same time, they’re bringing in healthy food items to their neighbors.”

Shameika Hanson a New York community organizer on Long Island for Mothers Out Front, an organization that works to give women a voice for change — empowering and providing them with skills and resources to get decision makers and elected officials to act on their behalf — does specific work with climate change, also calling for the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. As a national organization, the topics range depending on the needs of an area from getting methane gas leaks plugged, to stopping oil trains for moving through the area, to getting involved in carbon offsets. Specifically on Long Island, women are creating a task force to ensure the drinking water quality across the island is standardized.

“Democracy doesn’t work without civic engagement,” Hanson said. “There’s a need for a conversation to happen that is united. Even though the water authorities are separate, the water isn’t.”

Sustainable Long Island also works on building rain gardens to reduce stormwater runoff into local waters.

“We’re in a dire situation here on Long Island when it comes to our aquifers,” Lindau said. “We have an intense amount of nitrogen that’s already going into the ground.”

The nonprofit works with the Environmental Resource Management Foundation and PSEG Foundation and builds rain gardens like the one at the Cove Animal Rescue in Glen Cove and others in East Islip and Long Beach.

“It’s about educating communities on the importance of the rain garden and why green infrastructure practices are pivotal for environmental health on Long Island moving forward,” Lindau said. “If we don’t have clean drinking water, we’re going to be in trouble, if we don’t have usable soil to plant in, we’re not going to have farms growing the produce we need to survive and if we don’t have that produce, then we’re not going to be able to bring food into these low-income communities for people who can’t get it otherwise. They’re all connected in a number of different ways and a lot of them root back to health.”

Students in Stony Brook University’s Sustainability Studies Program participate in the 2014 People’s Climate March in NYC. Photo from Heidi Hutner

Sustainable Long Island has done work with local municipalities following superstorms like Hurricane Sandy. They helped communities rebuild, hosted peer-to-peer education meetings to better prepare locals and business owners for another devastating storm and provided job training to bring businesses back.

“A big part of this is going into communities and educating them and helping to advocate in order to facilitate change,” Lindau said. “Working with other groups is extremely important as well. We’re not a lone wolf in the nonprofit world — we not only find it important to work with governments and other municipalities — but to connect with other nonprofits who have something unique to offer as well.”

Melanie Cirillo, with the Peconic Land Trust, reiterated the need for local organizations to team up. The Peconic Land Trust conserves open space like wetlands, woodlands and farmland. It keeps an eye on water quality and infrastructure like Forge River in Mastic, which is a natural sea sponge that absorbs storm surge.

“Wetlands are key in so many of our waterfront properties,” she said. “We have a finite amount of drinking water that we need to protect for our own health. The protection of land is integral to the protection of the water.”

She said although every organization may have a bit of a different focus, they’re all working under the same umbrella and premise, with the same goal in mind: maintaining the health of Long Island.

“I think it’s important for groups to have the ability to bring people together, especially because the impact of climate change affects people in a lot of different ways, whether it’s high energy costs, the impact of superstorms like Hurricane Sandy, sea level rise or coastal erosion, or ocean acidification that impacts people’s fishery and economic way of life,” Madden said. “We have to meet the immediate visceral needs of people — of communities and workers — but we also need to be thinking decades ahead on what it will take to decarbonize our entire economic system. It’s really important for groups to be oriented toward that long term focus, because this is an all hands on deck situation.”

This version corrects the spelling of Stony Brook University’s Sustainability Studies Program Director Heidi Hutner’s last name.

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Sills Gully Beach, Shoreham:

Sills Gully Beach in Shoreham is a prime example of erosion due to storm events, according to Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point). “When you harden the shoreline by constructing hundreds of linear feet of vertical retaining walls or bulkheads, you create a condition where the energy stored in the waves caused by tidal surge and storm events hits up against the hardening structure and reflects back to the Sound,” Bonner said. “These reflected waves cause scour at the base of the bulkhead and a loss of sand from the beach. To minimize this impact, both the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the town require armor stone, big rocks, in front of any bulkhead to dissipate the reflected wave surge, reducing the impact that bulkheads have on the beaches.” According to the councilwoman, bulkheads that were constructed in the past “increased the rate of erosion but also separated the beach from its natural sand source.” The practice led to either a narrow or non-existing beach during high tide. With recent changes of bulkheads being moved landward or reducing their elevations, plus the installation of armor stones, erosive impacts have been reduced, and “the beaches tend to be wider and more resilient to storm events.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Port Jefferson Village:

Port Jefferson was originally known as Drowned Meadow because the area that now comprises most of the commercial district was a marsh that flooded every high tide, according to the book “Images of America: Port Jefferson,” written by Port Jefferson library staffers Robert Maggio and Earlene O’Hare. They wrote, “That flooding, and the steep hills and deep ravines that surrounded the marsh, made farming difficult, and the village grew slowly. In fact, by 1800, there were only a handful of houses.”

 

Photo by Maria Hoffman

Setauket Harbor:

In the last decade, Shore Road along Setauket Harbor has flooded approximately a half a dozen times a year, which is more than in the past due to astronomical tides. “All coastal communities will be increasingly impacted by rising sea level, and sea level rise goes hand in hand with climate change,” George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force said. “One way to identify the areas that will be impacted is to look at the areas that are now impacted by storms and astronomical tides. All the low-level shore areas in the Three Village community are the most vulnerable. And, they tend to be the areas that we like to go down to, along the shore, such as beaches and docks and harbor areas. It is projected that in the next hundred years as sea level continues to rise that we will see portions of Route 25A flooding during storm events that we haven’t seen before.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Nissequogue River, Smithtown:

According to Jan Porinchak, educator and naturalist, the Nissequogue River watershed would be threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change. The river consists of two main branches that start near the southern boundaries of the town in Hauppauge, and then the water flows into the Sound. “Rising sea levels will drown out the native marsh grasses which dissipate wave action and anchor the sediments comprising the shoreline,” Porinchak said. “With the marsh grasses such as Spartina removed, areas further inland would be threatened with shoreline loss from erosion.” Erosion can also have a negative impact on marine species. “With rising sea levels compromising marsh land vegetation, salt water can reach the roots of non-salt-tolerant woody plants further inland, which kills those plant species,” he said. “This creates a domino effect, resulting in yet more erosion when the roots of those plants are eliminated. Increased sediment from these eroded areas will wash into the Nissequogue and similar ecosystems. This sediment can negatively impact shellfish and other marine species, and fuel algae blooms to the widespread detriment of the marine food web.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Long Beach, Smithtown:

Visitors to Smithtown’s Long Beach, a narrow land spit, will find an artificial berm to keep stormwater out during the winter. Many of the private roads slightly east of the town beach experience flooding when it’s high tide. Larry Swanson, interim dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, said the cause of the problem is the disruption of sediment due to a combination of rising sea levels and homeowners building sea walls to protect their property. “Long Beach is a spit that needs sediment supplied from the erosion of the bluffs of Nissequogue,” he said. “There are places where the supply is somewhat diminished to maintain sufficient elevation, perhaps where currents are stronger than elsewhere water can overflow.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Asharoken, Huntington:

The incorporated village of Asharoken in the Town of Huntington provides the only essential land access way contacting the Eaton’s Neck peninsula to Northport, with its Asharoken Avenue. Due to hurricanes and nor’easters, the Long Island Sound side of the peninsula has experienced moderate to severe beach erosion. In 2015 the Asharoken village board took into consideration a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-backed proposal to replenish the community’s eroding beaches. The plan consisted of creating a berm and dune system with groins on the northwestern end of the project area. The area includes properties on the Long Island Sound side of Asharoken Avenue. However, in January Asharoken officials voted to bring an end to the restoration project after many residents rejected part of the plan that included creating public access points at certain private properties, which would leave residents liable for any injuries or mishaps that happened when the public was on the shoreline of the property.

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