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Earth Day

Compliments of Anita Jo Lago

Hometown: Stony Brook

Day job: Production Manager for Marketing and Communications at Stony Brook Medicine.

“The rapid pace of invention in photography technologies has changed what we are capable of capturing. The art in photography is expanding and nothing seems impossible in terms of imagining what a photo can be of, look like or what camera (or mobile device) it can be taken with. Creativity has no boundaries and is never ending. To be riding that wave at this moment is very exciting.”

Photographer: “I started taking photos back in the late ‘80s on film cameras. I got more serious in 2002 when I started travelling and wanted to capture what I saw during walks around cities. After my office changed locations in 2014, I found myself passing the Frank Melville Park in Setauket daily. That sparked my curiosity in nature and started my latest adventure in photography.”

Favorite camera: “I find the Nikon D850 and the Canon 5D Mark 4 to be very challenging and rewarding cameras.”

Favorite lenses: “For macro photography (extreme close-up photography), Nikon 200mm f/4, Voigtlander 125mm f/2.5 and Canon 65mm f/2.8 are all fantastic lenses. They have taught me a true test of patience. Zoom lenses like the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G, Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 and Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E have a great range for capturing wildlife near and far.”

Favorite location: “Frank Melville Park is a hidden treasure. The environment and “vibe” of the park is peaceful. The Red Barn, Mill House and Bates House give the sense of history of the land and community. The North and South Ponds, the trails, the gardens, all contribute in ‘packing a punch’ when it comes to the beauty of nature and wildlife. Experiencing rare bird sightings, watching eggs hatch, nestlings learning to fly, bird migrations, reemerging turtles after winter hibernation, beekeeping … there are millions of happenings, hours of enjoyment, something for everyone. Every visit is a memorable one. Imagine taking photos there!

Other hobbies: “Besides spending time watching wildlife year-round, I enjoy computer technology, learning about mute swans, craft beer and finding a great slice of pizza!”  

Best advice to get that perfect shot: ‘Take photos of things that you’re immersed in, that you feel a deep connection with and that you love being around. If you shoot often enough, there comes a point where you don’t realize you have a camera in your hands and that your eye is looking through the viewfinder. There, you are in the zone — you found the sweet spot. Those are the photos that you will cherish as perfect.”

Favorite aspect about taking photos: Getting lost looking through the viewfinder. The excitement of seeing what I’m seeing is astonishing. There is so much discovery unfolding in nature that goes unnoticed. To have an opportunity to share those photo stories with others is extremely gratifying. It’s fulfilling to connect others to things they may never have an opportunity to experience and see firsthand.” 

State Sen. John Flanagan congratulates Laurel Hill School student Sam Specht for winning the New York State Senate’s 2018 Earth Day Poster Contest. Photo from Senator John Flanagan's office

A student in East Setauket is improving the environment one bottle at a time.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) presented sixth-grader Sam Specht with a certificate for winning the New York State Senate’s 2018 Earth Day Poster Contest during a May 21 assembly at The Laurel Hill School. For his entry, “We Are Creating a Monsterous Problem,”

Sam took the challenge one step further by creating a monster made of bottles to hold his poster.

Sam Specht’s winning Earth Day poster entry included a robot made of plastic bottles holding his poster. Photo from Joanne Specht

Flanagan said Sam, 12, was chosen from 4,600 entries, representing 43 of 63 state senators.

“You, my friend, have distinguished yourself as the best of 4,600,” Flanagan said.

The senator had advice for the students in attendance. He said young people may garner more respect when it comes to advising others in disposing of litter and recycling since people don’t always listen to adults who tell someone to pick up or recycle a piece of garbage.

“I guarantee if one of you said it, they’d pay a lot more attention,” he said. “So, don’t think you can’t make a difference, because you can.”

Sam, who lives in Bellport, has attended The Laurel Hill School since pre-K. He chose the plastic bottles as the issue for his poster because he said not enough people recycle them properly. During his research for the essay that accompanied the poster, Sam said he discovered a million bottles are purchased worldwide every minute and 91 percent aren’t recycled. Facts he included on his poster.

“I figured out that the amount of the bottles we use in America daily are enough to go from New York to San Francisco and back,” he said.

The 12-year-old had advice on how to help with reducing the number of bottles found in trash cans and littering communities. One, Sam said, is to purchase reusable drinking containers, and to also look for recycling receptacles when in public. Sam said it’s vital to research locations to ensure plastic is recycled properly when returning bottles from home, which he found most supermarkets do.

“I figured out that the amount of the bottles we use in America daily are enough to go from New York to San Francisco and back.”

— Sam Specht

Sam was unable to bring his bottle monster to the assembly because he already brought the pieces, which included soda and water bottles for the body and a milk jug for the head, to Costco to recycle. He said he was happy his teacher and mom took pictures to display at the school presentation.

“I was pretty surprised when I won because I knew a lot of people participated so I didn’t really expect that,” he said.

Sam’s mother, Joanne, said her son has been concerned about the environment for years.

“He is always reminding us to turn off the water when we brush our teeth,” she said. “He is also always asking everyone in our family to use refillable bottles instead of buying water bottles.”

The mother said Sam helps his neighbors bring their recycling cans to the curb on collection days, which she said has made him more aware of how much plastic is used and discarded.

“I am glad for Sam that he won because he takes this issue very seriously,” she said.

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

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

Legislature to vote on statewide ban of plastic bags

By Desirée Keegan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Sara-Megan Walsh

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

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

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

Local legislators and members of the Three Village Community Trust unveil sign for the newly acquired portion of Patriots Hollow State Forest in Setauket. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Thanks to the efforts of elected officials and a decision by a legacy family on the North Shore, Setauket has gained additional preserved land in the hopes of being able to protect local waterways, among other environmental benefits.

April 21, a day before Earth Day, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and local elected officials held a press conference to announce the state’s acquisition of 17 acres of woodlands stretching from the corner of North Country Road and Watson Street in Setauket. The property expands the already 28.3-acre Patriots Hollow State Forest, which runs adjacent to Route 25A and is located across from Setauket’s Stop & Shop.

DEC’s regional director on Long Island, Carrie Meek Gallagher, who grew up in Setauket, started the press conference by welcoming everyone who gathered in the woodlands. She also thanked  Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket); Peter Scully, deputy county executive for administration and former DEC regional director;  Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket);  Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station); and Robert de Zafra and Cynthia Barnes from the Three Village Community Trust for their efforts in securing the land.

Gallagher said the preservation of the land, which was once utilized for potato farming, plays a part in safeguarding the Long Island Sound watershed, and supports forest health while providing a habitat for wildlife.

Many in attendance recognized Englebright for his determination in acquiring the property in the Old Setauket Historic District. The land is where the Fitzsimmons family established their farm in 1939, and through the decades, they began acquiring more land parcels. Once farming ceased, the parcel remained open land where red cedar, gray birch, poplar, black locust and Norway maple trees now stand. Descendants still live in the family home today, and Englebright commended them for choosing preservation over selling the land to developers.

“These beautiful woods that disappear in an eternity behind us could have been more suburbia, could’ve easily been converted into something other than preservation,” he said. “The consequences of that — more traffic, poor air quality, and even worse, a compromised water chemistry in our nearby shores and harbor.”

He said creeks in the area drain into Conscience Bay, which is part of Setauket Harbor, and the bodies of water form the most western part of the Port Jefferson Harbor complex. He also added that the land was the missing link to the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail.

“We are connected to history, to water chemistry, to wildlife diversity and our sense of place,” Englebright said. “This is an important acquisition.”

Scully, who has worked on land preservation projects with Englebright in the past, including the original acquisition of property for Patriots Hollow from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center diocese in 2010, thanked Englebright for his leadership.

“I know that your interest in this property was a motivating factor in the state of New York’s decision to move forward,” Scully said.

Hahn echoed the importance of acquiring the property as well as praise for Englebright. 

“Steve, really our community’s thanks is to you,” Hahn said. “Your dedication, your commitment, your persistence on this piece of property, I know how long this has been in your vision.”

Cartright said Brookhaven Town has been committed to preserving open spaces, and she appreciated the cooperation from all levels of government on the issue.

“We are grateful to be in partnership with the state as well as the county as it relates to the preservation of open spaces,” she said.

She also alluded to key initiatives when it comes to preservation in the future.

“We ask you keep your eyes and ears open as it relates to that,” she said. “But this is an amazing announcement on such an appropriate day as we approach Earth Day.”

Before the unveiling of the new park sign which stands on the new acquisition, Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation, thanked the elected officials in attendance calling them a “rogue gallery of people who really make a difference” and expressed gratitude to the Fitzsimmons family, who were unable to attend.

“Nothing reinforces the integrity of a historic district like open space,” Reuter said. “In so many cases, I sort of have this joke about preventing the future — we’re protecting the past, we’re preventing the future. In this case, it’s really quite apt, except the future is our environmental health, and this is a huge triumph.”

Little Sprout students smile and plant flowers in a Northport park for Earth Day. Photo from Amy Dolce

By Victoria Espinoza

Students at Little Sprouts Preschool in Northport helped Earth Day blossom this year with a school project.

Amy Dolce, director at Little Sprouts, said she wanted to top the events she did last year with her students, which was also her first year as director.

“Last year we hatched butterflies in the school and released them on Earth Day, and we had a picnic in the park, but this time I wanted to do more,” Dolce said in a phone interview.

Dolce said she got in contact with William Forster at Northport Village Parks Department and asked if it would be possible to plant flowers somewhere in Cow Harbor Park.

Forster, the senior groundskeeper for Northport Village, said he and his colleagues help out with projects like this for Eagle Scouts, Girl Scouts and other groups, and he and colleague Kevin Kenney were happy to help with this one.

Little Sprout students smile and plant flowers in a Northport park for Earth Day. Photo from Amy Dolce

“It was fun to do,” he said in a phone interview. “We had some cobblestones lying around and we found a spot that was kind of bare [in the park] and we make our soil ourselves, from the foliage and leaves we collect in the fall. It worked out really nice. It’s looking awesome; they did a wonderful job.”

Dolce was grateful for the help Forster provided.

“Willy met me at the park the next day to try and find the right spot to plant some flowers,” Dolce said. “He was so nice; he ended up making us a flower bed and providing the soil for our project.”

Dolce and her students slipped on their rain gear last Friday morning and headed down to the park from their school at the Trinity Episcopal Church on Main Street in the village.

“Our three- and four-year-olds took turns planting pansies and enjoying a snack on the blanket,” she said. “Afterwards they played in the park — it was just a really fun day.”

She said the kids had a lot of fun, and weren’t afraid to get to work in the dirt.

“They loved it — until they found a worm,” Dolce said with a laugh. “One young girl dropped her shovel as soon as she found a worm.”

Little Sprout student and director Amy Dolce smile and plant flowers in a Northport park for Earth Day. Photo from Amy Dolce

The director said her favorite part was when she heard the following Monday morning how the kids had all gone down with their families to check on their flowers during the weekend at “Cookie Park,” the nickname they’ve given Cow Harbor Park after its proximity to Copenhagen Bakery.

“It brings a little ownership to the community and a sense of unity,” she said. “It was really a lovely experience. Now their flowers will always be there. They all live in the area, so they can continually check on them.”

Dolce said the idea has inspired her to start planning a fall trip back to their flower box to plant mums, as well as continuing this tradition for Earth Day next year.

“This was about teaching them to be good to Mother Earth,” Dolce said. “But I really loved seeing the camaraderie. These kids will now always have their flowers at Cookie Park.

Supervisor Frank Petrone shows off the rain barrel that Huntington resident Claudia Liu painted, which one resident will win this Saturday at Family Earth Day Expo. Photo from A.J. Carter

Huntington is getting ready to go green.

This Saturday, April 23, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., Huntington Town will host its annual Family Earth Day Expo at Town Hall, an event that helps residents learn about the many programs and businesses on the North Shore that are working to reduce their environmental footprint, as well as how the community members themselves can play a part.

“Each year the town tries to highlight how residents can help preserve the environment while saving themselves money,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in a statement. “Whether it’s … bringing e-waste for recycling or dropping off unneeded and unwanted medicines, residents will find a variety of ways they can get into the Earth Day spirit.”

One issue that will be highlighted at the expo is the risk pharmaceutical drugs have on the local water supply and marine life, such as when medications are flushed down the toilet or are present in human waste.

In a joint effort with the advocacy organization Citizens Campaign for the Environment, residents will be able to turn in medication they no longer need to the Suffolk County Police Department, which will dispose of it in an environmentally safe manner.

According to the World Health Organization, there is some discharge of pharmaceuticals into water sources, and Citizens Campaign said, “pharmaceutical drug contamination has been proven to adversely impact fish and aquatic life.”

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, male fish have developed eggs when exposed to female hormones in birth control pills. Anti-depressants and beta-blockers reduce fertility or affect certain aquatic organisms’ reproductive systems.

Staying on the theme of safe ways to dispose of materials, the town will also, in sponsorship with Covanta, a global corporation that works on sustainable solutions to waste-management challenges, give residents the opportunity to properly dispose of electronic goods with a recycling event.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said it’s a day not only for adults to learn but also for kids to enjoy as well.

“Children and parents alike will definitely have the opportunity for a lot of hands-on fun at this event,” he said in a statement. “It is equally important to be able to show families across Huntington how easy it is to protect kids from harmful chemicals and pesticides, how to make homes and cars more energy efficient and how to save money in the process.”

There will be residential solar energy and organic garden demonstrations, as well as lessons for kids on how compost is made and how to plant a seed in a recycled pot.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk, a nonprofit community education agency, will also provide a variety of sea specimens that kids are welcome to touch, to demonstrate the importance of protecting the marine environment.

There will be a raffle to win a custom-painted rain barrel, painted by former Huntington resident Claudia Liu. The 50-gallon barrel is both a decorative item and a utilitarian one, to be placed in a yard to capture and store rainwater for use with gardening, which helps conserve water. The winner will be announced at the expo.

Family Day Earth Expo will take place in the parking lot of Town Hall on Main Street, at Jackson Avenue, in Huntington.

For one day, Seawolves stepped aside to give red rubber duckies the spotlight.

Hundreds of organizations across the North Shore converged onto Stony Brook University’s campus on Friday to celebrate the 14th annual Earthstock, a weeklong Earth Day extravaganza at the school. By that afternoon, a throng of students and residents celebrated by floating hundreds of rubber ducks down an on-campus brook — an activity that has become a known visual for Earthstock.

The college hosted events all week long in observance of Earth Day, including public lectures, a farmer’s market, drum circles, art showcases and even beatboxing. The annual Earth party came just days after Stony Brook University was ranked fourth overall on The Princeton Review’s environmentally responsible university list, which awarded the school a perfect green rating score.

“Environmental stewardship is a commitment the university makes to students, faculty and staff; and together we are committed to the community at large,” SBU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said. “Implementation of green technologies, resources and sustainability initiatives is an investment that not only impacts the future of Stony Brook but our collective future. We share this outstanding distinction with the entire campus community.”

The school recycled the most e-waste nationally in the annual RecycleMania 2013 and 2014 competitions, and operates 10 electric vehicle charging stations.

Since 2006, Stony Brook has planted more than 4,900 trees, saplings, bushes and perennials using an on-campus greenhouse and nursery.

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You know you’re from Long Island when …

1. You drive your car everywhere, including just up the road to the drug store or 7-Eleven. There is a car in your driveway or garage for every person in your house.
2. You water your lawn and plants even when it has recently rained because it’s on a timer and you just left it.
3. You pass at least one dead animal lying on the side of the road every day.
4. You have access to delicious foods imported from all over the country and the world.
5. You live in a terribly wasteful society.

Earth Day gives us time to reflect on what we do every day that affects the environment, both here on Long Island and the nation as a whole.

We burn up gas for every small trip we make, when we could walk or bike if we weren’t so rushed or lazy. We waste water by taking long showers or leaving the faucet on as we brush our teeth. We flush pills down the toilet or use a paper cup for coffee every morning or unnecessarily go through a ton of plastic shopping bags.
Almost all of us are guilty of at least one of these things, which all put strain on Mother Earth. But this is the only home we have — for now — so we should get our heads in the game.

Please join us in thinking about the impact of our everyday actions on the environment and make a commitment to cut out or reduce just one of those negative actions year-round — not just on a day like Earth Day.

A small change blazes the trail for larger ones, so it’s a good place to start.