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Stony Brook University

Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. addresses the crowd at Stony Brook University’s 2019 commencement May 24. Photo by Greg Catalano

Less than a week after Stony Brook University’s commencement ceremony, the school’s president will also be moving on.

On May 28, the Michigan State University Board of Trustees announced that SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. will take on the role of president at MSU at a special meeting. Trustees chair Dianne Byrum said the goal was “to identify the best person possible to lead Michigan Student University.”

Melanie Foster, co-chair of MSU’s 18-member search committee, commented on the
announcement at the May 28 meeting.

“I know the Spartan community has been profoundly troubled by the events of the past years that have shaken confidence in the institution.”

— Samuel L. Stanley Jr.

“Today represents a pivotal moment in MSU’s 164-year history as we begin what I am confident will be an engaged and exciting future under the leadership of Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr.,” she said.

Stanley was in East Lansing for the announcement along with his wife and three of his four children.

“MSU is one of the world’s leading research universities, and I am grateful to the Board of Trustees and the Presidential Search Committee that so ably represented the entire MSU community for giving me the opportunity to serve this great institution,” Stanley said in a statement on the school’s website. “MSU’s core strength is its amazing students, superb faculty, dedicated staff and proud alumni, and I cannot wait to get to campus to meet with you and learn from you.”

Previous MSU president Lou Anna Simon resigned from the position in January 2018 after being criticized for how she handled allegations that the university’s doctor Larry Nassar molested female gymnasts and athletes. Since the resignation, the school has been led by interim presidents.

In his statement, Stanley commented on the scandal.

“I know the Spartan community has been profoundly troubled by the events of the past years that have shaken confidence in the institution,” he said. “We will meet these challenges together, and we will build on the important work that has already been done to create a campus culture of diversity, inclusion, equity, accountability and safety that supports all of our endeavors.”

State University of New York Chancellor Kristina Johnson will work with the SUNY board of trustees to appoint an interim president, according to a press release from SUNY. A campus search committee also will be assembled to conduct a national search for a permanent president.

“Under Dr. Stanley’s leadership, Stony Brook University has become a vibrant center of research and one of the most highly regarded universities in the nation,” Johnson said. “His commitment to advancing technologies and research in environmental protection and renewable energy has been among many of Dr. Stanley’s most notable accomplishments. On behalf of the entire SUNY family, we celebrate his achievements.”

Stanley will be Michigan State University’s 21st president and will begin his term at
MSU Aug. 1. 

On May 24, more than 7,500 graduates, ranging between the ages of 18 and 72, joined the nearly 200,000 Seawolves worldwide as Stony Brook University celebrated its 59th commencement.

Award-winning actor Alan Alda, a 2016 TBR News Media person of the year, received an honorary degree at the ceremony.  The polymath is the inspiration behind the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. He is best known for his role as Hawkeye Pierce in the TV show “M*A*S*H.”

Alda talked about the importance of connection during his address.

“It takes work,” he said. “But here’s the thing — if you dig down under the surface to bring to the surface your own dream, your own thing that motivates you, that makes you want to help other people that is born from your sense of generosity. The work you do to accomplish that dream won’t seem like work. It’ll seem like fun. That’s how it’s been for me. And you may find, as I’ve found, that the dream you start out with can morph into some other dream and another dream after that.”

Greg Marshall, SBU class of 1988, also received an honorary degree. He is the inventor of Crittercam and a Stony Brook University Marine Sciences master’s program alumnus. Crittercam a video/audio system that allows humans to study wildlife behavior by experiencing the world through an animal’s perspective on land or in the sea.

 

Steve Chassman, executive director of Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, speaks at a May 21 press conference. Photo from Suffolk County

Legislators are asking high school athletic coaches to help combat substance abuse in Suffolk County and are looking to give them the training needed to do so.

“This program will help save lives. I have no doubt about that.”

— Steve Bellone

On May 21, at a press conference held at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) announced a partnership with the nonprofit Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Bellone said a new, county-funded program will provide athletic coaches and trainers in middle and high schools with a 75-minute training course designed to combat substance abuse among student-athletes. Ward Melville coaches have already been through the awareness training that now will be offered to all county secondary schools.

“This program will help save lives,” Bellone said. “I have no doubt about that.”

Krista Bertschi, who lost her son Anthony Mazzella to drug addiction, attended the press conference, holding a photo of her son, to show support for the training.

Mazzella passed away Jan. 22, 2017, from an overdose of heroin and fentanyl. Bertschi said her son was a boxer who was clean for two years when he dislocated his shoulder before Thanksgiving of 2016. While he refused pain medication at first, as the pain lingered, he decided to take them.

The program, developed with LICADD and Stony Brook University, will look to provide coaches with the knowledge of the warning signs of drug and alcohol abuse in student-athletes and how to engage and intervene with team members suspected of abusing addictive substances. Bellone said a coach’s knowledge of an injury may be especially critical in that they may be able to link subtle changes in a player’s behavior to the treatment they are receiving as many times opioids are prescribed for pain.

Hahn had piloted the program with several local school districts, working alongside LICADD and SBU to develop the training. The county will be providing $100,000 to LICADD to aid in developing the program.

Hahn, a graduate of Ward Melville High School, said she was pleased to launch the program at her alma mater. As a former student-athlete and the mother of a recent Ward Melville cheerleader and current Three Village athlete, Hahn said she recognizes how influential a coach’s role can be in a student’s life both on and off the field. She added that the training course was customized to address the various scenarios coaches may encounter, from an injured teenager being prescribed opioids to a marijuana bag falling out of a backpack to team members talking about a big party coming up.

“It’s a unique place in a player’s life that is provided by the coach with an unparalleled opportunity to understand the circumstances the athlete is facing.”

— Kara Hahn

“It’s a unique place in a player’s life that is provided by the coach with an unparalleled opportunity to understand the circumstances the athlete is facing,” she said.

Hahn said social workers are still needed when a problem is identified but coaches can be the first line of defense.

“They can play an important role in the fight against student drug abuse, and through this training, we have invited them to be among the traditional stakeholders working to save lives,” she said.

Steve Chassman, executive director of LICADD, said the seeds of drug disorders usually start in high school, and he thanked the legislators and coaches for their help in solving what he called a public health crisis.

“We are encouraging the coaches to create a culture where people can work together and come forward not just from a disciplinary standpoint but from a public health standpoint,” he said.

Peter Melore, executive director of health, physical education, recreation and athletics for the Three Village Central School District, said during training the district coaches had numerous questions, including how to approach a student, and what to say if they were approached first.

“It’s been a privilege and an honor to be the first to do this,” he said. “I would be remiss if I did not thank our coaches for their engagement in the workshops.”

Bertschi said she believes the program will foster essential communication between coaches and parents if an issue is identified. She will continue to support awareness and prevention programs such as the coach training course, she said, “In memory of my beautiful son and all of the other angels gone too soon to this horrific disease so that no other parent has to walk in the ugly shoes that I walk in every day.”

Districts interested in participating in the program can reach out to LICADD at 631-979-1700 to schedule a training session.

Gordon Taylor with technician, Tatiana Zaliznyak. A Raman microspectrometer is pictured in the background. Photo by J. Griffin

By Daniel Dunaief

Something is happening in the Twilight Zone of the ocean, but it’s unclear exactly who is involved and how fast the process is occurring. 

Plants and animals are eating, living, defecating and dying above the so-called Twilight Zone and their bodies and waste are falling toward the bottom of the ocean. But most of that matter isn’t making it all the way to the ocean floor.

That’s where Gordon Taylor, a professor and director of the NAno-RAMAN Molecular Imaging Laboratory at the School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, comes in. 

Taylor and Professor Alexander Bochdansky of Old Dominion University recently received a $434,000 three-year grant to study the way microorganisms eat, process and convert organic carbon — i.e., carbon that’s a part of living organisms like plants, sea birds and whales — into inorganic carbon, which includes carbon dioxide, carbonate, bicarbonate and carbonic acid.

“The inorganic carbon moves back and forth among these four chemical species,” Taylor explained in an email. Understanding the rate at which carbonic acid builds up can and will help lead to a greater awareness of ways the ocean, which used to have a pH around 8.2 — which is slightly basic, as opposed to levels below the neutral 7— is becoming more acidic.

Above, incubators that Alexander Bochdansky has used in Bermuda. The ones Taylor and Bochdansky will analyze will be smaller than these, which won’t require such a large A-frame to deploy. Images courtesy of A. Bochdansky

They will start by deploying the traps at a single depth, about 985 feet, along the ocean off the coast of Virginia. “We are going to look at who the players are,” Bochdansky said. “There might be only a few key players that degrade this organic carbon. With [Taylor’s] great methods, we can measure the uptake rate in single microbes. This is really exciting.”

The Twilight Zone received its name because it is 650 to 3,300 feet below the surface of the water. Some faint light reaches the top of that zone, but most of that region, which includes creatures that use bioluminescence to attract or find prey, is pitch black.

“The directory of which inventories and fluxes decrease [is] still poorly understood,” Taylor said. “Animals eating the material is one mechanism and we don’t know how important that is compared to microbial decomposition or remineralization,” adding that the goal of this project is to “better define the role of microorganisms in returning carbon to the inorganic pool.”

Taylor is exploring this area with new tools that will allow a greater depth of understanding than previously possible. His group has developed new experimental approaches to apply Raman microspectrometry to this problem. The organisms they examine will include bacteria, fungi and protozoans.

Their experiment will explore which organisms are recycling organic carbon, how fast they are doing it and what factors control their activities. Through this approach, Taylor will be able to see these processes down to the level of a single cell as the instrument can identify organisms that have consumed the heavy isotope tracer.

The Raman microspectrometer uses an optical microscope with a laser and a Raman spectrometer. This tool will measure samples that are micrometers thick, which is smaller than the width of a human hair. The microspectrometer can obtain data from a 0.3-micrometer spot in a cell and he has even produced spectra from single viruses.

The scientists will place phytoplankton common to the region in incubators that Bochdansky developed. They will use a heavy carbon isotope, called carbon 13, that is easy to find through these experiments and see how rapidly microorganisms that colonize are incorporating the isotopically labeled carbon.

Taylor and Bochdansky received funding for the project through the Biological Oceanography Program at the National Science Foundation in the Directorate of Geosciences. Twice a year, the division makes open calls for proposals on any topic of interest to researchers. The scientists submit 15 pages of text that the NSF sends to peer reviewers. A panel meets to evaluate the reviews and ratings and decides which projects to fund.

Bochdansky and Taylor have been “acquainted for a long time and have shared similar interests,” Taylor said.

The carbon experiments in the Twilight Zone account for about a quarter of the work Taylor is doing in his lab. The other research also employs Raman microspectrometry. The United States only has one or two other facilities that do environmental research comparable to the one in Taylor’s lab at Stony Brook. Europe also has three such tools, which can look into single cells using lasers.

One of the other projects Taylor hopes to get funded involves studying the distribution of microplastics in the ocean. “The instrument I have is one of the best tools to look at microscopic plastic particles,” because it identifies the plastic polymer and its source, said Taylor, who is awaiting word on funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The other work involves exploring viruses that attack plankton.

“We are exploring Raman methods for early detection of viruses that attack plankton,” Taylor explained. Every organism in the ocean has at least one virus that has evolved to attack it.

As for his work on the Twilight Zone, Taylor said the area acts as a filter of sorts because less than 20 percent of the organic material entering at the top exits at the bottom.

Bochdansky added that these microbes are critical to processes that affect oceans and the planet.

“That’s something people often overlook,” Bochdansky said. “We can’t understand the ocean if we don’t understand it at the level or the scale that’s relevant to microbes.”

Bochdansky is thrilled to work with Taylor, who he’s known for years but will collaborate with for the first time on this project.

“In my lab, we have measured the turnover and release of carbon dioxide,” Bochdansky said. In Taylor’s lab, he measures “the actual feeding of microbial cells.”

On May 10 Stony Brook University students gathered at the campus’ Roth Pond to participate in the Roth Pond Regatta. The annual event, hosted by Undergraduate Student Government, is held to help students blow off some steam before finals as they take to the 200-yard pond in handmade cardboard boats. This year marked the event’s 30th anniversary and featured the Dr. Seuss and All Things Seussical theme. 

A rendering of Suskityrannus hazelae by Andrey Atuchin

By Daniel Dunaief

Even the name Tyrannosaurus rex seems capable of causing ripples across a glass of water, much the way the fictional and reincarnated version of the predator did in the movie “Jurassic Park.”

Long before the predatory dinosaur roamed North America with its powerful jaws and short forelimbs, some of its ancestral precursors, whom scientists believed were considerably smaller, remained a mystery.

A team of scientists led by Sterling Nesbitt, an assistant professor at Virginia Tech, shed some light on a period in which researchers have found relatively few fossils when they shared details about bones from two members of T. rex’s extended ancestral family in New Mexico. 

These fossils, which they named Suskityrannus hazelae, help fill in the record of tyrannosauroid dinosaurs that lived between the Early Cretaceous and latest Cretaceous species, which includes T. rex.

Sterling Nesbitt, assistant professor of geosciences at Virginia Tech, with a partial fossil of Suskityrannus hazelae found in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech

The researchers, which included Alan Turner, an associate professor of anatomical sciences at Stony Brook University, chronicled the history of these fossils from the Late Cretaceous period, or about 92 million years ago.

“Getting a chance to understand the origin of something is compelling,” said Turner. “Having a discovery like Suskityrannus, which helps us understand how the body plan of tyrannosauroids evolved, is super interesting.” The fossils reveal the “humble beginnings” of a group that would “later dominate North American terrestrial ecosystems.”

Indeed, the new dinosaur was considerably more modest in size than future predators. The Suskityrannus, which included one individual that wasn’t fully grown when it died after living at least three years, measured about three feet at the hip, weighed about 100 pounds, and was about nine feet long, which made it more like a full grown male wolf, albeit longer because of its extended tail.

Scientists had found earlier tyrannosaur relatives from the Early Cretaceous as well as T. rex and its closest relatives near the end of the Late Cretaceous. They were missing data about tyrannosaurs from the middle of the group’s history because fossils from this time period are so rare.

The researchers cautioned that this paper, which was published in the journal Nature, Ecology & Evolution, does not suggest that Suskityrannus was a direct ancestor of T. rex. It does, however, fill a fossil gap in the extended T. rex family.

Suskityrannus hazelae,

The Suskityrannus species has a broad mouth and a muscular skull. Additionally, the bones in its foot were built in a way that made it good at absorbing shocks.

As far as fossil specimens, the bones from this finding are “well represented” across various parts of this creature’s anatomy, including a “lot of limb anatomy and a good portion of the skull and vertebral column,” Turner said. 

This collection of bones help define where on the evolutionary map this new species belong. Some of the anatomical characteristics in this new species appear to be well-suited for future predators, even as they likely also provided an adaptive advantage for the Suskityrannus. 

“These are features that were already in place much earlier” than this new species needed them, Turner said. They may have been adaptations that helped with their agility or with the environment in which they lived. Eventually, evolution turned them into the kinds of anatomical features that made them useful when T. rex eventually grew to as large as 16 tons.

“That’s something you see often in evolution: the way a species is using [its anatomy] isn’t always necessarily what the features evolved for,” Turner said. “Evolution can only work with what it has. What we see with Suskityrannus is that it had these things that became important later on.”

Turner’s role was to help compile and analyze the enormous amount of data that came out of this discovery. He explored how the number of species changed along the boundary between the first half of the Late Cretaceous and the second half of the Late Cretaceous periods, adding that the process of exploring and analyzing such a discovery can take years. 

Indeed, Turner first saw the fossil in 2007. “The studies take a long time and you can get lost in the details,” he said. “You do try and keep the big picture in your head. That’s the thing that makes [the work] interesting.”

Alan Turner while conducting fieldwork in Kenya last summer. Photo by Eric Gorscak

Turner became a part of this work through his connection to Nesbitt. The two scientists attended graduate school together at Columbia University. They have been doing field work together since 2005.

Nesbitt explained in an email that he thought of including Turner immediately “because he is an expert on aspects of paleobiology and theropods, plus he is an excellent colleague to work on papers with.”

In the research paper, the scientists have created an artistic rendering of what this new species might have looked like. While Turner acknowledges that the image involves a “bit of an artistic license,” the image is also “bound by what we know.” 

Nesbitt said this finding provides information about the theropods as a whole. “We really don’t know why T. rex and its closest relatives got so big,” he said, but researchers do know this happened at the end of the Cretaceous period, after 80 million years of being relatively small.

Turner lives in Port Jefferson with his wife, Melissa Cohen, who is the graduate program coordinator in the Department of Ecology & Evolution at Stony Brook University. The couple has two children.

Turner, who grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, recalls a field trip when he was 17 that encouraged him to pursue a career in paleontology. He was conducting research in Montana and he was exploring dinosaurs and sharing a sense of camaraderie with others on the expedition.

“I remember feeling like that was an affirming experience,” Turner said.

As for the discovery of Suskityrannus, Turner shared the wonder at finding a new species, something he’s been a part of eight times with dinosaurs in a career that now includes 11 years at Stony Brook.

“It’s always pretty exciting when you get to work on something that’s new,” he said.

On April 10, approximately 80 students and alumni took to the campus to protest what they felt were Americans with Disabilities Act violations. Photo by Allilsa Fernandez

A student-led rally over handicapped access across campus has opened up a dialogue at Stony Brook University.

A broken handicapped button at SBU. Photo by Allilsa Fernandez

On April 10, approximately 80 students and alumni took to the campus to protest what they felt were Americans with Disabilities Act violations. The rally was organized by the Disability Rights Coalition and co-sponsored by the Graduate Student Employees Union. The coalition is an alliance of campus activists led by Naji Nizam, a junior at SBU majoring in business, and Allilsa Fernandez, former Peer Mental Health Alliance president and Stony Brook alumna.

Complaints included broken handicapped buttons on doors, snow on wheelchair ramps during the winter and a failure on the university’s part to post information regarding accessibility at university events.

After the protest, Nizam, who has a rare neuromuscular condition, and former student Jacqueline Albin talked with Jeff Barnett, assistant dean of students.

“I appreciated the fact that Jeff came out to hear our concerns, and I took that as a sign that the school is willing to work with us,” Nizam said in an email.

An Undergraduate Student Government Senate meeting followed April 18 that Nizam said he was unable to attend due to being out of town, but Fernandez was able to attend. Richard Gatteau, SBU vice president for student affairs and dean of students, tried to address student’s concerns. Fernandez said Gatteau told the group that all the handicapped accessibility buttons had been repaired, but she said the next day, she found a few on campus that were still broken.

Fernandez said while something like a broken handicapped button may seem trivial to many, sometimes a door with a broken button leads to a bathroom, and a handicapped student or faculty member may have to go across campus to find another one.

“That’s so inhumane,” she said.

Fernandez said she became aware of accessibility problems when she had major surgery a year ago. She attended an SBU Student Life Awards ceremony due to Peer Mental Health Alliance, which she founded, being nominated for awards. She needed certain accommodations for the event, as at the time she was unable to walk long distances or stand for long periods of time. She needed a large amount of amoxicillin drugs provided by an online pharmacy. She said she didn’t know who to contact because it wasn’t mentioned in the event flyer or email, and while she eventually found a person to contact, according to Stony Brook’s Use of Campus Facilities policy, availability of reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities must be clearly stated on all brochures, notices, bulletins, advertisements and invitations for seminars and other activities. Fernandez said she has noticed some improvement with the statement being included in event information.

“The biggest victory so far is bringing up the conversation and bringing these issues to light as more people are coming forward.”

— Jacqueline Albin

Albin said while she is not handicapped, she became familiar with those who were encountering accessibility issues while she was looking into the school’s resources when it comes to mental illnesses. She said meeting students who had trouble opening doors or with finding elevators opened up her eyes to issues faced by those with disabilities. She said while she is optimistic about changes she hopes administrators will schedule more meetings with students in the near future.

“The biggest victory so far is bringing up the conversation and bringing these issues to light as more people are coming forward,” she said.

According to SBU spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow, SBU’s Office of Facilities and Services has implemented a new program where custodial staff will check doors every day and report issues needing immediate intervention.

Sheprow said students also have resources available to them to report accessibility issues, including the Student Accessibility Support Center that students who require accessibility resources to services and accommodations can contact. Students may also contact the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, which helps to ensure that the campus environment is safe and accessible. Transportation and Parking Operations, in conjunction with SASC, offers transportation services for university community members who require an accommodation due to disability or injury.

Maintenance issues such as broken handicapped buttons, elevator issues and snow removal concerns can be reported to the school’s West Campus Academic Building, and non-urgent maintenance issues that do not present a safety concern can be reported through the school’s FIXIT system.

Sarah Deonarine. Photo from campaign website

Coram woman looks to face Bonner in November election

Sarah Deonarine, who is planning to run for the Town of Brookhaven Council District 2 seat on the Democratic ticket, said she believes there’s a way to balance the environmental and economic needs of the North Shore.

“Nationwide, there’s a feeling of participating in the democracy, and I just couldn’t sit by anymore,” Deonarine said. “I realized somebody strong had to stand up, and it was either going to be me or nobody was going to do it.”

In the upcoming weeks, Deonarine is looking for the petition application to run for councilwoman to come through, and she will run for the district seat against 12-year incumbent Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point).

Deonarine said she decided to jump into the race because of Proposition One, a back-of-the-ballot proposition that extended officials’ terms in office from two years to four, and limited officeholders to three terms. A total of 58 percent voted in favor of that measure with 42 percent opposing last November.

Sarah Deonarine and her family. Photo from campaign website

The Democratic contender said the proposition was a backwards means of extending the council members’ time in office, since each elected official would no longer have to run every two years, and the term limits weren’t retroactive.

“It was like they hoodwinked the voters by not giving them the right information,” she said. 

The contender for the council seat has been a resident in Brookhaven for 11 years, and in Coram for four along with her husband and three young children. A Pennsylvania native, she holds a masters degree from the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. She has worked for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for seven years, and has spent the past four years as the executive director of the Manhasset Bay Protection Committee, which serves to protect the water quality of North Hempstead. She is a member of the Town of Brookhaven Democratic Committee, as well as a member of the Mothers of Twins Club of Suffolk County, the Coram Civic Association, Mommy and Me and Science Advocacy of Long Island.

Deonarine already has the nod of the town Democratic Committee as well as the Working Families Party, and she said she has sent in the petitions she needs to run for town council, though she has yet to receive confirmation back as of press time.

She is running on numerous issues, including reforming the town’s meeting schedule, and focusing new developments around sustaining the environment.

“A lot of what I want to do gets back to the quality of life,” she said. “People are happier surrounded by nature.”

She said that while it’s all well and good the town has meetings at 2 p.m. for those who can’t drive at night, having the nightly meetings at 5 p.m. means most people who are out working cannot attend. She said she would like to move those meetings past 6 p.m., and potentially move the meeting location occasionally to different parts in the town, giving more people availability to attend.

She also called attention to the issues of derelict housing, otherwise known as zombie homes. The biggest barrier to people making use of this property, she said, was the liens Suffolk County puts on the property after it is razed by the town. She said she would use the strong connection she said she has with Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and other county and state lawmakers to see if there could be any program of lien forgiveness, or otherwise a program that would give developers the opportunity to revitalize the destroyed parcels.

Developments and their consequences are on the minds of many North Shore residents, and with new developments coming up in the town’s agenda, including the Mount Sinai Meadows millennial housing project and the Echo Run senior living project in Miller Place, Deonarine said there needs to be attention paid to making sure these developments do not affect the local wildlife, impact the below- ground drinking water or increase traffic.

“We need to protect all our water beneath our feet — you build more development, you have more waste running off into our local waterways,” she said. “More housing means more traffic, but we also need the tax base. The cost of living is really high, people living here, more industries, it’s a Catch-22.”

“More housing means more traffic, but we also need the tax base. The cost of living is really high, people living here, more industries, it’s a Catch-22.”

— Sarah Deonarine

She said she would take a close look at the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, especially in terms of the tax breaks it gives to developments such as the Engel Burman senior living facilities currently under construction in Mount Sinai. The development was given a 13-year Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement that would see the developer continue to pay $46,000 in property taxes for the first three years while the two projects are under construction.

She said there needs to be more public transparency with IDA meetings and decisions, along with a closer look at their decision- making process.

“Local politics matter a lot. This is our everyday lives,” she said. “We really need to pay attention and consider a new way, a new approach.”

Microplastic scooped from the surf off Kamilo Beach, Hawaii, where there seems to be more plastic than sand. Photo by Erica Cirino

By Daniel Dunaief

Erica Cirino sails the South Pacific to cover the story of microplastic pollution in the oceans with Danish sailors and scientists. Photo by Rasmus Hytting

A specialist in investigating plastics pollution, Erica Cirino recently shared an email exchange about her concerns over a growing environmental threat. Cirino, who earned a bachelor of arts in environmental studies and a master’s of science in journalism from Stony Brook University, is a Kaplana Chawla Launchpad fellow at the Safina Center. A guest researcher at Roskilde University in Denmark and a freelance science writer and artist, Cirino is also a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

How significant are plastics as a source of pollution in the oceans? Is the problem becoming more pronounced each year? 

Plastics are a significant source of marine debris, entering the oceans at an estimated rate of 8 million metric tons per year. However, experts don’t have a great idea of exactly how much plastic is entering the oceans because it’s so hard to quantify once it gets in the environment. 

What can people on Long Island and elsewhere do to help prevent plastic pollution?

When it comes to preventing plastic from getting into nature, including in the oceans, reducing one’s use of plastic is most certainly the answer. There are many recyclable products on the market, but these only encourage the use of more plastic — and then there’s the actual act of recycling that’s necessary for the plastic to be reused. 

To reduce your plastic use, you should make use of reusable containers such as bags, bottles and food boxes, ideally made from natural materials like wood, metal or glass. Hard plastics can be reused, but they do release small particles of plastic into the environment, particularly when washed. 

You should also pay attention to your clothing labels, because much of our clothing today is made from plastics. Opt for organic cotton, bamboo, wool and other natural fibers over plastic-based polyester, nylon and acrylic. Every time you wash synthetic plastic-based clothing, thousands of tiny plastic pieces wash off and into the wastewater system. That’s not good because water treatment can’t remove plastic (yet) and it goes directly back into the environment. 

Has recycling helped reduce the problem in the oceans or landfills?

Based off of production, waste management and pollution data, experts estimate 8,300 million metric tons of virgin plastic have been produced to date, and only 9 percent of that plastic has been recycled. The vast majority has been tossed in landfills or littered into the natural environment. 

Above, a deceased herring gull surrounded by plastic litter on Venice Beach, California. Photo by Erica Cirino

How has plastic affected individual organisms and ecosystems? 

In the oceans, plastic breaks down from intact items into microscopic pieces over time, from weeks to months to years. Because there are so many different sizes of plastic in the oceans, wildlife is affected in different ways. Large pieces of plastic may injure or entangle larger animals like whales and sea turtles, while the tiniest pieces of plastic may block the digestive tracts of microscopic marine crustaceans. What’s more, the tiniest pieces of plastic (microplastic), while they sometimes pass through the guts of the animals that eat them, often contain toxic chemicals they’ve absorbed from seawater. Animals that eat microplastic tend to accumulate high levels of toxins in their bodies that can cause disease, behavioral abnormalities and even death. 

Where do plastics that wash ashore on Long Island originate?

Based on my years of walking Long Island’s beaches, I can tell you the plastics that wash ashore along the Sound tend to come mostly from New York City and Connecticut. For example, I once found a message in a plastic water bottle that someone had sent from Connecticut, according to the note inside. The note also contained a phone number and I lightly scolded the person who sent it off for tossing a plastic bottle into the Sound. But on the South Shore and the East End, there’s a lot of plastic that comes in from far off places via the Atlantic Ocean as far as Europe and Africa, even. 

What are some of the positive steps you’ve seen individuals and/or companies take to address the plastics problem? 

There are individuals doing things large and small to address the plastic pollution crisis. Some examples include the formation of beach cleanup groups, political mobilization and pushes for legislation to reduce or prohibit use of plastic items like plastic bags, expanded polystyrene food containers and plastic bottles. Others have created companies that reuse cleaned-up plastic marine debris to make clothing and other items. But the issue with that is that microplastic will shed off these items. I think the most effective efforts revolve around community projects and political action to address the core issue: which is using plastic. 

Are there any popular misconceptions about plastics?

The biggest misconception is that recycling is a solution to the issue of plastic pollution. 

Is there a plastics message for consumers, companies and policy makers that you’d like to share on Earth Day this year?

Let’s rethink our fast and hurried plastic lifestyles this Earth Day and think about all the problems we’re causing by using fast, easy and cheap plastic. If we love nature, we need to do more to preserve it, and that involves a less consumeristic lifestyle. Let’s value the things that really matter, like friends, family and community.

Belle (Emma Watson) comes to realize that underneath the hideous exterior of the Beast (Dan Stevens) there is the kind heart of a Prince in Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a live-action adaptation of the studio's animated classic directed by Bill Condon. © 2016 Disney Enterprises inc. All Rights Reserved.

Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook will host a concert by the Stony Brook Wind Ensemble on the Main Stage on Wednesday, April 17 at 7:30 p.m.

Conducted by Bruce Engel, the program will include Samuel Barber’s “Overture to the School for Scandal,” Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony (1st movement),” “Bolero by Maurice Ravel, “An American in Paris” by George Gershwin, “Beauty and the Beast” by Allan Menken and “Pines of the Appian Way” by Ottorino Respighi/

Tickets are $10 adults, $5 students and seniors. For more information, call 631-632-2787 or visit www.stallercenter.com.

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