Environment & Nature

Horseshoe crabs spawn at West Meadow Beach. Photo by Toby Stime

By Mallie Jane Kim

New York’s horseshoe crabs may see new and permanent protections, if a bill in Albany is successful — something local environmental groups are rooting for.

“Horseshoe crabs were once abundant in our local harbors and lined the shores of Port Jefferson and Setauket Harbors during the May breeding season,” said George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force. “They are a big deal with harbor lovers.”

Horseshoe crabs, which are more closely related to arachnids like spiders and scorpions than crustaceans, are considered “living fossils” because they’ve existed, unchanged, for an estimated 450 million years, surviving through multiple mass extinctions. 

But the species has faced a steady decline in the past few decades due to harvesting and habitat loss, which in turn affects species of birds that rely on horseshoe crab eggs as mid-migration sustenance. The crabs are commercially harvested for use as bait by eel and conch fishing operations, and their blue blood is used in biomedical research and for improving vaccine safety.

The new bill, introduced by Assemblymember Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), would amend state law to prohibit the taking of horseshoe crabs for commercial or biomedical purposes from state waters, but would allow for approved scientific or educational uses, like for zoos or aquariums.

The Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation approved the bill on May 14, and it now sits with the codes committee. If the bill passes there, it would face a vote by the whole Assembly. 

On May 21, state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Manhattan) introduced a “same as” bill in the state Senate, and because it counts as a revamped version of a previous horseshoe crab bill that already passed through relevant committees, this bill is ready for a floor vote.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, warned that because Connecticut and Massachusetts recently enacted stronger protections for horseshoe crabs and neighboring states are also eying changes, New York’s population could be at greater risk.

“We’re very concerned that’s going to draw more eyes on New York’s horseshoe crab population,” she said.

According to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, a permit holder can currently harvest up to 200 horseshoe crabs per day in New York. The state has an annual harvest limit of 150,000 each year.

A report by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission indicated coastwide harvesting of horseshoe crabs for bait peaked in the 1990s at about 2.75 million crabs, but was down to about half a million in 2022, partly due to more efficient equipment that allows fishermen to use much less bait. 

Still, Esposito said harvesting horseshoe crabs to chop them up as bait is “archaic,” and said commercial fishing enterprises have been talking about finding alternative bait sources for decades. “This will incentivize finding alternative baits for fishermen to use to successfully catch conch and eel,” she said.

For Hoffman, stopping the “rapacious takings” that have lowered horseshoe crab populations is essential.

“We must do all we can to save them,” Hoffman said. “We can’t let them be hunted to extinction.” 

Photo courtesy of the Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve

The Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve will hold its 20th annual Catch and Release Junior Angler Fishing Tournament at Caleb Smith State Park Preserve, 581 W. Jericho Turnpike, Smithtown, on Saturday,  June 8. The event is rain or shine.

The tournament will be divided into two groups: ages 5 through 8 from 9:45 to 11:15 a.m. and ages 9 to 12 from 1 to 3 p.m. Sign-in begins 30 minutes before each start time. Trophies will be awarded in three categories at each session. The tournament is sponsored by The Fisherman and The Campsite Sport Shop.

Those interested in participating in the tournament must register by Saturday, June 1, and adults must accompany anglers under the age of 10. The entry fee is $15, $10 for members and includes bait, hooks and bobbers, junior angler tee shirts, refreshments, and goody bags for all participants. A limited number of fishing rods are available if required. An $8 NYS Parks parking fee will be in effect.

For more information or to register, call the Caleb Smith State Preserve office at 631-265-1054, Wednesday through Sunday.

Stony Brook University Hospital

Practice Greenhealth has once again recognized Stony Brook University Hospital (SBUH) as a national leader in environmental sustainability in the health care sector. As a result of SBUH’s leadership, ingenuity and hard work through its sustainability efforts and initiatives, the hospital has earned this year’s Greenhealth Emerald Award. This honor recognizes the hospital, as part of the top 20 percent, for its ongoing commitment to improving its environmental performance and efforts to build sustainability and resiliency into the operations and culture of the institution.

“At Stony Brook University Hospital, we know sustainability is essential to better care for our patients, communities and planet,” said Carol Gomes, MS, FACHE, CPHQ, Chief Executive Officer, Stony Brook University Hospital. “I am extremely proud of all our Stony Brook Medicine faculty and staff for their ongoing commitment and efforts toward environmental excellence in healthcare.”

Additionally, SBUH received Practice Greenhealth’s Greening the OR Recognition Award. The accolade honors facilities that have made substantial progress in reducing the impact of the surgical environment and improving environmental performance in the operating room.

“In a shifting health care landscape, a focus on sustainability can help build resilience while better protecting the health of patients and the community,” said Gary Cohen, Practice Greenhealth founder. “Stony Brook University Hospital demonstrates the kind of leadership, innovation, and performance that can drive the entire health sector toward more environmentally responsible practices.”

SBUH continues to lead the way in tackling emissions and is already working to achieve climate resilience through a number of initiatives, including:

This past April, SBUH was recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for its public commitments to decarbonizing its operations and improving resilience in the face of climate change. As part of the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), HHS shared that SBUH was one of more than 130 organizations that have joined the White House-HHS Health Sector climate pledge, committing to align with the Biden administration’s goal of reducing emissions by 50% by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

To learn more about Stony Brook Medicine’s sustainability efforts, visit stonybrookmedicine.edu/sustainability.

Presented by Long Island Health Collaborative, Sponsored by AARP Long Island

The Long Island Health Collaborative has announced the return of  its annual AARP Long Island-sponsored Walk with a Doc series. Now in its third year, Long Islanders are invited to join the two organizations and their physician partners at the following free community walks on the third Saturday of May, June, September, and October.

The series aims to tackle chronic disease through free community walks where physicians will briefly speak about how attendees can prevent or better manage chronic conditions in their own lives through simple lifestyle choices like a balanced diet and regular physical activity before leading attendees on a walk where they can ask the doc questions and keep the conversation going.

All walks are FREE and walkers must register in advance to attend. State parking fees are waived. Learn more and register for each walk at the links below.

Walk with a Doc: Harborfront Park

Saturday, May 18, 2024 at 10 AM

Harborfront Park, Port Jefferson, NY 11777

Led by Dr. Shamim Khan, Interventional Cardiologist, Catholic Health

Register Here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/852479829117

Walk with a Doc: Belmont Lake

Saturday, June 15, 2024 at 10 AM

Belmont Lake State Park

Led by Dr. Keasha S. Guerrier, Family Medicine, Long Island Jewish Valley Stream Hospital

Register Here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/852497782817

Walk with a Doc: Sunken Meadow

Saturday, September 21, 2024 at 10 AM

Sunken Meadow State Park, New York State Reference Rte 908K, Kings Park, NY 11754

Led by Dr. Anupama Paranandi, Preventive Medicine Resident, Stony Brook Medicine

Special guest speakers from Suffolk County DOH’s Office of Minority Health and the Long Island Sound Study will discuss increasing equitable access to the Long Island Sound in the region and the Long Island Sound Estuary Program

Register Here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/858998687197

 

Walk with a Doc: Hempstead Lake

Saturday, October 19, 2024 at 10 AM

Hempstead Lake State Park

Led by Dr. Gerard A. Baltazar, Critical Care Surgeon, NYU Langone Hospital

Register Here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/858992087457

 

Why take a walk in the (New York State) park?

 According to the New York State Department of Health, chronic diseases such as asthma, cancer, diabetes, health disease, and stroke are the leading causes of disability and death in the United States. These conditions account for seven of every ten deaths and affect 90 million Americans. The good news is that these diseases are preventable with simple lifestyle choices, such as regular physical activity and a balanced diet. Walking is a simple, free way to get in regular physical activity that can help you manage or even prevent chronic conditions.

It’s no secret that Long Island is home to a multitude of scenic locations that lend themselves to safe, beautiful walking opportunities. In 2024,New York State Parks and Historic Sites also celebrates their Centennial, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of our parks and sites system. Three of our four 2024 walks will be held at New York State Parks.

For more information about Walk with a Doc, contact Brooke Oliveri, Manager of the Long Island Health Collaborative at[email protected] or call 631-963-4167.

A river otter caught on a trail camera in Bellport. Image courtesy of Luke Ormand

By John L. Turner

John Turner

I slung on the backpack, shut the car door and walked off quickly, fueled by excitement and expectation. After  a brisk walk on a shady forest path, bordered by a few small fields hinting at the property’s past farm use, I reached my destination — a wooden observation platform providing sweeping views of a freshwater pond situated within the North Fork’s Arshamomaque Preserve. I immediately began a binocular scan of the water and the far shore for any sign of movement revealing their presence. Nothing. Scanned for a few more minutes and nothing. I soon fall into a pattern of picking up the binoculars and looking first along the water surface and then the vegetated far shore. This goes on for an hour. Still no action. 

I learned a long time ago that nature is not a zoo and the comings and goings of animals are never done to please us humans, but always in response to their needs. So I will see them, if I see them at all, on their schedule. I continue to patiently sit, soaking in the beauty of the warm sunshine, bolstered by a large cup of strong coffee and a cinnamon-raisin bagel. 

 I was also enjoying the many marsh mallow shrubs blooming in profusion amidst the abundance of cattails ringing the pond. The flowers of this species border on the spectacular — three to five inches across, deep but bright pink petals with a red throat or base, and a prominent tower containing both the stamens and the stigmata. This species is related to the plant whose roots were once the source of that delicious confectioneries used to make s’mores — marshmallows.  

Suddenly, there was rippled movement along the far shore. It took me a moment to process what I was looking at but it was a family of  four river otters (Lontra canadensis) — two adults and two pups — weaving in and out of the wetland plants.  I enjoyed them for about 15 seconds until they all broke back into cover of the cattails at the eastern edge of the pond. A minute or two later they reappeared this time swimming along the wooded shoreline before doubling back to the cattails. 

What I was witnessing is a small part of a welcome recovery of the species taking place over several decades now, as an increasing number of otters are colonizing suitable wetland habitat on Long Island, after decades of their dearth. According to Paul Connor’s definitive Mammals of Long Island published by the New York State Museum in 1971, otters were thought to be extirpated from Long Island in the latter part of the 19th century. He states that Daniel Denton in his 1670 description of Long Island mammals noted the presence of otters, but goes on to mention that more than 170 years later J.E. DeKay declared the species extirpated from Long Island. 

Through the 20th century otters were occasionally seen or reported but there was no sense of a sustained recovery of the species on Long Island. Connor reports no sightings in all the field work (conducted over several field seasons in the late 1960’s) that formed the basis for his monograph. This began to change in the first few years of the 21st century when sightings of otters became more commonplace. One of the first sightings  was near the well-known Shu Swamp sanctuary in Mill Neck, Nassau County. 

Mike Bottini, a well-known Long Island naturalist and founder of the Long Island River Otter Project, has studied this recovery as well as other aspects of otter ecology and biology and published an informative published paper investigating the status of river otter in 2008. He states: “This survey estimates that there are at least eight river otters inhabiting Long Island: four on the north shore of Nassau County, one in the Nissequogue River watershed, one in the west end of the Peconic Estuary, one on the south shore, and one in the Southold-Shelter Island-East Hampton area.” Remarkably, a mere decade later otter signs were found in 26 watersheds; the recovery was well underway.

Three years later, in 2021, Mike noted: “otter home ranges included all the watersheds on the north shore from Oyster Bay east to Orient, the Peconic River watershed and a significant portion of the Peconic Estuary, and two watersheds on the south shore.”  Painting a rosy picture, Mike concludes: “Much excellent otter habitat on Long Island remains unoccupied, especially on the south shore. 

In addition to the obvious confirmation formed by actual sightings or finding their tracks in mud or snow, the use of latrines or “otter bathrooms” by this highly aquatic mammal is one of the ways researchers use to gain a better sense of their distribution on Long Island. For reasons that are not entirely clear, otters often defecate (known as scat) in upland areas adjacent to the waterways, these latrine sites thought to be used to communicate information. 

I have found their latrines in a few places, the closest being at Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket on both sides of the northern pond. Their scat often contains the remains of scales and bones of the fish they prey on, and such was the case by a recent inspection of the latrines at the park — scales and delicate fish bones were prevalent in the sushi meals the otter was consuming. While otters favor fish, they are opportunistic and will eat frogs, turtles, crayfish (yes, we do have crayfish species on Long Island), and freshwater clams and mussels. 

Otters are carnivores and are members of the weasel family whose other Long Island members include, according to Connor, Mink, Long-tailed weasel, and perhaps Short-tailed weasel. Further afield in the North American continent we have badgers, the federally endangered Black-footed ferret, and the famous and remarkable wolverine. Thirteen otter species occur around the globe. 

As evidenced by my North Fork experience and several other accounts, otters are reproducing on Long Island with their pups presumably helping to fuel the resurgence.  As their young (typically between 2-5 pups are born) are quite helpless at birth, being hairless and blind, they grow and develop in dens which provide some degree of protection from the elements. The dens are in close proximity to the water and may, in some cases, be connected to it. As of this writing I don’t know of anyone who has conclusively discovered an otter den here. 

The use of remote cameras installed in the field at sites likely to be utilized by otters have proven instrumental in learning some new streams and creeks otters are frequenting. Luke Ormand, a staff member in the Town of Brookhaven’s Division of Land Management, has placed several cameras in numerous locations in Brookhaven Town that have been successful in recording otters. With these cameras, otters have been confirmed in the Carmans River watershed and the Motts Creek drainage system in Bellport.

A significant damper on the continued recolonization and expansion of river otters on Long Island are motor vehicles, as otters are sometimes struck and killed. An otter was recently struck on Jericho Turnpike near the famous bull statue in Smithtown and the total number of road killed otters recorded for Long Island stands at 29 animals. 

Bottini notes that the peak time is between March and May both when males are searching for females in estrus (ready to mate) and yearling individuals are striking out on their own. The likelihood of being hit by a vehicle is especially high in places where otters are forced to cross a road that spans a stream containing too narrow a culvert or a dam where the dam is under the bridge; the dam face prevents downstream or upstream access, forcing the otter to climb up the banks and lope across the dangerous roadway.  Solutions involve  the placement of stacked cinder blocks to form a ramp or aluminum ramps which otters can negotiate.  

I had the pleasure of working with the aforementioned Mike and Luke one day a few years ago in constructing a cinder block ramp along a dam face on the Little Seatuck Creek in East Moriches. Camera footage soon showed otter use of the ramp although the two otters in the area illustrated different personalities; one otter immediately took to using it while the other was quite hesitant.  

Mike notes that otters are “ambassadors of wetlands” and given their broad appeal and popularity this is true. Who doesn’t remember wildlife films on Disney and other shows depicting otters tobogganing in the snow, frolicking about in what appears to be joyous play? Perhaps this iconic and charismatic species can help to generate public support on Long Island in better protecting our waterways — important habitats — which sustain so many species. 

 Let me end by stating the obvious: you “otter” take time out of your busy schedule to look for these furry, very attractive ambassadors. But please drive slowly to your intended destination, all the while keeping an eye out for a sleek, rich brown animal loping across the road.  

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

Photo from Lefferts Tide Mill & Preserve

The Lefferts Tide Mill & Preserve is sponsoring a Label Design Contest for photographers and artists!! The winning image of this 18th-century tide mill will be printed on the labels of a custom brew issued by Six Harbors Brewing Company this August, and the winner will be celebrated at a special awards ceremony at the brewery.

The Label Design Contest is open to photographers and artists. We will accept one black-and-white and/or one-color entry. The label specs are 8×4.8125″ with .125″ bleed around. We will accept landscape orientation photos and drawings.  Photos and camera-ready art should be submitted to  Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano, Executive Director, at [email protected] or mailed to Lefferts Mill at P.O. Box 1482, Huntington, NY 11743, by June 30, 2024.  

If you are a photographer or an artist, be creative! It is our mission to restore the eighteenth-century Tide Mill & Dam. As such, a barge is filled with tools in front of the Tide Mill.  Your goal is to capture the essence of the Tide Mill, either with the barge or without.

“The Lefferts Tide Mill is a place where you can capture the essence of the beautiful setting that has been home to the Tide Mill for 231 years,” commented Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano, the Executive Director.

For creative inspiration, take a tour of the mill operated by the Huntington Historical Society, paddle your kayak to the end of Puppy Cove, or visit us at www.leffertstidemill.org .

The Lefferts Tide Mill & Preserve is a not-for-profit organization, established in 2013, with a mission to preserve and protect an 18th century tide mill, located in the Village of Lloyd Harbor, that is the best-preserved tidal grist mill in the United States.  The mill design is based on U.S. Patent No. 3 for an “automatic mill” signed by President George Washington.  The mill pond has flourished into a haven for native and migratory waterfowl, contributing significantly to the region’s biodiversity. 

For more information, contact Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano at [email protected] . 

 

 

On Saturday, May 4, residents securely disposed of over 9.99 tons (19,980 pounds) in paper documents during the Town of Smithtown Municipal Services Facility (MSF) bi-annual shredding event. A steady stream of residents arrived throughout the day to shred personal documents courtesy of the full-service confidential shredding company; Data Struction, Inc., Complete Shredding Solutions. This bi-annual event is hosted free of charge (3 box limit per person) for residents, courtesy of the Smithtown Department of Environment and Waterways (DEW) and the Municipal Services Facility (MSF).

“Protecting private information is crucial for safeguarding our identities. That is why the Shred Event is so valuable. This is a proactive approach to ensure personal information is disposed of safely and securely. I commend our teams at the Municipal Services Facility and Department of Environment and Waterways for their outstanding work providing this service in a convenient and efficient manner to our residents,” said Smithtown Town Councilman Thomas J. McCarthy.

The Department of Environment and Waterways and Municipal Services Facility provided additional support staff to assist with moving vehicles along. Residents were pleased with the service provided by MSF and DEW staff, in addition to the two trucks from Data Shredding Services of Hauppauge. Participants enjoyed short to no wait times and the opportunity to dispose of their documents safely while also avoiding the potential risk of identity theft.

“It was great to see residents taking the opportunity to dispose of their personal documents while avoiding the potential of identity theft. Residents were pleased with the service provided by the MSF and DEW staff, in addition to the two shredding trucks contracted from Data Struction, Inc., Complete Shredding Solutions from Oceanside, New York. A special thank you to Municipal Services Facility’s Neil Sheehan and Tom Pascarellato together with the MSF and DEW team who worked hard to ensure this event was successful,” added Michael P. Engelmann, P.G. Department of Environment and Waterways.

The May Shred Event was hosted at the Municipal Services Facility, located at 85 Old Northport Road in Kings Park, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Data Shredding Service, Inc. is a full-service confidential shredding service located in Oceanside. The next paper shredding event is scheduled for October 19. For updates on upcoming free events hosted by the Town of Smithtown, download the Mobile App, which is available for free on Google Play and the App Store.

Richard and Linda Belmont with Councilmember Kornreich. Photo from TOB

Recently, Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich presented a compost tumbler to Richard and Linda Belmont of Strongs Neck, winners of the Town of Brookhaven’s “Compost Tumbler Giveaway” from Council District 1.

The contest was held on the Town’s “CURBY Town of Brookhaven’s Recycling Can” Facebook page in honor of Earth Day. Residents pledged to reduce their waste in a variety of ways, such as bringing a reusable coffee mug or buying fresh food with little to no packaging. One winner was selected from each Town Council District.

Through its Green Energy and Sustainability Initiative, the Town has been “greening-up” its operations and facilities while saving taxpayer money by utilizing new, and more energy efficient technologies and renewable energy sources. All these efforts lower operation costs and reduce Town carbon emissions. By encouraging waste diversion through recycling and composting, the Town can further realize spending and emissions reductions.

For more information about recycling in the Town of Brookhaven, visit www.BrookhavenNY.gov.