By Lisa Scott
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) mission is to “conserve, improve and protect New York’s natural resources and environment and to prevent, abate and control water, land and air pollution…”
Within the newly created Nissequogue River State Park in Kings Park, the DEC Division of Marine Resources has a state-of-the-art headquarters and laboratory to pursue these goals and ensure the conservation of our local marine life and habitats. All are welcome to visit their public lobby equipped with aquariums of local species and learn more ways to get involved and help monitor and protect marine life locally.
Shellfish have been a resource for Indigenous inhabitants of Long Island for thousands of years for a myriad of uses. In spite of massive human development over the past 400 years, shellfish are still an important resource today. Monitoring threats to shellfish and working to restore their populations and habitat is an important part of DEC’s work.
DEC Marine Resources Shellfish Microbiology Laboratory operates the only FDA-evaluated laboratory in the State for processing water samples to certify approved shellfish harvest areas. The laboratory features advanced equipment for processing and analyzing plankton, shellfish, and water samples, ensuring that shellfish harvested legally from approved areas in New York’s marine waters are safe for consumers and supports the State’s commercially important shellfish industry.
Year-round, the DEC conducts water quality sampling of over one million acres of shellfish harvesting areas across Long Island and the lab analyzes approximately 13,000 water samples annually to monitor water quality trends. As a result of continuous testing, the DEC classifies shellfish harvest areas as open year-round, seasonally open, or closed year-round. Use the DEC’s Public Shellfish Mapper to learn about harvest area boundaries, seasonally open dates, and water quality sampling locations: https://on.ny.gov/shellfishmapper
Under the Long Island Shellfish Restoration Program (LISRP), the DEC in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension, Stony Brook University, and the Town of Huntington completed the stocking of 13.6 million juvenile (seed) clams and (spat-on-shell) oysters and 650,000 adult clams in Huntington Harbor in October 2020 to improve water quality and enhance shellfish populations. The LISRP completed four additional stocking efforts at sanctuary sites in Bellport Bay, Hempstead Bay, Shinnecock Bay, and South Oyster Bay.
Monitoring of sanctuary sites is conducted by the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University to obtain biological and environmental information on shellfish growth, survival and spawning success, and to assess the effect on water quality, phytoplankton uptake and filtration and nitrogen cycling and removal. The results of the project will guide and support the success of future restoration efforts on Long Island.
Most Long Island tributaries once supported spring runs of returning alewife, a species of river herring native to Long Island. Like salmon, they split their life cycle between salt and freshwater. Alewife runs have been decimated by dams, habitat loss and declining water quality but remnant populations still exist in a few rivers and the public’s help is needed to learn more about their overall status across Long Island.
Through the Long Island Volunteer Alewife Survey, volunteers help record observations of spawning alewife and documenting existing runs is an important step for restoration efforts. Monitoring efforts start mid-March and training workshops will be announced soon for Spring 2023. Suggested sites include: Frank Melville Memorial Park/Setauket Mill Pond in Setauket, Crab Meadow East Pond (Makamah Nature Preserve) in Fort Salonga, Stony Brook Grist Mill/Stony Brook Dam in Stony Brook, and Carlls River in Argyle Park, Babylon. Visit Seatuck’s website for workshop information and how to get involved: https://seatuck.org/volunteer-river-herring-survey/
The newly released Long Island Sound Marsh Migration Viewer is an online tool used to easily examine changes in marsh habitat along New York’s shores of the Long Island Sound watershed under various sea level rise scenarios over different time periods: http://warrenpinnacle.com/LIMaps.
New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC), Long Island Sound Study (LISS), and DEC will be hosting virtual public workshops for community stakeholders to learn more about the Viewer in early 2023. These workshops will demonstrate how to use the Viewer and will highlight an additional 47 marsh complexes that are added to the Viewer.
Whether you want to get outside to observe alewife in local rivers, sit at your desk to see changes to local marsh habitats with rising sea levels, or learn about shellfish monitoring, you have these and many other resources and opportunities available from our local DEC Marine Resources Headquarters. Check out more ways to get involved from DEC’s website: https://www.dec.ny.gov/ or contact them at 631 444-0450 or [email protected]. We all should be responsible, educated stewards of our beautiful island home.
Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860.