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Long Island Sound

A view of the Long Island Sound. Public domain photo

U.S. Reps. Nick LaLota (R-NY-1) and Joe Courtney (D-CT-2), co-chairs of the Long Island Sound Caucus, introduced Sept. 13 the bipartisan Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Reauthorization Act of 2023, which would reauthorize the Long Island Sound programs to ensure the protection and preservation of the Sound.

This is the House companion to legislation introduced by U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Chris Murphy (D-CT).

“As the co-chair of the Long Island Sound Caucus, I am proud to introduce the Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act,” LaLota said. “The Long Island Sound is not just a body of water — it’s a way of life for our community.”

The congressman added, “This legislation underscores the vital importance of preserving this natural treasure, not only for our environment but for the thriving fishing industry that sustains Long Island’s economy.”

In 1985, Congress created the Long Island Sound Study to identify and address the major environmental problems affecting the Sound. The LISS brings together the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, New York State, Connecticut State, nonprofit organizations and educational institutions to help restore and protect the Long Island Sound, including the watershed, which spans up toward New Hampshire and Vermont into Canada.

The new act would reauthorize the Long Island Sound programs from 2024 through 2028.

“The Long Island Sound is a unique ecological resource for eastern Connecticut and is home to a vast array of economic activities in our region,” Courtney said. “Last year our region secured an historic new investment for the Long Island Sound from the federal Infrastructure Law and the FY23 government spending package,” adding, “Reauthorizing the Long Island Sound programs ensures Congress can continue to invest in the preservation and protection of this special region.”

To read the full text of the legislation, visit lalota.house.gov.

Scene from SailAhead's Let's Take A Veteran Sailing event on Aug. 13.

It was a spectacular sunny & breezy day for SailAhead’s Let’s Take A Veteran Sailing event hosted by Centerport Yacht Club (CYC) on Sunday, August 13. Thanks to CYC Officers, staff and over 100 volunteers on 35 boats with skippers & crews, all 140 veterans and guests had a memorable afternoon sailing on Long Island Sound to raise awareness for PTSD and veteran suicides.

Photos by Joan Gallo, Martha Keller & Jenny Duclay

Researchers are still trying to pinpoint the precise number of lobster pots, pictured above, abandoned on the Long Island Sound floor. Still active, these traps pose numerous ecological and environmental risks. Photo by Gerald England/Lobster Pots/CC BY-SA 2.0
By Aidan Johnson

Potentially over a million abandoned lobster pots and fishing gear lay on the Long Island Sound floor.

This gear has been left in the Sound for multiple decades, but its impact on marine life is still felt today. [See story, “Ghost fishing,” TBR News Media website, June 4].

While the pots may be old, some still function and can trap lobsters and other aquatic animals, often killing them due to no way to escape. 

Some of the lobster pots, partially made of plastic, are beginning to break down, polluting the water and compounding the environmental and ecological risks posed to marine life.

To stop this maritime mess, the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County is getting to work. CCE first got involved with ghost fishing after the issue was raised with them by their commercial fishing partners in 2010.

“They had let us know that after the lobster industry crashed in about 1999, they were encountering a lot of derelict lobster pots during their normal operations and that they knew where some of these were,” said Scott Curatolo-Wagemann, senior educator at CCE Suffolk in Riverhead.

“We were able to put together a grant proposal, working with the commercial fishing industry — they had knowledge of where these traps were — to work with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to work out a letter that would allow us to do this work,” he added.

‘Right now, we’ve been doing this all on the local fishermen’s knowledge.’ — Scott Curatolo-Wagemann

Since New York State law prohibits anybody except the owner of a lobster trap from removing it, CCE Suffolk pays fishermen a charter fee to remove the pots.

According to a statement updated in March by CCE Suffolk, 19,000 derelict traps have already been removed from the New York waters of the Long Island Sound, equaling an estimated weight of 950,000 pounds.

While there are many more derelict traps, CCE Suffolk is still determining precisely how much longer these efforts will take.

“Right now, we’ve been doing this all on the local fishermen’s knowledge,” Curatolo-Wagemann said. “We are trying to expand it. We’ve applied for some funds to start using side-scan sonar to map out areas that may have high concentrations of traps so that we can kind of [make] a coordinated effort to remove traps,” adding that efforts are underway “to get an estimated amount that may still be out there.” 

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor) is working on drafting legislation allowing the state to remove the ghost gear after a designated period, but declined to comment for this updated story.

The Stratford Shoal Light Station is going up for auction June 12, with a starting bid of $10,000. Photo from Josh Moody.

By Mallie Jane Kim

The Stratford Shoal Light Station in the middle of Long Island Sound is going up for auction June 12 through the U.S. General Services Administration’s real estate website, but locals with knowledge of area waterways doubt it will become the next tourist hot spot.

The Stratford Shoal Light Station. Photo from GSA

Other historic lighthouses around U.S. coasts have become vacation rentals, local government offices or museums. Such a fate might be tricky for the lighthouse at Stratford Shoal, also known as the Middle Ground Light, a stone building constructed in the late 1870s and perched on two partially submerged rocky islands halfway between Old Field on Long Island and Stratford, Connecticut. The U.S. Coast Guard will retain ownership of all navigation aid systems active at the lighthouse, regardless of a future owner’s development plan.

“Whoever decides to do something, it’s not going to be easy,” said Pete Murphy, owner of Sea Tow Port Jefferson and Murphy’s Marine Service. Murphy passes the lighthouse fairly often through his service rescuing stranded boaters and said the area seems most often used as a fisherman’s hot spot. 

Murphy would welcome a commercial use of the property, like a bed and breakfast, and he could see expanding his shore-to-boat harbor taxi service to include ferrying visitors to a commercial entity at the lighthouse. According to Murphy, though, any potential renovations on the shoal would face challenges since it’s so far out into the sound. “The safety is getting there,” he said. “You’ve got to pick your weather to get out there.”

That isolation and exposure to waves and storms made the shoal lighthouse a tough posting for its keepers before it was automated in 1970. One assistant keeper, a newcomer from New York City named Julius Koster, reportedly suffered a psychological breakdown at the lighthouse in 1905, attempting to attack a colleague, then the lighthouse itself. Eventually he made an unsuccessful attempt on his own life.

“Every one of us probably wanted to live on a lighthouse by ourselves.”

— George Hoffman

Local water quality advocate George Hoffman agreed the lighthouse probably won’t see any major development since it is so far from shore, but it could entice someone who wants to get away from it all. “I think there’s a million people on Long Island who would like to live there,” he said. “But I think the reality is a bit harder because everything has to be brought in on a boat.”

Hoffman, who co-founded the Setauket Harbor Task Force, a volunteer environmental group that works to improve water quality in Port Jefferson and Setauket Harbors, isn’t concerned about the environmental impact of potential construction on the shoal, as any development would have to comply with government environmental regulations.

Still, Hoffman finds the idea of living on the shoal romantic. “Every one of us probably wanted to live on a lighthouse by ourselves,” he said. “Though movies about lighthouses all tend to end badly.”

The Stratford Shoal structure is on the national register of historic places and is one of four lighthouses the U.S. General Services Administration is auctioning this year, alongside six others to be offered at no cost to eligible historical, educational, nonprofit or local governmental agencies. The lighthouse had been awarded to lighthouse enthusiast Nick Korstad under the latter designation in 2016. But Korstad, who has made a career of buying and renovating lighthouses around the country for use as destinations, gave up his stewardship of the water-bound site after his plan to use the lighthouse as a museum where guests could stay overnight faced too much regulatory red tape.

The National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2020 allows the federal government to convey ownership of lighthouses to promote preservation of these historical sites and also to save taxpayer money on federal real estate costs. The starting point for bids of the Stratford Shoal Lighthouse is $10,000.

Pixabay photo
By Aidan Johnson

In the depths of the Long Island Sound, stationed among the crustaceans and fish, lie hundreds of thousands of lobster traps. 

These traps, a shadow of a once-vibrant lobster industry, have been abandoned for decades. Yet still active, they perpetuate a dangerous trend for marine life: ghost fishing.

Ghost fishing isn’t a supernatural phenomenon. It is a problem created by humans. It is the result of fishermen abandoning old but sometimes still functioning lobster pots and similar fishing gear in the Long Island Sound. While there are few lobsters left, those that remain can still be trapped, along with other sea life. With no way to escape, they end up dying a needless death.

The problems don’t end there, as Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) explained. “People are like, ‘It’s fine, no one sees it,’” she said. “But that’s not true because a lot of these lobster pots are starting to break down. They’re partly plastic, and the plastic is polluting the water.”

The solution, the county legislator insisted, is to remove the ghost gear as soon as possible. New York state law, however, prohibits the removal. 

“No person other than the licensee shall set out, tend, haul or unduly disturb, or take or remove lobsters from, a lobster pot or trap or other commercial gear, or damage, take, remove or possess such gear,” New York’s Environmental Conservation Law states.

While there have been efforts to remove the equipment, the near million derelict traps still there continue to take a toll on sea life. “My vision is to have a massive flotilla … go out to Long Island Sound, remove hundreds of thousands of lobster pots and ghost gear,” Anker said.

The problem gets worse with the realization that some of the fishermen aren’t around anymore, Anker added. “Maybe they’ve left the area, they’ve passed away, they’re no longer fishing in the area. There’s all kinds of reasons and it’s really a detriment to our local nautical community.”

To address these concerns, Anker is working with New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) to draft legislation that could allow the state to remove the ghost gear after a designated period of time.

Organizations such as the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County have joined the efforts to remove as many ghost traps as the law currently permits. “What happens is they pay the fishermen about $850 to charter their boat for the fishermen to go and then retrieve these pots,” Anker said.

According to a CCE statement made in March, 19,000 traps have been recovered from the Long Island Sound under this initiative. The traps are then recycled or returned to their owners, and burnable debris from them is converted into renewable energy.

Cooperation of the fishermen has helped the process. “These are local fishermen, and they want to do more,” Anker said. “They’re out there trying to make a living doing what they can.” 

She added, “We have one of the largest seafood industries in the country and we have to keep our water clean.”

Anker is also working on a separate $2 million project funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that is focused on cleaning up the Sound and removing marine debris.

While there still may be many lengths to go before the Long Island Sound is free from ghost gear, with the help of lawmakers, organizations, and fishermen, the Sound floor could soon be friendly to all sea life, Anker hopes.

Suozzi announced $300,000 will be used for shellfish seeding of Hempstead Harbor, Oyster Bay and Huntington Harbor. Photo from Suozzi's office

On April 21, representatives from local environmental groups joined U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) at Sea Cliff Municipal Beach for an announcement affecting the Long Island Sound.

Suozzi said he helped deliver more than $33 million of federal funds that will be allocated for the Sound and environmental cleanup projects across the Island and Northeast Queens. 

Out of this allocation, $300,000 will be used for shellfish seeding of Hempstead Harbor, Oyster Bay and Huntington Harbor to purchase approximately 10 million seed clams to be placed in the three harbors. The clams will be strategically placed in areas where they will not only filter the water, but also produce sufficient larvae to greatly expand those populations well into the future.

“Community Project Funding allows members of Congress to request funding to support specific community projects that will have the most real-life impacts in their districts,” Suozzi said. “Of the eight projects that I secured in the federal budget, five of them are environmental cleanup and restoration projects. I have devoted a significant part of my past 25 years in public service to cleaning up the pollution, dramatically reducing nitrogen, modernizing sewage treatment plants, and restoring shellfishing in our local waters. Since coming to Congress in 2017, I have fought for and successfully helped increase federal funding by 900% to clean up and restore the Long Island Sound. This $33 million, one of the largest single federal investments in environmental cleanup and restoration across Long Island and Northeast Queens, will go a long way in restoring and improving the Long Island Sound for generations to come.”

The funding is part of the federal budget signed into law last month. It represents one of the largest single federal investments in environmental cleanup and restoration across Long Island and Northeast Queens.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, at the press conference, called the funding a reason to celebrate. 

“Long Island Sound is a natural treasure that offers all segments of society the opportunity to enjoy fishing, swimming, beach-filled days, and water-based family activities,” she said. “Restoration efforts are working and the Sound is getting cleaner. Increased funding will help us continue progress on reducing nitrogen pollution, filtering stormwater runoff and restoring wetlands. It will also help us address new challenges to the Sound including impacts from climate change, invasive species and plastic pollution.”    

A view of Port Jefferson Harbor from Harborfront Park. File photo by Elana Glowatz

On Wednesday, April 13, two guest speakers presented to the Port Jefferson Harbor Commission on the state of Port Jeff Harbor and its future.

George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, shared the history of the harbor commission over the last two decades.

“Up until 2000, the commission hadn’t been created and every village kind of did its own thing and the [Town of Brookhaven] did its own thing,” he said. “You had overlapping regulations in terms of boat speeds and where you could clam and where you could moor.”

This changed after the 2000 Port Jefferson Harbor Management Plan, which directed the various coastal municipalities in the area on how to best manage the harbor. Today, the villages and the town coordinate their efforts through the harbor commission, which harmonizes laws to monitor boating safety, establish mooring fields and regulate maritime traffic. While the villages have succeeded in these areas, Hoffman suggests the commission now has the experience and know-how to devote greater attention to water quality.

“Now that you have all of the other issues kind of resolved, I think now it’s time to consider how this commission can start to help manage the harbor itself as an environmental entity,” Hoffman said.

MS4 regulations

During the first hour of a storm event, rain often carries harmful contaminants from lawns, roads and sidewalks, discharging oils, bacteria and particulate metals into nearby surface waters. This phenomenon poses a hazard to marine life.

In an effort to reduce contamination of surface waters during storm events, new state regulations will require coastal municipalities to develop a more comprehensive stormwater management program. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation released guidelines regulating small municipal stormwater sewer systems, known as MS4s.

“I actually think that the Port Jeff Harbor Commission could be a great vehicle to help all the municipalities comply.”

— George Hoffman

Under the existing policy, local governments are given wide latitude over the maintenance of their MS4s. “In the ’50s and ’60s, we never really gave a thought about stormwater — we just figured if it goes into the harbor, then it will dilute and everything will be fine,” Hoffman said. “We found out that that’s just not the way to go. This really has significant impacts.” 

With stricter directives and harsher penalties under these new regulations, Hoffman noted the need for personnel: “That’s never a good thing for municipalities because you have to fund those positions and budgets are always tough no matter where you are.” He added that the Port Jefferson Harbor Commission — which includes officials from the town as well as the villages of Port Jefferson, Belle Terre, Poquott and Old Field — already have the infrastructure in place through the commission to coordinate their efforts in complying with these directives. 

“I actually think that the Port Jeff Harbor Commission could be a great vehicle to help all the municipalities comply,” Hoffman said. “If every village has to go out and hire its own computer programmer to do the mapping of the stormwater, and has to hire somebody to run the public meetings and has to identify all the groups that are interested — it seems to me that it would be better if we all pulled together through this commission and handle all of our MS4 responsibilities together.” 

Acknowledging the limitations of an all-volunteer commission, Hoffman’s plan would have the various villages appropriate funds to hire part-time personnel to oversee MS4 regulatory compliance: “This can actually save your villages money because if everybody pools their resources together, you can probably just get one person in here — and it wouldn’t even have to be a full-time position — to help manage the MS4 regulations.”

Public outreach is also a major component of these new guidelines. Hoffman said that under the current policy, public hearings are not mandated. Now, municipalities must hold public hearings to identify the stakeholders in their areas and report on the quality of their surface waters. Again, Hoffman said the commission can make it easier to satisfy this condition.

With greater emphasis on water quality, he said the commission can also tap into the Long Island Sound Study, a program that offers grants to protect and restore the Sound.

“The Long Island Sound Study has been in existence now for 20 years,” Hoffman said. “It’s a pact between Connecticut and New York and all of the federal monies for the Long Island Sound go through it.” Referring to the Setauket Harbor Task Force, he added, “Our group is part of the Citizens Advisory Committee and we’re very active members of that group — that’s the one that gives out the grants for $10 million.”

Planting oysters and clams

Alan Duckworth, environmental analyst with the Town of Brookhaven, also addressed the commission during the meeting. His presentation highlighted a recent undertaking by the town to improve water quality of its harbors through the planting of large numbers of oysters and clams.

In recent years, the town has attempted to strengthen its understanding of the quality of its harbors and bays, and also the pathogens and contaminants that pollute them. While traditional testing indicates that the quality of Port Jeff Harbor has improved, Duckworth notes some notable deficiencies in these testing schemes.

“There are so many pathogens in Port Jeff Harbor and elsewhere,” he said. “Some of them are from humans, but a lot of them are from water fowl. DEC does checks for pathogens and uses E. coli as a marker.” However, acknowledging the limitations of these tests, he added, “They don’t separate human E. coli from avian E. coli. Obviously some of the pathogens are coming from human waste, but a lot of it could be coming from birds.”

The town grows approximately 1.5 million oysters and another 1.5 million clams every year that it puts out into various harbors and bays. The addition of these shellfish populations aids the local fishing industry as well as recreational shellfishing. 

The oyster and clam populations serve as “filter feeders,” flushing harmful contaminants from the waters and spitting out filtered water. These shellfish have a beneficial impact on water quality, according to Duckworth. 

The town’s planting activities also attempt to restore the natural populations that once flourished along the Island coastline. “What we see today is only a fragment of what used to occur around Long Island in the bays and harbors,” Duckworth said, adding, “Through disease and through overfishing, in some areas the natural populations are 1% of what they used to be. We put out oysters and clams to hopefully kickstart the next generation.”

“About 100,000 oysters are removing about 50% of the microalgae, which is a fantastic result.”

— Alan Duckworth

With funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund, the town has been able to track the effects of these shellfish populations on the quality of its surface waters. Measuring water quality with an instrument called a sonde, researchers performed two experiments — one within an area of 100,000 oysters in Port Jeff Harbor and another approximately 60 feet away from the oysters, which served as the control. Measuring the removal of microalgae by the oysters, the researchers found “about 100,000 oysters are removing about 50% of the microalgae, which is a fantastic result,” Duckworth said. 

In a separate test for turbidity, a measure of the number of sediments floating around in the water, he said, “They also remove about 50% of these sediments, which improves water clarity. That’s really important for photosynthetic organisms and things that require sunlight.” Duckworth added, “If you have 10 feet of dirty water, all of the things that live on the bottom and require sunlight can’t photosynthesize. When you clean that water, it’s really important for the animals and plants that live there.”

A final experiment tested whether these plantings have any effect on restoring the natural populations of shellfish in the harbor. The researchers put out bags of empty oysters shells and found that baby oysters began to move into those shells, an indicator that the planted oysters are adapting to their new environment.

“The oysters that we put out are now adults, they’re now producing larvae, and those larvae are actually finding places to settle, in this case the oyster shells,” Hoffman said. “They‘re actually reseeding Port Jeff Harbor.”

Reflecting upon these studies, Hoffman concluded that the work being done is having a positive effect on water quality and points to an optimistic future of the harbor. “This is a good story,” he said. “We’re showing that, yes, the oysters that we put out are cleaning the water, but they’re also helping to reseed and restock the natural populations that we all want to bring back.”

Graphic above shows Bluff Point Road watershed in blue and proposed rain gardens in green. Graphic from Nelson Pope Voorhis

On March 16, environmental advocates met with public officials at the Northport Yacht Club to announce the addition of four rain gardens along Northport Harbor.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said her organization has partnered with the Village of Northport and the yacht club to address water pollution. According to her, rain gardens are a cost-effective and simple way to protect the harbor.

“In short, a rain garden is a nature-based solution to man-made pollution,” she said. “Stormwater runoff carries with it pesticides and fertilizers and other pollution and contaminants into our surface waters across Long Island. This rain garden is very important because it will be removing thousands of gallons of rain before it goes into the harbor.”

Nelson Pope Voorhis, a Melville-based engineering firm, is making this vision a reality. According to Rusty Schmidt, landscape ecologist at Nelson Pope, the proposed rain gardens will act as a filtration system, flushing out debris and other sources of pollution, to discharge stormwater safely into the harbor.

“A rain garden is a shallow bowl that we put into the landscape and that we direct water to on purpose,” Schmidt said. “In this case, the water is going to be coming from Bluff Point Road, and as the water comes down the street it will go into these gardens first. That water will soak into the ground in one day or less — in this case it will probably soak in in a few hours because the soils are sandy — and that water will be cleansed and cleaned and get to a drinkable quality.” He added, “It’s still going out to Northport Harbor, but through the soil and without all the garbage.”

We once had a thriving, billion-dollar shellfish industry here on the Island, and this is an important measure to bring back those types of species.

— Assemblyman Keith Brown (R-Northport)

According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Northport Harbor and Northport Bay are both designated as priority waterbodies. Schmidt said that the proposed rain gardens would capture roughly 15,000 gallons of rainwater during a storm event, removing several harmful contaminants from the runoff before it reaches the harbor.

“Nitrogen is the number one pollutant to our bay, and we are eliminating a large volume of nitrogen from these rain gardens,” Schmidt said. “Nitrogen is the main component of growing the algal blooms, the red tides and the brown tides that are causing low oxygen and other problems in the harbor.”

The project is made possible by grants from the Long Island Sound Study and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund. Policymakers suggest this project will help to revitalize Northport’s decimated aquatic ecosystems.

“We once had a thriving, billion-dollar shellfish industry here on the Island, and this is an important measure to bring back those types of species,” said state Assemblyman Keith Brown (R-Northport). “I ran on a platform of cleaning up the Long Island Sound, the bays and the estuaries. The quality of them is a really important issue of mine, being from Northport.”

Ian Milligan, deputy village mayor and commissioner of Docks & Waterways, Police and Personnel, confirmed that the rain gardens near the yacht club will be the first of several planned to be installed throughout the village.

Local officials and environmentalists point to the site of a planned rain garden near Northport Yacht Club. Photo by Raymond Janis

“We have a huge runoff water problem here in Northport and it all ends up in the harbor,” Milligan said. “This is the first rain garden that we’re doing in Northport and I’m also happy to say that the village, through other grants and other programs, has three more that are going to be coming out this year.”

According to Esposito, these projects will lead to a cleaner, safer Northport Harbor.

“The bottom line is that this rain garden really will be a simple solution to rainwater pollution,” she said. “We will be using native plantings and taking an area right now that floods and reimagining that area as a beautiful garden that will be absorbing the rain and filtering those pollutants, thereby protecting the harbor.”

Esposito added that construction of the proposed rain gardens near Northport Yacht Club will begin this spring.

Photo from past press conference from Suozzi’s office

On Dec. 7, in a virtual press conference, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) announced matching federal agency grants that will bring nearly $3 million in funds to the 3rd Congressional District to help to protect and preserve the Long Island Sound.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation have all contributed funds to the grants. The organizations or agencies receiving the grants will need to match the funds.

Suozzi, who is the co-chair of the bipartisan Long Island Sound Caucus, said during the Dec. 7 press conference that the main problems environmentalists have encountered with the waterway through the years have been hypoxia, and nitrogen being released into the Sound from sewage treatment plants. He called the waterway “our national park” and said it has improved over the last few decades but still needs more care.

“If you look at the water, just look at it, it’s clearer than it used to be,” he said. “If you look at the wildlife, you see more osprey and more red-tailed hawks.”

He added there has also been more bunker fish in the water.

Also taking part in the virtual press conference were Curt Johnson, Save the Sound president; Cecilia Venosta-Wiygul, Udalls Cove Preservation Committee and Douglaston Civic Association board member; Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment; Vanessa Pino Lockel, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk; Eric Swenson, executive director of Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee; Carol DiPaolo from the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor; and Heather Johnson, executive director of Friends of the Bay located in Oyster Bay.

The groups will benefit from the grants, and Suozzi praised them for their efforts in protecting the Sound.

“It’s a constant effort by all the people on this call working together as a team,” he said.

Also, speaking during the virtual press conference, was Northport Mayor Damon McMullen. He said the village has been working on upgrading the sewer system, and doing so has made a “huge difference.” He said the village has been able to reduce its nitrogen output from 19 pounds a day to less than 2 pounds. The mayor said the village has put money in next year’s budget for stormwater control which will help to catch pollutants and pesticides before they enter Northport Harbor and ultimately wind up in the Sound.

There will be $105,001 made available in a program known as Green Infrastructure to Improve Water Quality in Northport Harbor and Long Island Sound. Grant money will go toward rain gardens to capture stormwater in the village which the mayor said he believes is the next step in achieving the goal of cleaner water.

The grants include $170,000 to develop a Long Island Sound Student Action Plan, and among the projects that will benefit from the funding is the Long Island Sound Summit for High School Students, Esposito said. The project included 125 students from four schools this year, and she said they are anticipating 250 students from eight schools in the upcoming year, including Northport, Smithtown and Rocky Point. Part of the project includes students taking water samples and looking at microplastic content of the Sound, studying the effects of nitrogen on the native cordgrass along the shore and more.

Among other grants, $729,606 is earmarked for new methods to enhance coastal restoration and resilience at Centerport Harbor; and $152,314 for expanding oyster sanctuaries in Oyster Bay and Cold Spring Harbor.

When Suozzi first came into office in January of 2017, he said funding at the time for the Sound was about $4 million. This year it was more than $30 million, according to him.

While Suozzi was pleased his district will be granted money, he said any area along the Sound getting help is a plus.

“If we get money in Connecticut, if we get money for New York City’s combined sewer outfall, it helps all of us, because there’s no geographic boundaries,” he said. “There’s no congressional boundaries in the Long Island Sound. We’re all in this together.”

Water quality impairments across Long Island during the summer of 2021. Photo from Stony Brook University

Water, water everywhere and far too many drops were not clean.

Christopher J. Gobler, endowed chair of Coastal Ecology and Conservation Stony Brook University; Peter Scully, Deputy Suffolk County Executive; Adrienne Esposito, Citizens Campaign for the Environment; Kevin McDonald, The Nature Conservancy at a recent press conference regarding water quality. Photo from Stony Brook University

That’s the conclusion of a recent summer water quality survey of Long Island conducted by Stony Brook University Professor Christopher Gobler, who is the endowed chair of Coastal Ecology and Conservation at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

Every estuary and bay across Long Island had either toxic algal blooms and oxygen-starved dead zones this summer.

This trend threatened marine life including fish and shellfish.

Excess nitrogen from household sewage that seeps into groundwater and into bays, harbors and estuaries or, in some cases, is discharged directly into surface waters, causes toxic algal blooms.

Double the average annual rainfall, caused by storms like Hurricanes Henri and Ida, exacerbated the dumping of nitrogen from onsite wastewater into local waterways as well, Gobler explained.

Calling this the “new normal,” Gobler said the duration of the rust tide that continues across eastern Long Island is the longest since he started monitoring water quality in 2014. Additionally, the number of dead zones is near a maximum.

For the past six years before 2021, the incidence of blue-green algal blooms was higher than any of the other 64 counties in New York State, which is likely to continue in 2021.

Blue green algae produce toxins that can be harmful to people and animals and has caused dog illnesses and deaths across the United States.

“We’re the most downstate county and warmer temperatures are a driver,” Gobler explained in an email. “Excess groundwater discharge in Suffolk means more lakes and ponds here than in Nassau.”

Heavy rains, which are expected to become the new normal amid climate change that brings wetter and slower-moving storms, flush nitrogen contaminated groundwater out into the bays.

Brown and rust tides have had a severely negative impact on habitats in the area, including seagrass, and major fisheries such as scallops and clams and the coastal wetlands that protect waterfront communities from storms.

Homeowners can reduce nitrogen runoff by fertilizing their lawns less, Gobler suggested.

Onsite systems in Suffolk County are legal, but are also “quite polluting,” Gobler explained in an email.

Gobler said Suffolk County has been more aggressive than any other county in the nation in requiring advanced septic systems.

Additionally, Gobler suggests that the best way to combat these problems is to upgrade onsite septic systems.

Nassau and Suffolk completed subwatershed studies last year that identified wastewater as the largest source of nitrogen to surface waters. Excess nitrogen stimulates toxic algal blooms which can remove oxygen from bottom waters as they decay.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recommends that marine waters should not have less than three milligrams of dissolved oxygen per liter to sustain fish life. Through the summer, however, more than 20 sites across the Island fell below that threshold, which, in several cases, caused fish kills.

“The research findings are conclusive,” Carl LoBue, senior scientist for The Nature Conservancy, said in a statement. “The longer we wait to fix our water quality problems, the longer it will take and the more expensive it will be.”