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Long Island

By Heidi Sutton

From July 15 to Aug. 11, the Smithtown Township Arts Council’s Mills Pond Gallery in St. James will present a very special art exhibit capturing snapshots of the place we all call home. 

Titled A Sense of Place, the juried exhibit features 62 works by 54 artists from 35 communities across Long Island in a variety of mediums including acrylic, charcoal, ink, watercolor, oil, pastel, photography, torn paper collage, collage quilt, and etching.

According to Mills Pond Gallery Executive Director Allison Cruz, artists were asked to creatively capture what they experience, appreciate, or connect to in their Long Island homeland. The resulting submissions will fill the gallery walls with scenes of Long Island beaches, lakes, sunsets, parks, wineries, farms, and wildlife, exactly was Cruz was hoping for when she came up with the theme of A Sense of Place several years ago after reading an article in an Early Childhood Education Journal while serving as a school board member. 

“I was reading the Journal and this [passage] caught my eye:  ‘Places shape the stories of our lives. These stories become ongoing “ecological conversations”—i.e., expressions of the dialogue between ourselves and the environment (Lutts, 1985). When this conversation ends, so will our future.

The development of healthy environmental awareness and concern starts with a feeling response to nature. Such a response comes primarily by way of firsthand positive experiences in the out-of-doors, especially in environments fostering a “sense of place” experience.'” 

The recurring exhibit has become a favorite among the community, the artists and Cruz.

“I really love the Long Island exhibits! I have done six or seven of them and every one has been unique. Long Island artists always step up to the plate and submit me unique works every time. I never fail to find a work that makes me add a new place to my personal list of “must visit” Long Island places,” said Cruz. “And that is what I hope gallery visitors will be inspired to do…find new local places to explore. This Island we call home has so many amazing, unique places to see and learn about!”

Exhibiting artists include Marsha Abrams, Bonnie Bennett Barbera, Shain Bard, Ron Becker, Kyle Blumenthal, Sheila Breck, Joyce Bressler, Carlo Buscemi, Lou Charnon-Deutsch, Rocco Citeno, Lisa Claisse, Kirsten DiGiovanni, Julie Doczi, Karin Dutra, Paul Edelson, Ellen Ferrigno, Dorothy Fortuna, Stacey Gail Schuman, Vivian Gattuso, Kathleen Gerlach, Maureen Ginipro, Jan Guarino, Susan Guihan Guasp, John Hunt, George Junker, Julianna Kirk, Myungja Anna Koh, Mark Levine, Christine MacDonagh, Kathleen McArdle, Kerri McKay, Paul Mele, Patricia Morrison, Annette Napolitano, Gail Neuman, Sean Pollock, Robert Roehrig, Oscar Santiago, Kathee Shaff Kelson, Stephen Shannon, Gisela Skoglund, Lynn Staiano, Mike Stanko, Madeline Stare, Judy Stone, Angela Stratton, Tracy  Tekverk, Dominique Treboux, Nicholas Valentino, Steve Walker, Robert Wallkam, Patty  Yantz, Theodora Zavala and Tianzhou Zhao.

Cruz is excited to unveil the exhibit to the public this Saturday, July 15 at an artist reception from 1 to 4 p.m. 

“Visitors will see wonderful artwork created by artists living and working right here on Long Island. And all the works are actual places here on Long Island that people can visit…no need to travel too far to be exposed to wonderful history, ecology, and culture,” she said.

Mills Pond Gallery is located at 660 Route 25A in St. James. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Admission to the gallery is always free. For more information, call 631-862-6575, or visit www.millspondgallery.org.

Photo from Unsplash/David Close

It’s summer, that time of year when our residents can enjoy the full splendors of our incredible seashores. 

It’s an opportunity for us to soak up sunrays and cool off in the ocean. But when enjoying a summer’s day at the beach, we must be on guard for sharks, remembering to take the appropriate safety measures.

Scientists are seeing rising shark populations in the surrounding waters of Long Island. Healthier waters have allowed marine life to thrive. And sharks, at the peak of the aquatic food chain, play an essential role in stabilizing the ecosystem. Rising shark populations suggest our conservation efforts are going rewarded.

Consequently, interactions with these apex predators have become more commonplace. Already this summer, there have been five reported shark encounters in Suffolk County waters.

As the likelihood of making contact with a shark increases, we must begin to adapt our behaviors to meet the demands of the changing environment and keep ourselves safe.

While we cannot eliminate the threat of shark interactions altogether, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation outlines ways to reduce these risks.

NYSDEC advises against swimming in areas with seals, schools of fish, splashing fish or diving seabirds. Swimmers should avoid bathing at dusk, night or dawn, as these are peak feeding periods for sharks.

We should also refrain from swimming in murky waters, stay close to the shore and swim in groups. And we must always remember to swim in front of a lifeguard and listen closely to their instructions.

Although a classic, the 1975 film “Jaws” did a tremendous disservice to sharks’ reputations. These marine creatures play an important role in regulating marine life; they are not monsters and are unworthy of the ridicule cast upon them by popular culture.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maintains that most sharks are not a danger to humans as we “are not part of their natural diet.” Still, when we enter their waters, we must play by their rules. 

A little precaution can go a long way. By taking a few positive steps and proactive measures, we can all enjoy this summer — humans and sharks both.

Maureen Manyasa-Zangrillo near the hole where children used to fetch drinking water before a well project.. Photo from Manyasa-Zangrillo

As a child in Kenya, Maureen Nabwire Manyasa-Zangrillo, now 35, loved learning about the world, but never dreamed she’d wind up living in the United States more than 7,000 miles away.

Maureen Nabwire Manyasa-Zangrillo with her husband, Joey. Photo from Manyasa-Zangrillo

She lived several different lifestyles moving around Kenya as a child, she said, following her father’s developing career as an agricultural scientist to cities and villages and back again, fostering her love of new places and different kinds of people. As she grew up, so did that passion, expanding outward from her region and continent to encompass the entire world atlas she loved to study.

So when a serendipitous meeting over a charity project gave her a chance to travel to the other side of the world to make a new life on the North Shore of Long Island, she was ready. Now married to Joey Zangrillo, owner of Joey Z’s Restaurant in Port Jefferson, she is in the perfect setting to keep learning. “My love for geography and reading maps really helps when I meet people,” she said. “I have a clue about almost every corner of the globe.”

Growing up in Kenya

Before she even started primary school, Manyasa-Zangrillo had lived in Nakuru, the fourth largest urban area in the nation; her family’s village in Busia near the Ugandan border; a remote agricultural field station outside of Kenya’s capital Nairobi; and finally the thriving urban capital itself.

When it was time to start school, Manyasa-Zangrillo’s parents moved her and her younger sisters back to the quieter Busia, where they stayed with an aunt in a circular mud hut built in the traditional manner of their ethnic group, the Luhya tribe, while her father started the long process of coordinating construction of a modern brick house.

It was common in Kenya for breadwinners to work in the cities but keep their families back home in the villages, and such was the case for Manyasa-Zangrillo’s father. So building the house was slow progress over the next four or five years, with her father coordinating the work whenever he could make time to be home from Nairobi. Her mother, a primary school teacher, was gone awhile also to advance her training at teachers college.

Both parents made sure to stay connected to the girls. The father would send letters and packages to his daughters through the local bus company’s courier service, and — since landlines were rare — would schedule times to talk. Manyasa-Zangrillo remembered friends with landline telephones in their offices coming to tell the family what time to wait at the local payphone booth. She and her sisters would crowd around. “You’d find all of us at the booth — he’d talk to us turn by turn,” she said. “That’s how we found ways to connect.” Once the house was finished, the family finally had a landline of their own. 

At age 10, Manyasa-Zangrillo’s lifestyle changed yet again, when she went to a Catholic boarding school, run by a very strict nun. “She was tough on us,” Manyasa-Zangrillo said, recalling that after parents visited, the staff would check the students to make sure they weren’t bringing in any outside food, drinks or treats.

 Amid the rigid schedule and lack of comfort food, Manyasa-Zangrillo discovered bright spots: literature and geography. The curriculum included many storybooks, in both English and Swahili. For Manyasa-Zangrillo, reading was a beautiful escape. “It was a way of distracting myself from all the craziness and strictness that was going around,” she said.

Her beloved geography also gave her mind space to travel. “They would teach us about different areas — you learn about the geography, the weather of all these places, the planting, cultivation, commerce structures and all those things,” she said. “I was just curious about places.”

As she was growing up, she saw her parents rise in their education and careers. Her father obtained his university degree, a master’s and eventually a doctorate in plant breeding for arid and semi-arid regions, and her mother earned a bachelor’s in special education. “I’d see how strong willed they are,” the daughter said. “It was really motivating to see.”

Manyasa-Zangrillo, right, with her parents and a cousin in Kenya. Photo from Manyasa-Zangrillo

This motivation helped Manyasa-Zangrillo succeed in her own education, earning a government scholarship to university herself. She struggled, though, to know what to study. In the end, she settled on law. “I wasn’t crazy about it,” she said, remembering she looked into other options like English linguistics, but her dad was even less crazy about that idea. “You have good grades — a top performance,” he told her, encouraging her to choose a major he saw as more serious.

After completing her education, she was admitted to the Kenyan bar and landed a job at the firm where she had carried out her required internship. She found ways to enjoy it. Serving documents or filing petitions, for example, took her all around the region. “I liked it because I love traveling, and I love seeing and exploring,” she said. “It was fulfilling my adventurous self because I’m going to new towns, new places.”

Charitable deeds

Another thing that helped fulfill her curiosity were opportunities to serve. Along with her sisters and other neighbors in Nairobi, where her family had relocated, Manyasa-Zangrillo had started a group called Youth for Change as a means to serve underprivileged children. So when her close friend from law school, Annette Kawira, invited her to volunteer at Bethsaida Community Foundation’s home for orphans, vulnerable children and children who had been living on the streets, she was happy to go along.

By 2016, Kawira had moved to the United States and found herself, of all places, in Joey Zangrillo’s Port Jefferson restaurant, then called Z Pita. Zangrillo had started a nonprofit organization and apparel company promoting racial reconciliation, and he was also donating 10% of his profits to charity. When Kawira saw a sign about the restaurant owner’s philanthropy, she remembered the Bethsaida orphanage and made a fast friendship and partnership with Zangrillo.

As the two organized fundraising on Long Island, Manyasa-Zangrillo served as the woman on the ground in Kenya, liaising between them and the children’s home. Logistical texts and FaceTime interactions between her and Zangrillo blossomed into friendship — she enjoyed his sense of humor — then took on a flirtatious air. Interest sparked. 

By the time he planned to take a trip to Kenya to visit Bethsaida and meet the children in 2017, he was also looking forward to meeting her. She remembered being nervous about what he would be like in person, but after she opened her door to him, she said, “he just busted in with so much energy, and I was like, OK, we’re going to get along.”

For his part, Zangrillo was drawn to her compassion. “What made me fall in love with my wife is when I saw the love in her eyes for the children in the orphanage,” he said. “That second, I knew.”

To Long Island and marriage

The trip was a success and plans to install a well at the orphanage moved forward, as did plans for Manyasa-Zangrillo to visit Long Island, which she did that fall. Joey Zangrillo sent Kawira and another Kenyan friend in a limo to pick her up from the airport, and she was charmed. Manhattan charmed her, too — it was larger than life, just like the movies. She even sat in the audience at “The Daily Show” to see the comic Trevor Noah she’d watched back in Africa.

Manyasa-Zangrillo found the Port Jefferson community and Zangrillo’s friends welcoming and warm, but the weather less so. “The drastic hot to cold — I felt like my ears were going to fall off,” she said. 

The weather wasn’t enough to keep her away. After a couple months back in the more temperate climate of Kenya, she kept thinking about New York, Zangrillo and the possibilities. “In my legal profession, I was wallowing a bit,” she said. “Am I going to do this for the rest of my life, yet I’m feeling like this is not what I really wanted to do.”

So she took a risk and came back in early 2018, still unsure what the future would hold. Zangrillo was more certain. “He was like, ‘You know what? I would like you to stay.’”

They married that summer. “There’s no need to overthink something that is good,” she said of the quick timeline, adding that where immigration law is involved, “you date through the marriage because you don’t have a long courtship.”

She found her transition to New York easy, partly because of Kawira and other Kenyan connections, but also because of her new husband. He’d told so many people about her and about the orphanage that restaurantgoers and friends were thrilled to meet her, and to learn more about her. “It’s so refreshing because when I walk in, people say, ‘You must be Maureen,’” she said. “Through the restaurant, I’m meeting people every day.”

For Zangrillo, having her in town is “a godsend,” he said. “It changed my life — I’m a happy man, with a happy life.”

Careerwise, the future is still open for Manyasa-Zangrillo. She has taken a paralegal class and is studying the American legal system in case she wants to return to her original career path. She helps at the restaurant and has introduced a top-selling menu item — the lemon potatoes. The couple are continuing their charity work, as well, with hopes to install a school library for students in a Nairobi slum settlement.

Now living in Setauket, Manyasa-Zangrillo has come to appreciate the North Shore’s feel and location, not too close and not too far from the city. “My life dream when I was younger was just to be somewhere that is full of nature and very serene, and the environment is cool,” she said. “I’d say I got it here.”

Bella Noche, above, reads children’s books to children and families during the LGBT Network Families Day event on Feb. 12. Below, attendees. Photo by Julianne Mosher

By Julianne Mosher

Bella Noche, a New York City and Long Island-based drag queen, walked up to the stage inside the LGBT Network at Hauppauge in her 4-inch stiletto heels carrying a stack of children’s books. She sat in her chair, while dozens of kids and their families watched in awe as a real-life mermaid read to them “The GayBCs.”

Bella Noche, above, reads children’s books to children and families during the LGBT Network Families Day event on Feb. 12. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Enamored by the queen — dressed in glitter, a purple wig and starfish accessories — the kids didn’t realize that Bella was in drag.

“The only question I usually get from them is, ‘Is your hair real?’” she said with a laugh. 

Bella is the Long Island chapter president of Drag Story Hour – a worldwide nonprofit that introduces storytellers using the art of drag to read books to children in libraries, schools and bookstores. 

According to Drag Story Hour’s mission statement, the organization “captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive and unabashedly queer role models. In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where everyone can be their authentic selves.”

Founded in San Francisco in 2015, Drag Story Hour has made its way internationally, having chapters across the U.S., as well as in the U.K., Japan, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. 

The self-proclaimed “mermaid of New York” said that traveling from Manhattan to eastern Long Island to read to kids is a great experience. Not only does it entertain, but it teaches kids about diversity and shows them they can be creative, too.

“We inspire creativity, we inspire uniqueness, we inspire kids to think outside the box,” she said. “At its core, it’s a pure organization — we can look at things differently, but just adding that different perspective is really important to instill in kids, especially today.”

But while the turnout is usually positive, Bella said she has hosted several story hours that caused large and hate-filled protests — some in Nassau County and some in Manhattan.

In December, while hosting a Drag Story Hour in Jackson Heights, Queens, members of the far-right group Proud Boys drew attention with their signs and Proud Boys-emblemed flags lining the sidewalk. 

According to The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, protest visits from Proud Boys had averaged just one or two anti-LGBTQ protests per month for most of 2022. It picked up speed by the end of the year, with 13 anti-LGBTQ protests in December, more than in any other month last year. 

“It’s interesting that since last summer there’s just been a lot of hate from these people,” Bella said. “It’s mostly from them not understanding why we’re doing what we’re doing, spreading rumors and creating vicious lies.”

But Drag Story Hour has been criticized locally since before she became involved with the Long Island chapter of the group. In September 2018, people protested the Port Jefferson Free Library for hosting a drag queen who reads. At the time, the library promoted the event on its online calendar as “a program that raises awareness of gender diversity, promotes self-acceptance and builds empathy through an enjoyable literary experience.” At the event, several protesters stood outside the library holding signs and verbalizing their opposition to exposing children to the message promoted by the event.

“It’s insane to think about, but [the protesters] are here and they’re causing calamity,” Bella said. “But the other thing is that there has been such an amazing turn of support from that. So, I try to find the silver linings, and the support that we’ve gotten not just from our own community, but from other families and educators has been amazing.”

LGBT Families Day

Attendees leave reasons why the family day is so important to them. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Bella Noche’s Drag Story Hour was one part of the Hauppauge-based LGBT Network Families Day event on Sunday, Feb. 12.

There, hundreds of LGBTQ families were able to meet, mingle and enjoy a fun weekend in a safe, accepting space.

Robert Vitelli, LGBT Network’s COO, said this event was the nonprofit’s third year hosting, and it keeps getting bigger and better. 

“Families Day is all about celebrating families and all the different ways that LGBT people start and grow their families,” he said. “It’s a chance for LGBT people to come together and feel free.’

Vitelli said that even in 2023, LGBTQ families still face a lot of stigma, discrimination and harassment. But events like this can “allow them to take a breath of fresh air and connect with other families like their own.”

Tables with information for families looking to adopt, foster and seek legal advice were available for the grown-ups, while their kids got to enjoy an indoor bounce house, cotton candy, a s’mores station and games.

“We have been working hand in hand and organizing with families to create safer spaces — safer schools, safer and more inclusive libraries, and safer and more inclusive communities,” Vitelli said. “When people really want to come together and build community, here at the LGBT network, that’s what we’re all about, and it’s our pleasure to be able to bring an event like this to everyone here.”

Recently, 1,150 members of the LGBTQ+ community participated in including Micah Schneider, from Ronkonkoma, above. Photo rom Lisa Czulinski

In a first of its kind survey of 1,150 members of the LGBTQ+ community on Long Island, Stony Brook Medicine found that people in this group struggle with numerous health care challenges.

Stony Brook Medicine’s Dr. Alison Eliscu was the principal investigator of the study that 1,150 members of the LGBTQ+ community recently participated in. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Over two in five people responding to an online survey between June and September of 2021 said they were in fair to poor mental health. Additionally, about one in three people had thoughts of self harm, while 23.9% had seriously considered suicide within the past three years.

People in the LGBTQ+ community are struggling with mental health and access to care, while they also have had negative experiences with health care providers, who may have been making incorrect assumptions about their lives or who haven’t respected them, said Dr. Allison Eliscu, principal investigator of the study and medical director of the Adolescent LGBTQ+ Care Program at Stony Brook Medicine.

Partnering with 30 Long Island-based community leaders and community organizations, including Planned Parenthood, Stony Brook Medicine created the survey to gather the kinds of data that could inform better health care decisions, could provide a baseline for understanding the needs of the LGBTQ+ community in the area, and could shed light on the disparity in health care for this community.

“The idea [for the survey] came out when we were creating the Edie Windsor Healthcare Center” in Hampton Bays, Eliscu said, which opened its doors in 2021 and is the first such center for the LGBTQ+ population on Long Island. “We were trying to think about what we want [the center] to provide and what does the community need.”

Without local data, it was difficult to understand what residents of Long Island, specifically, might need.

The data suggests a disparity between the mental health of the LGBTQ+ community in the area and the overall health of the population in the country. 

Over half of the people who took the survey indicated that they had symptoms of chronic depression, compared with 30.3% for the nation, based on a 2020 PRC National Health Survey. Additionally, 23.9% of the LGBTQ+ community described a typical day as “extremely or very stressful” compared with 16.1% for the nation.

To be sure, the national data sampling occurred just prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in February of 2020, while the Stony Brook Medicine survey polled residents during the second year of COVID.

Nonetheless, Eliscu suggested that her anecdotal experience with her patients indicates that the LGBTQ+ community likely suffered even more during the pandemic, as some people lived at home with relatives who may not have been supportive or with whom they didn’t share their identity.

Additionally, the isolation removed some LGBTQ+ residents from an in-person support network.

Stony Brook Medicine has taken steps to provide specific services to residents who are LGBTQ+. People who are transitioning and have a cervix continue to need a pap smear.

Some members of the transgender community may not be comfortable going to a gynecologist’s office. Stony Brook Medicine has put in place extended hours to meet their needs.

Micah Schneider, a social worker who lives in Ronkonkoma, served as a survey participant and also as a guide for some of the wording in the survey.

Schneider, who identifies as nonbinary and transgender and prefers the pronoun “they,” said the survey can help people “recognize that we’re not alone.”

When Schneider was growing up, “I had a sense that I was the only person in the entire world dealing with this,” which included a struggle with identity and mental illness.

“We as a community have each other and we can lean on each other,” Schneider said.

As for medical providers, Schneider suggested that this kind of survey can alert these professionals to the need to honor names, pronouns and identities and not make blanket assumptions.

Despite some improvements, the local and national LGBTQ+ community remains at risk, Schneider said.

“There are any number of people who are actively considering suicide,” Schneider added. “It’s a very real crisis in our community.”

On a conference call announcing the results of the survey, Dr. Gregson Pigott, Suffolk County Commissioner of Health, described the survey, which Stony Brook plans to repeat in a couple of years, as “groundbreaking. What you have here is hard data based on the survey.”

Nuclear power. Pixabay photo

The nuclear industry will see major growth thanks to the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, and Long Island communities must again resist calls to go nuclear.

Among other incentives, the new federal law gives tax credits to utility companies that invest in new nuclear plants. While this may benefit other places around the country, such as West Virginia’s coal economy, it will do no good for Long Island.

The decommissioned Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant, still standing today, is a living relic of Long Island’s long-standing opposition to nuclear power. At the time of its construction, the plant saw intense local resistance for various reasons. 

While efforts to oppose Shoreham proved successful, we know that bad ideas die hard. While nuclear energy sees a renaissance nationwide, let us remember why we are a nuclear-free zone.

Anyone driving on the LIE at rush hour understands the glaring logistical hurdles of evacuating Long Island during a potential nuclear meltdown. It can take hours to get off the Island on any given day of the week. Our mass transit network is outdated and already incapable of supporting this overdeveloped and highly congested regional economy. 

In an age of more frequent and intense hurricanes, a nuclear meltdown appears ever more plausible. Swift and successful evacuation seems unlikely, if not impossible. For these reasons, adding nuclear infrastructure would be an existential threat to the health and safety of Long Island residents. 

Properly treating and disposing of radioactive material remains an unsettled science. Ridding ourselves of this toxic waste would put a greater strain on our already cluttered roads, highways, tunnels and bridges, further complicating evacuation efforts.

Finally, while we acknowledge that nuclear energy vastly outperforms wind and solar technologies, we should continue exploring these cleaner, safer alternatives. We should limit our carbon footprint and reduce fossil fuel consumption where possible, but we should do so responsibly. Reintroducing nuclear power to Long Island merely swaps one environmental hazard for another, endangering our citizens needlessly.

The apparent ties between our electric service provider and the nuclear industry should give Long Islanders unease, especially since the Long Island Power Authority maintains an 18% stake in the Oswego-based Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station. 

History tells us that powerful and monied interests may try to score a quick profit, even at the expense of ordinary folk. In time, some here on Long Island may seek to use the newly available nuclear energy subsidies. We must not let them. 

Long Island has never been — and never will be — a safe venue for nuclear energy. We must remember the example of Shoreham, how generations of Long Islanders have fought to keep our island nuclear free. Let us continue their work.

The first is of a spinner shark swimming among a school of bunker. Photo from Chris Paparo

After four confirmed shark bites in the last three weeks on the south shore of Long Island, state and local authorities are actively monitoring swimming areas for these apex predators, with lifeguards, helicopters and drones on the lookout for a variety of sharks.

A sandbar shark with a satellite tag. Photo from Chris Paparo

“As New Yorkers and visitors alike head to our beautiful Long Island beaches to enjoy the summer, our top priority is their safety,” Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said in a statement. “We are taking action to expand patrols for sharks and protect beachgoers from potentially dangerous situations.”

Earlier this month, a lifeguard was engaged in a safety exercise at Smith Point beach when a shark bit him in the chest. A paddle boarder, meanwhile, was bitten by a shark in Smith Bay on Fire Island.

Responding to the potential threat of interactions between swimmers and sharks, Hochul added several safety measures. Park Police boats will patrol waters around the island, while federal, state and county partnerships will share resources and information about shark sightings and better support to identify sharks in the area.

State park safety guidelines will suspend swimming after a shark sighting so the shoreline can be monitored with drones. Swimming may resume at least an hour after the last sighting.

Shark researchers said these predatory fish have always been around Long Island.

The southern side of Long Island likely has more species of shark than the north.

“The Atlantic Ocean, on the south shore of Long Island, has seen a notable increase in shark activity and sightings over the last two years,” a spokesman for Gov. Hochul explained in an email. The Long Island Sound, on the north shore, “has sharks but not this level of activity.”

The three most common sharks around Long Island are the sandbar shark, the dusky shark and the sand tiger shark, said Christopher Paparo, Southampton Marine Science Center manager at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.

Shark expert Dr. Robert Hueter and his team were tagging and gathering data on great white sharks in 2021 in Nova Scotia. Photo fromOCEARCH/ Chris Ross.

Conservation success

The increase in shark populations around the island is a “conservation success story,” particularly because sharks around the world are on the decline.

“We have something special in New York,” Paparo said.

From the 1950s until the 1970s, sharks around the area were heavily fished to the point where the populations declined precipitously.

At the same time, cleaning up the waters around Long Island by reducing ocean dumping and enforcing regulations has made it possible for the sharks and the fish they hunt, such as bunker, to recover.

“The habitat has improved and it can house more sharks in the summertime” than earlier, said Dr. Robert Hueter, chief scientist at OCEARCH, a global nonprofit organization collecting unprecedented data on sharks to help return the oceans to balance and abundance.

“Finally, a good story in marine conservation and a return of our oceans to health and abundance,” Hueter added.

While shark attacks generate considerable headlines, the threat from these marine fish is considerably less than it is for other dangers, such as driving to the beach, which produces far more injuries due to car accidents.

Last year, Paparo said, fewer than 100 shark attacks occurred throughout the world.

“I understand the fear of sharks,” driven in part by movies about them, Paparo said. But “people aren’t afraid of their cars” and they aren’t as focused on drownings, even though about 4,000 people drown in a typical year in the United States.

Hueter said he typically cringes around the Fourth of July holiday because that week is often the height of the beach season, when the larger number of people in habitats where sharks live can lead to bites.

More often than not, the damage sharks around Long Island inflict on humans involves bites, rather than attacks.

“Long Island is becoming the new Florida,” Hueter said. In Florida, people are bitten on their ankles or hands, as small to mid-sized sharks are not interested in people, he added.

While sharks have increased in numbers around Long Island, so have marine mammals, such as whales. On a recent morning last week, Paparo saw three humpback whales before he came to work.

People hunted whales, just as they did sharks, through the 70s, causing their numbers to decline.

Shark expert Dr. Robert Hueter and his team were tagging and gathering data on great white sharks in 2021 in Nova Scotia. Photo fromOCEARCH/ Chris Ross.

Measures to lower risk

People concerned about sharks can take several steps to reduce the risk of coming into contact with them.

Residents and guests should try not to swim at dawn and dusk when sharks typically feed more often.

Additionally, swimmers who encounter a school of bunker, also known as Atlantic menhaden, should avoid the area, as sharks might mistake a person as a larger and slower swimming part of such a school.

Sea birds hovering over an area may be an indication of schooling bunker, a Hochul spokesman explained.

While it’s less likely here than in Cape Cod, seal colonies are a potential threat, as they can attract adult great white sharks. Long Island has become home to some juvenile great white sharks, which are about 4 feet in length.

The governor’s office also encouraged people to swim in lifeguarded areas and with a buddy.

If a shark bites, experts suggest getting out of the water. A swimmer can try to fend off a shark by hitting it in the nose. People should also avoid swimming near areas where others are fishing.

Shark bites, Hueter said, require medical attention because of the damaged skin and the bacteria from shark teeth.

“You want to get good medical help to clean the wound” if a shark bites, Hueter said.

Still rebuilding

Hueter and Paparo added that the number of sharks still hasn’t reached the same levels as they had been decades ago.

“We do have some healthy shark populations,” Hueter said. “Others are still rebuilding. We are not even close to what they used to be if you go back before the overfishing in the 1950s and 1960s.”

State assemblywoman on Albany’s neglect of Long Island

Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead). Photo from Giglio's website

New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) has openly criticized the state government for neglecting Long Island communities.

In an interview earlier this week, she addressed the upcoming gubernatorial primary election, her efforts to reach out to colleagues across the political aisle, the backward state of public infrastructure on the Island and more.

What is your professional background and how did you end up in the state Assembly?

I started my own construction company in 1997. I went to Stony Brook [University] at night while working full time during the day. I started to become very active in the construction industry and in land use — we owned 146 acres in East Quogue. My company is a certified Women Business Enterprise and I’m also a member of [the International Union of Operating Engineers] Local 138.

At the time, the Southampton Town Board put us in a moratorium for 2 1/2 years and raised our property taxes from $80,000 to $400,000. I was present at every hearing for the moratorium, where we couldn’t file an application and basically couldn’t do anything with our property. I felt that my property rights had been violated and became very involved in the political spectrum.

I started the Riverhead Business Alliance, where I had 50 businesses pay $300 a year so that I could hire somebody to send out emails letting businesses know about zoning changes that would be detrimental to their businesses. I set up a board of directors — and I was the president and the founder — and we just let everyone know what was happening in local government. A couple of years later, the business community asked me to run for the Town Board, which I did. I served on the Riverhead Town Board [as councilwoman] for 10 years.

There was a shift in government when [former state] Sen. [Kenneth] LaValle [R-Port Jefferson], who was a tremendous asset to the 1st Senate District, decided that he was no longer going to run. That’s when Anthony Palumbo [R-New Suffolk] decided to run for Senate. They asked me to run to fill his [state Assembly] seat, which I did, and I’m happy to serve the 2nd Assembly District in Albany.

You have spoken recently about the need to funnel tax dollars back into Long Island communities. In your opinion, are Long Islanders underserved by Albany?

Absolutely. I think all of Long Island is underserved by Albany. The largest concentration of New Yorkers is in New York City, so a lot of the money gets funneled into the five boroughs. I think that we pay a tremendous amount in tax dollars and a tremendous amount in our utility costs and that we are underserved.

However, I am very close to a lot of people on the other side of the aisle. I explain to them the problems that we have in our district and that we need help. I have been inviting them out here to come to different events, such as the Bell Town Heritage Area [in Aquebogue], where a friend of mine in the Assembly, Alicia Hyndman [D-Springfield Gardens], actually came out with her daughter and spent the day with me out here in the district, so that I could show her some of the challenges we face. On Saturday for Juneteenth, I went into Hempstead and spent the day with my dear friend, Taylor Darling [D-Hempstead] who is also in the majority, to see what her population is faced with.

I think that’s what it really takes: Not being a foreigner to other areas of the state, to realize what their needs are, and to make sure that we all work together to bring some of that money and some of those resources back to Long Island. 

As local residents enter the voting booth for next week’s gubernatorial primary elections, what are some important issues that they should keep in mind?

The important issues are the high taxes that we pay in New York state and getting people back to work. I think that shutting down the economy and making people dependent on the government is problematic and it hasn’t worked in other countries. 

I’ve worked with Congressman Lee Zeldin [R-NY1] since 2009 in his campaigns and have worked very closely with him over the years to make sure that our voices are heard here on Long Island. I think he’s been a pretty good advocate for us. I’ve listened to the debates and I think all of the candidates make great points. They have different areas of expertise that could help the state and I hope that whoever becomes the governor will tap into those assets, knowledge and experience that those others have. 

I think that Lee Zeldin is the most experienced person running for governor in that he served in the state Senate and he also served in Congress, so he knows the mechanisms of government and can hit the ground running right away because we need a quick reversal of what is happening right now in the state.

Two Long Islanders will be on the primary ballots next week: Zeldin and Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3). What does this say about the relationship between Long Island and Albany?

Long Islanders are mad. Whether it’s from the South Shore or the North Shore, the East End or the middle of Long Island, people here are mad. Our Long Island Expressway was a debacle for too many years. We needed that federal infrastructure money and I’m glad to say some of it is coming back to Long Island. 

Long Island is a very unique place. There are a lot of people across the state that are spending a lot of time on Long Island, enjoying our waterfronts and our fisheries, our marinas and our farms, our commerce and our beaches. It’s important that we promote ourselves and make sure that Long Island has a strong voice in the state government.

In your opinion, is the MTA-LIRR underperforming? And what can be done to expedite services and make the railroad more responsive to Long Island communities? 

I can tell you that the New York State government is a crutch for the MTA whenever the MTA fails or overspends or has issues. I think that the current governor [Kathy Hochul (D)] shutting down the government for so long, especially in New York City — and the city government that shut everything down from theaters to shopping to restaurants — it really showed New York City that Long Island can work from home and that we don’t need to go into the city. 

I think that is going to cripple the MTA even more. The fact that the current governor held back and kept shutting everything down, sending the troopers and child protective services into restaurants on Long Island and throughout the state to make sure that everybody was shut down was a further step into government dependency. We were just writing unemployment checks and encouraging people to stay home and not go to work. 

How can the state government be brought closer to the people of Long Island?

As I said previously, by bringing people out here. A lot of people on the other side of the aisle in the majority are planning on coming out and spending some time with me out on Long Island this summer, including Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes [D-Buffalo]. We’re going to visit the wineries and the farms, look at the beaches and spend some time together. She has assured me that she will be out here with me and I plan on taking a trip up to Buffalo to see what her hurdles and her struggles are.

I think that by bringing people out farther on Long Island and seeing what we have out here … especially our expressway. Long Island has been neglected for far too long and we need to make sure that our roads are safe, that our law enforcement is making sure that our communities are safe and that there’s always somebody at the other end of the phone to answer the call. 

Our volunteer firefighters and our volunteer EMS workers, they are finding it very unaffordable to live here. We need to make sure that there are incentives for them to stay as another aspect of public safety. That is the fundamental reason why we have a government: public health, safety, welfare and prosperity.

Is there anything else you would like to say to our local readers?

I would like to say that elections have consequences. It’s very important that everyone pays attention to who is running for office. Look them up on the internet. We have easy access now to look at the platforms of the people running for office. Pay attention to who’s running and who best represents your ideals, your values and your concerns.

Pixabay photo

In an increasingly modern, information-based economy, survival requires an ability to adapt to the changing environment.

On the other hand, those who shrink in the face of change will have the hardest time navigating this new normal. This week, TBR News Media was fortunate to speak with several leaders throughout our area. Their warning was the same: Long Island is still unprepared to meet the demands of the 21st century.

Martin Cantor, director of the Long Island Center for Socio-Economic Policy, shared with us the history of mass transit systems on Long Island.

Sometime during the suburbanization of Long Island, regional planners failed to account for population increase and the great many cars to accompany it. Today, we pay the cost of failed planning in the form of cluttered roads and endless traffic.

 So reliant are we on our cars, some well-intentioned reformers now suggest that we transition to electric cars here on Long Island — and throughout the country. This, too, has its drawbacks.

Kevin Beyer, vice president of government affairs at the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association, said the push for electric vehicles is unrealistic and expensive. The grid simply cannot accommodate an overnight increase of millions of electric vehicles, and we shouldn’t expect it to.

The Long Island parkway system is nearly a century old, yet our commuters rely upon this infrastructure every day to get to work. Without a modernized mass transit network, Long Island commuters must choose between cramped train cars or congested highway traffic. We expect antiquated transit networks to support today’s mass of commuters.

Time and again, Long Islanders apply outdated methods to modern problems. This is like building a jet engine with stone tools.

Not all hope is lost, however. For example, look no further than Smithtown’s Office of Town Clerk, where you will find that the transition from old to new technologies is already underway. For the last 16 years, Town Clerk Vincent Puleo (C) has worked to digitize paper records for electronic filing. This has made the day-to-day operations of the office faster, simpler and more accessible to his constituents.

We need to apply Puleo’s approach elsewhere. We must update our transportation systems to account for the many more drivers on our roads today. We must invest in mass transit, such as buses and boats for commuter travel, so that we are no longer helplessly delayed.

 We must embrace the changes happening all around us, for change is the only constant in this life. And with all of that being said, we should remember and learn from the ways of the past. Let history be our guide as we move ahead into the world of the new.

Prices at a North Shore gas station. Photo by Jim Hastings

Consumers are not the only ones feeling the pinch of ballooning gas prices here on Long Island.

Kevin Beyer is vice president of government affairs at the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association, a nonprofit trade association which represents over 700 independent service stations throughout Suffolk, Nassau and Queens. According to Beyer, gas retailers are suffering as well.

“When it hurts you as a consumer, it hurts us,” Beyer said in a phone interview. “People think that when prices go up, these gas stations are making a killing. It’s quite the opposite because we’re constantly trying to keep the price down. When we start making money is usually when [the price of gas] levels out or it goes down.”

Beyer also notes that the cost of diesel fuel has increased exponentially. This affects a wide range of consumers, particularly commercial and pickup truck drivers.

“There are a lot of consumers that use diesel because a lot of people have bought pickup trucks in the last few years,” he said. 

Despite recent calls for electric vehicles, Beyer believes that the wholesale transition to electric cars is not feasible due to difficulties related to the technology and is counterintuitive due to already high utility rates in New York. 

“You have to deal with massive batteries that have to be produced,” Beyer said. “To produce the batteries, you’re buying products from other countries, number one. Number two, to discard these batteries, you’re talking about a hazard. Number three, there aren’t a lot of charging stations, and New York and California already have probably the highest utility rates in the country.”

Beyer believes that as gas prices continue to rise, governments that tax oil will have a windfall profit. This is why he said LIGRA is lobbying to remove gas taxes at the county and state levels.

“One thing that we are working on is to try to push for some tax relief, even on the county and state levels,” he said. “People don’t realize that they’re making a fortune — the county and the state — as the cost goes up because it’s a percentage per gallon.”

Other than the railroad which carries the commuters, Long Island is not a mass transit-friendly community.

— Martin Cantor

Soaring gas prices will also disrupt local businesses on Long Island, according to Martin Cantor, director of the Long Island Center for Socio-Economic Policy and author of “Long Island, the Global Economy and Race.” 

According to Cantor, Long Island was originally envisioned as a bedroom community for New York City residents. To continue their existing way of life, commuters who drive to work have no choice but to pay up.

“The reality is that Long Island has a workforce of about 1.4 million people with, at its peak, 300,000 Long Islanders commuting daily on the Long Island Rail Road,” he said. “With the LIRR operating at 48% of pre-pandemic capacity, some of the workforce has no option but to fill up at the high prices.”

According to Cantor, Long Island’s transportation networks were not designed to support the commuter economy of today. He said antiquated public transit systems have led to increased reliance on automobiles. 

“Other than the railroad which carries the commuters, Long Island is not a mass transit-friendly community,” he said. “We just don’t have enough public transportation to carry Long Islanders around. We are wedded to our cars and will continue to be.”

Cantor said that the exorbitant cost of gas will leave residents with less discretionary income, which in turn will harm local businesses.

“Just think, a year ago [gas] was pretty much half the price,” he said. “Right now, with gasoline prices so high, as people have to go to work and have to commute to work, more people are putting gasoline in their cars at higher prices and have less money to spend in the surrounding communities.”

Cantor believes that not only drivers will suffer due to the cost of gas, but that local business owners will take a major hit as well. 

“Some of the workforce has no option but to fill up at the high prices,” he said. “That will hurt the economy because the money we spend for gasoline really gets exported off the Island. Those additional dollars we spend for gasoline will take money out of Long Islanders’ pockets to spend. That’s going to hurt the small businesses that already are hurting from the pandemic.” 

To read about Cantor’s work, visit martincantor.com.