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Port Jefferson Harbor

Volunteers for the Setauket Harbor Task Force have monitored the health of Port Jefferson Harbor for the past three years. Photo by Kyle Barr

What does it take to monitor the health of your local waterways? For the people who month after month do just that, all it takes is a love for the place one lives.

The Setauket Harbor Task Force was one of the most active of the 22 groups involved with Save the Sound and its bay water recording initiative. The immense amount of work is taken up by a squad of volunteers, some of whom have been active during the May through October months of the last three years.

Laurie Vetere and George Hoffman, co-founders of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, discuss this year’s findings compared to two years ago. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Setauket Harbor Task Force originated as a way to monitor the health of what they considered the lone “orphaned” bay on the North Shore, but their activities eventually spread over the border into Port Jefferson as well. While the task force originated in 2015 to help maintain the local waterways’ wellbeing, in 2018 the group joined the United Water Study program under the EPA’s Long Island Sound Study, and since then has done monitoring in 10 different locations in Port Jeff and Setauket harbors.

Hoffman, of the task force, said they have dedicated much of their time and energy to the project, especially maintaining rigorous scientific standards. They have gone out in foggy mornings where you could barely see a few feet in front of the boat. Once, their craft’s engine stopped working, and they had to be towed back to harbor. There have been times their small craft has rolled in early morning swells, but they keep on going.

“With climate and environment, there’s so little that most people can do,” he said. “Every day you read about a new thing — ice shelves melting, whales being beached … I find when I talk to volunteers, it’s just being able to do something.”

Every participating organization must take readings of the water twice a month, no less than 10 days apart. Because monitoring must be performed three hours before sunrise, volunteers are up well before dawn, getting into the small craft and wading out into the harbors. Their recording instrument, a sonde meter that records all manor of water quality metrics, costs close to $20,000. 

Steve Antos, one of the task force board members, also owns Setauket Landscape Design. Though he and others in his group have lived in the area for decades, the idea of water quality has really taken a hold on many of its participants. Antos enjoys constructing rain gardens in his regular job, which are critical for preventing water runoff flowing from people’s yards down toward the Sound. 

“In the past, everyone tried to get their properties to drain onto the road … and eventually it just runs into our bays and takes all the pollution and dog waste with it,” Antos said. “A lot of it is way beyond our control, but whatever we can do, just little things, it all adds up.”

Before working with the task force, many of the 10 or so volunteers wouldn’t have known what most of the readings, from the chlorophyll levels or turbidity (the water clarity) meant, but now have become a kind of citizen scientist, able to comprehend measurements using a very technical device. Their backgrounds range from a retired veterinarian to retired teachers, but what brings them together is their long time proximity to the bays and waterways of the North Shore. It’s what drove them to want to make sure the water was being maintained.

Tom Lyon, of Mount Sinai, and Mark Smith, of East Setauket, are the boat captains, and have lent their experience and water crafts to the project. They are small runabouts, one an 18-foot and the other 16. 

Nancy Goldstein, herself a trained scuba diver, got into the project thanks to a friend and has been active for three years. 

“I took marine biology in high school, but I’m totally not a scientist,” Goldstein said. “I care about the earth, and the marine — it’s all one.”

Bert Conover, a retired veterinarian from Port Jeff, said he has always been on the water “from Delaware River to Ocean City.” Long ago, he majored in chemistry and biology, but went to grad school for zoology and then went on to veterinarian school. 

“Now that I’m retired it gives me a chance to give back,” he said. “And hopefully the data will redirect how to approach a healthy harbor.”

Alice Leser has lived in Stony Brook for 49 years, and is a life-long Long Islander. She has taught programs about Long Island waters as a teacher and alongside fellow environmentalists at the Long Island Museum. When three years ago the task force offered her a training program at the Village Center, she snapped up the opportunity.

“I’ve been surrounded by water my entire life,” she said. “I’ve canoeed all the rivers, and I’ve taught programs about Long Island waters, so I really care about the purity of the water.”

Laurie Vetere, the fellow co-founder of the task force, said they have not had anyone drop out in three years.

“When we first started this program, we found that we had more volunteers than we needed,” Vetere said. “People are attracted to the water.”

Hoffman agreed, saying there is something about Long Islanders and their connection to their coasts.

“Long Islanders are coastal people,” he said. “I think what keeps us on Long Island is we all have a love for the water.” 

Jamie Vaudrey, a professor of marine science at the University of Connecticut, detailed the issues with multiple Long Island bays across the North Shore. The main issues are nitrogen and how well a bay flushes. Photo by Kyle Barr

A new report by a regional environmental nonprofit says a little under half of all bays on either side of the Long Island Sound were given a poor-to-failing grade. It’s a continuing problem, but more and more local groups are stepping up to dedicate their time and energy to trying to maintain the water as a strong habitat.

At a press conference Tuesday, Oct. 6, Save the Sound, a Connecticut-based environmental nonprofit funded by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant, released its biennial 2020 Long Island Sound Report Card that described the general health of 50 bays from Long Island and Connecticut based on the previous year’s data. 

Click on the above link to see the grading of the entire Long Island Sound.

Officials and experts revealed that, of those monitored, Suffolk County North Shore harbors were largely better off than those in Connecticut, but several still had issues. Port Jefferson, at least the outer and middle portions of the harbor, was ranked in the top 10 most healthy, with experts saying it most likely has to do with how well the harbor flushes daily.

Meanwhile sites like Northport and Centerport harbors were ranked C- and C respectively. Northport Harbor received a F grade for its excess of chlorophyll, a measurement of how much microalgae is in the water, and its low level of dissolved oxygen, an important factor for the health of fish. Centerport had similar difficulties, but also had issues of excessive seaweed accumulation.

Perhaps the most concerning of North Shore Suffolk County’s waterways was the innermost part of Cold Spring Harbor which received F grades in chlorophyll, seaweed and dissolved oxygen. 

U.S. Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) were both present to offer their support of bipartisan funding for this and future studies as well as initiatives to keep local bays clean. Suozzi said in the past four years, the Long Island Sound Caucus has extended the EPA Long Island Sound program to 2023 and increased the $4 million appropriated to the Sound to $21 million. The House has already passed a bill to up that to $30 million, but has not yet been taken up by the Senate.

Zeldin said the low grades of so many bays only emphasizes the need for more federal funding for further studies and additional relief. 

“Working across the aisle and across the Sound, we’ve made great progress in preserving this critical waterway, but with nearly half of the waterways measured in this report as receiving a D grade or below, there’s still work to do,” he said. 

George Hoffman, a co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force that monitors Port Jeff, also acknowledged a great deal of why the bay has done comparatively well is because of its flushing capacity. Another factor, he said, may be the hundreds of thousands of oysters and shellfish the Town of Brookhaven seeds into the bay. The shellfish do a great job of filtering organic particulates from the water.  

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi said the Long Island Sound Study needs more federal funding. Photo by Kyle Barr

Save The Sound’s Unified Water Study program includes 22 organizations covering 50 harbors on both sides of the waterway. Monitoring begins in May and ends in October. The study also looks at the general health state of the Sound itself. It’s long been clear that the closer one is to New York City, the less healthy the water is. The Western Narrows portion of the Sound received an F grade on all marks, while the Eastern Narrows, which runs from Northport to the edge of Hempstead Bay, received a C grade overall. Areas to the east were reported as much healthier in general.

Jamie Vaudrey, an assistant research professor of marine science at the University of Connecticut, said likely the biggest factor for the health of bays in a modern environment is how well the water flushes in and out of the harbor. Water like that trapped into the southernmost tip of Cold Spring Harbor is more impacted by any real increase in nitrogen.

“They just have this large nitrogen burden coming in that’s not being flushed out,” she said. “In systems like that, really pushing down that nitrogen load is important.”

Nitrogen has been called public enemy No. 1 for coastal waters as it’s the leading cause of hypoxia, namely low or depleted oxygen causing major problems for marine life. This can cause fish or other sea creatures to die off and lead to an excess of seaweed or algae. Some of these algal blooms have even been dangerous to animals or humans.

Though Port Jefferson Harbor’s general health was rated high, it too has experienced its share of dangerous algal blooms, including a so-called rust tide back in 2018. Though this specific bloom doesn’t present a threat to human beings, it kills fish quite rapidly. Those who study water quality have become very concerned with how often these blooms have appeared since the early 2000s.

For some of the struggling bays in the Town of Huntington, New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) called for a funding stream from the federal government on down that can really start to make a dent in Suffolk County’s lack of sewage treatment facilities and get the ball rolling on nitrogen-reducing septic systems, which individually can cost a homeowner $10,000 to $15,000 apiece without government funding. 

“People can’t do that on their own — we need tax credits, we need funding,” he said.

Photo by Maria Hoffman

EYE CANDY

Maria Hoffman of East Setauket snapped this photo on July 18. She writes, ‘I was on the harborside beach of Port Jeff Harbor’s western headland just south of the inlet. As I scanned the busy Saturday harbor, the bright bold colors of the spinnaker sail caught my eye.  As the boat moved toward Port Jeff Village I realized that the striped sail would soon pass by the stacks with their candy striping and just waited for the moment.’

Send your Photo of the Week to [email protected]

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Brian Murphy, the captain of the Ginny Marie, brought his schooner into Port Jefferson this past week. Photo by Kyle Barr

The 39-foot schooner Ginny Marie has made its temporary home in Port Jefferson, leaving another tally for community members, officials and historians trying to bring in tall ships to the historic harbor.

The Ginny Marie at dock. Photo by Kyle Barr

Captain of the Ginny Marie, Brian Murphy, is a Northport resident and retired Stony Brook University Hospital nurse of 16 years. He said he wanted to bring in this boat to share his love of being out on the water at the mercy of the wind.  

“I just want to thank everyone, bring people out and sail,” Murphy said. “I love people, and I love bringing attention on the boat.”

The type of schooner design dates back to William Atkin in 1927. This more modern version of those vessels started being built in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 18 years later that the Ginny Marie actually launched. Other than a more modern countertop, the boat builders wanted much of it to be without current technologies and amenities. 

Other than that, a number of interesting pieces dot the ship’s design. Behind the boat’s wheel stands a binnacle, a “museum piece,” Murphy said. The cleats, or the anvil-shaped devices to which the ropes are tied, are shaped like alligators, dragons are carved into the end of the flagstaff and the vessel even includes an old, verdigris-covered belaying pin from the Shanty, an Atkin-designed vessel. 

“It took them 18 years to do this, and you end up with a very unique boat,” the Ginny Marie captain said. 

The two-masted schooner is allowed six passengers and a crew, which currently includes Murphy and a fellow seaman who’s training aboard. The dimensions include the 39-feet on deck, plus an 8-foot bowspirit. It weighs 16 tons with an 11.5-foot beam, a 6-foot draft and a 34-foot waterline. 

Chris Ryon, Port Jeff village historian and member of the Tall Ship Committee, said they will continue to bring more ships into the harbor. Last year brought in multiple crafts, including the historical 120-foot Amistad and much smaller Lady Maryland. 

“I’m so happy to have a schooner here,” Ryon said. “Port Jefferson deserves a schooner.”

The Ginny Marie is moored at the dock next to Harborfront Park for people to see and potentially speak to its captain. The boat is expecting to host small charters at $55 a head, six people at a time for two hours, three times a day. 

What’s the best thing about sailing?

“The best part about sailing is you get off the dock, you hoist those sails and you’re gone,” Murphy said. 

Long Island Coastal Steward volunteer Bill Negra, president Denis Mellett and treasurer Mark Campo at Mount Sinai Harbor. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Peggy Spellman Hoey

Coastal Steward Long Island has a three-pronged plan of attack in an unending, dirty battle — the one all environmentalists have been fighting — to keep local beaches and waters clean for years now. And it seems to be working. 

Coastal Steward board members and local divers plunge into Port Jefferson Harbor Aug. 18. Photo from Coastal Steward

What started out as loosely organized beach cleanups led by a local resident has spread to incorporate aquaculture conservation, restoring shellfish to Mount Sinai and Port Jefferson harbors, and marine education teaching youngsters about marine life and water quality. Its education programs include harbor seining and marsh exploration, shellfish hatchery tours and plankton microbiology, in which students use microscopes to identify plankton. 

Through its fundraising efforts, the group is also able to subsidize busing costs for schools that cannot fund field trips to the center.

The organization’s long-standing partnership with the Town of Brookhaven at its beach and marina complex on Long Island Sound in Mount Sinai allows for its educational programs to be run out of the Mount Sinai Marine Environmental Stewardship Center. In the complex’s maricultural center, the oyster seeds are grown for eventual release into the harbor.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) called the organization a good partner and a nice complement to the town and its work to restore water quality.

“They are all about water quality,” she said. “Their message is the right one and their heart is in the right place.”

In addition to its beach-cleaning projects, about four years ago, the group began leading underwater cleanups, recruiting local divers to volunteer their services to remove debris such as garbage, mechanical parts, and household items like furniture that has ended up on the water’s bottom.

The addition of educational programs and underwater cleanups evolved from the group’s efforts to clean beaches after organizers realized something had to be done to address the trash coming in with the tide.

“There is no end to beach cleanups, but if we educate before it gets in the water, we keep it out of the water in the first place,” said Denis Mellett, a dive instructor who serves as the president of Coastal Steward LI.

Ashly Carabetta, the organization’s executive director, said the group has also seen success with one of its newer programs, the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit, where youngsters get to listen to guest speakers, including scientists and educators such as aquanaut Fabien Cousteau, a documentary filmmaker and the grandson of Jacques-Yves Cousteau. 

Long Island Coastal Steward volunteer Bill Negra checks oysters cages in Mount Sinai Harbor. Photo by Kyle Barr

“It’s just a great opportunity for these kids to get to be surrounded by people in the field [of marine science] and talk amongst themselves,” she said.

Another part of the program includes a segment where participants break off into groups and develop a project for which they apply for grant money and then work over the next year to complete the project. The projects can be anything from creating a children’s book about water quality to devising a plan to limit single-plastic use in schools.

Giving the group a final plug, Bonner noted it is always looking for volunteers, and it’s a well-rounded organization with which anyone of any age can become involved.

“This is a nice way to be involved and you are really making a difference — beach cleaning and water quality,” she said.

Carabetta noted the importance of a beach cleanup is that anyone can do it, but the organization does have other roles to fill.

“We are looking for volunteers, part-time educators to try to expand our reach in many ways,” she said.

Last week, Long Island was slammed and hit by an unexpected fall nor’easter which brought in heavy rains and gusting winds that exceeded 50 mph. 

The powerful winds from the storm caused downed power wires and felled large trees and branches. According to the National Weather Service, parts of Long Island dealt with moderate coastal flooding and about 2-3 inches of rain.   

More than 73,000 PSEG Long Island customers lost power during the storm. Within 48 hours, PSEG restored service to nearly 100 percent of customers affected by the storm on Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 16-17, according to PSEG media relations. The rest were restored by that Friday. 

By the end of the nor’easter, crews had removed a total of 1,206 trees and large branches downed by the storm.

In Port Jefferson Harbor a sailing sloop named Grand Prix slipped her moorings and drifted aground in front of Harborfront Park, according to local photographer Gerard Romano who took a photo featured on the cover of this week’s paper. Another sailing vessel called the Summer Place washed ashore in Mount Sinai Harbor.

The Town of Brookhaven Highway Department responded to nearly 250 calls during the 24-hour storm. 

“We worked directly with PSEG as they dispatched their crews to areas where trees had fallen on wires so we could safely remove the debris after the power lines were de-energized,” town Highway Superintendent Daniel Losquadro (R) said in a statement. “Crews worked throughout the night to clear the roadways swiftly and efficiently.”

 

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Suffolk County Marine Bureau officers rescued a woman who fell off a floating dock in Port Jefferson. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

Police said three Suffolk County Marine Bureau officers rescued a woman who fell off a floating dock in Port Jefferson Friday, Oct. 4.

Officers John Falcone, John Rodriguez and Neil Stringer had just disembarked from Marine Delta in Port Jefferson Harbor when they saw a woman lose her footing and fall into the water while attempting to set up a ramp between a boat and the floating dock at the Port Jefferson Marina at around 1 p.m, police said.

The officers were able to lift the woman, Donna Butcher, out of the water and on to the dock. Butcher, 66, of Port Jefferson, was treated at the scene by Port Jefferson Fire Department personnel for minor abrasions and hypothermia.

Steward to host biggest cleanup of the year Sept. 21

Coastal Steward board members and local divers plunge into Port Jefferson Harbor Aug. 18. Photo from Coastal Steward

There are monsters off the coast of the North Shore, but not the kind with purple tentacles and razor teeth. Some are man made.

The Coastal Steward boat is regularly used in beach cleanups. Photo from Coastal Steward

The nonprofit Coastal Steward Long Island has been hosting underwater cleanups in Port Jefferson Harbor for the past three years. This is amongst its other activities being the steward of the Town of Brookhaven’s Mariculture Facility in Mount Sinai while hosting beach cleanup brigades and educational seminars for adults and kids alike. But the nonprofit’s volunteers have been looking for a deeper clean beyond the shore.

Ashly Carabetta, executive director for Coastal Steward, said the garbage one sees when relaxing on the sandy shore is only a small part of the debris that sits in the ocean.

“This is our effort to go beyond the regular beach cleanup and extend it to underwater,” she said. “The trash that you see on the shoreline goes far beyond what is there.” 

Deeper into the water many of the heavier objects have no chance to wash up on shore. Denis Mellett, president of the Coastal Steward’s board, is a local diver and dive instructor. He has assisted with diving cleanups all around Long Island, but said they chose Port Jefferson Harbor for their close working connection with the village. Other municipalities on Long Island, he said, can be hesitant to allow these cleanups when they could be liable for the divers well-being. 

The board president said most people rarely think about what garbage has sunk to the bottom of the water. The rest of the garbage is often located closer to the shore underwater.

“The only stuff you often see or think about is stuff that floats,” Mellett said. “Typically, closer to shore is where you find the vast bulk of that debris.”

Coastal Steward board members and local divers plunge into Port Jefferson Harbor Aug. 18. Photo from Coastal Steward

The first cleanup took place in 2017, but last year the group had to cancel due to inclement weather. During the last underwater cleanup, which took place Aug. 18, 27 divers splashed underwater, going down to about 20 feet below the surface. Many were Coastal Steward board members.  

“Divers tend to be very conscious of the environment, because it’s where we spend our time,” he said. “It’s like hikers. Hikers tend to take care of the woods, divers tend to take care of the ocean.”

In past underwater dives, the group has come up with umbrellas and engine parts, and they have even found soda and milk bottles from all the way back to the 1940s. One memorable piece of debris was a 10-foot rolled-up rug that Carabetta found at the bottom of Port Jefferson Harbor. At the time, some feared what they might find rolled up in such a large rug, but they were relieved to find nothing inside.

Much of the debris, like small boats or parts of engines, actually become part of the marine life’s habitat, so they don’t remove it. However, they also find parts such as vehicle batteries, which can release toxic materials into the water. Objects like those are especially what the Coastal Steward looks for in these underwater cleanups.

“Typically, it’s down there until it’s buried in sand or silt, or a diver goes in there and brings it up,” Mellett said.

Despite what may come out of the harbor during these dives, Mellett said the true purpose is to gather interest in doing their regular beach cleanups and as part of their educational services, especially trying to get people to be more conscious of what and where they toss away.

“You can clean the beach every single day but as the tide goes in and out it brings in more garbage,” he said. “The only way you can make a significant dent is if you can keep the garbage out of the water in the first place.”

The Coastal Steward is hosting its largest beach cleanup of the year Sept. 21 at the far side Pirate’s Cove in Port Jefferson. The organization will be using its boat to take people up to that area, and if they gather enough volunteers, they will take people further up, across to the western side of McAllister Park. Volunteers will meet at Anchorage Road South in Belle Terre village at 8:30 a.m. before marshaling out. People can visit www.coastalsteward.org or call 631-941-6528 for more information.