Their quarterly Speaker Series focused on the State of the Great South Bay. The presentation was held on Friday, Oct. 15 with featured guest speaker Dr. Christopher Gobler of SUNY Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.
According to Gobler, he and his laboratory monitor the bay year-round. The watershed, he said, is critically important and any time anything lands on Long Island it has two important fates: either it lands in the drinking water or one of the bays, harbors, or estuaries.
“At the essence of living on Long Island, everything we are doing on land is going to alter the quality of our drinking water and surface water,” he said. “It’s a unifying concept.”
As the population increases, he said, so does higher nitrogen levels, which is evident in the ground and surface waters. He claims there has been a 60 percent increase in nitrogen in Long Island surface waters over the last decade.
Originally, he explained, about a decade ago, people were blaming runoff. However, it has been found that the single biggest source of nitrogen from land to sea is due to wastewater, and 70 percent of LI homes are not on sewage treatment or on-site systems. Instead, the waste is draining directly into the groundwater.
Due to this, harmful algal blooms have been popping up across Long Island, including PSP, toxic blue and green algae, and DSP, contaminating waters and impacting fisheries.
However, it’s not new to the island; since the 1950s, he said, there was record of algal blooms in the Moriches Bay prior to the inlet. Then, between the ‘60s and ‘80s, harmful blooms were mostly non-existent. By 1985, he explained, these algal blooms continued and increased onward.
“More nitrogen makes blooms more interesting,” he added, explaining that in some cases, they even become more toxic due to the nature of the nitrogen-rich compounds that feed on more nitrogen.
Oceans are losing oxygen and warming, allowing the harmful algae to bloom. Excessive nitrogen, he said, sucks the oxygen out of the water. The plan is, he added, to upgrade two-thirds of septic systems in Suffolk County by 2070.
“There is a lot of hope,” he added, recognizing the county’s Reclaim our Waters effort. “Suffolk County has one of the most robust programs upgrading systems than any other county in the nation.”
In addition to continuing the county’s efforts to install wastewater treatment systems in new construction and home replacements, he said, kelp can also be used to mitigate the damage. Kelp, he said, is farmed in the Northeast and indigenous. Through partnerships with local oyster farmers, kelp can be grown during the winter months.
“Seaweed is amazing and performs a service we need and want in our bays,” he continued, explaining it takes in nitrogen and lets go of oxygen.
In conclusion, he said, upgrading septic systems should be the primary tool for removing contamination; however, seaweed and kelp can help mitigate water-quality impairment.
He and Save the Great South Bay, he said, hope to review and release report cards for different parts of the Great South Bay based on federal and state standards.
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