09/02/16 6:00am
09/02/2016 6:00 AM

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Over the past month, the Peconic Estuary has been hit with one environmental blow after another, a Stony Brook biologist and marine researcher said, thanks in part to rising temperatures in East End waterways. READ

05/30/15 3:19pm
05/30/2015 3:19 PM
Dead bunker like these have been washing up on local shores since late last week. (Credit: Christopher Gobler)

Dead bunker like these have been washing up on local shores since late last week. (Credit: Christopher Gobler)

A recent die-off of bait fish in the Peconic Estuary has Riverhead Town rallying local fishermen to harvest as many bunker as they can before the fish die, according to Supervisor Sean Walter.

“It’s a critical situation,” Mr. Walter said. “We’re having a real problem.”

The die-off has been blamed on low oxygen levels in nearby waters caused by a recent algae bloom, said Christopher Gobler, a biologist at Stony Brook University who’s been investigating the kill.

“This may be the biggest fish kill I’ve ever seen and I’ve been working for more than 20 years,” he told the News-Review.

  • How a fish kill unfolds: Scroll down to see

The kill comes weeks after a separate massive die-off of diamondback terrapin turtles, which has also been linked to toxic shellfish likely caused by the algae — also known as red or brown tide.

Mr. Gobler said oxygen levels in the Peconic Estuaries began dropping Wednesday night as the algae became more dense. By Friday, readings from the County Road 105 bridge showed zero oxygen in the water for the fish to breathe.

When a school of bunker swam into this “dead zone,” they suffocated and died, he said. There have been reports of thousands of the dead bunker washing up along town and private beaches.

“This is a pretty remarkable size fish kill,” Mr. Gobler noted. “There were fished piled on top of each other on the shoreline.”

Mr. Walter said that may pose a public safety hazard. While the town is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Mr. Walter said they’ll need to dispose of the dead fish somehow.

11330023_10204170173286525_3614910240458071008_nIdeally, the fish would be cleaned up and moved to the Brookhaven landfill, if the DEC allows that, he said. Otherwise, Mr. Walter said he may declare a town-wide state of emergency to clean up the fish and bury them at the town’s own waste facility.

“We’re ready to take action, we just don’t know what action we’re going to take,” Mr. Walter said. “The next 24 hours will tell.”

While the town waits for DEC approval, Mr. Walter said local boat captains have been contacted to round up bunker in the Peconic Estuary before they continue to die off.

Nate Phillips, a commercial fisherman from Greenport, is one of those boat captains. Normally, fishermen are only allowed to take a certain quota of bunker, which are used by lobstermen and other fishermen as bait. Mr. Phillips said those restrictions may be voided during this crisis.

“Obviously, the ultimate goal is to get it cleaned up before they all die,” he said. “When they die they’re a terrible, stinky mess.”

Mr. Phillips told the News-Review he was rounding up a group of fishermen — as many as five or six boats — to harvest the fish using haul seines, scoop nets, or “basically whatever we can get them with.”

The harvest could begin as early as Saturday night.

Dead fish that turned up near the Riverhead Yacht Club Friday afternoon. (Credit: Melanie Drozd)

Dead fish that turned up near the Riverhead Yacht Club Friday afternoon. (Credit: Melanie Drozd)

Mr. Gobler said fish kills are not unusual, but they’re not seen as often in other parts of Long Island where the bunker group together to spawn.

“There’s very few places on Long Island where oxygen levels are going to zero for multiple hours,” he said. “That’s not normal.”

Mr. Gobler said nitrogen runoff likely fed this specific algal bloom, nicknamed “mahogany tide.” Shallow creeks and tributaries of the river are especially vulnerable to algae blooms because the nitrogen gets concentrated in one area.

Historically, the Peconic Estuary has had relatively low oxygen levels to begin with, Mr. Gobler said. With these blooms moving in, the River will “probably have oxygen problems through the summer,” he said.

“It’s going to hit low and no oxygen levels throughout the summer,” he said. “But there may not be the equivalent fish kills because … the fish will sense the low oxygen levels and turn around.”

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04/28/15 8:00am
04/28/2015 8:00 AM
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Shoreham-Wading River High School football plays a championship game at Stony Brook University’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)

Citing “unconstitutional alterations” to the state budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed millions in appropriations for stadium upgrades at Stony Brook University’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium earlier this month. (more…)

02/26/15 8:00am
02/26/2015 8:00 AM
The Long Island Sound shoreline near Soundview Avenue in Southold as it appeared about 11 a.m. on Feb. 16. Just a day before freezing over, large swells as high as 10 feet could be seen in the Sound from the Southold Town beach. (Credit: John-Paul Stanisic)

The Long Island Sound shoreline near Soundview Avenue in Southold as it appeared about 11 a.m. on Feb. 16. Just a day before freezing over, large swells as high as 10 feet could be seen in the Sound from the Southold Town beach. (Credit: John-Paul Stanisic)

You could be forgiven for thinking this February has been colder than usual. It has. But just how much colder — a staggering 10.8 degrees below normal — has surprised even meteorologists, who say the month is on track to become Long Island’s coldest February on record.

The consistent cold snap has caused a rare phenomenon, one not seen for nearly 40 years: Long Island Sound is freezing over, so to speak.

“I’ve never seen it freeze over like this,” said Dominick Mavellia of Southold, whose home overlooks the frozen waters. “It looks like Antarctica … it’s quite beautiful.”  (more…)

10/27/14 12:00pm
10/27/2014 12:00 PM
Rust tide in Flanders Bay Sept. 12, 2014 (Credit: Courtesy SBU)

Rust tide in Flanders Bay Sept. 12, 2014 (Credit: Stony Brook University )

Researchers from Stony Brook University and The Nature Conservancy released a map last week that depicts the location and breadth of water quality problems, such as brown tide and hypoxia, that cropped up around Long Island this past year.

While the experts noted the cool summer helped ward off the potential for widespread algal blooms, the blooms weren’t the only cause for concern in 2014.

And, the issues were widespread, ranging Long Island Sound waters near the Bronx and Queens, to Mattituck and Montauk.

The map highlights the presence of rust tides in the western Peconics, paralytic shellfish poisoning in Meetinghouse Creek in Aquebogue, and toxic blue-green algae in Mattituck’s Lake Marratooka, among others.

(Credit: Courtesy SBU SoMAS)

(Credit: Courtesy SBU SoMAS)

(more…)