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Editorial: Threat to Long Island waters must be addressed

In recent months, certainly since the onset of the pandemic and the disruption it has brought to eastern Long Island, great changes have taken place on the North Fork, with even greater changes in store. 

In just a few years we have seen home prices rise sky high — crazy, are-you-kidding prices for houses and land. On paper the prices make no sense, and the impact on residents who grew up here and want to remain are enormous.

Today’s truth seems to be: If you don’t own a home here now, you won’t ever own one. And if you sell the house you are in now, you won’t be able to stay here.

What has long been true on the glittering, private-jet world of the South Fork seems to have arrived in full bloom on the North Fork. As we said in an earlier editorial, Big Money is here, and it wants what it wants.

The changes either proposed or on the drawing boards — such as hotel construction — will be judged by the governments we elect and the appointed members of review boards. We are counting on them to keep one overriding thought in mind: How do we save as much of this remarkable place as possible? How do we preserve the big three: our salt creeks, our fertile farmland and our bays? 

Now a new report has come out you can read about in our papers this week. If the findings of the annual State of the Bays lecture presented last week don’t raise environmental alarm bells, we are not sure what would. Read our story, highlight the scarier parts and then come up with a game plan on how we, as citizens of this place, are going to react to it. But react we must.

We won’t tell you everything in the report — our story is there for you to read — but here are some high points. The “four horsemen of the ocean climate change apocalypse,” as Stony Brook University scientist Christopher Gobler puts it, are here now. Not 10 years from now — but now. They are: warming, acidification, hypoxia and harmful algae blooms.

With rising population, nitrogen levels are significantly increasing in the aquifer. And this: Even low levels of nitrates in ground water are associated with elevated levels of cancer. Dr. Gobler, who presented the lecture, said that Suffolk County has higher rates of bladder cancer than any other part of New York State — and the country. Kidney cancer rates are higher than the average statewide.

More findings: The county has the most toxic blue-green algae blooms in the state, impacting all marine ecosystems and clobbering the bay scallop population. Low oxygen levels and harmful algae blooms have become the “new normal” here. There also is a newer algae bloom found all across the South Shore: Dasysiphonia japonica, which releases toxic gases into the atmosphere and are pushed along by warming water temperatures.

Dr. Gobler pointed out that for decades, Long Island had “the most robust hard clam fishery in the history of the state.” All that is under assault. Brown tides wiped out scallops, and so-called rust tides are on the horizon. As water temperatures rise, these impacts can’t be stopped.

“In the 20th century, our waters weren’t warm enough for this organism to hit its maximal growth rate,” Dr. Gobler said of the algae that cause rust tides. With water temperatures rising, the threats of damage to our bays increases greatly.

“The bottom line is that we’re warming much faster here on Long Island, particularly during summer, than the rest of the globe is on average,” he said. He said many marine organisms are already at their maximal tolerance, as the warmer it gets, the less oxygen is in the water.

Read the story and let your feelings be known on what should be done about this — if it’s not too late. Nationally, our politicians can’t agree on anything, and nothing gets done. We have to work together on critical environmental issues. Politicians can’t fail on this one.

On the North Fork, let’s face it: We are at a crossroads. We all have to recognize this and decide what path our towns will take.

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