July 9, 2016

United Nations group visits Stony Brook Southampton Marine Station

On Saturday July 9th, 2016, the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science was honored to welcome a group of United Nations ambassadors, dignitaries, and their families to the Stony Brook Southampton Marine Station for a tour of the facility and an overview of the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program (ShiRP). Ten countries, including Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Fiji, Israel, Italy, Kiribati, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Poland, and Vanuatu were represented.

These nations are part of the “10 x 20 Initiative”, which is aimed toward achieving the protection of 10% of the world’s oceans by the year 2020. This target is included in the Sustainable Development Goals—which were adopted by member states of the United Nations in September 2015. IOCS’s Executive Director, Dr. Ellen Pikitch, and Assistant Director for Policy and Outreach, Christine Santora, are involved in the 10 x 20 Initiative through their work with the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance (OSA).

The diplomats were welcomed by Dr. Matt Whelan, representing Stony Brook University’s Office of the President, and Dr. Larry Swanson, Dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. Guests were given a tour of Stony Brook’s state-of-the art research laboratory by director Christopher Paparo and ShiRP PhD Student Andrew Griffith, who conversed with the group about current experiments, shellfish spawning, and how the scientific work done in the lab directly informs bay restoration. The diplomats also heard an overview ShiRP’s restoration goals and activities from Christine Santora, ShiRP’s program manager, and Dr. Konstantine Rountos, a Stony Brook University research scientist who has led ShiRP’s trawl survey and other fishery-related activities since the program’s inception.

A highlight of the study tour was a visit to the hard clam spawner sanctuaries in Shinnecock Bay -- areas where large amounts of adult hard clams have been placed in close proximity to one another to maximize population growth and reproduction. Spawner sanctuaries, a type of marine protected area (or MPA), are a conservation tool that can improve the water quality and shellfish populations of Shinnecock Bay. During the outing on the R/V Peconic, the success of the sanctuaries became apparent when samples taken just outside the protected area revealed small hard clams – offspring of the adult clams that had been placed in the hard clam sanctuaries. Diplomats also participated in deploying sampling gear, which revealed some of the fish and invertebrates resident in Shinnecock Bay, and learned how various species and habitats contribute to the bay’s ecological health and vibrancy. A summer flounder was tagged with an acoustic transmitter that allows ShiRP researchers to monitor migration patterns of this flagship fish species.

President-Elect of the United Nations General Assembly, H.E. Ambassador Peter Thomson of Fiji, reminded all that “We are One Ocean,” noting that the sediment in Shinnecock Bay looks, smells and feels just the same as the bay bottom he encountered as a child in Fiji. He praised the work of Stony Brook University's restoration program, citing it as a model for protecting marine areas, as is needed to safeguard our oceans and coastal areas for generations to come.

In March 2016, diplomats involved in the 10 x 20 Initiative gathered in Rome, along with scientists led by Dr. Pikitch, to create the Rome Call to Action -- a statement calling for more and robust use of MPAs. The 10 x 20 Initiative is chaired by Italy, with Vice-Chairs from The Bahamas, Palau, Poland, Kenya and the OSA.

See photos.

April 22, 2015

Talk Outlines State of the Bays
Sag Harbor Express

By Stephen J. Kotz

The bad news—and there is plenty of it—is that Long Island’s bays, ponds and other surface waters remain under an assault of pollution that threatens their viability. The good news is now that the situation has reached crisis proportions, people are beginning to take notice and think about ways to stave off an environmental calamity.

That was the message Dr. Chris Gobler, the coordinator of Stony Brook Southampton’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, offered in “Crisis and Opportunity,” his annual State of the Bays lecture, on Friday.

Although the lecture broke no new ground, instead offering a detailed overview of current conditions, the annual talk has caught the attention of Southampton Town officials, with representatives of the Trustees and Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst among those in the audience in Chancellors Hall.

Dr. Gobler pointed out that the water, whether it be the ocean, the bays or coastal ponds is what has attracted tourists to the East End for well over a century. “Do we come here for the taxes?” he quipped. “No, we are here for the beauty of the coastal waters.”

Noting that New York State was “historically home to our nation’s greatest shellfisheries,” Dr. Gobler said rich oyster beds were gone by the end of the 19th century, clams were in decline by the mid-1970s, and scallops were decimated starting with arrival of the Brown Tide in the mid-1980s.

Commercial shellfisheries have taken a $6 billion hit since 1985 and eelgrass beds, a key habitat for shellfish, is in danger of being wiped out by 2030.

“We are losing our maritime heritage,” he said. “As my kids grow up they are experiencing a different Long Island than I did.”

A primary culprit is a rise in nitrogen levels, which, he said, has become a major stressor” in bodies of water worldwide. Its source on Long Island is typically from septic systems, which leach effluent into the groundwater and eventually into the bays and ponds, with heavily fertilized lawns another source.

Nitrogen promotes algal blooms, which, in turn use up oxygen in the water, killing fish and shellfish. And the higher the nitrogen levels, the higher the levels of toxins in many forms of algae, he told his audience.

One of those toxic organisms is blue-green algae, which has appeared in Georgica Pond in East Hampton and Lake Agawam in Southampton Village, among other Long Island freshwater ponds. “Where is blue-green algae most common?” Dr. Gobler asked. “You might be surprised to hear the answer is Suffolk County.”

The algae is responsible for the death of a dog, who apparently drank water from Georgica last fall, although the federal Centers for Disease Control is now saying at least 400 dogs have been killed by the toxic algae nationwide, although there is reason to believe the number may be much higher than that.

Blue green algae also made the news last summer when residents of Toledo, Ohio, which gets its water from Lake Erie, were not allowed to use their tap water last summer because of a spike in blue green algae levels.

Elevated nitrogen levels, largely from nitrates leached from septic systems, has found its way to the groundwater and into Long Island’s bays. There, it spurs algal blooms, which, in turn, reduce oxygen levels, killing off fish and shellfish.

“Two-thirds of Long Island’s coastal waters lack enough oxygen for fish to survive,” Dr. Gobler said. Studies have shown that oxygen levels vary, with levels rising during the day when sunlight allows plants to produce oxygen through photosynthesis, with the levels declining at night.

The bays are further damaged by high levels of carbon dioxide in the water, which releases hydrogen ions and turn the water acidic, causing still more harm to plant and animal life.

If it seems bleak, Dr. Gobler told his audience there were some encouraging signs. “We have a governor, a county executive and town supervisors who champion clean water,” he said.

Among the signs of progress he cited is a Suffolk County pilot program that has funded the installation of modern septic systems for 19 different homeowners that could point the way toward reducing nitrate pollution. And he pointed to Stony Brook University’s new Center for Clean Water Technology, which is charged with finding ways to reduce the impacts of pollution from residential septic systems.

Read the article online.

April 17, 2015

On Friday, April 17th at 7:30pm, Dr. Christopher Gobler will give a seminar entitled: “State of the Bays, 2015: Crisis and opportunity” in the Duke Lecture Hall of Chancellor’s Hall on the Stony Brook - Southampton Campus. The abstract of the talk appears below. Light refreshments will be served starting at 7pm and the lecture will begin at 7:30pm. We hope to see you there. Download flyer.

Abstract: Water is at the core of the Long Island existence. We rely on groundwater to drink. That same groundwater is the primary source of freshwater and nitrogen to our coastal ecosystems. We are surrounded by water within which we swim, boat, and recreate. Since the late twentieth century, aerial coverage of critical marine habitats on Long Island such as eelgrass and salt marshes have declined by up to 80%, Long Island’s top shellfisheries (clams, oyster, scallops, mussels) have declined by up to 90%, and nitrogen levels in groundwater have increase by more than 50%. Presently, there is growing concern among the public, politicians, and scientists regarding the negative effects of excessive nitrogen loading on Long Island’s coastal marine habitats and fisheries. In 2014, Long Island experienced a series of coastal water body impairments that justified that concern including outbreaks of brown tides, rust tides, toxic cyanobacterial blooms, hypoxia, and acidification, all occurrences now directly and indirectly linked to excessive nitrogen loading. In freshwater ecosystems, Suffolk County experienced a greater frequency of blue green algal blooms than any other county in NY and nitrogen continues to be identified as a factor intensifying the toxicity of these events. New links were made between excessive nitrogen loading, the loss of salt marshes, and coastal flooding.New research initiatives in 2014 examined Long Island estuaries from Queens to Montauk and performed cruises circumnavigating Long Island from the East River, across Long Island Sound, through the Peconic Estuary, and across the South Shore Estuary Reserve. All of these efforts utilized continuous data logging devices and, therefore, facilitated unprecedented levels of temporal and spatial resolution and provided a series of new insights regarding the state of Long Island’s coastal waters. Through these efforts, the widespread nature of night-time hypoxia in Long Island coastal waters was discovered with more than two-thirds of sites studied experiencing dissolved oxygen levels below 3 mg per liter for an extended period during 2014. Furthermore, the south shore estuaries of Suffolk County were identified as experiencing the most intense marine algal blooms in NY, a finding consistent with their small tidal range and extended residence times. Solutions to water body impairments are emerging. Observations in 2014 continued to provide evidence from estuaries and coastal ponds that enhanced ocean flushing can protect water bodies against excessive nitrogen loads and efforts to stem nitrogen loads in some regions of Long Island are yielding improved levels of dissolved oxygen. Finally, this presentation will discuss the founding of the new Clean Water Technology Center at Stony Brook University that will focus on advancing technologies capable of removing nitrogen and other contaminants from wastewater before they enter groundwater and drinking water supplies.