News

May 3, 2021

SBU Scientists Take a Multi-Faceted Approach to Restoring Shinnecock Bay

Shinnecock Bay bears the name of an indigenous people, but due to human activity it bears little resemblance to what it once was when it sustained Native American populations. In recent decades, poor water quality, harmful algae blooms and massive declines in shellfish have unfortunately become the new normal for Shinnecock Bay and estuaries around Long Island.

And yet, thanks to a decade-long effort by scientists at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), the bay is making great strides in returning to an ecosystem rich with marine life.

The Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program (ShiRP) is made up of dedicated Stony Brook faculty, staff and graduate students from the laboratories of Christopher Gobler, Ellen Pikitch and Brad Peterson. The labs work together toward the goal of improving water quality in western Shinnecock Bay by restoring the bay from within.

The approach centers around increasing filtration. Shellfish like clams and oysters are "filter feeders" that feed by straining suspended matter from the water. They help keep harmful algae in check and mitigate the impact of excess nitrogen seeping into the bay from underground septic systems throughout the watershed.

At the heart of ShiRP’s multi-faceted approach is the creation of hard clam "spawner sanctuaries," which are harvest-free areas planted with high densities of adult clams. These sanctuaries not only supercharge filtration in localized areas of the bay, but more importantly increase reproductive success so the clams may efficiently and effectively repopulate the entire bay over time. The strategy thus provides both immediate and long-term payoffs.

"The South Shore Estuary of Long Island was once home to the nation’s largest hard clam fishery," said Michael Doall, ShiRP’s leading restoration scientist and a key collaborator within the lab of Gobler, the endowed chair of Coastal Ecology and Conservation, based at the Stony Brook Southampton campus. "Unfortunately, due to unsustainable harvest and the reoccurrence of harmful brown tides since 1985, hard clam populations collapsed throughout the estuary, and by the end of the 20th century the harvest was down more than 99 percent from its peak."

To date, ShiRP has planted more than 3.5 million adult hard clams into two harvest-free areas established by the Southampton Town Trustees, a key authority that supports ShiRP’s restoration efforts in the bay.

The spawner sanctuary approach has been so successful that littleneck clam landings outside of the closed areas are the highest they have been since 1985, according to Doall. "Since we began establishing spawner sanctuaries in 2012, the hard clam harvest in Shinnecock Bay has increased more than 1,000 percent," Doall stated. "And the past four years has been the only four-year period without brown tides since they first appeared in 1985. The strategy appears to be working."

Restoring the bay’s habitat and overall biodiversity is another key goal of ShiRP. "What I love about this project is that there are so many components — the hard clams, the oyster reefs, the eelgrass, the fish," said Christine Santora, assistant director of Policy and Outreach at the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook, who works closely with celebrated marine biologist Pikitch, endowed professor of Ocean Conservation Science. "It’s much more than a singular approach; our scientists have designed the restoration to take into account how different parts of the bay interact."

Another vital component of ShiRP is collaboration. Reinvigorating the bay’s fragile ecosystem, said School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Dean Paul Shepson, has involved a hands-on collaboration of scientists, community members, and, of course, philanthropic partners. "The success of ShiRP would not have been possible without the Laurie Landeau Foundation, LLC," Shepson said. "Their partnership helped launch and sustain SHiRP and we owe them our gratitude for believing in us and helping us achieve the success we have."

ShiRP has built, with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation approval, six oyster reefs in the western bay since 2017. The reefs can be thought of as living organisms, made up of millions of fast-growing oysters and newly settled marine life that use the reef as their habitat. "It’s amazing to see oysters the size of poppy seeds grow into a living reef, and to see them collectively form a mini-ecosytem that is filtering the water and providing a home for marine life," Doall says. He is measuring growth, mortality and disease to make sure new reefs are sited and built for maximum effectiveness.

Peterson, based at Stony Brook Southampton, leads the eelgrass habitat restoration component of ShiRP. Eelgrass is a key habitat in the bay, but is in decline worldwide. He and his team of graduate students have distributed almost seven million eelgrass seeds into the western bay since 2013.

Peterson noted that as the clams and oysters create better water quality conditions through filtration, more light will reach the bottom of the bay, helping the eelgrass beds to naturally expand. ShiRP’s success in restoring 100 new acres of eelgrass is the result of both direct seeding restoration and natural expansion due to improved water clarity.

The ShiRP approach, importantly, relies upon monitoring data to not only evaluate the success of the restoration but to track broader improvements in water quality, habitat and fish.

The Gobler and Peterson labs monitor the bay bottom to document hard clam survival and reproductive condition, and whether there are newly generated clams resulting from the sanctuaries. Gobler, perhaps Long Island’s foremost expert on water quality, consistently measures conditions in the bay including the presence and extent of harmful algal blooms, and how the bay’s physical conditions are improving.

Pikitch’s lab focuses on the upper end of the food chain. She and postdoc Sara Cernadas-Martin have been leading fish surveys since restoration began to collect a baseline of fish composition and diversity in the bay. The dataset is now being used to determine whether the restoration is positively impacting fish populations.

Santora explained that three types of fish surveys are utilized: trawling, underwater video, and most recently, eDNA water samples, where water pumped through a mesh filter provides DNA clues to reveal the various species present in the bay.

The fisheries’ surveys show that the bay is filled with both ‘usual suspects’ — species present in the bay every year — as well as species that are more infrequent. Santora noted that the surveys consistently show that forage fish are highly abundant in the bay, which makes sense since estuaries are known nursery grounds for fish large and small. "We see everything from puffers and seahorses to black seabass and fluke, and a whole lot of bay anchovies, silversides and menhaden too," she said.

In the past, marine life in the western part of the bay had been degraded compared to what was measured in the east.

The Ponquogue Bridge, the distinctive bridge over Shinnecock Bay connecting the mainland to the barrier island, serves as a defacto dividing line between healthy and less healthy marine life in the bay. In the past few years, however, ShiRP has seen a very positive trend toward improved marine life in the western bay.

"It’s so exciting to see that water quality improvements in western Shinnecock are leading to more habitat and better fish abundance and diversity. That was the original vision," Santora said. "The hard clam population is up, the water clarity is up, the brown and red tides are down, and the eelgrass is up. We just don’t put clams in the water and say it’s over," said Santora.

The ShiRP team will be featured in the Southampton evening lecture series on May 6.

May 9, 2021

A new 'set it-and-forget it' crop may help LI's aqua farmers — and its bays, too

By Mark Harrington - May 7, 2021 3:04 PM

"It was just an incredible experience to watch this plant grow from mere millimeters when we planted it in December to nine to 12 feet in a matter of three or four months. Amazing," said McCormick, of East Moriches, who owns Great Gun Shellfish Co.

Scientists, lawmakers, oyster farmers and a new crop of seaweed marketers all are looking to experimental kelp farms that have dotted the waters around Long Island for the past three years with the hope for a new industry that could also be an important check on nitrogen and carbon dioxide impacts on local waterways. There’s much work to be done, advocates say, including passage of a recently introduced state law that would allow for kelp cultivation from Peconic and Gardiners bays, but momentum is building. Just last month, Montauk Seaweed Supply Co. launched a line of fertilizer products using kelp from other states and from wild kelp beds.

But kelp's uses, and its appeal, go far beyond the market for fertilizer, which is attractive as a sustainable method to add nutrients to gardens without trucking in industrial fertilizer from the outside. Kelp is sold to restaurants as a salad-like side dish, but it's used for other food products such as non-animal burgers; it's also used in soaps, shampoos and skin-care products, and is being explored for use in biofuels and sustainable packaging.

For McCormick and the eight other aqua farmers who have participated in this three-year pilot study, conducted by Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, the prospect of cultivating kelp represents not just another potential revenue stream but hope for a new generation of men and women who make their living on the waters.

Kelp, a long green lasagna-like sea algae that has a certain crunch and a pleasing bittersweet taste, grows in the winter, from December to May, when oyster farming goes largely dormant. It’s relatively low cost and low maintenance, particularly in waters like Moriches Bay, where McCormick is growing long lines of kelp about 100 yards from the shore near Terrell County Park. It surrounds and may even benefit his oysters.

"It’s a crop that requires low capital input, very very minimal labor — it’s basically a set it-and-forget it crop," McCormick said. "It dovetails perfectly with activity and inactivity on the shellfish farm."

Scientists studying the prospect of kelp growing off Long Island are particularly keen to its environmental benefits. It acts as a nitrogen sink, sucking up the overabundant compound, which ecologists say sometimes causes harmful algae blooms. It also absorbs CO2 and may help address acidification in waters around Long Island.

Michael Doall, associate director for bivalve restoration at Stony Brook University's School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences, has been monitoring kelp beds such as McCormick’s for the past three years, and is finding encouraging signs. He called such operations "restorative farming.''

Kelp farming across the country, in Alaska, California and the Northeast, is chiefly done in deep water — 20 feet or more, with the kelp supported by nutrients in water and anchored, but not rooted to the sea bottom. In those farms, it can be more labor and capital intensive than in shallow farms.

Doall said he and his team were surprised by the shallow farm off Moriches, which, he said, "turns out to be our best site. The quality was great. It did tremendous." Growing in shallow water costs "a fraction of what it does in deeper water."

Kelp can grow fast — and large. "The thing about kelp is ... the incredible amount of biomass you can grow in a short amount of time," Doall said. "You can almost watch it grow."

A one-acre water lease can grow 32,000 to 72,000 pounds of kelp in a five-month season, potentially netting farmers tens of thousands of dollars a year in new revenue, Doall said.

Markets for kelp — most notably as fertilizer and food — combine to yield an average price of about $1 a pound, Doall said, and in New York, those markets are just beginning to form.

McCormick said he’s been in contact with local chefs who say they’d love to buy kelp for local dishes — at prices that start at $6 a pound.

One challenge is that newly harvested kelp has to get to market quickly because it doesn’t store well. Unless it's dried or blanched and frozen, it can deteriorate in a matter of days, losing its characteristic crunch and taste, Doall said.

Legislative hurdles

The market won’t develop until kelp passes a couple of critical hurdles, one of them legislative. Just this month, Long Island members of the state Legislature introduced an addition to an existing aquaculture bill that would pave the way for oyster farming to include kelp. Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who introduced the Senate version along with Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), said the amendment was fundamentally as simple as adding the words "and kelp" to the existing law. Potential kelp farmers and conservationists have been working with Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) on an Assembly version, which he said would be introduced this week. "I think there is great economic and environmental potential for kelp," Thiele said.

If the bill is signed into law, it will make cultivation of kelp from Suffolk County aquaculture leases in Peconic and Gardiners bays legal. Proponents hope it’s in place next year.

"There are so many environmental benefits that it makes sense to clear the way for kelp growers," Kaminsky said. "Other states are ahead of where we are in building this industry."

Imports and wild kelp

Some who see a big market for kelp and other seaweed products say there’s no need to wait for the bill passage to get the market going. Sean Barrett, a Montauk fisherman who started Dock to Dish, a Montauk community fishery organization, launched a company this month that began marketing kelp-based fertilizers under the Montauk Seaweed Supply Co. brand.

Barrett is buying his kelp not only from harvesters who are already legally cultivating and selling kelp in markets from Connecticut to Maine, but using divers to harvest wild kelp and other seaweeds from New York State waters. The state Department of Environmental Conservation, he said, is aware of his efforts.

In a statement, the DEC said it has "not participated in or assisted with determining locations for wild kelp harvest," but noted, "The harvest of wild kelp is not regulated by DEC and has not been pursued to date." The agency and local partners are "working collaboratively to identify kelp research and monitoring projects that will help [us] better understand potential impacts on New York’s marine ecosystem and marine life.".

Unlike wild kelp, the DEC does regulate cultivated kelp and other seaweeds in New York waters and requires an "on/off bottom culture permit" from the agency. The permit allows a holder to sell the cultivated products from their water farms, so long as the sale complies with state Department of Agriculture and Markets requirements that regulate food processing facilities and retail stores, DEC said.

"It’s impossible for the kelp industry to begin in New York State if you rely just on farmed kelp," Barrett said. When this year’s pilot crop is harvested, "there won’t be another lick of kelp available until [next] May, even with the most advanced storage capacity. You’ll never be able to start businesses with something with a two-week harvest window, and then nothing."

The "runway" for the industry is wild kelp, Barrett said. Wild kelp, which includes an invasive species from Japan, is available "pretty much year-round," he said, adding that hand harvesting can be beneficial to some seaweed-choked waters, and that his is done in a "very responsible" and limited way.

Not all are convinced that using wild kelp to kick start the industry is the way to go. Doall said he doesn’t support it, in part because wild kelp is in such short supply and it could disrupt wild habitat, not just for kelp but species that thrive in it.

Doall acknowledges, however, that kelp farming faces challenges, including a dearth of processors to dry or freeze the kelp to make it shelf-stable, and the limited availability of seed stock.

But the promise of kelp cultivation and its benefits for the local waters could help nudge commercial and academic funding to launch efforts to invest in seed cultivation. Christopher Gobler, chairman of Coastal Ecology and Conservation at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, said the pilot programs have grown kelp on 10 oyster farms over the past three years. He’s working on a kelp feasibility study "to get a sense of how this might be integrated into the Suffolk aquaculture program."

Suffolk County leases out about 780 acres of Peconic and Gardiners bay bottom, about 300 of which are actively farmed by oyster companies. In March, the county approved the rights to lease 600 more acres over the next decade.

Suffolk funded the $200,000 pilot studies under Gobler. A senior Suffolk official familiar with the program said the county is closely watching the results.

"We want to make sure before we permit widespread use that it actually grows in our waters," said the official. The county is preparing a study of the pilot program, which included five sites starting in December; four made it through the end of the growing season. "The industry wants it done yesterday," the official said.

Boating obstacles

The only potential opponents of kelp farming could be those who had a problem with floating gear in those waters. Some recreational boaters have previously sued over the issue in the Peconic. They’ve since resolved their differences, but Suffolk doesn’t want a repeat.

Kelp farming generally takes place five to six feet below the surface, usually deep enough to prevent interfering with most sailboats. Most of the farming takes place in the winter, when boating is minimal.

Doall of Stony Brook University said it’s not just recreational boaters who have issues with aquaculture. Some commercial fishermen have had issues with it, and there’s a level of not-in-my-backyard mentality from homeowners who live close to the near-shore farms.

Karen Rivara, an oyster farmer and president of Aeros Cultured Oyster Co. in Southold, participated in the pilot. Her kelp was in deeper waters of the Peconic Bay. She’s involved chiefly for environmental, not commercial, reasons, she said. Her farm was one of five that didn't last through the winter.

"I can’t have it suck money out of my company, but I’d like to be able to find a way to grow it so the focus is substantially environmental as opposed to just business," she said, noting she plans to offer it to a cousin who has a dairy farm. "If it ends up being feed for livestock I’m OK with that" given the environmental benefits.

Gobler of Stony Brook University said the ability to protect oysters could prove to be an important benefit of kelp for harvesters like Rivara.

"It may well be that this is something that keeps the oysters happy, creates this halo effect of combating acidification, they can even fight harmful algae blooms," he said. "We have data to show it can be a strong deterrent" to a bloom that occurs even in cold temperatures.

Meanwhile, harvesters and marketers like Montauk Seaweed Supply are moving ahead.

"Fast forward this time next year, with kelp farming in the Peconic and Gardiners bay legalized, I’d say you’ll see 20 or more oyster growers starting to cultivate much larger kelp spools and seed," Barrett said. "I think this is a huge, important step forward, and we’re ready to take it."

May 7, 2021

Cernadas-Martín Is a Champion for Marine and Human Diversity

Sara Cernadas-Martín is a self-described interdisciplinary scientist with knowledge spanning the fields of marine biology, molecular genetics, and conservation ecology, with an M.S. and a PhD from Stony Brook University.

Beyond her passion for studying and preserving the diversity of marine life in our local waters, Cernadas-Martín is equally as dedicated to fostering diversity within the human race, making her the ideal person to serve as co-chair for the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (SoMAS) Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity Committee .

"As an Hispanic scientist, I am committed to increasing diversity on campus and making an extra effort to promote higher education within the Hispanic community and other underrepresented racial, ethnic and social groups," Cernadas-Martín said. "Hispanics are highly underrepresented in undergraduate and graduate schools in America, which is especially discouraging when considering that the Hispanic population is the largest ethnic minority group in the country. I strongly believe that having a diverse student body benefits everyone involved."

For her master's project, Sara studied the distribution of ammonia oxidizing bacteria in the Cariaco Basin near Venezuela, an oxygen minimum zone with a permanently anoxic (oxygen-depleted) deep layer, under the supervision of Professor Gordon Taylor. Her PhD thesis focused on the multidisciplinary ecological characterization of summer flounder (Paralichthys dentatus) in Shinnecock Bay using acoustic telemetry, diet analysis and otolith ("earstones" in bony fishes) microchemistry under the supervision of Professor Ellen Pikitch.

Cernadas-Martín is currently working with the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science (IOCS) as a senior postdoctoral associate at Stony Brook, where her work focuses on managing the research component of ShiRP fisheries (Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program) and establishing a new environmental DNA program for tracking fish species richness in the South Shore Long Island estuaries.

In 2019, Cernadas-Martín was also selected as the recipient of the distinguished Nuria Protopopescu Memorial Teaching Award, presented annually to a graduate student based on demonstrated excellence in teaching, innovation and creativity in instructional plans and materials, and engagement with and dedication to their students.

"Although I enjoy working with students of all backgrounds, I have always taken special interest in Latinx students, making sure they felt motivated, included and most importantly, had fun while doing science," she said. "At first, many of these students were hesitant to be assertive while in the field or in the classroom. I came to realize, in sharing the same language, I could help students to overcome their natural timidity and become more engaged in their research and learning experience."

Of particular interest to Cernadas-Martín is extending educational opportunities to students from diverse backgrounds, including first-generation college students, international students, and students with a wide range of educational experiences and goals.

Her academic achievements and community involvement, along with her focused effort on student diversity and integration, have been recognized by Stony Brook University with the prestigious W. Burghardt Turner Fellowship, a highly competitive fellowship which acknowledges the academic and research achievements of underrepresented doctoral students and requires a strong commitment to inclusivity and community development.

Another of Cernadas-Martín's personal goals is to help improve the integration of international students into the wider academic community.

"I remember when I first got to Stony Brook University from Spain. I was in shock," she recalled. "I was happy for having made it into graduate school, but at the same time had to deal with a language barrier and being away from my family and friends. The first few months are critical times in the life of an international student and can potentially handicap academic performance."

Cernadas-Martín believes efficient integration is key to helping international students realize that there are opportunities in this new chapter of their lives. "During my first years of graduate school, I did my best to help improve social interactions among students in my department," she said. "One example were the flamenco nights I hosted once a month at a Spanish restaurant open to everyone in my department, where I was able to share the culinary, musical and folkloric traditions of my culture."

To that end, Cernadas-Martín has volunteered with the Graduate Student Club of her department as the activities coordinator, creating and running a departmental photo competition since 2012, among other undertakings.

Perhaps some of her compassion originated from her own medical struggles. As a college freshman, she overcame bone cancer, which impeded her from attending school. She recovered, but suffered a relapse in the middle of her sophomore year.

"During my graduate career I have been, once again, plagued with health issues, which included three major spinal surgeries," she said, adding that the surgeries set back her graduation timeline and consequently constrained the ability of her research grants to cover laboratory costs and living expenses.

"However, I was lucky enough to have a few professors, family and friends who supported me and encouraged me to finish my degree," she said. "It did take me longer than most people, but I did it. Looking back, I can't thank those people in my life enough. I aim to be a support system for as many students as possible, motivating them to move forward despite setbacks and encouraging them to pursue their passion".

— Glenn Jochum

March 23, 2021

Doctoral Student Working to Restore Shellfish Population

Shellfish couldn' have a better friend than Stephen Tomasetti, a doctoral student in marine science at Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS).

Tomasetti has been studying the effects of low oxygen and low PH on scallops, oysters and blue crabs for the past four years.

With the help of more than $126,000 in grants and fellowships — all hard-earned, with a 4.0 GPA and a ton of online digging — Tomasetti has conducted research on the Peconic Estuary on Long Island, the coastal shelf waters of the New York Bight, and East Harbor/Salt Pond in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He's also analyzed national policy regarding multiple states' implementation of the Clean Water Act.

With the blessing of his wife, Tomasetti left a successful five-year teaching career in Brooklyn, New York, where he developed a passion for communicating science, to return to graduate school and pursue his PhD at Stony Brook.

"Teaching has definitely helped me with science communication," said Tomasetti. "I think a lot of successful science communication is really just about knowing your audience and asking good questions. If you do those two things well, you can engage almost anybody."

Tomasetti appeared this past December on National Public Radio, talking about his work with scallops, the local declines of the Peconic Bay scallop, what may be driving those declines, "and the exciting work I've been a part of in collaboration with Nils Volkenborn from Stony Brook University and Steve Tettelbach from Cornell Cooperative Extension," he said.

Of all the marine creatures to study, Tomasetti said, shellfish are the most fascinating because many species, such as blue crabs, have complex life histories. The female crabs migrate by selective tidal transport, riding the tides out to the mouth of the estuary, where they release millions of larvae, which swim to the surface and ride surface currents far out onto the shelf.

"These tiny specks go through these incredibly long and dangerous journeys way out there on the shelf before surfing their way back in and molting into juveniles in our estuaries," he said. "They've evolved these awesome behavioral and morphological adaptations to facilitate this journey."

In one research project, Tomasetti set out to determine the effects of coastal hypoxia (low dissolved oxygen)/acidification/(low pH) on survival and development of Atlantic blue crab larvae immediately after their release as they make their way to the shelf. The results of his research were published in his first academic paper.

One project in particular— the first for which he wrote a grant, acquired the funding, conducted the study and compiled the report — involved assessing vulnerability of the Atlantic bay scallop to low-oxygen and high-temperature stress both in New York and Massachusetts.

Another rewarding project was determining the extent of summer acidification and hypoxia in the Atlantic sea scallop habitat of the New York Bight, a roughly triangular indentation along the Atlantic coast of the United States, extending northeasterly from Cape May inlet in New Jersey to Montauk Point on the eastern tip of Long Island.

By going out on research cruises and deploying sensors to measure and map the water characteristics of the region, Tomasetti learned a different skill set, especially because the work took place across the shelf rather than in an estuary.

Tomasetti was a fellow with Stony Brook STRIDE (Science Training and Research to Inform Decisions), an innovative training program that provides STEM graduate students with unique interdisciplinary skills to assist, create and eventually lead the translation of complex data-enabled research into informed decisions and sound policies.

"I think the very challenging problems we face — ocean/coastal warming, acidification and deoxygenation — require major, innovative policy responses, and if I can help to contribute to the discourse that underlies those responses in any way, I would consider it an honor," he said.

Tomasetti has also been a member of the team involved in the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program, which established Suffolk County's first permitted and restored oyster reef.

"Oyster reefs in New York predate colonization by the Europeans, but eventually were extensively overfished" he said. "I am interested in how the restored oyster reef system influences environmental conditions, specifically the dissolved oxygen and CO2 levels of the water."

Tomasetti called oyster reefs "biological hot spots" with unique composition. "The three-dimensional structures of the reefs are formed of shell and over time by oysters growing on top of each other," he said. "All of these animals and shell material in one place make it different from the habitat of the surrounding waters."

He said he is interested in seeing what additional benefits and challenges arise from this study, specifically as they relate to general water quality. Using a variety of monitoring equipment to learn about the dynamics and fluctuations, Tomasetti is running field experiments that examine processes such as oyster growth and calcification on and off the reefs.

Ultimately, Tomasetti aspires to work with future generations of students who will inherit the environmental challenges we've created. Tomasetti added that he has learned much from Stony Brook faculty NilsVolkenborn (biogeochemical oceanography), Chris Wolfe (physical oceanography), Janet Nye (biological oceanography) and Chris Gobler (phytoplankton ecology).

"I took those classes seriously, trying to learn as much as I could from these fantastic teachers, and I learned a lot," he said. "Many of these professors who have had a big impact on me have also have become mentors."

Tomasetti, who began teaching this semester as an adjunct at Adelphi University, said he enjoys planning courses and facilitating student learning at the undergraduate and graduate levels. But when it comes to research, he wants to work with diverse interdisciplinary teams to help address some of the larger challenges related to coastal and climate change, and to contribute more to policy and conservation.

Tomasetti has also taken on a new exercise: reading one scientific paper per day. He reads material relevant to his ongoing research, but also seeks out papers in fields more adjacent to what he works on, such as paleoclimatology, social environmental science, and science communication.

"I've found that this practice has generated new and interesting ideas, helped me become a better writer, taught me interesting statistical methods, and just generally helps me stay engaged and fascinated with science, which is really important when you're in the weeds of your own research," he said.

— Glenn Jochum

September 2, 2020

Suffolk lawmakers set to vote on requiring advanced septic systems for new construction

By Denise Civiletti - Sep 2, 2020, 5:43 pm
Riverhead Local

New homes built in unsewered areas of Suffolk County next year will be required to have innovative nitrogen-reducing wastewater systems rather than traditional septic systems as of next July, if a proposed amendment to the Sanitary Code is approved by county legislators.

The proposed code change will also require the installation of an advanced wastewater system for "other construction" projects — condominiums, two-family and mutifamily housing and commercial or industrial centers. The new systems will also be required for expansion of single-family or other construction projects where the expansion requires addition to or modification of sewage disposal facilities. The requirement is also triggered for other construction projects where a change of use requires the installation of new sewage disposal facilities or increased capacity of existing sewage disposal facilities.

The code change was unanimously approved by the county Board of Health in July.

On Monday, the county legislature's Environment, Parks and Agriculture Committee voted to send the measure to the full legislature without recommendation.

Introductory Resolution 1643, adopting the changes to the county's sanitary code, will be on the agenda of the legislature's Wednesday, Sept. 9 general meeting.

The code amendment aims to address nitrogen pollution in Suffolk's groundwater and surface waters by requiring advanced onsite septic systems that remove nitrogen from wastewater before it is discharged to groundwater.

The proposal is supported by a host of environmental advocacy groups, including Group for the East End, New York League of Conservation Voters, The Nature Conservancy, Peconic Baykeeper, Save the Sound, Peconic Estuary Partnership and Defend H20.

It is also supported by the Long Island Builders Institute, but with its request to delay the effective date of of the new requirement and a focus on priority areas. LIBI also recommended the county require an upgrade to advanced onsite wastewater treatment systems on property transfer — but the current proposal does not require that.

County officials estimate that there are more than 380,000 onsite wastewater systems in Suffolk, with more than 252,500 of them predating the requirement for a septic tank.

The cost of an innovative onsite system is roughly $18,000 "on average," according to North Fork Legislator Al Krupski.

The county just authorized $3.7 million in grant money for the purchase and installation of these systems, Krupski said.

Editor's note: this article was amended post-publication to clarify the application of the proposed sanitary code changes, which will affect new construction of condominiums, two-family and multifamily housing as well as commercial and industrial centers and, under some circumstances, additions to existing single-family homes and commercial projects.

May 28, 2020

Dr. Gobler's annual State of the Bays

April 23, 2020

Researchers: Dissolved Oxygen and pH Policy Leave Fisheries at Risk
News Stonybrook

Stony Brook University's Christopher J. Gobler, Endowed Chair of Coastal Ecology and Conservation, and Stephen J. Tomasetti, Science Teaching and Research to Inform Decisions (STRIDE) fellow, consider accumulating scientific evidence on the harmful effects of coastal hypoxia (low oxygen) and acidification (decreasing pH, increasing acidity) in coastal ecosystems in the April 24 issue of the journal Science.

In a Policy Forum, Dissolved oxygen and pH criteria leave fisheries at risk, the scientists suggest approaches that would address current policy shortfalls and facilitate improved protection of aquatic life.

During the past two decades, scientists have learned how hypoxia and acidification can act and interact to harm marine organisms. Hundreds of low oxygen or dead zones have been identified across the globe. Ocean acidification, a process resulting from the continued buildup of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide in the oceans, has been discovered. And yet, regulation of dissolved oxygen (DO) and pH in coastal waters has remained unchanged.

The Clean Water Act aims to restore and protect the waters of the United States from impairment; waters that do not meet state standards are listed as impaired, a designation that can initiate critical remediation actions. According to Dr. Gobler, the current saltwater DO and pH criteria of many states allow for harmful conditions to persist without amelioration. "Our understanding of the dynamics of DO and pH and the effects on marine life have advanced dramatically this century to the point that it is now clear that criteria for pH and DO are likely to leave important marine species vulnerable to harm," he said.

The reduction of DO and pH in coastal waters can individually have adverse effects on aquatic life, however, current regulations do not consider the combined effects of these stressors which are often experienced in combination and can be more severe than each stressor individually. Not until the scientific field of ocean acidification had been established, had their combined effects been broadly considered.


June 22, 2019

Annual Eelgrass Restoration Event

Join us on June 22nd for our Annual Eelgrass Restoration Event at the Stony Brook Marine Station! Bring the family to this hands-on educational experience. You'll get to learn all about eelgrass, and how we use it to restore our beautiful bay! There will be games, raffles, and talks on the promising signs of our restoration success! The event will start at 10 am and run for about 2 hours. Rain or shine! If you have a large group coming, please let us know in advance (if possible) so that we can prepare accordingly. Read more about the event on our Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/836127000106289/

Eelgreass flyer

April 30, 2019

Stony Brook researchers hope sugar kelp turns into next specialty crop
Cultivating the seaweed could have environmental, nutritional and financial benefits, university researchers and Long Island farmers said, after harvesting sugar kelp grown in Moriches Bay.

By David M. Schwartz, Newsday

Bobbing on a boat above the Great Gun Shellfish Co. farm in Moriches Bay, owner Paul McCormick tucked a slice of freshly harvested sugar kelp under a just-shucked oyster and slurped in the combo.

Farming seaweed alongside bivalves might be the future of aquaculture on Long Island.

In what they called a promising experiment, Stony Brook University researchers and local farmers grew an impressive crop of sugar kelp during the winter and spring in shallow bay waters, giving hope the emerging specialty crop could become a financial boost to Long Island's burgeoning aquaculture industry while improving water quality.

The 4-foot-long blades of the brownish-green seaweed, ruffled like lasagna noodles and grown on 100-foot strings in Moriches Bay, exceeded previous known growth rates for experiments in the Northeast, according to Stony Brook researchers.

"Conventional wisdom is you grow it in deep water because you don't want it to touch the bottom," said Michael Doall, bivalve restoration and aquaculture specialist at Stony Brook's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. "This has got the potential to usher in a new form of aqualuture. ... It's very, very exciting."

Sugar kelp is used in seaweed salads, sushi and soup, and as a thickener or stabilizer in items such as pudding and ice cream. It also can be dried and powdered for smoothies for its nutrients. For its health benefits and potential among foodies, backers have called sugar kelp "the new kale."

It also can be plucked and eaten fresh from the water. Doall chewed on a piece Thursday at McCormick's farm before he and McCormick harvested a bushel.

"The salt hits you right away, then there's a nuttiness if you chew it. There's a texture — I love the crunch," he said. "You'd think seaweed would be slimy, and not crunchy."

Long Island's approximately 36 oyster farms are almost exclusively in shallow waters, Stony Brook professor Chris Gobler said, which makes the test case so exciting.

If the successful cultivation can be repeated and expanded in shallow waters, kelp farming would allow oyster farmers to diversify their crops, particularly because the plants grow in the colder months.

"Kelp dovetails perfectly with the oyster season," said McCormick, whose underwater farm covers 3.67 acres in East Moriches and is leased from the Town of Brookhaven. "Growing kelp offers the opportunity to supplement income at a challenging time of year."

While oysters are harvested year-round, activity slows in the wintertime. Also, "If you're just growing one crop, and that kind of crop has a problem, you're that much more vulnerable," he said.

Sugar kelp, planted in November or December, is typically harvested in early June.

While the kelp grown as part of this program is for research purposes and not commercial sale, New England farmers have sold fresh premier baby leaf kelp directly to restaurants for up to $20 a pound, McCormick said. In other instances, distributors buying wholesale would pay $1 a pound.

In four months, the Moriches locations got 400 pounds of kelp on a 100-foot line. In some mockup plans, McCormick and Doall imagine 16 tons of kelp on a one-acre plot.

So far, though, there's no local Long Island sugar kelp available on store shelves.

"There's two parts of the study, one to see if we can grow the kelp and techniques to grow it in shallow water. Step two is to grow a market for it. It's only a viable crop if you can sell it," Doall said, adding he was in discussions with chefs and dealing with a seafood processor.

Cultivating the native seaweed also has environmental benefits. The crop sequesters nitrogen and phosphorous, and also captures carbon dioxide. Higher levels of carbon dioxide can lead to the acidification of waters, which can harm shellfish production, Gobler said.

"We think the aquaculture of seaweeds represents another important tool for improving water quality on Long Island," he said. About 3 percent of the kelp is nitrogen.

The pilot study, paid for with a $100,000 two-year grant from the nonprofit New York Farm Viability Institute, put commercial-style kelp seed lines in three places this year. Along with Moriches Bay, which can get as shallow as one foot deep, there was a site in the Great South Bay on Town of Islip-leased land, and another in the Long Island Sound outside Mount Sinai Harbor, which was more than 20 feet deep.

At the Long Island Sound site, a more typical location for kelp farming, the growth has been slower — about two feet long — but has taken off in the last two to three weeks. At the Great South Bay, the kelp started to grow, and then disappeared.

Doall said he hopes to expand the sites next year, including on land leased under Suffolk County's aquaculture program, where he couldn't get an agreement this year.

Sarah Lansdale, Suffolk County's director of planning, said "we're hopeful that in partnership with New York State DEC that this important pilot can get under way."

The state Department of Environmental Conservation in a statement said commercial kelp farming isn't permitted yet in New York, but is allowed on a pilot basis.

A sugar kelp study done from December 2016 into 2017 in the Peconic Estuary was less successful. Christopher Pickerell, marine program director for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, said based on the advice and experience of others, they avoided working in shallow waters, or where the kelp would touch the bottom.

"If this most recent work is repeatable, it really would really be a game changer," Pickerell said in an email.

The story on Newsday: https://www.newsday.com/long-island/environment/sugar-kelp-moriches-bay-1.30302025

 

April 5, 2019

"State of the Bays Symposium and Seminar"
Presented by Christopher Gobler, Ph.D. of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences

April 5, 2019, 7:30pm

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. Recent trends in water quality on Long Island have been troublesome. Toxic chemicals are contaminating drinking water supplies. Nitrogen levels in groundwater have risen by more than 60% in recent decades and coastal ecosystems have suffered. 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% and Long Island's top shellfisheries have declined by up to 90%. In 2018, many of the factors driving these negative trajectories in shellfish and habitats were persistent problems. Outbreaks of brown tides, rust tides, paralytic shellfish poison, toxic cyanobacterial blooms, hypoxia, and acidification were documented and are all occurrences directly and indirectly linked to excessive nitrogen loading. Emerging research suggests climate change is likely to significantly worsen all of these impairments in the near future, meaning significant and immediate actions are needed to mitigate these events. Thankfully, multiple solutions to water quality impairments are emerging. 'In the water' remediation approach involving bivalves and seaweeds are showing promise for locally mitigating nitrogen loads and algal blooms. The New York State Shellfish Restoration Program will significantly expand these efforts in the coming years. The New York State Clean Water Technology Center at Stony Brook University has identified cost-effective technologies to dramatically reduce nitrogen loads from individual homes and to coastal water bodies. Implementation of such technologies coupled with 'in the water' solutions will be required to reverse the decadal negative trends in water quality and fisheries.

April 5 lecture

 

Dec 16, 2018

Study: Blue crab larvae harmed by low oxygen, high acidity

Stony Brook University researchers simulated conditions in degraded estuaries to assess the effects on larval crabs and found they died at increased rates.

By David M. Schwartz
Updated December 16, 2018 6:00 AM

Blue crab larvae died at greater rates in waters with higher acidity and lower oxygen levels — conditions likely to intensify with climate change and increased nitrogen, according to a new study by Stony Brook University researchers.

While the impacts of low oxygen on marine life have been studied, the research is the first to assess the consequences of these two stressors on larval crabs, the authors said. High acidity, or low pH, and low oxygen, known as hypoxia, are worst in summer, when blue crabs are breeding, according to the peer-reviewed paper published in the online journal PLOS One.

The effects could offset a predicted boon for Long Island's blue crab population caused by warming waters, authors said.

The Stony Brook study used egg-carrying female crabs collected in Shinnecock Bay and shipped from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and subjected the larvae to pH and oxygen levels that could be found in back bays.

"We wanted to simulate real-world conditions in degraded estuaries," said lead author Stephen Tomasetti, a doctoral student at the university's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

The tasty crustaceans, also known as blue claw crabs, are found up and down the East Coast, including in the Island's bays and harbors. From 2010 through 2016, commercial fishermen in the United States had an annual catch worth at least $175 million, according to federal statistics cited in the paper.

The research was conducted in the lab of Christopher Gobler, a professor in the school. He and students Brooke Morrell and Lucas Merlo were co-authors.

Article source: https://www.newsday.com/long-island/blue-crab-oxygen-nitrogen-water-pollution-study-1.24579863


Dec 10, 2018

Endowed Professorship Boosts SBU's Conservation Leadership
Elliot Olshansky

With more than 100 marine species recorded as extinct — primarily due to overfishing — and more than 100 million tons of fish taken out of the water each year, our oceans and the animals that call them home are badly in need of protection.

That's why the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance (OSA) is leading the charge to conserve at least 10 percent of the world's marine and coastal areas by 2020 and to ensure that ocean protection is effective and durable. It's also why the Alliance is investing in the work of Stony Brook University professor Ellen Pikitch — one of the world's leading experts in ocean conservation.

In recognition of her proven conservation track record and current portfolio of promising research, they've created the Endowed Professorship in Ocean Conservation Science in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (SoMAS). As the inaugural holder of the position, Pikitch will expand her transformational work while educating the next generation of leaders in ocean conservation.

"From the moment I met Dr. Pikitch in 2008, she has approached her role as a change agent with the extraordinary dedication and the highest scientific standards," said Rosalind Walrath, the Alliance's treasurer and a member of the Dean's Council at Stony Brook's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. "Ellen is a truly powerful asset to the cause of ocean conservation."

Pikitch, of course, is no stranger to effective advocacy based on impactful research. By the time she arrived at Stony Brook in 2008, her work had led to the passage of the U.S. Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000, the international ban on the trade of wild sturgeon caviar and the listing of beluga sturgeon as threatened with extinction under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The research behind these policies originated from the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science (IOCS), which she established at the University of Miami in 2003 and relocated to Stony Brook when she joined the faculty in 2008.

"Ellen Pikitch's track record of achievement in fisheries science and ocean conservation speaks for itself," said Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. "The Endowed Professorship of Ocean Conservation Science serves to elevate her voice, enhancing the profile of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, and that of Stony Brook University as a whole."

"Endowed professorships help universities attract and retain the best scholars and researchers in their fields," added Paul Shepson, dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. "Having Ellen Pikitch as the inaugural Endowed Professor in Ocean Conservation Science makes a powerful statement about the contributions that we aspire to make at Stony Brook, both to science and to the welfare of our planet."

For her part, Pikitch recognizes the opportunities created by an endowed professorship — supported by an anonymous donor in addition to OSA — which will empower her to follow her instincts in pursuit of further advances.

"I am truly grateful to the donors, including the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance, whose philanthropy has made this endowed professorship possible," Pikitch said. "The funding of an endowed professorship makes it possible to act quickly when inspiration strikes, and pursue novel solutions with potentially far-reaching significance."

There's also a certain fulfillment in continuing her work at Stony Brook, where the opportunities created for students resonate with Pikitch's own experiences as a first-generation college student who attended the City College of New York tuition-free.

"Stony Brook is a fantastic university for the sciences," Pikitch said, "and it's a public institution. Without public support, I wouldn't have even been able to go to college, and knowing that students at Stony Brook have similar opportunities is one more reason that I am so proud to continue my work here."

As she blends her work to protect the world's oceans with the education of future fisheries and conservation scientists at Stony Brook, Pikitch is making an impact that will be felt for generations to come.

Article source: https://www.stonybrook.edu/campaign/endowed-professorship-boosts-sbus-conservation-leadership/


September 21, 2018

We are very proud to announce that by attending the Third Annual Blue Island Oyster Festival, hosted by Blue Island Oysters, we have doubled the amount of shell collected through our Shell Recycling Program so far! We had a blast at the event... We enjoyed great music, tasty oysters, and spread the word about our restoration efforts! Even NYC's Naked Cowboy supported our program. We can't wait to attend next year! Shell Yeah!!

Oyster 2018

2018 Oyster


September 15, 2018

Join Us for the Blue Island Oyster Festival

This Saturday at 12pm, ShiRP will be attending the Blue Island Oyster Festival to collect shell for our Shell Recycling Program. This is the second year we have partnered with Blue Island Oysters, and we could not be more excited! Be on the lookout for our Info-booth, our volunteers, and our "Shell Only" buckets! As mentioned in our last newsletter, all collected shell will be used to create oyster reefs in Shinnecock Bay. We hope to see you there!

Click HERE to buy tickets.

2018 Blue Island Oyster Festival


June 1, 2018

Riverhead brewery pledges 1 percent of sales to support the environment

Moustache Brewing Co. has joined 1% for the Planet, a global philanthropic organization supporting environmental causes.

The Riverhead microbrewery is pledging to donate 1 percent of its sales to support nonprofit organizations focused on the environment.

Moustache will today release its first beer brewed for its 1% for the Planet commitment: "Beyond the Shore," which it describes as "a gose brewed with sea salt and coriander." Sales from this release will benefit the Shinnecock Bay Restoration program, the company said in a press release.

"It's important to us to make positive changes in the world around us while inspiring others to do the same," Moustache Brewing Co. said. "Joining 1% For The Planet will allow us to strengthen our commitment to the environment and support the work of our charity partners."

Members of 1% for the Planet commit to supporting approved environmental nonprofit partners by donating the equivalent of 1% of sales through a combination of monetary, in-kind, and approved advertising contributions. Nonprofits are approved based on referrals, track record and environmental focus. There are thousands of approved nonprofits worldwide.

Collectively, 1% for the Planet Members have donated more than $175 million to environmental nonprofits to date.

"We are thrilled to welcome Moustache Brewing Co. to our global network," said Kate Williams, CEO of 1% for the Planet.

"Currently, only 3 percent of total philanthropy goes to the environment and only 3 percent of that comes from businesses," Williams said. "We need more business like Moustache Brewing Co. to do its valuable part to increase giving and support on the ground outcomes."

Founded in 2002 today the organization comprises a network of more than 1,400 member businesses, a new and expanding core of hundreds of individual members, and thousands of nonprofit partners in more than 60 countries.

Moustache Brewing Co. was founded in 2012 by husband and wife team, Matthew and Lauri Spitz. They opened their doors at 400 Hallett Avenue in Riverhead in 2014.

See article at the Riverhead Local site.