News Archive 2015

December 2015

Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program Hits Milestone
by Greg Wehner

Those behind the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program, an initiative that seeks to cleanse the water in the western side of the bay through the introduction of shellfish, recently celebrated a milestone: the seeding of its one millionth clam.

Led by Christopher Gobler, Ph.D, a professor at Stony Brook Southampton, the program now boasts 20 hard clam sanctuaries in the bay, each containing 50,000 clams. The sanctuaries cover roughly a half acre of the bay, he said.

Though one million is an impressive number, Dr. Gobler said the goal continues to be to reseed Shinnecock Bay with 33 million clams and other types of shellfish, with the next million clams being in place by late 2016 or early 2017.

Clams are natural filters, helping cleanse water that has too much nitrogen—a common problem in the western regions of the bay.

"We put them in regions that have been declared by the Southampton Town Trustees as 'no-take zones,' so they can't be harvested," Dr. Gobler said. "We choose areas where clams will survive and areas that, when they propagate young, the offspring stay in the Shinnecock Bay."

According to Dr. Gobler, clams can start to reproduce when they reach 2 to 3 years of age, and do so by spitting gametes into the water. One they are released, they require adult clams to be in the area, to ensure the completion of the reproduction process. Also assisting with the success rate is that clams, if not harvested, can live for decades.

When he first started researching the issue nearly 10 years ago, Dr. Gobler noticed that the few clams inhabiting Shinnecock Bay were spread too far apart, reducing their chances for successful reproduction. That research inspired him, with the help of Dr. Brad Peterson, to start the current program in 2012.

A professor at Stony Brook since 2006, Dr. Peterson explained that he and Dr. Gobler figured they could immediately start addressing the issue of nitrogen-loading in the bay through their clam restoration program.

"We believe that every clam we planted has survived since we began the effort," Dr. Gobler said. "We now see signs of successful reproduction. If we can saturate the system with clams, we think the adults can get us to 33 million much faster than we initially thought."

If his team must seed all of the clams, Dr. Gobler estimates that it would take about a decade to hit the 33 million mark. That time could be cut down considerably if the adult clams start to successfully reproduce. He noted that 33 millions clams could filter all the water in Shinnecock Bay in about three days.

Over the past few decades, the water quality in the bay has been on the decline. The continued reappearance of brown and red tides, according to Dr. Gobler, continue to wreak havoc in the bay and all forms of life that call it home. He pointed out that, earlier this year, the shellfish fishery was closed off due to the presence of red tide. It was the third such closure in the past five years.

"Nitrogen runoff is one of the ultimate causes," Dr. Gobler said of the damaging tides, caused by algae blooms. "Another cause is the fact that we know in that region there use to be a much more abundant hard clam population. Those clams served as a filter for the bay."

Another important aspect to ensure the ongoing success of the program is to continue to raise awareness, Dr. Gobler said. The East Quogue resident said he works with students at all levels, from elementary school to graduate school, to help foster education. In the fall, students from Hampton Bays and Southampton high schools helped stock one of the sanctuaries by planting 50,000 clams.

Dr. Stephanie Forsberg, a science teacher at the Hampton Bays High School, took 18 students on that field trip. She recalled the students being fascinated while learning how clams, as well as other shellfish, serve as filters and help clean bay water. Some of the students wanted to dissect clams to learn more about the process.

"This is a research program that I would encourage all educators to get involved with," Dr. Forsberg said. "It's something that benefits the community and the students as well."

Read article at

October 2015

William Floyd High School Students Conduct Marine Research on Mud Crabs

Mastic Beach, NY - October 9, 2015 - Students in Ms. Victoria D'Ambrosia's Science Research class at William Floyd High School recently welcomed Rebecca Kulp, a marine ecologist from the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) to discuss marine benthic predators, which are organisms that live in sediments, such as crabs, mussels, sea snails, scallops, starfish and sea urchin. This research is part SoMAS' Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program designed to restore the health of the ecosystem by reducing the occurrence of harmful algal blooms and increasing shellfish populations, which ultimately restore the nutrient balance and enrich the diversity of plants and animals living in the bay.

Ms. Kulp's research involves crab predation – specifically the types of creatures that prey on crabs. Her experiments involve mud crabs exposed or burrowed in different types of marine ecosystems such as sea grass or shell beds. The results shed light on the crabs' survival rates in various locations and the types of organisms that are preying on them.

"The students' interaction with our community and research scientists is crucial in their development of experimental design, understanding how to conduct research, how to analyze the data collected and how to begin making changes that could help save our ecosystems," said Victoria D'Ambrosia, William Floyd High School Science Research teacher.

After students learned about this research, they constructed crab tethers in class (contraptions that allow you to keep the crab in one location and control if they can burrow in the sand or not), and deployed the tethers after school into Moriches Bay. The following week, students returned to the bay and collected their crab tethers for project analysis.

"This experiment primarily concerns the survival of crucial benthic predators that shape our community's waterways in different ecosystems (sand and sea grass)," said Ms. D'Ambrosia. "We are analyzing the difference in the survival of these benthic predators in ecosystems that vary in the level of complexity. The more complex an ecosystem is, the more places there are for juvenile organisms to hide. For example, sea grass increases habitat complexity. Unfortunately, the sea grasses of our marine ecosystems are in a rapid decline." 

read article at

September 2015

Hampton Bays Science Research Students Reseed Shinnecock Bay

As part of a hand-on learning initiative, Hampton Bays High School Science in Research students participated in a clam reseeding initiative as part of the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program on Friday, September 25.

The effort, led by Stony Brook University Professor Dr. Christopher Gobler, provided an opportunity for the Science in Research students to learn about the state of the Shinnecock Bay, from water quality to shellfish life, while also assisting in a community effort to restore the vital waterway.

"I am so excited that our students got this opportunity to assist in this type of program, especially since it takes place right in our backyards," Science in Research teacher Dr. Stephanie Forsberg said.

See article

Please save the date for Clams for Clams 2015: July 10, 2015 from 6:00 to 8:30pm

Clams for Clams

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.