06/15/15 1:53pm
06/15/2015 1:53 PM
Dead fish washed ashore at the Riverhead Yacht Club. (Courtesy photo)

Dead fish washed ashore at the Riverhead Yacht Club. (Courtesy photo)

Word of thousands of dead fish washing up on local shores might seem like old news at this point, but another drop in oxygen levels in local waters, coupled with a migration of bunker up the Peconic River resulted in yet another, separate fish kill over the weekend. (more…)

06/12/15 5:59am
06/12/2015 5:59 AM
From left, Walter Dawydiak, director of the Suffolk County Health Department Division Of Environmental Quality; Dr. Alison Branco, director of the Peconic Estuary Program; Dr. Christopher Gobler, biologist at Stony Brook University; and Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment at Thursday's meeting in Hauppauge. The panel discussed water quality issues. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

From right, Walter Dawydiak, Dr. Alison Branco, Dr. Christopher Gobler and Adrienne Esposito. The panel discussed water quality issues Thursday in Hauppauge. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

County lawmakers, scientists and environmentalists acknowledge nitrogen overloading in local waterways is the biggest contributor to the recent die-off of fish and turtles.

They also agree aging septic tanks and failing cesspool systems are mostly to blame for brown and red tides in the Peconic Estuary, as well as toxic blue-green algae at Lake Marratooka in Mattituck.

The public’s reliance of fertilizers is a problem, too, experts say.

In an effort to address the recent fish kill in Riverhead that some experts have described as unprecedented, Legislator Dr. William Spencer (D-Centerport), chairman of the Suffolk County Health Committee, assembled a panel discussion at Thursday’s health committee meeting in Hauppauge.

(more…)

06/09/15 12:52pm
06/09/2015 12:52 PM
Neal Lewis (second from right) presents a proposed county Climate Action Plan at Tuesday's meeting. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Neal Lewis (second from right) presents a proposed county Climate Action Plan at Tuesday’s meeting. (Credit: Paul Squire)

In an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, Suffolk County is hoping an incentive for business and homeowners to improve their buildings will help spur upgrades on outdated structures.

A low-cost, long-term financing program to help cover the costs of those upgrades was pitched on Monday as a means to help finance them.

(more…)

05/30/15 3:03pm
05/30/2015 3:03 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.”

psquire@timesreview.com

What Causes a  Fish Kill- (3)

05/18/15 2:30pm
05/18/2015 2:30 PM
A view of Flanders Bay Saturday afternoon. (Credit: Rachel Young)

A view of Flanders Bay Saturday afternoon. (Credit: Rachel Young)

Update Monday 2:30 p.m.: A state pathology lab investigating the die-off of dozens of turtles in Peconic Bay has found marine biotoxins are likely the cause.

Though findings from a necropsy were “nonspecific” — meaning the turtle’s death could not be directly cited to the presence of the red tide byproduct saxitoxin — testing on the contents of the turtle’s intestines was inconclusive but revealed that saxitoxin may have been present, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said.

“Circumstantial evidence is consistent with the terrapins being poisoned with saxitoxin,” said state spokesperson Lori Severino. “If additional terrapin carcasses are found, [the] DEC will test them as well in an effort to confirm the cause of deaths in this terrapin die-off.”

Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons executive director Karen Testa had told the News-Review the group was hoping the turtles had been killed because of the harsh winter and not the toxin. She said the poisoned turtles may have been just coming out of hibernation when they ate the toxic shellfish.

“What that does is it paralyzes them and they would just drown. It’s a horrible death, “she said. “They get their first meal and its poison. It’s horrible.”

Original story: Flanders Bay and western Shinnecock Bay have been added to the list of local waterbodies where the harvesting of shellfish is temporarily prohibited due to unusually high toxin levels, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation announced Saturday.

Three area creeks were also shut down by the state in the last two weeks.  (more…)