06/20/15 5:59am
06/20/2015 5:59 AM
Town officials in Brookhaven say the Department of Environmental Conservation cleared land in Calverton without proper approval. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Town officials in Brookhaven say the Department of Environmental Conservation cleared land in Calverton without proper approval. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Normally, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is the entity saying that a developer or municipality is in violation of state environmental regulations.

But now, officials from Brookhaven Town are claiming the DEC violated its own regulations by more than tripling the size of a DEC boat launching site in Calverton, a site that’s located the core preservation area of the Pine Barrens, where development is greatly restricted. (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)

05/04/15 8:00am
05/04/2015 8:00 AM
Southern pine beetles have been confirmed in the above locations so far, officials say. (Eric Hod illustration)

Southern pine beetles have been confirmed in the above locations so far, officials say. (Eric Hod illustration)

The southern pine beetle, as it turns out, isn’t all that southern anymore.

The voracious and highly destructive insect — which decimates millions of cubic feet of timber across the country each year — has been making a slow expansion north over the past couple of decades. The beetle arrived in New Jersey in 2001, crossed the Great Egg Harbor River south of Atlantic City in 2008 and arrived on Long Island this past fall.

Now, authorities are trying to figure out how to contain the spread of the pest in the Pine Barrens and beyond. So far, it has infected trees at least a dozen state and county parks across Suffolk County (see map, above), not to mention on private land.

“We assume that all in all, we’ve lost a good thousand acres,” said John Wernet, regional forester with the Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC, in conjunction with other agencies, is conducting aerial and ground surveys to determine the full extent of the damage. Results are expected in the next couple of months.


THE THREE STAGES OF A SOUTHERN PINE BEETLE INFESTATION


The levels of infestation are bound to affect the health of the Pine Barrens for years to come.

“It’s not possible to eliminate,” said Kevin Dodds, an entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service. “I hear a lot of people use the word ‘control,’ but ‘control’ implies you have the ability to knock things back. It’s better to look at this as managing it.”

CLIMBING NORTH

A few years ago, Rob Corcory, who had retired from a 37-year career with the New Jersey State Forestry Services Department, was asked to return as the state’s southern pine beetle project manager.

By then, however, scientists estimated that it was just too late to stymie the insect’s northward march.

“We tried to keep it in the southern half of the state, but it started creeping north. Everything was below the Mullica River [in New Jersey] until a year or two,” Mr. Corcory said.

R0430_beetle_C.jpgScientists have attributed the beetle’s northern migration to climate change. The coldest night of winter in New Jersey is now seven to eight degrees warmer, on average, than it was 50 years ago, said Matthew Ayres, professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth College. And warmer temperatures at night have allowed the beetle to survive the farther north it goes.

On Long Island, temperatures recorded this past winter at the National Weather Service in Upton dropped to -4 degrees on three nights in February, which helped suppress the beetle’s spread this spring and “bought us some time” to fight this year’s infestation, said Mr. Wernet of the DEC.

It remains unclear exactly how the beetle arrived on Long Island, but its presence has now been confirmed as far north as Hartford, Conn.

It’s been speculated the beetles washed ashore on Long Island during Superstorm Sandy, Mr. Dodds said. Or it “could have just spread in smaller infestations,” he said.

What is clear is that they’re here.

Caption: Researchers from Dartmouth College and the New Jersey Forest Service discuss southern pine beetle management in the New Jersey Pinelands. (Courtesy: Matt Ayres/Dartmouth College)

05/04/15 7:59am

Trees attacked by southern pine beetles go through three stages before the beetles move on:

R0430_beetle_side1_C.jpgFresh attacks: Females initiate the attack on the tree, releasing pheremones once a suitable host is found. Pine trees release extra resin as a defense mechanism against the beetles, though male and female beetles work together to clear away the resin and enter the bark — usually through the crevices. After southern pine beetles bore into the trees, reddish-white dust can be found on and around the tree.

R0430_beetle_side2_C.jpg

Faders: S-shaped galleries are formed inside the tree, where more beetles later hatch and create new tubes. The beetle also transmits a fungus that stops water from circulating within the tree. Foliage starts to fade in color.

 

R0430_beetle_side3_C.jpgVacated: Beetles born inside the tree create exit holes, allowing a mass emergence from the tree. The browning of foliage continues and bark becomes loose and peels away easily. Abundant white sawdust from the entrance and exit holes often accumulates at the base of vacated trees.

Source: Department of Environmental Conservation

03/24/15 5:44pm
03/24/2015 5:44 PM
Councilman George Gabrielsen inspecting the material at EPCAL. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Councilman George Gabrielsen inspecting the material at EPCAL. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

About a month after test results showed material dumped at Enterprise Park at Calverton contained traces of DDT, asbestos and other chemicals, the town learned this week that the state Department of Environmental Conservation is recommending complete removal of the material from the town-owned land. (more…)

03/18/15 12:05pm
03/18/2015 12:05 PM
Opponents of the Riverhead Terminal expansion on Sound Shore Road Monday afternoon (from left): Northville Beach Civic Association president Neil Krupnick, Ann Weiser, Greg Genovese of the Highlands Club community, John Cullen and Dave Gruner. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Opponents of the Riverhead Terminal expansion on Sound Shore Road Monday afternoon (from left): Northville Beach Civic Association president Neil Krupnick, Ann Weiser, Greg Genovese of the Highlands Club community, John Cullen and Dave Gruner. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Safety. Traffic. The environment.

Residents of the Northville area of Riverhead and beyond have been concerned about all three ever since United Riverhead Terminal Inc. first appeared before the Riverhead Town Board in September with plans to expand its sprawling petroleum storage facility alongside Long Island Sound.

Over the last few months, some have harkened back more than 50 years, to the time when people then living in neighboring Northville Beach fought but failed to stop construction of the massive string of tanks that punctuates the otherwise wooded and rural landscape.  (more…)

03/11/15 12:28pm
03/11/2015 12:28 PM
A mute swan mother with her cygnets in East Marion last year. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file)

A mute swan mother with her cygnets in East Marion last year. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file)

A newly revised state Department of Environmental Conservation plan to deal with mute swan populations in the state would focus on non-lethal management of their numbers on Long Island, only calling for lethal methods as a “last resort.”

That’s still too often for some, including state Senator Ken LaValle.  (more…)