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05/02/16 2:00pm
05/02/2016 2:00 PM

TrueStories

The beginning of Colin Palmer’s play “True Stories” takes the audience on a journey back four centuries to when Native Americans lived in Riverhead before European settlers. Over the next 45 minutes, he recounts numerous historical events in the town’s history, including his own family’s, which dates back 200 years in Riverhead, he said.  READ

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.”

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What Causes a  Fish Kill- (3)

05/10/15 10:00am
05/10/2015 10:00 AM
Riverhead Charter School kids filled up several bags with garbage they cleaned at Iron Pier beach Saturday

Riverhead Charter School students filled up several bags with garbage they cleaned at Iron Pier beach Saturday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Students from the Riverhead Charter School spent their Saturday morning cleaning Iron Pier beach in Northville with the help of some slightly older students from Stony Brook University.

Emily Markowitz, the president of the Undergraduate Students Club at Stony Brook, said “all the cool clubs were doing outreach programs, so I thought it was time we started doing one.”

She sent a notice to her department head, who in turn notified all the faculty. Dr. Konstantine Rountos, a post-doctoral associate at Stony Brook, was one of those faculty members, and he mentioned it to his wife, Muriel, who happens to be a teacher at the Riverhead Charter School.

Voila! An outreach program is born!

“We gave a presentation last week to the students in the Riverhead Charter School about marine plastics and the problems they cause,” Ms. Markowitz said. “It’s huge.”

The kids filled about 10 plastic garbage bags with stuff they picked off the beach, such as cigarettes, plastic bottles and bottle caps, straws, frisbees, even lobster trap tags, which are plastic. They also kept a log of what they found.

Last week, for Earth Day, those kids, working with Stony Brook students and a non-profit group calls Coastal Stewards, took garbage from home and from beach cleanups and made them into “plastic trash art,” Ms. Markowitz said.

“One group made a T-Rex that had a baseball for a head and a Slurpee Cup for a body,” she said.

“We wanted to involve kids in a local beach cleanup,” said Ms. Rountos. “I think it’s important that kids help keep the beaches of their own community clean.”

Konstantine Rountos and Celestino Pascual pick up trash while another student logs the type of trash.

Konstantine Rountos and Celestino Pascual pick up trash while Jenna Cichy logs the type of trash. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

The Charter School has students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

“I learned that it’s bad to litter,” said fifth-grader Rami Lawson. “I saw some dead birds on the beach today and I figured they might have died from thinking that the trash people litter the beach with was food.”

She said sea gulls often eat things left on the beach.

Third-grader Teandre Murray had similar experiences.

“We saw a lot of stuff on the beach,” she said.

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