Baykeeper issues call to improve local bays

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The quality of the Peconic and South Shore Estuary has continued to decline over the past two years, according to a report released by Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister at a press conference on Thursday.

During the conference, held at the Cornell Cooperative Extension located on Griffing Avenue in Riverhead, the Baykeeper explained that the report rated the habitat health, fisheries and pollution levels of the bays since 2006 and graded the outlook for the future.

Mr. McAllister pointed to the resurgence of brown tide, an algal bloom that can severely restrict nutrients in the water, and other indicators, as evidence of the declining quality of Long Island waters.

Although Mr. McAllister said the current condition of local waters was mediocre at best, he said that opportunity remains to vastly improve the overall quality of the bays. “There is real reason for hope here,” he said. “Our waters are extremely resilient.”

Sumner Pingree, the Peconic Baykeeper’s vice president for program development, also took the podium to explain the rating system and to elaborate on the report.

He explained that the condition of eelgrass and the South Shore tributaries, hardening of the shoreline by placing structures such as bulkheads, and the amount of winter flounder, Peconic Bay finfish, hard clams, bay scallops, bacteria, harmful algal blooms and nitrogen were all given a grade ranging from “A” to “F.” No category received a grade higher than a “C.”

The outlook for those areas was also rated as “thumbs up,” “thumbs down” or neutral.

Mr. Pingree said that in addition to educating the public, the report is intended to establish goals for the bays. “It is not just about informing,” he said. “It is about casting a vision.”

To rectify the problems the report uncovered, the Peconic Baykeeper urged local law and policy makers to revise environmental laws to help sustain preservation efforts. “I would strongly argue that the county and state take a hard look at their code,” he said.

In addition to calling on lawmakers to enact legislation, Mr. McAllister also called on waterfront property owners to do their part to improve the environment by using natural buffers and eliminating the use of fertilizers in a effort he described as “bayscaping.” “Bayscaping should be employed on our individual properties,” he said.

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