Despite only faint blooms of harmful algae and accompanying reports of bountiful fish and shellfish growth over the summer, scientists from Stony Brook University said this week that the overall condition of local waters remained far from good this summer.
Among the variety of maladies the Stony Brook researchers recorded over the summer was a surge of “brown tide” algae in western Shinnecock Bay and eastern Moriches Bay, and widespread hypoxia, a low oxygen condition commonly referred to as a “dead zone,” across most local bays.
In their annual report on the condition of Long Island’s coastal estuaries, released at a press conference at the university’s Marine Sciences Center in Southampton on Wednesday morning, the researchers laid out a long list of ills that afflicted the bay in 2014, and blamed human activity for most of them.
“It began with toxic red tides in May and ended with a harmful brown tide that continues today across the entire south shore of Long Island,” said Christopher Gobler, Ph.D., a marine biology professor at Stony Brook. “In between, we witnessed toxic blue-green algae in 10 lakes across the island, a rust tide on the East End, seaweeds on ocean beaches, [and] oxygen-depleted waters found at more than 20 locations from Hempstead to East Hampton.”
The largest areas of hypoxic waters were found in Long Island Sound, off the coastline of Nassau County and western Suffolk County, but areas of Moriches Bay, Moneybogue Bay and Weesuck Creek were found to be hypoxic as well. Those areas and their surroundings, perhaps not coincidentally, were also beset by a dense brown tide algae bloom.
The scientists also recorded blue-green algae blooms that carry a neurotoxin in six South Fork freshwater ponds over the summer, which were closed to fishing and posted as potentially dangerous to swim in.
The lone bright spots in the report were the restrained blooms of red algae this year. The so-called “rust tide,” a species of swimming, brownish-red algae known as Cochlodinium, which has been blamed for killing fish and scallops throughout the Peconics and Gardiners Bay in 2012 and 2013, blossomed only for short periods in western Peconic Bay and in a small corner of eastern Shinnecock Bay, as well as in three enclosed harbors in Sag Harbor and East Hampton.
In May, another species of red algae called Alexandrium, which can be toxic or even fatal to humans if ingested, bloomed in western Shinnecock Bay, but in small densities and for a shorter period of time than in past years.