Algae bloom season starts; shellfish programs fighting back

image courtesy Stony Brook University
image courtesy Stony Brook University

Like swallows returning to Capistrano, every one of the last seven years the brown tide has come back to Shinnecock Bay, a large, shallow lagoon-like bay just south of Hampton Bays and the Shinnecock Indian Nation between the barrier beach of Dune Road and the mainland.

This week, scientists at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences reported that the brown tide again returned to the bay in May, at concentrations of 800,000 cells per milliliter of water as of June 1. Concentrations above 50,000 cells per milliliter are harmful to marine life.

“The combination of poor flushing and intensive nitrogen loading into the eastern Moriches-western Shinnecock Bay region makes it highly vulnerable to algal blooms,” said Dr. Chris Gobler, the Stony Brook professor who studies algae blooms, in a press release Monday. “We had hoped that the cooler spring and the efforts of the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program to restock filter feeding shellfish in the bay might restrict this year’s bloom. We are still hopeful that these filter feeders may make this year’s bloom less intense in this region than it has been in recent years.”

Dr. Gobler said in the past two seasons, cell densities had spiked as high as two million cells per liter during a bloom that lasted well into the summer months.

Brown tide was first seen on the East End in 1985, when it nearly destroyed the Peconic Bay scallop industry by starving eelgrass beds, where scallops live, of the light they need to survive. Scientists and baymen have been working ever since to restore populations of shellfish, which can filter out smaller concentrations of brown tide algae before high-density blooms begin.

Shinnecock Bay, Tuesday afternoon
Shinnecock Bay, Tuesday afternoon
The oyster garden will be run by Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Southold Project in Aquaculture Training, known affectionately by its members as SPAT. For more than a decade, more than 400 SPAT volunteers have cultivated community shellfish nurseries at Cedar Beach in Southold, releasing grown shellfish into the creeks that feed into the Peconic Bays.

This summer, Southampton Town residents who pay $200 will receive 1,000 baby oysters and two floating cages and six weeks of training on how to take care of the little critters.

At the end of the summer, the oysters will be taken to protected reefs throughout Shinnecock Bay, where they will serve as the first line of defense against the what-seems-like inevitable return of the brown tide.

An orientation for the program will be held Tuesday, June 18 on the bay side of Tiana Beach at 105 Dune Road at 7 p.m.

More information on the program can be found here.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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