In the second large die-off of marine life in recent weeks, thousands of dead menhaden, a bait fish known locally as bunker, began washing up on the shores of Flanders Bay and the Peconic River on the morning of May 29, and by May 31 reports of dead fish in the water have been coming in from as far east as New Suffolk on the North Fork.
Dr. Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook Southampton’s marine science department told reporters that a “mahogany tide,” caused by the bloom of an algae known as Prorocetrum, had spread throughout the western portion of the bays, causing lethally low oxygen levels at night, when the algae consume oxygen when they can’t perform photosynthesis to meet their respiratory needs.
Before 8 a.m. Sunday morning, New Suffolk resident Victoria Germaise reported to the Beacon that she saw “many, many dead fish along the shoreline with more floating in water” on her morning walk down to the bay.
Dead and badly decomposing fish also littered bayside beaches along the Mattituck shore, and could still be seen by the thousands in Meetinghouse and Terry creeks.
This algae bloom is a different bloom than the toxic red tide that caused the closure earlier this month of Meetinghouse Creek, Terry Creek, James Creek and the western half of Shinnecock Bay, which is a prime suspect in the deaths of hundreds of diamondback terrapin turtles and large numbers of bunker earlier in May.
It is also a different type of algae than the bloom known as “rust tide,” caused by the algae Cochlodinium, which has been a frequent autumn visitor to East End waters.
What these algae blooms do have in common, says Dr. Gobler, is that they are fed by excessive nitrogen making its way into ill-flushing water bodies.
Both Southampton and Riverhead towns dispatched crews to clean up the dead fish. By Sunday, the smell of badly decomposing fish began to pervade the shoreline throughout the western Peconic Estuary.
Late in the week, with the full moon bringing with it extra-high tides, many of the dead fish had been washed out to sea. But the smell lingered on throughout the estuary.