State Lawmakers Pitch Marine Mammal & Sea Turtle Protections Around Plum Island

 Plum Island
Plum Island

State Assemblymen Steve Englebright and Fred Thiele and State Senator Ken LaValle have introduced a new bill that would provide protections for marine mammals and turtles in the waters surrounding Plum Island, Great Gull Island and Little Gull Island.

The bill, drafted by Assemblyman Englebright, would create a “marine mammal and sea turtle protection area” from mean high water seaward to 1,500 feet that “may also be designated as a New York State bird conservation area,” according to the bill, which was introduced in the Assembly on May 27 and in the Senate on June 1.

The full text of the assembly bill is online here and the full text of the senate bill is online here.

State lawmakers have long been interested in the future of the waters surrounding Plum Island, and Mr. Englebright held a public hearing last summer asking for feedback on what the state can do to preserve Plum Island.

Plum Island is owned by the federal Department of Homeland Security, which is preparing the island for a public sale while lawmakers and activists work to keep it in public hands. Great Gull Island is owned by the American Museum of Natural History, which conducts ornithological research on the island, which is smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic flyway.

The bills have the strong support of the Preserve Plum Island Coalition.

“The bills point out the enormous significance of the habitats around these islands,” said Preserve Plum Island Coalition spokesperson John Turner. “Gray seals are known to breed there. Greater numbers of seals haul out to rest themselves there than anywhere in New York. And shallow, nearshore habitat in clear waters exists around these islands, fostering vitally important submerged aquatic vegetation that in turn supports sea turtles, fish, and many other marine species.”

“These islands lie within waters recognized by both the Long Island Sound Study and the Peconic Estuary Program, showing their national significance,” said conservation biologist Louise Harrison, principal of Conservation and Natural Areas Planning, and member of the PPIC steering committee.

If signed into law, the boundaries of the protection area would be depicted on a map for distribution to the public informing them that the sites provide crucial habitat for harbor seals, harbor porpoises, grey seals and sea turtle species including Kemp’s Ridley, leatherback and green turtles.

The bill would also authorize the state to create regulations to prevent harassment of marine mammals and sea turtles and would authorize the creation of a marine mammal and sea turtle protection area advisory committee, which would provide feedback on “management, educational research and utilization” of the protection area.

The committee would include representatives from the New York State Department of State, Department of Environmental Conservation, the Marine Resources Advisory Board, Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the state museum, the American Museum of Natural History, Cornell laboratory of ornithology, the Suffolk County Executive, town supervisors from Southold and Brookhaven, the dean of the Marine Sciences Research Center at Stony Brook University and environmental and marine education groups.

The act states that it “is not intended to impose new fishing restrictions.”

The senate bill was referred to the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee June 1 and amended today, June 8. The assembly bill was referred to the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee May 27, reported and referred to the Ways and Means Committee on June 1 and amended by the Ways and Means Committee today.

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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