Letter: Suffolk County to Develop a Harmful Algal Bloom Plan

The Peconic Bay, pictured here in South Jamesport, is full of water. This is proving to be a problem as Long Island’s nitrate-enriched groundwater seeps out into the bay, causing algae blooms and hurting salt marsh and eelgrass habitat.
The Peconic Bay, pictured here in South Jamesport, is full of water. This is proving to be a problem as Long Island’s nitrate-enriched groundwater seeps out into the bay, causing algae blooms and hurting salt marsh and eelgrass habitat.

To the Editor,

This month, I, along with the Suffolk County Legislature, approved the appropriation of $100,323 from the Suffolk County Water Quality Protection and Restoration Program and Land Stewardship to develop a Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) Action Plan and Strategy and perform a Shellfish Aquaculture Monitoring Program Assessment.

Long Islanders derive their quality of life from the water bodies that surround us. Our economic and ecological well-being is tied to the health of our oceans, the productivity of our bays, and the recreational opportunities at our beaches. Harmful algal blooms pose a real threat to those assets, and we must continue to fund the research projects and strategy plans that will lead to wise, water quality stewardship.

Suffolk County marine waters are an enormous driver of economic activity on Long Island and maintain a historical centrality in Suffolk County’s quality of life. In Suffolk County, the marine industry produces 26,690 jobs, $776 million in wages, and approximately $1 billion in goods and services sold on a yearly basis. As of 2011, ocean-related businesses provided 4.4% of total jobs in Suffolk County. Tourism, commerce, fishing, shellfish aquaculture, and recreational activities such as swimming are all tied to the resiliency of our surrounding waters.

The Suffolk County Shellfish Aquaculture Lease Program in Peconic Bay and Gardiners Bay was established by Suffolk County Local Law No. 25-2009 (Chapter 475, Article II of the Suffolk County Code). This program, which provides secure access to marine space for private, commercial shellfish aquaculture, has been developed by Suffolk County for publicly-owned underwater lands in Peconic Bay and Gardiners Bay. It is hoped that the implementation of the lease program leads to increased private investment in shellfish aquaculture and restoration of large populations of filter feeding shellfish in the bays.

Unfortunately, the growing occurrence and variety of HABs undermines Suffolk County quality of life and threatens the long-term sustainability of our shellfish and finfish populations, posing a real threat to traditional Long Island recreations and occupations.

The Water Quality Protection and Restoration Program and Land Stewardship (WQPRP) program provides funding of water quality improvement projects. The recently approved resolution allocates funds from the WQPRP to New York Sea Grant, a collaborative program between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Cornell University and the SUNY-school system. As a university-based research, extension, and education program, NY Sea Grant serves as an unbiased source for high quality, scientific information and has been funding algal bloom research for decades.

The project shall be split into two components. The first, the Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB) Action Plan and Strategy shall consist of:

1. Creation of a written synthesis of information pertinent to the HABs that have appeared in recent years in Suffolk County waters – when and where they occur, and what we know about potential causes here and elsewhere. This document will also include an early action plan.

2. Creation of a working group that will make more comprehensive recommendations about monitoring, critical information gaps, and potential management strategies for resource restoration and pollution control. The results of their work will be captured in a complete report that will be a companion piece to the Synthesis.

In the second component, the Assessment of Shellfish Aquaculture Monitoring Program, NY Sea Grant shall host a workshop devoted to review and discussion of potential aspects of a shellfish aquaculture monitoring program on leases in the Peconic Estuary by a team of outside experts. The workshop will address three needs:

1. How to determine whether shellfish aquaculture as part of the Suffolk County Shellfish Aquaculture Lease Program is having a positive, negative, or neutral environmental effect;
2. What types of data/monitoring would be needed to determine if there is a cumulative effect; and
3. How should the results of future monitoring be interpreted in order to be useful for the management and evolution of the Suffolk County Shellfish Aquaculture Lease Program.

As part of the public/private partnership, New York Sea Grant shall provide an additional $33,609 in in-kind services to develop the HAB Action Plan and Strategy and perform a Shellfish Aquaculture Monitoring Program Assessment.

Final reports from both projects shall help to inform myself, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development & Planning, and the Suffolk County Legislature, to make choices about the future of the Suffolk County Shellfish Aquaculture Leasing Program and the appropriate strategies to combat the growing threats of HABs on Long Island. This effort will be closely coordinated with my Water Quality Initiative, which focuses on reducing nitrogen to improve water quality and coastal resiliency.

Sincerely,

Steve Bellone
Suffolk County Executive

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East End Beacon

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