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Long Island Brown and Red Tides on Upsurge

Sewage Pollution, Nitrogen are Culprits, Public Urged to Take Action Against Pollution


East Hampton, NY | July 24, 2012

The Nature Conservancy today called attention to the increasing frequency and duration of harmful algal blooms—known as brown and red tides—in Long Island’s harbors and bays. Since the summer season began in June, major brown tides have occurred and continue in Shinnecock and Moriches Bays on the south shore of Long Island. Significant red tide events have been noted in Northport Harbor, Sag Harbor Cove and Shinnecock Bay.

Fueled by nitrogen in our waterways, the spread of red tides around Long Island is of great concern particularly since shellfish feeding on red tide accumulate a neurotoxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning which can be fatal in people and wildlife.

The presence of these harmful algal blooms leads to closures of shellfisheries around Long Island with devastating economic results for baymen and aquaculture businesses alike. Harmful algal blooms also impact, tourism, recreation, and wildlife.

“Good water quality is the essential—and most critical—pillar of a balanced and healthy environment,” said Dr. Marci Bortman, director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. “But our waters are becoming more and more polluted on Long Island, leading to health risks and economic hardships. We must start recognizing this problem and taking steps to address it so that people can safely swim, harvest seafood from our bays and harbors.”

In 2010, harmful algal blooms lead to the listing of Great South Bay, Moriches Bay, Quantuck Bay, and Shinnecock Bay to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s list of impaired water bodies on Long Island.

“The EPA listing of our impaired water bodies certainly calls attention to a problem. But merely acknowledging the problem is not enough. We need solutions,” said Kevin McDonald, director of public policy for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island.

One of the main sources of the pollution that causes brown and red tides is from residential and business septic systems. These ground-based disposal units put nitrogen from human waste into our aquifers. Nitrogen flows with the ground water either into our bays and harbors, setting the stage for harmful algal blooms, or into Long Island’s only supply of fresh drinking water creating human health concerns.

The Nature Conservancy and partners are working to ensure that ground water and surface water of long Island are protected and to restore water quality where degradation has occurred. The group is looking to establish a new ground water nitrogen standard at the New York State level that protects public health as well as the health of bays, harbors and streams across the Island. This will require protecting watersheds where we still can – and modernizing existing infrastructure and restoring habitats in areas shown to have degraded water quality.

In addition, in this past New York State legislative session Assembly member Sweeney and Senator LaValle introduced legislation that seeks to establish a comprehensive approach to the management of ground and surface waters on Long Island to ensure that water quality in the bays and estuaries is adequately protected. The Nature Conservancy applauds their efforts and looks forward to working with them towards addressing this crucial issue facing our communities.

“Properly protecting our water supplies will create benefits, such as improving conditions for fish, wildlife, recreation and wild-fisheries and aquaculture. Moreover, an investment in the protection and management of our waters is an investment in the health of the economy for all of Long Island now and in the future,” noted McDonald.


The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org

Contact information

Kara Jackson
Director of Communications, Long Island
(631) 329-3981 Ext. 20
kjackson@tnc.org

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