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Atlantic Ocean Beaches and Bays

Long Island


From Montauk to New York City, the Atlantic Ocean Beaches and Bays extend 120 miles across Long Island's coast and are composed of a large, dynamic system of barrier islands, marshes, bays, bluffs and beaches. The bays and barrier islands are in a constant state of flux from wind, waves, tides, currents and storms. It is a common misperception that these forces are destructive and undesirable. Over time, these dynamic processes actually work to rejuvenate the beaches and dunes, tidal wetlands, barrier islands and bays. Prepare for your visit by looking over our Long Island preserve guidelines.

Why We Chose This Place

The importance of Long Island's Atlantic coastal waters and shoreline cannot be overemphasized. The area provides critical spawning, feeding, nursery, and migratory habitats for finfish, shellfish, shorebirds, waterfowl, sea turtles, and sea mammals.

It supports six species protected by the Endangered Species Act plus another 36 global and state rare species, and over 100 Federal Trust Species. This area is also a significant source of food for the greater Atlantic Ocean fishery. We depend on Long Island's beaches and bays every day!

Challenges and Threats

Houses built in front of the dunes and shoreline engineering, such as jetties, bulkheads, and repeated beach nourishment are short-term and expensive strategies that weaken the barrier islands, and cause loss of tidal wetlands. In turn water quality of the bays and wildlife habitat is affected.

The water quality and habitats of Moriches, Shinnecock, and the Great South Bay are threatened by many other factors as well. Fertilizers, pesticides, and road-run-off enter the groundwater and tidal creeks.  In addition, depleted shellfish populations have changed the bays and their food chain dynamics in complex — and negative ways. Scientists predict a sea level rise of 12-18 inches or more in the coming 100 years due to climate change. The barrier islands, beaches and dunes, and tidal wetlands can maintain themselves in the face of sea level rise if they are allowed to move and shift. How to reconcile this fact with the recognition that many people and communities are heavily invested in living along the south shore's waterfront is a great conservation challenge.

The Conservancy is committed to working with other organizations and all levels of government to develop management approaches that ensure that the south shore continues to be a vital resource for generations to come.

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