Long Island Water Quality

On Display

Bellport

On Display Mike Busch purchased his first digital single lens reflex camera in 2012 just prior to Superstorm Sandy.

Water Quality is the Key

Fishermen and baymen have instinctively known "If we don't have water quality, no one's going to be there, no one's going to fish there, the fish will not be there, life is not there." While brown tide blooms are visually obvious, it took many years of research and monitoring before the causes and the solutions came into focus. Now that we know that nitrogen pollution, largely from waste water, is what is causing the brown tides that turn the bay the color of "chocolate milk", it is possible to implement meaningful solutions.

The Best Place It Could Possibly Be

The new Great South Bay inlet created by superstorm Sandy occurred in an 8 mile undeveloped stretch of Fire Island called the Otis Pike High Dunes Wilderness Area. It's more than five miles east of the nearest Fire Island community, and over a mile west of the nearest County park facilities. Almost immediately after it formed, the water in eastern Great South Bay became clearer and saltier. Seals, herring, and a variety of sportfish quickly became abundant; hard clams were (and still are) growing faster. On sunny days, the waters around the sand shoals and new islands ringing the inlet appear a turquoise that is more reminiscent of the Caribbean than Long Island. Families, paddle boarders, sailors, and fishermen flock to its clear, flowing waters.

An opening in the inlet has caused an increase in salty ocean water, which has improved conditions for fish, shellfish, and seagrasses by reducing the brown tides.
Bellport Bay An opening in the inlet has caused an increase in salty ocean water, which has improved conditions for fish, shellfish, and seagrasses by reducing the brown tides. © Mike Busch

Clarity of the Bay

Bellport Bay used to be a relatively stagnant part of Great South Bay with little mixing with the ocean. The new inlet has changed everything. Increased mixing with salty ocean water has improved conditions for fish, shellfish, and seagrasses by reducing the brown tides that now regularly plague much of Great South Bay and Moriches Bay.

The Tides Weren't Changing

Following Superstorm Sandy the east coast of the US was pounded by a series of large coastal storms causing widespread flooding. Many Long Islanders who had suffered serious flood damage feared that that the new inlet was the cause and called for closing it to prevent future flooding. To the contrary,

scientists were able to show that the flooding was the result of large-scale regional phenomena that was impacting communities from Chesapeake Bay to Cape Cod. The inlet was not changing tides or water levels; thus spending an estimated $20M to close it would have no impact on future flooding.

Explore Local Stories About Water Quality

We're Oyster Farmers
Montauk
An oyster farm with 1 million oysters can filter 50 million gallons of water per day, making them a critical piece in protecting Long Island's water quality from nitrogen pollution
Southwest Nassau County
Jim's Solution
A Freeport junkman Jim Ruocco has witnessed what happens when 50 million gallons per day of minimally treated sewage effluent are discharged into a poorly flushed estuary.
Answers & Solutions
Huntington
As a fishermen and scientist, Carl LoBue ponders what our successors will think about the decisions we make today, and how those decisions will impact the island’s fishing future.
Generations
Shelter Island
See how Long Island’s smallest township is a microcosm of the region-wide water quality problem.
On Display
Bellport
When the new Great South Bay inlet created by superstorm Sandy opened up, it formed an 8-mile undeveloped stretch of Fire Island called the Otis Pike High Dunes Wilderness Area.
It's Imperative
Mastic Beach
Mayor Maura Sperry talks about how water quality affects one of Long Island’s most flood-prone communities.
Something Lost
Oakdale
George Remmer, commercial fisherman, restaurant owner, and college professor, laments the changes he has seen around Great River, Grand Canal and Great South Bay.
Collapse of a Legacy
North Sea
Howard Pickerel has hand-built 600 boats in his backyard. Pickerel boats were at one time the backbone of Long Island’s shellfishing industry.
A New Perspective
Springs
Evelyn O'Doherty is a year-round stand-up paddleboard racer, paddler, surfer and yoga teacher who lives in East Hampton.
On Georgica Pond
Wainscott
Even Long Island’s most bucolic communities are not immune to the effects of nitrogen pollution.
A Chef's Connection
Greenport
Forty years ago Bruce Bollman had a vision that Long Island’s North Fork would become a destination calling for gourmet artisanal eateries.