Oysters A single oyster can filter algae and particles from 50 gallons of water per day. © Jason Houston

Long Island Water Quality

We're Oyster Farmers


Oyster Farmers Mike Doall and Mike Martinson’s Montauk Shellfish Company is threatened by deteriorating water quality and harmful algae

The Oysters are Doing Their Part

Each oyster can filter algae and particles from 50 gallons of water per day. That means an oyster farm with 1 million oysters can filter 50 million gallons of water per day. In addition to the benefits of filtering water, they are a tasty and important part of the local economy. Farmed oysters also can release millions of eggs each year. Oyster larvae disperse and colonize nearby areas. In this way, oyster farms can help establish and supplement wild oyster populations.

The Cleanest Body of Water That's Left on Long Island

The northern end of Lake Montauk is close to an inlet that allows good flushing with the ocean waters of Block Island Sound. The mixing of ocean waters into bays and harbors can reduce the impacts of water pollution. Although Lake Montauk is relatively clean, there is growing concern that cesspools and septic systems in the portions of the lake farthest from the inlet will negatively impact the water quality.

Young oysters grow on recycled shell at Jackson Estuarine Laboratory in Durham, New Hampshire.
Lucrative No More Many of Long Island's once lucrative fisheries have collapsed or severely declined in the past few decades. © Jennifer Emerling

A Lot of Troubled Waters

Long Island once supported lucrative fisheries along every shore. Many have collapsed or severely declined in the past few decades. While there are multiple contributing factors, habitat loss, harmful algae, and nitrogen pollution are major factors in the demise of several of Long Island's historically most lucrative fisheries. Nitrogen pollution from sewage was the cause of the massive fish-kill and the turtle die-off in western Peconic Bay in early summer 2015. Water quality problems are happening all across Long Island.

The Abundance of People Threatens Water Quality in Montauk

Although Montauk seems remote at the far eastern tip of the island, it faces the same water quality challenges as the rest of Long Island. The Town of East Hampton found that the "wastewater systems, in particular those along the wetland that drains Ditch Plains to Lake Montauk, are the most probable cause of bacterial contamination of Lake Montauk." As a result, the Town has drafted a comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan which includes recommendations such as a small sewage treatment facility and treated wastewater reuse at the local golf course. If smartly implemented, these efforts will reduce the water quality impact of the swelling seasonal population in Montauk.

Explore Local Stories About Water Quality

We're Oyster Farmers
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
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.
Shelter Island
See how Long Island’s smallest township is a microcosm of the region-wide water quality problem.
On Display
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
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
Evelyn O'Doherty is a year-round stand-up paddleboard racer, paddler, surfer and yoga teacher who lives in East Hampton.
On Georgica Pond
Even Long Island’s most bucolic communities are not immune to the effects of nitrogen pollution.
A Chef's Connection
Forty years ago Bruce Bollman had a vision that Long Island’s North Fork would become a destination calling for gourmet artisanal eateries.