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Jan 25, 2017 1:00 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Flanders Woman Starts Non-Profit To Tackle Environmental Issues

June Kessler of Flanders started a non-profit called Coastal Reserve. AMANDA BERNOCCO
Jan 25, 2017 1:13 PM

A Flanders scientist is pointing her finger at a new culprit that is damaging the local waters: phragmites.

Phragmites is an invasive species of large perennial grasses. The grass is normally found in wetlands in temperate and tropical regions of the world, but it has invaded the shores of North America. Phragmites competes with native vegetation, reduces local plant biodiversity and often adds nitrogen pollution to the water.

June Kessler said she started noticing the harm phragmites was doing to the environment after years of observing the shores near her home. She also credits phragmites as a main contributor to the massive fish kill of bunker in 2008 in the Peconic River. Officials said at the time that the fish kill was caused when predators of the bunker, namely bluefish, chased the smaller fish into the river. The buildup of fish created a lack of oxygen in the water. But Ms. Kessler pointed out that the river was also lined with phragmites, which can be harmful to fish because of the nitrogen it puts in the water.

She continued to read about phragmites, including about how it had caused fish kills in the past—and continued to observe the plant in local waters. And she was inspired to start a nonprofit, called Coastal Reserve, which will strive to rid the shores of harmful phragmites and promote environmental education.

“Nobody is doing it, so I decided that I would have to be the one to do it,” Ms. Kessler said of phragmites as she sipped coffee inside her new office on Flanders Road in Riverside near the traffic circle.

The nonprofit will have three goals: to eliminate phragmites from the shore, to start a global stewardship program to help other parts of the world protect their environment, and to teach children about the environment in a fun and engaging way.

Ms. Kessler moved into the Riverside office about a year ago but didn’t start reaching out to the community until recently. She has already secured 20 local volunteers, mainly from the Flanders, Riverside and Hampton Bays areas. The next step will be to reach out to the Department of Environmental Conservation, Environmental Protection Agency, and local officials, including U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin, to discuss ways they can work together to rid the shores of the pesky phragmites.

Phragmites is tough to get rid of, Ms. Kessler said, explaining that the methods, which include herbicide application and pulling them up manually, are limited. She is currently working on a mechanical way to remove phragmites—though she would not go into detail, explaining that she plans to patent the method when she is finished.

Ms. Kessler said that she feels her nonprofit will make a difference, and stand out among other environmental nonprofits such as the Peconic Baykeeper, because none of the other groups is focusing on phragmites.

“I just see a need,” Ms. Kessler said. “There is just a lack of knowledge.”

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Just what is Ms. Kessler's background and what are her bonafides that would qualify her as a scientist? What evidence does she cite connecting Phragmites to fish kills??

The Non-native strain of Phragmites that is now dominant in New York State was introduced here from Europe as early as the late 1700's has been a known problem for a very long time and there are numerous removal strategies. The problem is that they all require complex restoration work and the attendant costs for large ...more
By Just sitting on the taffrail (32), Southampton on Jan 28, 17 8:21 PM
2 members liked this comment
I cant believe that the press published this as news.
By weaver (18), southampton on Jan 29, 17 8:38 AM
Phragmities actually sequester large amounts of nitrogen and promote nitrogen removal from the ecosystem read "Effects of Invasive-Plant Management on Nitrogen-Removal Services in Freshwater Tidal Marshes
Mary Alldred, Stephen B. Baines, Stuart Findlay" does the press just print everything people tell them as news? is there no fact checking.

By weaver (18), southampton on Jan 29, 17 8:59 AM
"does the press just print everything people tell them as news?

Yes, it would seem they do sometimes!
By Just sitting on the taffrail (32), Southampton on Jan 29, 17 2:27 PM
Why is everybody so negative on this subject? Over a period of about 10 years I spent early mornings watching ducks in a one acre pond in Flanders. Late August, early September it was blue wing teal. Than ring neck ducks,ruddies, mallards. Green wing teal. Later it was black ducks. All feeding and resting on this beautiful little pond. As I watched over the years phrags started to incrouch. Now the pond is gone, filled with Phargs. I'm now watching the same thing happen to East Pond next ...more
By unclemilt (56), southampton on Feb 1, 17 8:32 PM