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Aug 4, 2010 10:36 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Toxic algae bloom might be worse this year

Aug 4, 2010 10:36 AM

For the sixth summer in a row, a species of red algae known to be toxic to fish and shellfish has bloomed in the waters off eastern Shinnecock Bay and more widely throughout the Peconic Estuary.

This year, the algae, which stains surface waters a deep brown or crimson in the afternoons, has appeared more than a month earlier than in prior years, possibly posing an even greater danger to shellfish stocks that are helpless to avoid it.

“It’s been appearing since 2004, and it’s been like clockwork, the last week of August, so this year it started about 40 days earlier,” said Dr. Christopher Gobler, a marine science professor at Stony Brook University, and an expert on water quality and algae blooms. “The blooms seem to always fade away when the temperatures in the bay drop into the 60s, and we know we won’t see that for a long time, so this will probably be the longest time that we will have seen this bug.”

Last year, commercial fishermen noted drastic drops in fish populations in the areas where the “red tide” appeared, presumably because fish that can swim fled the algae blooms. Some reported finding dead fish in their traps after the algae began blooming.

“One day I only had six or seven fluke in my trap, and they were all dead,” said fisherman Kenny Mades, who works 2-pound traps along the northern shore of Shinnecock Bay. “I’d never had a fluke die in the pound nets before, so I have to assume that’s what caused it.”

Of course, shellfish don’t have the option of swimming away from the algae. And since the red algae has a habit of sinking to the bottom of the bay at night, shellfish are exposed for extended periods.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the infamous “brown tide” algae blooms wiped out once vast supplies of wild shellfish throughout East End waters. The brown algae killed shellfish slowly, simply because they would refuse to eat the algae and starved to death. But the red algae is far more lethal, releasing a toxin that Dr. Gobler’s experiments have found can kill shellfish after just a matter of hours of exposure. Unlike another species of red algae that has been found in some waters on the north shore of Long Island, as well as in scattered bays throughout New England, this species is not toxic to humans and does not contaminate shellfish.

In addition to its early appearance, Dr. Gobler says it seems as though the concentrations of the algae may be more dense this year in some areas than it was in the past.

“It’s seemingly everywhere,” he said. “When you see the dark bands, those areas have 10,000 cells per milliliter. But the seemingly clear water might have hundreds of cells per milliliter.”

The causes of the red algae’s appearance in local waters are still unknown, but are sure to be the product of numerous factors playing a role.

“Red tides appeared in Biblical times, we know, but they are becoming more frequent, and the common denominator is coastal waters around developed areas,” Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister said this week. “I think there is reason for long-term concern. Ultimately, the development pressures and land use in our area is putting great strain on our bays, and these algae blooms are a product of that.”

Mr. Mades, who has been fishing East End waters for six decades, says he tends to agree.

“We’re probably the cause, and there’s probably not a damn thing we can do about it—that’s the harsh reality,” he said, adding that if the red tide is still blooming come September, he will not put his fishing nets back in the water. “All my life, the bays have been getting sicker and sicker, the more people you have out here. I think the bays will just die eventually.”

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This red tide originates in the Peconic River and enters Shinnecock Bay through the Shinnecock Canal. I bet it has to do with water temperature and the release of raw sewage from the over Riverhead's overburdened sewage treatment plant.
By ICE (1207), Southhampton on Aug 4, 10 10:29 PM
ICE,

That's not accurate in any way shape or form.... Red Tide in our bays shows up often times in Shinnecock first and later in Peconic Bay. Sometimes it's near the canal in Peconic Bay, sometimes it's in Flanders Bay. Sometimes it's near Southold. Samples have been taken from Tiana and from Moniebogue long before it appears in the Peconic Bay and it has yet to be documented in the Peconic River (west of the traffic circle).

I'd love to know the source of your information...
By Nature (2952), Hampton Bays on Aug 5, 10 11:16 PM
The out flow pipes for the Riverhead STP are quite a bit east of the the traffic circle, so I wouldn't expect to see the Red Tide upstream/river from them. Note I did say this Red Tide, so where it has been spotted in the past is irrelevant.
I'll tell you what though, we can be sure it has never gone from Shinnecock to Peconic, because the water only flows one way.... into Shinnecock.

Do you dispute that the Riverhead STP releases raw sewage into the Peconic River when it receives ...more
By ICE (1207), Southhampton on Aug 6, 10 4:35 AM
No I don't dispute that - I dispute that you know the answer to this mystery and the marine biologists and grad students who have been studying it for the past decade still don't have an explination.

And I didn't claim it goes FROM Shinnecock TO Peconic Bay, I said it shows up first in Shinnecock and later it will be seen in Peconic Bay. There is something causing it and it's not "raw sewage" coming from the Riverhead STP. I guarentee you that.
By Nature (2952), Hampton Bays on Aug 6, 10 9:01 AM
Now you profess to know what my background education is?. I can tell you this much about marine biologists and grad students, if they were to solve the "mystery" then their grant money dries up, so it is in their interest to have an ongoing study to keep the money flowing. You really believe they have no idea? We have figured out how to grow a human ear on the back of a lab mouse and yet we can't pin down the catalyst for an algae bloom?

As for water temperature being a factor, this year ...more
By ICE (1207), Southhampton on Aug 6, 10 3:35 PM
No, I profess to know that you don't know the scientific reasoning as to why this is happening (if you did, wouldn't you tell the appropriate people and get your name praised because you know the source? Or do you simply enjoy seeing our shellfish and fish stocks degraded?)

You have to be joking that the researches are avoiding solving the problem because they want grant money. As someone who has a degree in marine biology I can tell you that it is not the case with the red tide blooms ...more
By Nature (2952), Hampton Bays on Aug 6, 10 3:59 PM
Gobler yes, Baykeeper no, he is a tool.
By ICE (1207), Southhampton on Aug 6, 10 4:08 PM
1 member liked this comment
Oh, and no, I don't enjoy seeing our fish and shellfish stocks degraded. Not to mention a the Blue Claw Crabs. The shellfish are pretty well gone without this, it is just icing on the cake.

Why don't you put that degree to some good use and save the bay? My dad happens to have a degree in Marine Bio too.
By ICE (1207), Southhampton on Aug 6, 10 4:13 PM
Red Tide is caused by a "population explosion" of toxic, naturally occurring microscopic plankton (specifically, a subgroup known as dinoflagellates). "Blooms" of the poison-producing plankton are coastal phenomena caused by environmental conditions, which promote explosive growth. Factors that are especially favorable include warm surface temperatures, high nutrient content, low salinity, and calm seas. Rain followed by sunny weather in the summer months is often associated with red tide blooms.

Looks ...more
By ICE (1207), Southhampton on Aug 6, 10 4:21 PM
I wouldn't count the STP out so fast it could be contributing.
By ICE (1207), Southhampton on Aug 6, 10 4:22 PM
my friend, George Costanza, is also a marine biologist and he thinks the red tide and higher water temperatures is caused by people dumping too much hot sauce into the water.
By CaptainSig (640), Dutch Harbor on Aug 6, 10 4:55 PM
George's Mom: "Now we have to drink coffee with no cake, and eat clams with hot sauce already on them, we'll look so stupid!"
By Old School (22), Southampton on Aug 6, 10 7:31 PM
Nature this is form an article 2 years ago: http://www.27east.com/story_detail.cfm?id=167427

Mr. Penny said that he had some concerns that the municipal sewage treatment plant in Sag Harbor be putting nitrates in Sag Harbor Cove that could feed a bloom in some East Hampton waters. Algae thrive in areas with high nitrate concentrations, which can come from septic system, lawn fertilizers or road runoff.

I guess the Riverhead STP couldn't possibly have an effect on the bloom. You ...more
By ICE (1207), Southhampton on Aug 7, 10 7:11 AM
Ah Hoy Matey!

'The municipal sewage treatment plant in Sag Harbor "be" putting nitrates in Sag Harbor Cove,' said Captain Kid.
By Old School (22), Southampton on Aug 7, 10 9:34 AM
What about all the nitrate runoff from expensive lawns?
By Mr. Z (9305), North Sea on Aug 9, 10 10:44 AM
1 member liked this comment
Lawns - which are not, according to zoning, to go to the water's edge - but talk to the planning board and zba about this, they feel if you have a lawn without a buffer its not a problem.
Also nitrates are fed into the bays from cess pools and boats not using pump out stations, and road runoff. Sewage treatment plants are direct sources, the others are indirect and more difficult to regulate unless you have government officials who care for more than their next election/appointment.
By sunshine (47), southampton on Aug 12, 10 7:54 PM
Indeed lawn fertilizers are part of the problem. Most of the nitrates in road runoff are from lawns. Many of the streets on the north side of Shinnecock Bay have pipes which launch the runoff right into the bay. Bayfront lawns account for, a fraction of the fertilizer entering the bay from from residences.
If the Town addressed the lack of storm water infrastructure, that would help cut the nitrates substantially. We are well behind the EPA laws on storm water mitigation.
By ICE (1207), Southhampton on Aug 12, 10 9:16 PM
That's hard to do, as the Town "let go" the head of the stormwater division. I don't understand how the Town got away with that. That being said, the Town has worked hard on dead-end treatments throughout the town in order to better sequester pollutants. Southampton has been understaffed and grant money is slow to roll in.
By Nature (2952), Hampton Bays on Aug 17, 10 11:35 AM
Pesticide and herbicide application is a major factor, as are illegal stormwater runoff systems, such as those associated with the new CR39 runoff into cold spring pond just east of shinnecock canal. Lets put some of the poor hurting attorneys to work and start a suit against the NYSDOT, its about time.
By deKooning (82), southampton on Aug 12, 10 10:03 PM
CR39 is a Suffolk County road. Sunrise Highway is a state (NYSDOT) road. So which one is it?
By East End 2 (119), Southampton on Aug 13, 10 8:54 AM
ICE and Nature, can you both comment on the various factors that seem to be under suspicion for the red tide - temperature, nitrates, and so on. Specifically, I'm interested in whether these factors are like the essential ingredients for fire - fuel, oxygen, and ignition (they teach - or used to teach this in the Navy). If you remove any one of the three, the fire can't start. Is the red tide like this? Would it make sense to concentrate on one specific factor and prevent the red tide by removing ...more
By nutbeem (24), Westhampton on Aug 13, 10 10:59 AM
I'd love to.

In essence, you need nitrogen and warm temperatures to create Red Tide. The warm temperatures are going to happen regardless of us - it gets warm in the summer and lately, the summers have been extra warm. Algal blooms are normal and are crucial for life in our northern waters but red tide and brown tide are problematic. There are lots of different types of algae, Red, Blue, Green, Brown and each type has various strains, some of which are harmful, some of which are not. ...more
By Nature (2952), Hampton Bays on Aug 17, 10 11:31 AM
nutbeem...I like your approach. Unfortunately the only leg that we can kick out from under these harmful algae blooms is us! (current bloom is Cochlodinium polykrikoides) Control of the weather is beyond our reach at this point and probably should remain so.

There is no single point source for all the nutrients that are pouring into the Peconic Estuary. It's coming from everywhere mentioned above including the thousands upon thousands of septic systems sited in the Peconic watershed. you'd ...more
By Split Rock (68), Sag Harbor on Aug 13, 10 2:48 PM