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Long Island saw record-setting fish kills this summer

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Rising water temperatures and wastewater pollution led to 50 fish kills on Long Island this past summer. Most years, there are less than five.

“Warmer water just by laws of physics holds less oxygen,” said Christopher Gobler, professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. “And so the hotter it gets, the lower the oxygen content of seawater. And Long Island Sound is warming at a rate four times the global average, since the start of the century.”

Harbors, bays and streams become toxic from algal blooms that thrive on nitrogen pollution. Gobler said this comes from the discharge from aging septic systems and wastewater treatment plants.

His team compiled data on Long Island water systems — from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and local government — to map out over 30 dead zones, with many toxic algal blooms located in harbors on the island’s north shore.

Chris Gobler
Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences

“One in particular, Gymnodinium, is maybe the most troubling and I've never seen that particular genus of algae that widespread and across the open waters, really anywhere in Long Island,” Gobbler said. “We had Gymnodinium cause a fish kill years back — over half a million fish. So a really, really massive fish kill."

Gobler presented the map alongside a new report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which Stony Brook University contributed to, that links home values on Long Island to water clarity — with home values in some areas reduced by up to $30,000.

“This research is a new take on the relationship between water and housing,” said Jonathan Miller, the president and CEO of Miller Samuel Inc., a real estate appraisal and consulting firm that analyzes housing data for Douglas Elliman real estate.

Miller said this report should be taken seriously as water views are often one of the most valuable amenities of a home — especially if the wastewater pollution disrupts the sale of a home.

“Still, that value might be adversely impacted by the clarity of the water because it is a reasonable indicator of ecological wellness,” he said in a statement. “With a growing focus on the environment and its impact on housing, this amenity has the potential to become more significant in the future.”

Suffolk and Nassau counties try to improve water quality by encouraging property owners to update their aging cesspools and septic systems that discharge nitrogen. Residents have access to up to $30,000 from county and state wastewater programs to reimburse the update costs.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.