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Survey finds many of Long Island's bays lack enough oxygen

 An egret in Hempstead Bay
Sabrina Garone
An egret in Hempstead Bay

Scientists from Stony Brook University have documented a spread of toxic algal blooms in Long Island waters last year.

Seventeen of the Long Island bays, rivers and harbors surveyed have oxygen levels that fall below the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s standard. That includes the Peconic River, Bellport Bay, Cold Spring Harbor and more.

Dr. Chris Gobler, professor at Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said that’s because of increased nitrogen pollution in Long Island waters. When combined with rising temperatures, it promotes the growth of toxic algal blooms that consume oxygen in the water.

Gobler believes upgrading septic systems is the answer, but it will take time.

“The groundwater that’s had the high levels of nitrate, or nitrogen in it, will still be coming through for several years," Gobler said. "So we need some, what we call, in the water solutions.” 

Some of those include bivalves and seaweed, that act as natural water filters. Gobler said sugar kelp farming has helped improve water quality in places like Shinnecock Bay.

“If you had a one-acre farm you could take up to, in a given year, take up to 200 pounds of nitrogen. And that could be the equivalent of upgrading 8 to 18 homes.”

Sabrina is host and producer of WSHU’s daily podcast After All Things. She also produces the climate podcast Higher Ground and other long-form news and music programs at the station. Sabrina spent two years as a WSHU fellow, working as a reporter and assisting with production of The Full Story.