The south shore has provided millions of residents nationally with delicious clams, oysters, scallops and crabs alongside fluke, flounder, squid, cod and other finfish for hundreds of years. In addition the estuary has supported commercial fishing for over 400 years. However in the late 20th century there has been a drastic decline in the estuary’s environmental health. According to environmental planner Jeff Kassner, “In 1985 the Brown Tide appeared in the Great South Bay. Brown Tide is caused by a small species of micro algae that is a poor food for hard clams. During the next several years, there were recurring Brown Tides which caused poor growth and diminished reproduction in the hard clam population. Both the abundance of hard clams and the harvest of hard clams continued to decline.” Brown Tide has also affected other shellfish species including scallops.
Listen to Bill Hamilton describe how Great South Bay has changed since the 1960s:
In addition there has been an increase in runoff, also known as non-point source pollution, which basically washes fertilizers and other nutrients into the bay during heavy rain storms. As the bacteria level rises, shellfish suffer. Finally, prior to 1991, most of the region’s garbage was dumped offshore in deeper ocean waters, creating an environmentally hazardous situation. Today offshore garbage dumping is illegal.
Learn from Wink Carman how pollution has changed the charter boat industry:
There are numerous studies of the ecosystem to determine how to restore the vitality of the bay. Studies by the South Shore Estuary Reserve Council include:
To download these reports go to the South Shore Estuary Reserve web site.
In addition the Peconic Baykeeper has issued several reports on the South Shore Estuary. You can download and read their studies online.
On a local level there are various volunteer organizations that conduct beach cleanups and patrol harbors. They include:
Listen to Lenny Koch’s prediction of how pollution would affect baymen and fishermen:
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