Dr. Larry Swanson, of Stony Brook University, said that high levels of nitrogen in the South Shore’s bays could be fueling the growth of potentially devastating algae, which robs saltwater of oxygen when it rots, killing marine life.
Research conducted by Stony Brook University and a nonprofit research group indicates that the South Shore’s Western Bays are polluted, and state officials acknowledged that implementation of a yet-to-be designed plan for combating the problem may take more than a decade to carry out.
Battelle, a nonprofit research and development organization based in Stony Brook, secured more than $500,000 in grant money from the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission to study the Western Bays, beginning in 2009. The Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences was also awarded nearly $600,000 in state funding in 2010 to examine the waterways, which include Reynolds Channel, Hempstead Bay, Hewlett Bay, Jones Bay and the East Rockaway Inlet.
Battelle and Stony Brook representatives shared their findings at a Jan. 23 educational forum at the Nassau County Legislature, explaining that high levels of nitrogen –– which spur harmful algae growth -– have been found in these waterways, particularly near the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant outfall pipe in Reynolds Channel, just north of the Long Beach fishing pier.
A fuel for algae growth
Dr. Larry Swanson, associate dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said that high levels of nitrogen in the bays could be fueling the growth of algae that is toxic to fish larvae, causes a strong odor and reduces the oxygen content of saltwater, severely impacting recreational use of the waterways. Tom Gulbransen, a Battelle researcher, added that algae samples researchers have been examining are saturated with high levels of nutrients.
After examining various sources of nitrogen, Swanson said, he concluded that much of it comes from sewage treatment plants. “If you sum all of these up,” he said, “about 95 percent of the total nitrogen contributed to the area, as we have been able to measure, comes from sewage treatment plants. About 85 percent of that comes from Bay Park.”