More projects are in the works to protect the health of the Long Island Sound and Hempstead Harbor, thanks to grant funding that was recently awarded by the federal government.
On Tuesday, key local advocates for clean water joined U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi at a news conference to announce a new round of funding for the Long Island Sound Futures Fund projects. Nearly $3 million will go to municipalities and organizations in the 3rd Congressional District, including the Village of Sea Cliff and Friends of the Bay.
“I’ve been working on this for the past 30 years,” Suozzi said. “The main issue with the Sound has been hypoxia, along with removing nitrogen from the water.”
Suozzi is co-chair of the Long Island Sound Caucus. When he came to the House of Representatives in 2017, he said, the funding for Long Island Sound was $3 million to $4 million. Now, he said, it’s over $30 million, a 900 percent increase. “It’s because we’ve been pushing this and making it a priority,” he said.
A total of 39 new grants totaling $5.4 million were awarded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, in partnership with the Long Island Sound Study, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Long Island Sound Funders Collaborative. Recipients include the Village of Sea Cliff, for continued monitoring of Hempstead Harbor; Friends of the Bay, for expanding oyster spawning sanctuaries in Oyster Bay and Cold Spring Harbor; the Citizens Campaign Fund for the Environment, for environmental education; and the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, for projects that will improve water quality in Oyster Bay and Hempstead Harbor.
Sea Cliff will receive a total of $193,496 to continue monitoring Hempstead Harbor water quality, work that is done by the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor.
“You have to understand where the problems are coming from in order to improve water qualities,” said Eric Swenson, executive director of the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee. “Without this funding, we would not be able to do that.”
Carol DiPaolo, program director and water monitoring coordinator for the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor, said that the water is monitored weekly. “We’ve used the data from the program and the expansion of the program as an educational vehicle, but also to really get people back to the water,” she said. “It’s been so productive and resulted in such a turnaround story for Hempstead Harbor.
“The biggest proof of water quality improvement was the opening of 2,500 acres of shellfish beds in Hempstead Harbor for harvesting, which hadn’t been done in at least 45 years,” DiPaolo added. “That’s the best indicator of water quality improvement you could have.”
Friends of the Bay, headquartered in Oyster Bay, will receive $152,133 for its project. “The grant can play a pivotal role in helping to turn around the decline in the shellfish population in the estuary,” said Heather Johnson, the organization’s executive director. “Shellfish sanctuaries are the key to a healthy bay system. We’re hopeful that these projects will have a big impact on the health of our waterways.”
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said her organization received funding for the Long Island Sound High School Summit, which provides hands-on environmental education and activities. “It was funded last year and it was a tremendous success,” Esposito said. “We’re growing the project this year.”
One of the eight participating schools is Oyster Bay High School. “The idea was to educate, engage and empower students to protect and restore Long Island Sound,” Esposito said. “Students last year did a lot of innovative, creative and meaningful projects. We’re looking forward to making it an annual event.”
Vanessa Lockel, executive director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, outlined some of the projects her organization is spearheading. For one, she said, it received $135,636, and the CCE will partner with Friends of the Bay, the Town of Oyster Bay, the Oyster Bay-Cold Spring Harbor Protection Committee and the Waterfront Center to clean the water while also educating the public.
“We are reducing marine debris in the Long Island Sound by deploying innovative floating litter traps in Oyster Bay and Hempstead Harbor,” Lockel said. “They collect the debris, and the intention is to remove about 1,800 pounds of debris. It’s not only a platform to collect debris, but it’s also an opportunity for a plastic-pollution education program.”
A second project in Oyster Bay is the removal of derelict lobster gear from the Sound, for which the cooperative received $192,936. “An estimated 400,000 pots are fished out annually, and we discovered there are about 700 derelict traps in Oyster Bay,” Lockel explained. “The intention is to remove these traps.”
Suozzi said that the work done so far by these organizations has already made an impact. “If you look at the water, it’s clearer than it used to be, he said. “If you look at the wildlife, you see more osprey and red-tailed hawks, more bunker in the water. This effort, by a lot of people over a 30-year period, is working. The Long Island Sound is becoming better and more abundant — but it is not at all done. It’s a constant effort.”