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Friday, November 21, 2014
The Environment
The Western Bays, an ecosystem suffering from all sides
By Stapha Charleme
Scott Brinton/Herald
The Western Bays provide many recreational opportunities such as kayaking, but scientists say that fertilizer runoff and partially treated sewage effluent threaten the health of the bays. Above, a wetland canal at Norman J. Levy Park and Preserve in Merrick.

Superstorm Sandy will be remembered as one of Nassau County’s most demoralizing calamities: the miles of rubble that choked the expanses where houses had stood in dignified symmetry, the thousands of Long Islanders living in limbo, forced to use their savings to stay afloat. People weren’t the only ones affected by the storm, though. Sandy devastated wildlife throughout Nassau’s Western Bays, which scientists had already considered to be fragile ecosystems –– many on the brink of collapse –– long before the storm.

Dr. Lawrence Swanson, associate dean at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, is concerned about the decreased population of fish species in the South Shore bays because of human activity. “They’re getting killed off by pollution, and so the population density is not as great as it once was,” he said.

The bays provide habitats for myriad marine creatures. They are, however, rife with ecological problems, with water quality suffering for decades. The bays have even made the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s roster of impaired water bodies for pathogens because they are awash with bacteria. And the condition of the bays has only worsened since Superstorm Sandy struck in October 2012.

Awash in wastewater
The Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, one of four sewage treatment plants in Nassau, handles 40 percent of the county’s sewage. According to Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a non-for-profit, nonpartisan advocacy organization working to protect public health and the environment, the plant daily discharges 58.5 million gallons of wastewater into Reynolds Channel, a strait that begins at East Rockaway inlet and ends at Point Lookout.

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