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Cloudy,35°
Sunday, December 21, 2014
The Western Bays, an ecosystem suffering from all sides
(Page 3 of 5)
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.

Also, Swanson said, “Fowls swimming in the bays, squirrels and dogs, things like that defecate on land, and it washes into the waterways when it rains.”

The DEC and the EPA have both said that the Western Bays are impaired by coliform and nitrites. “Coliform is fecal material from warm-blooded animals,” Swanson explained.

The food that the marine creatures depend on to survive is often contaminated. “The contamination is happening from the storm-drain runoff,” said Don Harris, first vice president of and environmental educator for SPLASH. “From having an open system, our storm drain runoff comes into our bays, polluting the water system where the animals unfortunately don’t have any healthy alternatives.”

If marine life is contaminated, it also poses a health risk to people who consume it. “If you’re breastfeeding or an expectant mother, you’re not supposed to eat fish in the New York bay area at all,” said Harris.

Swanson said that one of the biggest issues in the bays is the overstimulation of Ulva lactuca, a common seaweed resembling lettuce, by excessive nitrogen from lawn fertilizers and partially treated sewage wastewater from the Bay Park plant. The seaweed, Harris said, grows to unnatural lengths and eventually breaks apart and is dispersed around the bays, where it rots, robbing marine life of dissolved oxygen.
Recent research by Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences demonstrates that sewage from the Bay Park plant is not flowing into the ocean, as previously thought, but is transported north, where it accumulates and travels back and forth throughout the bays.

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