Friday, April 29, 2005

Town Dithers, Neighbors Shrug, Sound-front Property Sold

Here's why it's so important to fight to stop the liquefied natural gas terminal from being built in the middle of Long Island Sound, and marring the gentle seascape views of people in places like Shoreham: so towns on Long Island's north shore can dither away important access points to the Sound and Shoreham residents can shrug as if they don't care because they don't want "the whole Town of Brookhaven traipsing through" anyway.

Almost 20 acres of property, including part of the Sound-front bluffs that characterize that part of the region, are being sold out from under the town of Brookhaven. Richard Amper, executive director of the Pine Barrens Society, is properly outraged, but nobody else seems to give a hoot.

The North Shore Sun is on it with a good story, pointing out the missteps and hypocrisies.

Combine this with the story from the other day about Greenport actually wanting to sell publicly-owned waterfront property for development, and we'll soon solve the public-access problem by eliminating it altogether.

Memo to Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the Shoreham Civic Organization and others on LI's north shore: these public access points are worth fighting for. It's hard to argue that Broadwater's LNG terminal will blight the views of the Sound if the only people who will see it are those living high on the ancient bluffs.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Greatest Black-backed Woodpecker

Just a couple of weeks ago I was talking with an ornithologist friend who had just come back from Cuba. I asked him jokingly if he had seen an ivory-billed woodpecker. He said he had not, although he had visited the part of the island where they live. Their rediscovery in Cuba, back in the 1980s, by Lester Shortt, an ornithologist with the American Museum of Natural History, caused quite a stir. I remember going one morning to his cottage, in back-country Greenwich, to interview him about it -- an unmemorable interview except that he had seen an ivory-bill, the so-named greatest black-backed woodpecker (so named by one of the early ornithologists, Alexander Wilson, I think.

Now today comes the news of the discovery in Arkansas. Jon Christensen, at The Uneasy Chair, has a number of worthwhile links, so to learn more, go there.

Writer's Block

Blogging on Sphere is likely to be slow today.

A couple of weeks ago the nice people at Audubon Connecticut told me they were holding a dinner on April 30 to honor Donal C. O'Brien, who used to be the head of National Audubon. They mentioned that they'd be giving copies of my book to those who attended the dinner.

I've done talks and signings where I've sold only two books, and seven books constitutes a good day, so when someone tells me they're going to buy copies to give away, I'm delighted. I told the Audubon Connecticut people that I'd be happy to sign the books, if they'd like.

"Sure," they said. "We're ordering 250 copies."

I'll be signing them this afternoon. Blogging will resume when my hand stops cramping.

Pollution in the Norwalk River

It's been said for two decades now that fixing Long Island Sound's sewage plants, which has been progressing relatively well in recent years, will do us little good if we continue to let development pollute the watershed. Eventually the gains made at the treatment plants will be overcome by the contamination from the new growth.

The between-the-lines message from Dick Harris, the director of Harbor Watch/River Watch, seems to be that that is exactly what's happening.

Last year, Harris's volunteers tested the Norwalk River. The Stamford Advocate reported:

... 10 sites on the river had a higher average concentration of the bacteria E. coli last year than state guidelines allow. The group tested at 10 locations from Norwalk to Ridgefield on 16 occasions.

Although I'm not sure what exactly the paper is trying to say (did all 10 "locations" have high readings, or did 10 of the 16 tests result in high readings?), the implication is clear -- the Norwalk River is contaminated.

I realize no one should be yelling "stop the presses" at this news. Which tributary of the Sound is not polluted in some way? Nevertheless it's a reminder of how big a job cleaning up the Sound remains.

Which raises the question: Why has the Connecticut DEP decided to stop funding the Norwalk River monitoring?

(This story's a week old, by the way; I missed it then but caught it this morning via Atlantic Coast Watch.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Del autor de "Este Pedazo Fino de Agua"

My book has yet to be translated into any other languages and, given the subject, it isn't likely to be. But today I came upon a translation of this blog into Spanish, obviously using a Google program.

I will now add to my c.v., "Tom Andersen's work has been translated into many languages."

¡Lectura feliz!

Greenport Wants to Close Off Public Access to the Sound

Long Island Sound is a beautiful place, but you can't get there from here. At least that's what it often feels like, given how much of the waterfront in Connecticut and New York is privately-owned, or owned by towns with restrictive entrance policies and fees.

And yet, where will the constituency for cleaning up the Sound come from, if people can't use it?

It was an eye-opener therefore to read this morning that Greenport, on Orient Point, wants to sell a 15-acre public beach that has been used for decades by divers and fishermen. Greenport might sell to the county, if the county can come up with the money, but it might also sell to an individual. The property is zoned for single-family houses on two acres each. Newsday reports:

While village officials are in no rush to sell the property, they say it will be sold at its full market value, either to another government agency or on the private market.

The place is known and Clark's Beach or Secret Beach. To force another government to pay full market value for it is, in my opinion, unconscionable. Keeping it in the public domain should be as easy as Greenport declaring it a public park. At the very least, the village should work with the county or the state on a sale for well-below-market rate.

If not, another important access point to Long Island Sound could be closed off.

Bi-State Cooperation on LNG Proposal Is a Long Shot

Pols from Connecticut and New York met yesterday on Long Island to talk about what to do about the proposal for a huge liquefied natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound.

They didn't seem to accomplish much, however, aside from agreeing to try to stop bickering over Long Island Sound issues. As Newsday noted:

With a recent history of rancor between the two states on the cross-Sound electrical cable, the "Islander East" gas pipeline and the designation of dredge-dumping sites in the Sound, both sides acknowledged that communication is key as they gear up to battle Broadwater Energy's proposed terminal.

To which Adrienne Esposito, of Citizens Campaign for the Environment remarked:

"Something good may come out of something bad," she said. "That is, the Broadwater proposal may be the compelling factor to bring the two states together to protect the shared resources of Long Island Sound."

Bi-state cooperation is a good thing but there's a history of cooperative efforts starting out with much hoopla only to fizzle immediately afterward. Ask John Atkin. Twenty years ago, when he was a Connecticut State Senator, he and New York State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer agreed to work across state lines to benefit the Sound. My recollection is that they met exactly once.

And compared to another publicity-seeking "cooperation agreement" from the same era, between Westchester's county executive, Andrew O'Rourke, and his Nassau counterpart, Thomas Gulotta, Atkin and Oppenheimer at least had the advantage of actually caring about the Sound. (John Atkin, in fact, left politics to become the head of Save the Sound, is now the head of Regional Plan Association's Connecticut office, and has been the long-time co-chair of the Long Island Sound Study's Citizens Advisory Committee.)

The problem is that it's easy to meet and to say you're going to cooperate. But then reality intrudes, local political concerns take precedence, and suddenly the drive across the Throgs Neck Bridge seems too long and the Bridgeport-Port Jeff ferry makes you seasick.

Fighting Broadwater is worth the cooperative effort. I just don't hold out much hope that concentration will hold steady over the long term. But maybe Adrienne Esposito will be right on this one, and something good will result.

Here's how Newsday and the New Haven Register covered the meeting.

In Greenwich, First A Deer Hunt, Now Geese

It felt so good to kill deer, why not do the same with another nuisance animal -- namely Canada geese? That seems to be the attitude in Greenwich, where the bloodlust has hit.

In March, Greenwich hired sharpshooters, who killed 80 deer at three town parks. Now the town has asked the Connecticut DEP for permission to kill geese, according to the Greenwich Time:

The town wants to hire the U.S. Department of Agriculture to collect the birds and kill them elsewhere.

I'm far less sympathetic to the idea of killing geese than I am to killing deer, and I was pleased to see in the newspaper article that Tom Baptist, of Audubon Connecticut, is less sympathetic too:

"I am not opposed to the management of nuisance concentrations of Canada geese. Lethal methods, however, should be the last resort," said Baptist ... . "My reading of the proposed plan suggests a number of questions that have not been satisfactorily answered."

Audubon Connecticut has some credibility here because, like the town, it documented a deer problem at its preserve in Greenwich and recruited hunters -- bowhunters, rather than sharpshooters -- to kill deer. The hunters shot 25 in the winter of '04-'05 and 30 the year before.

The problem in Greenwich is an aesthetic one. The town and its residents like broad emerald lawns sweeping down unblemished to the man-made ponds in their parks and on their estates. These lawns are deer eden.

From the Greenwich Time:

... Audubon Connecticut doesn't have problems with Canada geese. Baptist said Audubon manages its property so that no lawn is kept to the edge of any wetlands. The town's efforts to reduce the amount of lawn bordering water bodies -- an attractive scene for Canada geese -- have been half-hearted, he said.

"Nowhere in Audubon's 645 acres are Canada geese a problem," Baptist said. "This is a proposal that at the outset seems to be based on unsupported hypotheses."

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Shifting Baselines

I first heard the term “shifting baselines” in January, at a dinner party with a neighbor, Kent Redford, who is a conservation biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society. As with many terms, once you hear it for the first time, it pops up again and again. David Conover, of Stony Brook University’s Marine Science Research Center, used it a couple of weeks ago at a conference in the city. And I came upon it again this morning, in the Times, in a profile of Jeremy Jackson, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The Times reported:

He helped create a Web site,, to point out that the changes people saw in their 20th-century lifetimes were just small snapshots in a larger picture of environmental decline that has been accelerating for 200 years.

At, there is an offer – a command, almost – to take material from the website and use it for a good cause. I read a piece by Randy Olson, of USC, that defines “shifting baselines” and explains its relevance to marine ecosystems and elsewhere:

There is a new term in the environmental movement. …

The term is "shifting baselines," and you do need to know it, because shifting baselines affect the quality-of-life decisions you face daily. Shifting baselines are the chronic, slow, hard-to-notice changes in things, from the disappearance of birds and frogs in the countryside to the increased drive time from L.A. to San Diego….

The term was coined by fisheries biologist Daniel Pauly in 1995….

Among environmentalists, a baseline is an important reference point for measuring the health of ecosystems. It provides information against which to evaluate change. It's how things used to be. It is the tall grass prairies filled with buffalo, the swamps of Florida teeming with bird life and the rivers of the Northwest packed with salmon. In an ideal world, the baseline for any given habitat would be what was there before humans had much impact.

If we know the baseline for a degraded ecosystem, we can work to restore it. But if the baseline shifted before we really had a chance to chart it, then we can end up accepting a degraded state as normal -- or even as an improvement.

These questions are particularly important to ask about oceans, my main research interest. Last year Jeremy Jackson of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography brought the problem into focus with a cover article in Science that was chosen by Discover magazine as the most important discovery of the year.

Jackson and his 18 co-authors pulled together data from around the world to make the case that overfishing had been the most important alteration to the oceans over the past millennium. Furthermore, humans have had such a strong effect on the oceans for so long that, in many locations, it is difficult to even imagine how full of life the oceans used to be.

One of scientists' biggest concerns is that the baselines have shifted for many ocean ecosystems. What this means is that people are now visiting degraded coastal environments and calling them beautiful, unaware of how they used to look.

One of the things I tried to do in my Long Island Sound book was present a portrait of what the natural world was like 400 years ago, and when I give a talk I make sure to include a section that sketches the same thing – the incredible spring spawning runs of anadromous fish, the huge sturgeon, the lobsters big enough to feed 12 men. (I understand John Waldman did the same thing for New York Harbor in his book Heartbeats in the Muck, although I haven’t read it yet.)

For Long Island Sound, this is the baseline. We shouldn’t be satisfied merely to make things better compared to 1987 or some other year when conditions were appalling. Bring back the lobster, bring back the winter flounder. Let the shad spawn in dozens of rivers.

Kent Redford, by the way, turned out to be an excellent cook. He served striped bass brightened by a tiny branch of tart, scarlet currents. Were there any fish he wouldn’t serve? Absolutely, he said. Chilean sea bass. They’ve been so overfished it would unconscionable to eat one.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Conundrum Solved: Training Walls

The odd bulkheaded canal, as I termed it in an earlier post, has a name: training walls.


A knowledgeable government employee sent me the following explanation. Read it and you're bound to think of the old Barry Commoner maxim that everything is connected to everything else. This chart will situate Sandy Point and Old Field Creek; Morse Beach and Point are due south of Sandy Point and depicted with broken lines.

Many many years ago, the City of West Haven relocated the outlet channel to Old Field Creek, from a more easterly point to the current location and installed a tide gate to drain the marsh above Beach Street, perhaps for mosquito control purposes.

The outlet would plug with sand, which is typical of such drainage structures in sandy locations like this -- with active sand deposition and alongshore drift (easterly in this case). With the sand in the way, the gates would not open and the marsh above would flood or impound freshwater. It was the ebb and flow of the tides the create currents to maintain open channels through these beach systems. Tide gates eliminate the inflow of the tides and allow for drainage of any accumulated freshwater in the marsh to flow to the Sound at low tide. The meager discharge of freshwater could not prevent the accumulation of sand and so the outlet became plugged with sand.

To solve this new problem, the City constructed these training walls -- seaward beyond the beach into the shallow waters of the Sound. The training wall would convey water directly to the Sound but any structure perpendicular to a beach acts as a groin, promoting deposition on one side and erosion on the other. In this instance, the sand that was flowing eastward met the western training wall, which is where deposition occurs. This deposition continued until the beach prograded seaward to the very end of the training wall. Then the sand began to form a spit below the outlet and this spit grew towards New Haven Harbor forming today what is known as Morse Beach.

Simulataneously, the training wall interrupted the supply of sand to the ancient barrier known as Sandy Point and so Sandy Point entered an erosional phase. Under Sandy Point lies the city's sewage treatment outfall pipe. The erosion became so severe to the beach that it uncovered the pipe and the pipe was then capped with concrete blocks. Morse Point grew towards Sandy Point, creating first a lagoon or embayments between the two beaches; later, as shoaling continued, tidal marsh vegetation became established. The inlet to the harbor became narrow and the current velocities increased and scoured sand from the pipe, necessitating periodic dredging and widening of the inlet.

DEP has been working with the City to devise a restoration plan for Old Field Creek salt marshes. This would be accomplished through increasing tidal flow to the marshes.

The current plan is to eliminate the existing tide gates and install self-regulating tide gates (adjustable floats that allow the ebb and flow of the tide but that close if the water levels on the downstream side exceed an elevation that could cause upstream flooding of roads, for example). The plan also includes the removal of the dysfunctional training walls, and the 'realignment' the tidal creek so that it is more hydraulically efficient -- that is, has a more direct route between Beach Street and the Morse Point outlet.

If you scroll down through the April archives, you'll see my previous query about the "canal" and two posts about Sandy Point.

(I should add that government employees are wary of getting their names in print, even in a blog whose readership on a good day reaches the high two figures, so unless they tell me specifically to identify them, I let them remain anonymous; you'll have to trust me that I believe they know what they're talking about.)

Long Island Sound Almanac: Entry I

This week at Milford Point and Sandy Point (West Haven) at least four pairs of piping plovers are setting up nesting territories. The areas have been fenced with "symbolic" string and post fencing with signs advising of nesting birds.

Oystercatchers at Milford Point are on three eggs as are the ospreys on the platform behind the Coastal Center. The spring nesting season is off to a good start!

-- Milan Bull, Senior Director of Science and Conservation, Connecticut Audubon Society

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Send Me Your Sightings...

Every week, a group of people on the Hudson compile observations of the natural world in and around the river, and send it out in an e-mail called the Hudson River Almanac. They have dozens of observers, from Jamaica Bay to the Adirondack Mountains, who send in a sentence or two about fish they've caught, birds, the saltiness of the river, the weather, what's coming into blooom -- anything typical or atypical that gives people a feel for what it's like to be out in the Hudson's watershed.

I'd like to compile similar observations on Sphere, and I'm asking here for volunteers to send me stuff. There are a lot of you out there. You know who you are but I'm going to mention your names (or at least the ones I can think of offhand) anyway: Penny Howell, David Simpson, John Waldman, Miley Bull, Tom Baptist, Jennifer Wilson-Pines, Suzanne Botta, Shane Walden, Jeff Main, Pete Sattler, Matt Sasso, Pat Comins... and others.

When you're out on the Sound, or anywhere in the Sound's watershed, and you see something interesting, e-mail me. My hope is that over time it will provide a good glimpse of environmental conditions in the region, and a real feel for the Sound's natural history.

Too Cold for Swimming

Water conditions today:

Western Long Island Sound
Temperature at the surface: 49.4 degrees
Temperature at 50 feet: 40 degrees
Dissolved oxygen at the surface: 7.1 milligrams per liter
Dissolved oxygen at 50 feet: 8.2 milligrams per liter

Central Long Island Sound
Temperature at the surface: 46.7 degrees
Dissolved oxygen at the surface: 9.9 milligrams per liter

Eastern Long Island Sound
Temperature at the surface: 44.5 degrees
Temperature at 65 feet: 44.4 degrees
Dissolved oxygen at the surface: 7.2 milligrams per liter
Dissolved oxygen at 65 feet: 8.9 milligrams per liter

If you haven't checked out MySound, which is where these data come from, it's worth a look.

We Need More Riverkeepers

They don't call him a "riverkeeper," but from the sound of it, that's what Trout Unlimited's new Connecticut employee amounts to -- someone who will keep an eye on the state's smaller streams and advocate for their protection.

The Hartford Courant has a good introduction to Kirt Mayland, Trout Unlimited's first fulltime employee in Connecticut. Here's the nut graf, as newspaper people call it:

Trout Unlimited's decision to appoint Mayland as director of its New England office, and to head up its Eastern Water Project, reflects growing concern among fishermen and environmentalists that suburban sprawl and continued development pose as much of a threat to the smaller, less-renowned watersheds of the East as huge hydroelectric and water-diversion projects pose in the West.

Mayland is a lawyer. His appointment reminds me of something I read about John Cronin, when he was the Hudson Riverkeeper. A newspaper reporter remarked to Cronin's boss that Cronin probably would make a good lawyer.

"We don't need more lawyers," his boss said. "We need more riverkeepers."

Saturday, April 23, 2005

An Invasive Tunicate

Another invasive species is causing concern in coastal waters in New England and the Pacific Northwest -- a tunicate known as Didemnum (that's the genus; scientists still aren't sure of its specific name), which "overgrows organisms such as tunicates, sponges, macroalgae, hydroids, anemones, bryozoans, scallops, mussels, and oysters," according to the Woods Hole website.

Didemnum "exhibits the characteristics of an invasive species: 1) sudden occurrence where not before known; 2) rapid reproduction and excessive biomass; 3) no known predators."

Among other things, shellfishermen are worried that Didemnum will smother oyster and mussels beds.

The A.P. filed a story.

Unfortunately there's no indication that it will overgrow the other worrisome invasive, Asian shore crabs, or that Asian shore crabs will eat it.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Weekend Long Island Sound Conundrum

We came upon this odd structure a couple of weeks ago, at Sandy Point, in West Haven. Anyone know what it is for?

It is essentially a bulkheaded canal, about 5 feet wide by 6 feet deep by 50 yards long. If you look closely you can get an idea of perspective in this first picture, in which a 7-year-old boy is giving his parents a heart attack by climbing along one of the cross beams.


Sandy Point sticks into New Haven Harbor at a right angle, roughly, and the canal runs along it so that it's perpendicular to the main part of the shore. These pictures were all taken looking back toward the road and parking area. At high tide, water flows in from the salt marsh and enters the canal at the end furthest from the parking lot, and then seeps out onto the sand.


The photo below gives a good view of the salt marsh to the right and the beach to the left. You'll notice that the boy made it across without falling into the water, which probably wouldn't have hurt him but would have necessitated a 45-minute ride in the car in soaked clothes.


So what was its function? Could it have been left from the days when Sandy Point and West Haven were centers of the oystering industry? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail if you have any clues.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The State DOS Role in Broadwater

For process wonks, here’s what I learned late yesterday about the role of the New York State Department of State in approving Broadwater’s LNG terminal proposal:

No "permit" or other final form of approval is required from DOS. However, as part of federal agency permit application and review and approval processes, Broadwater is required to submit a "consistency certification" to DOS as part of its applications for authorization to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

As part of the federal decision-making processes, DOS must: 1) review the proposal and the consistency certification for it; 2) determine whether the proposal is or is not consistent with relevant coastal zone management policies (including those of the Long Island Sound CMP and approved local waterfront revitalization plans, such as the LWRP of the Town of Smithtown which covers an area extending to the Connecticut and New York boundary in the middle of the Sound); and 3) either concur with or object to Broadwater's consistency certification.

If DOS concurs with Broadwater's consistency certification the involved federal agencies may issue their required licenses, permits, or other forms of approval.

If DOS objects to Broadwater's consistency certification, the federal Coastal Zone Management Act and its implementing regulations in 15 CFR Part 930, Subpart D prohibit the federal agencies from issuing their approvals, unless the DOS decision is overridden (not overruled - this is instead an override of the results of the State's decision in federal agency decision-making, rather than an overruling or second-guessing or other means of questioning the State's decision regarding the consistency of a proposal with State coastal policy) on appeal to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. Such an appeal must be based on the grounds that what is consistent with the objectives or purposes of the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, or is necessary in the interest of national security.

Shays, DeLay, LNG

When a congressman attacks his party’s leader, as Christopher Shays did recently when he called on Tom DeLay to step down as majority leader, does it hurt or help your region’s chances in Washington?

We may have a chance to find out. Shays sent out a statement yesterday criticizing the energy bill being debated now. In the statement, he announced that he is co-sponsoring an amendment that would give the states a voice in the siting of new LNG terminals, like the one proposed for the middle of the Sound:

In addition to its environmental shortsightedness, I also oppose provisions in this bill related to energy transmission. For instance, the Energy Policy Act allows the Federal Electric Regulatory Commission (FERC) to preempt state siting authorities when it is determined that a high-voltage power line is of "national significance," and overrides state authorities when expanding or siting new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. In our own Long Island Sound just off Connecticut, this is a very real possibility. While energy security is a national issue, it seems to me the communities who will live with these siting decisions deserve a voice in the process.

(The statement goes on to say: I strongly oppose a provision in the bill that allows for the permanent activation of the Cross Sound Cable. In doing so, the bill subverts the regulatory process and ignores sound environmental policy regarding the depth at which the Cable should be buried.)

I don’t know if the FERC amendment would have had any chance of passing even if Shays had kept his mouth shut about DeLay. But is it possible that on an important issue, Shays’s sponsorship might actually hurt?

Shays, by the way, took a beating from a couple of Democratic-leaning blogs last week after his statements on DeLay. Their arguments were that his DeLay-bashing were too little and too late, and were nothing more than a response to almost getting beaten by Westport’s Diane Farrell last November. To that, I say good – it’s the way democracy is supposed to work: an elected official listens to what his constituents say and then reacts. And the constituents always speak most clearly on election day. If Christopher Shays took that as his cue to oppose Delay, then better late than never.

Nitrogen is Not Only Long Island Sound's Problem

Excess nitrogen is not only a problem for estuaries and coastal ecosystems like Long Island Sound, it's also helping make rare native plants even more rare. This article from the University of California at Irvine explains.

One eyebrow raiser: excess nitrogen "creates a competition among plants for space that drives rare plants – plants that are uncommon and not abundant – out of existence."

So that's what rare plants are! Plants that are uncommon and not abundant! Glad they explained it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Implications in St. Lawrence Cement Decision for Broadwater?

It's getting tougher and tougher to get permission in New York to build huge, ugly, landscape-blighting, environmentally-destructive, politically-unpopular projects on the waterfront.

Fifteen years ago, the New York State Secretary of State, Gail Shaffer, declined to issue a coastal zone permit to a developer who wanted to build 2,000 condos on 78-acre Davids Island in Long Island Sound. The project "makes no sense," she said.

Yesterday the current New York State Secretary of State, Randy Daniels, declined to issue a coastal zone permit to St. Lawrence Cement for a huge cement plant up the Hudson. The decision might have implications for another huge, ugly, landscape-blighting, environmentally-destructive, politically-unpopular project – namely the LNG terminal that Broadwater wants to build.

The Times reported:

The decision noted the changing character of Hudson, a former industrial city that has seen a transformation, with antique stores, boutiques and bistros opening in the refurbished brick buildings that line Warren Street, its main street. And it said that the plant would mar the sweeping views from Olana, the hilltop Persian-style home of Frederic E. Church, the Hudson River School landscape artist, which is now a museum.

"Hudson relies on the area's high quality of life, contributed to by the visual appeal of the area, its historic fabric and texture, its pastoral setting, and attractions such as its waterfront park and Olana as the basis for continued economic growth," the decision said.

In other words, a new industrial facility is inappropriate for that part of the river.

Is this Hudson River decision potentially good news for the Sound? Broadwater apparently needs Department of State approval for its LNG terminal. The terminal is clearly an industrial facility and, despite Broadwater’s propaganda, it is clearly in an area that has not yet been industrialized.

So maybe those of us who don’t want the project built in the middle of the Sound can take heart: the development of beautiful waterfront areas with inappropriately large, ugly projects does not seem to be part of New York State's coastal zone policy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Audubon's Sound "Lifeline"

Terry Backer, the Long Island Soundkeeper, once said that the cleanup of Long Island Sound was too important to leave to the government. “If we allow the government to do this on their own, they’re going to bog down in the bureaucracy and take too long to do it.”

I think what he meant was that the people need to act as a watchdog and a prod. But who are “the people”? Long Island Sound has suffered from not having a strong, coherent constituency. Fifteen years ago, New York Audubon and Save the Sound provided a great public service when they organized the Long Island Sound Watershed Alliance and held a bunch of “Listen to the Sound” public meetings, at which dozens of people stood up and proclaimed that the time for action had come.

How effective the watershed alliance has been since then is an open question. Save the Sound barely saved itself from going under last September, but it had to merge with the Connecticut Fund for the Environment to do it. Although I like and admire Terry Backer and Dave Miller, at Audubon New York, by now they are both insiders, part of the establishment, rather than grassroots activists; and although they’ve been effective legislators (Terry’s in the Connecticut House) and lobbyists (Dave has important access both in Albany and Washington), I can’t honestly say whether they’ve been effective in helping keep the Sound’s grassroots constituency alive. They might disagree, but the point is that no person or organization can do everything; doing one thing well is probably as much as we should expect.

Which brings me to Audubon and its new Long Island Sound program, which it is calling “Lifeline to an Estuary in Distress.” Carolyn Hughes, who used to be the director of EPA’s Long Island Sound office and is now deputy director of Audubon Connecticut, sent me a copy of the campaign’s new brochure/case statement. Here’s an excerpt:

Audubon’s campaign addresses the fundamental challenges of water quality restoration and habitat protection – two key areas where improvements will result in the most significant benefits to people, birds, marine organisms and other wildlife. Audubon will focus on eliminating hypoxia and protecting open space…

It goes on to say, among many other things, that the two chapters – Audubon Connecticut and Audubon New York – will be working with National Audubon Audubon to set science-based priorities for restoration and stewardship.

And it says that Audubon New York has hired a new staff person to work with grassroots activists, and that Audubon Connecticut will soon do the same.

Back in 1990, at the first LISWA Citizens Summit, Connecticut DEP Commissioner Leslie Carrothers said, “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having private organizations for coalitions to advance their interests on the Sound.”

The Sound cleanup needs Audubon – or somebody – to succeed at doing just that.

(A few footnotes:

The case statement says that Audubon is seeking to raise $350,000 per year over three years, although there’s no indication what the money would be used for specifically. It’s worth noting that Charity Navigator, a website that evaluates how efficient non-profits are in spending the money they raise, gave National Audubon a two-star rating out of a maximum of four stars, and that its president, John Flicker, makes $286,000 a year. I could not find separate ratings for the New York and Connecticut chapters. People should check it out and of course make their own decisions.

Disclosure: Carolyn Hughes recruited me to give a talk at a recent Audubon get-together in Greenwich, and I asked for and received a modest honorarium in the low three figures. In the newspaper business it would have been an unacceptable conflict of interest to take money from someone you’re writing about. Readers can decide for themselves if it constitutes a conflict for me now.

The three Audubon organizations that I mention here are separate from the Connecticut Audubon Society, which operates the Connecticut Coastal Center, on the Sound in Milford, and the Birdcraft Museum, in Fairfield. My understanding is that there’s little love lost between the three national organizations and the independent Connecticut Audubon Society. As far as I can tell, though, they’re all doing a good job.)

Monday, April 18, 2005


We found these yesterday in a marsh system at the headwaters of one of the Sound's small tributaries.

My guess is that the spotted turtle hatched last year.


We thought the snake was a garter but the books I checked when I got home indicated that it might be a ribbon snake, which is much more rare (garters and ribbons are the same genus, Thamnophis). I've sent the photo to a herpetologist who I hope will set me straight.


Update, 11:45 a.m. -- It's a common garter snake.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Nitrogen Removal: "Them Against Us"

Two years ago, when he released his capital budget, the New York City DEP commissioner made a telling distinction between infrastructure improvements the city had to make. If the city had to spend billions to do nitrogen removal at its sewage plants to benefit Long Island Sound, he said, it might not have enough money to also improve "our" water system. The distinction was between "our" water in New York City, and Long Island Sound, which did not merit the characterization of being "ours" -- it was somewhere else and belonged to somebody else.

That was the first signal that the city was going to try to get out of its obligation -- an obligation it had agreed to -- to remove nitrogen at four sewage plants that empty into the far western end of the Sound.

When the city formally broke the news to state regulators, the state objected and took them to court. Yesterday the state won. Here's an excerpt from the Attorney General's press release:

In accordance with the original agreement, the city submitted detailed plans in December 2002 to upgrade its sewage treatment plants so they could meet nitrogen removal requirements. In June 2003, the DEC approved those plans, which established a 12-year upgrade schedule for the five sewage treatment plants. The city proposed a scaled-back plan in February 2004, claiming it had underestimated the cost of implementing the original, approved plan. DEC engineers concluded that the revised plan, however, offered less environmental benefit than the original plan and that the city would fail to meet the nitrogen reduction requirements mandated under federal law.

The city might still appeal. (And it has a history of avoiding previously-agreed to deadlines: some years ago, EPA had to go to court to force the city to start the planning for a drinking water filtration plant for the Croton reservoir system.) But given the reality that two of the worst summers, in terms of environmental conditions, on the Sound over the last 15 years have been in 2003 and 2004, let's hope they decide instead to stop wasting time and start upgrading their sewage plants.

Part of the problem, as expressed by the commissioner two years ago (the commissioner then was Chris Ward, who has since stepped down), is that New York City doesn't really consider itself part of the Long Island Sound region. The names by which we call certain areas contribute to the problem. Here's an excerpt from the AG's press release:

The sewage treatment plants covered by this agreement are the Wards Island, Bowery Bay, Tallman Island, and Hunts Point plants – discharging into the East River...

Those plants don't discharge into the East River; they discharge into the Sound. A "sound" is a relatively narrow strip of water between an island and the mainland. Long Island Sound, therefore, is the strip of water between Long Island (including Queens) and the mainland (including the Bronx). In the late 1800s, the area of water stretching from Hell Gate to Norwalk was considered the East River, so these usages change.

One more point: In my book and in my talks, I quote Al Appleton, who at an important point in the Long Island Sound debate of the late 1980s and early '90s, said, "Pollution is free garbage disposal. it's using a public resource to subsidize a private activity. All we're really asking private activities to do is pay the true cost of doing business. We who are the public no longer want to use Long Island Sound to subsidize certain kinds of economic activities."

That same unwillingness to subsidize waste disposal, and to have the people who benefit from the region's natural resources pay the true cost of disposal, applies to the public as well as to private activities. When Appleton spoke those words he was the commissioner of the NYC DEP.

Friday, April 15, 2005

NYC Must Reduce Nitrogen Discharged into Sound

Here's an AP story sent to me earlier. I was too busy watching the Mets-Marlins and Yanks-Orioles to check my e-mail, but now that I've seen it, it's worth posting in its entirety. More on Saturday, I hope.

April 15, 2005, 3:04 PM EDT

ALBANY, N.Y. -- New York City must pay $13.9 million into an escrow account and adhere to a state plan to reduce waste plant discharges into Long Island Sound, under a state court decision released Friday.

The city will reduce nitrogen discharges into Long Island Bay and Jamaica Bay by upgrading five large sewage treatment plants, said state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and acting Environmental Conservation Commissioner Denise Sheehan. Nitrogen discharges can create algae "blooms" that choke the oxygen out of water and harm or kill fish.

The city is considering an appeal, said Susan Amron of the city's Environmental Law Division. She said the city has "the most advanced" nitrogen removal program in the nation and it is the most reliable way to protect Long Island Sound. The city's plan also costs $800 million less than the previous agreement.

The decision from state Supreme Court in Manhattan calls for upgrades of the Wards Island, Bowery Bay, Tallman Island and Hunts Point plants. The plants released water to the East River that flows into Long Island Sound. The 26th Ward plant discharges into Jamaica Bay.

The decision stems from an April 2002 agreement in which the city agreed to improve nitrogen removal at its five plants over 12 years. The city sought changes in the binding consent order in February 2004.

Spitzer said those changes would have resulted in the city abandoning its commitment.

The $13.9 million escrow payment by the city would be returned to the city if it complies with the original agreement within its deadlines.

Alewives, Dam Removal in Stamford, Spawning on the Mianus

It’s not only alewife roe and testes that are good to eat, but the milt too – that is, the male reproductive glands filled with seminal fluid. This observation is courtesy of John Waldman, a biologist at Queens College whom I met for the first time on Wednesday. John left a comment to an earlier post:

Years ago when I worked on a vessel for the the Hudson River's Westway study we caught some ripe alewives and threw some roe and milt sacks into a frying pan in the galley. The roe was good, much like shad roe. But the milt was better, tasting very much like lobster.

I wonder if shad milt is as good? I’ve always heard there’s little market for buck shad. Maybe consumers would be interested in frying up a mess of male reproductive glands filled with seminal fluid, as a kind of poor man’s lobster?

I’m not sure if that would help or hurt the revival of interest in restoring the spring spawning runs of various fish. Stamford, for example, is renovating a park along the Mill River for $5.6 million. The renovation includes removal of a dam, which will allow anadromous fish to swim upstream for more than five miles, for the first time perhaps in centuries.

When it happens, the revival will complete the transformation of what was once one of Stamford’s most polluted sites. For years, factories along the lower Mill River simply dumped their waste into the river and mill pond. This was not unusual, of course – that was what rivers and the Sound were for in those days, and 4,000 Connecticut factories pretty much did the same thing.

The state Board of Health issued a report in the late 1800s that described a woolen mill in Stamford that washed its wool with water from the Mill River, discharging it “in a condition hard to describe. It carries with it a vast amount of grease and animal matter removed from the dirty wool, together with the alkalies and other chemical agents employed in the separation of the greasy impurities. Added to this are the waste dye-stuffs, acids, and other refuse products of manufacturing, the stream as it leaves the mill being dark and turbid, and offensive in every way.”

Milton Puryear, who is working on the Mill River park project for the Trust for Public Land, told me they expect to remove the dam next year.

Meanwhile in Greenwich, Denise Savageau, the town’s Conservation Director, wrote to me with more information about the Mianus spawning run:

Historically, the Mianus River supported a healthy, river herring migration. In 1926, a fifteen-foot dam was erected to provide fresh water for a power plant operated by the New Haven Railroad, creating a barrier to fish run. Following the dam construction, anecdotal stories by local fisherman describe large migrations of fish trapped each spring at the base of the dam. Many of the fish were harvested but the fisherman also manually transported some of the herring over the dam to continue to the run. Eventually, however, the numbers dwindled and the fish run was all but destroyed.

In 1993, the Town of Greenwich, working with Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection Fisheries Division, installed the present fish way. The fish way design includes a series of resting pools and runs that, due to site constraints, span over the Mianus River. The first year
of monitoring at the fish way was limited to the upper pool and exit into the pond. Results were discouraging. The next year, staff began to use the fish way as a ladder and accessed the middle and lower pools by walking on the fish way. This resulted in better monitoring that indicated that indeed the fish migration was using the ladder.

Monitoring now indicates that thousands of alewives and blueback herring use the fish way annually. Other species including the gizzard shard and American eel are also regularly found. The Mianus River fish way is the most western restored fish passage in Long Island Sound and part of the CT DEP Fish Restoration project. It is monitored throughout the year with a special emphasis on the time between late January until the end of the fish migration in June. All of the information is reported to DEP Fisheries including the start of the run that usually occurs in mid-March but has been recorded as early as late February.

Protecting Threatened Birds in West Haven

It turns out that the question of closing off Sandy Point, the barrier beach in West Haven, to protect nesting piping plovers and least terns, isn't quite as simple as I characterized it in a post from Tuesday, below.

I had noted that at Milford Point, which is part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, a snow fence keeps people away from the plovers' nesting area from, roughly, April through the summer, and that at Griswold Point, the Nature Conservancy erects circular fences around each nest to keep predators out. My recommendation for Sandy Point, a place much easier to get to than Griswold Point, was to close it off to people during nesting season.

Patrick Comins, Audubon Connecticut's director of bird conservation, sent me an e-mail saying that, indeed, Connecticut DEP's wildlife division does fence off each nest after the birds lay a full clutch of eggs, as recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's "Atlantic Coast Piping Plover Recovery Plan."

Then he said:

I am not sure that closing the nesting spit to the public would be productive. Surprisingly, the most productive plover and tern colonies in the northeast occur at sites where there is some regulated public access to the site. Apparently, the plovers and terns are more easily acclimated to human disturbance than are many of the primary predators, such as foxes, coyotes, gulls and crows. If a nesting area is completely closed off to human access, then the predators tend to run rampant and the colony may fail. Experience is, at least in Massachusetts, that the most productive sites are ones that have public access, but access that is properly regulated so as to minimize direct disturbance to the nesting birds, e.g. excluding dogs, proper fencing and adequate distance between nesting areas and public areas, wardens to monitor the colony and educate the public about the birds.


A properly designed protection plan, then, could have the double benefit of allowing terns and plovers to successfully fledge their young and allowing people on to the beach, where they can serve (even inadvertantly) as stewards.

And finally, Patrick corrected an assertion of mine: only the California and interior U.S. populations of least terns are federally listed as threatened. Least terns in the northeast are protected by state threatened species lists.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Nature Network

Random facts and observations gleaned from the Nature Network conference going on yesterday and today in Manhattan (and provided here withoout context):

338 species of fish have been recorded in Long Island Sound, New York Bay, and off the south shore of Long Island.

There are 76 species of snails in New York.

Of mammals, in metropolitan New York (including the waters of the greater New York area, there are 21 species of whale, 18 rodents, 16 carnivores, 10 shrews, 9 bats, 3 rabbits/hares, 2 ungulates (assuming that moose sometimes come this far south), and 1 marsupial.

"You're never more than three feet from a spider."

The Hudson River drainage basin is one of the four most diverse watersheds in the world for turtles.

The northeast population of black-crowned night herons and snowy egrets has been dropping since the late 1970s.

The region's one natural grassland, Hempstead Plains on Long Island, used to cover 40,000 acres. There are 19 acres left.

Calcinosis, or calcium deposits in the blood of lobsters in the Sound, seems to be related to heat stress.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Your Own Island in Westport for $1.5 Million

Ever wonder what $1.5 million will buy on the waterfront? For that asking price, you can get an 800-square-foot house on a tiny island in Westport with six acres of shellfish beds. Of course $1.5 million for a waterfront house in Westport is a pittance, so you’ll have to do without some amenities. Like water and electricity and phone and sewers. The Stamford Advocate has a story. One question it doesn’t answer is: with six acres of shellfish beds as part of the property, what happens to the sewage?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Sandy Point's Threatened Birds

In West Haven there is a strand of low dunes and sandy flats sticking out into New Haven Harbor that over the years has been known as The Beach, the sand spit, Sand Point, Morse Point, and Sandy Point. Oystermen transplanted oysters there from Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay in the 1800s. In “The Oyster Industry,” a monograph produced for the U.S. Census in 1880, Ernest Ingersoll wrote:

"The favorite bedding-ground then, as now, was 'The Beach', a sand-spit running off into the harbor for more than a mile from the Orange (western) shore. This is bare to a great extent at low tide, but covered everywhere at high tide, and is the best possible place for its purpose."


The oysters planted near The Beach were so valuable that 20 or more watchmen were hired to guard the oysters round the clock, and a watchtower was erected to give the guards a better vantage point (there also were watchtowers at Long Wharf, Lighthouse Point and Branford Harbor). The oystermen marked their oyster beds by sticking tree branches and limbs into the water – so many limbs and branches, in fact, that one visitor noted that the harbor looked like a submerged forest.

Sandy Point seems to be the favored name now (and it no longer is covered at high tide). The beach is owned by the city of West Haven. I went to there yesterday to look for birds and to see for myself about a couple of complaints that not enough was being done to protect piping plovers and least terns, two federally-threatened species that nest at Sandy Point. Oyster shells littered the beach and a couple of American oystercatchers flew in over the salt marsh, but the only other sign that the area was rich in oysters were prominently displayed posters indicating that the oyster beds were contaminated and that shellfishing was prohibited.

I first heard about Sandy Point and its plovers and terns last weekend at Audubon Connecticut's get-together in Greenwich. Two New Haven-area birders were concerned enough to mention it to me, and Patrick Comins, Audubon Connecticut’s director of bird conservation, sent me an information sheet that summarizes why Audubon named Sandy Point an important bird area. Over the past 20 years or so, an average of about 5 pairs of piping plovers have nested there; least terns, which nest colonially, have averaged 314 pairs.

When we got out of the car yesterday we remembered how different the weather at the shore is from the weather even a mile inland in April. The sun was strong enough to redden our faces but the wind blew steadily off the cold water. The tide was ebbing and we walked along a sandflat littered with shell fragments – oysters, angels toenails, quahogs, ribbed mussels, whelks. Far up the harbor, two big ships were docked, a blacked-hulled vessel called the Yangtze River and an orange-hulled vessel too far for me to make out the name. A line of gulls and waterfowl rested on a sand bar. A couple of people dozed in the dunes.


As we approached the point, I heard a quick piping sound and knew immediately that it was a piping plover. We saw two. I don’t think they had started nesting yet because they walked along the sand calmly, without engaging in the fake-broken-wing trick that they use to lure potential predators away from their nests. They were the color of wet sand, their faces pale and delicately marked with a couple of dark lines, as if sketched quickly and competently.

They seemed both vulnerable and tenacious. Piping plovers nest on only a handful of beaches along the Sound. Raccoons eat their eggs, dogs destroy their nests, people linger nearby long enough to keep the incubating parents away from the eggs. At Milford Point, which is part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, a snow fence cuts off public access to the nesting area from April into the fall. The only other time I’ve ever seen piping plovers was during a visit to Griswold Point, at the mouth of the Connecticut River, 12 years ago with a naturalist from the Nature Conservancy. She showed me the circular enclosures she had erected around each nest, which let the plovers scoot in and out but kept raccoons and other animals away. At Sandy Point, the only safeguards were signs that said dogs were not allowed and another that requested that people leave the plovers and terns alone.


The terns don’t come back until May but we didn’t want to bother the plovers (plus we were cold), so we headed back soon after spotting them. On our way, we passed three people walking their dog. I was tempted to tell them about the no-dogs rule but I settled for photographing the dog, the sign that said no dogs allowed, and the delicate footprints the piping plovers left in the sand.


What should be done to protect federally-threatened species on a public beach? I’ve gone back and forth on this over the past week. My first answer was simple: do everything possible; erect a fence, post signs, patrol, and keep people off during nesting season. But then it occurred to me that I argue in my book and in my talks that the Sound needs a bigger and stronger constituency, which requires that people be able to get to the shore and to the water. What benefit would it be if the birds were protected but people were kept away?

But after visiting yesterday, and seeing the long strip of public beaches to the west of Sandy Point, I realize that there is no shortage of public access to the Sound in West Haven. Patrick Comins, of Audubon Connecticut, tells me that the city of West Haven seems willing to work on a solution and that Audubon will meet with city officials before the middle of summer to talk about it. Here’s a vote for fully protecting the birds and their nesting area on Sandy Point. The swimming and fishing and general recreation are close enough so that closing all or part of Sandy Point for several months should not be a cause for consternation.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Another Reason to Like Chris Shays: He Can't Stand Tom DeLay

Christopher Shays had this to say yesterday in Greenwich about Tom DeLay, the exterminator who runs the House of Representatives:

"He is an absolute embarrassment to me and to the Republican Party."

And this: "He knows that . . . if he ever runs for speaker, I get to vote on the House floor, and my 'No' vote combined with the Democrats means he will never be speaker. One of the things I want to say here is that Tom DeLay will never be speaker in Congress."

"With all due respect, I can be accused of a lot of things, but supporting Tom DeLay is not one of them."

I've voted for only three Republicans in my 32 years of voting. Two of them are on the Town Board in my town. The other is Christopher Shays. When I lived in Connecticut I liked him for his environmental record. Now I like him even more

The Greenwich Time reports.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Shad Count: 194,300 So Far

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service counts anadromous fish on the Connecticut River and apparently updates it frequently.

As of two days ago, 194,300 American shad had already ascended the Connecticut River into Massachusetts and beyond this year. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service counts them and posts new numbers frequently here. The numbers of alewives and blueback herring are far, far lower, but I think that’s because the F&WS counters are further upstream than alewives travel and because the blueback herring season is generally later.

If you click around this site, you’ll find interesting maps of the Connecticut watershed that show how far up each species travels.

It’s interesting to note that the F&WS counted only 256 striped bass. In the Hudson, the commercial shad fishery has essentially ended because stripers are so numerous that they fill the fishermen’s nets. I don’t know if the commercial shad fishery in the Connecticut is thriving, but it’s certainly not dead. The Connecticut DEP says that commercial fishermen on the Connecticut River have taken from 32,000 to 118,000 fish a year over the last decade.

Looking back to yesterday’s post about the gustatory pleasures of various parts of the alewife, a friend of mine notes that no matter how subtle and delicate the flavor of alewives testes, you’re likely to need a whole lot of them to make a meal.

3:30 p.m. Update: Martha McCormick Smith, at Yale, was quick to tell me that the taste of alewives and blueback herring doesn’t mean much these days because it’s illegal to take them in Connecticut – and has been since 2002. She sent me a link to this advisory.

So my speculation above that the numbers of alewives and blueback herring were low because of where the counting took place was wrong. The blueback herring count reached a high of 650,000 at Holyoke, Massachusetts, in 1985, and was above 100,000 every year from 1980 through 1993.

In 2002 and 203, the blueback numbers were 1,900 and 1,300. This page, which has historical numbers, doesn’t include alewives, though.

4:20 p.m. Update: This is more interesting than I thought. The DEP advisory that I linked to above speculates that the population of river herring might be dropping because striped bass, which prey on the smaller fish, are so abundant. Here’s what Bob Boyle wrote about stripers and alewives in his Hudson River book.

Sometime in mid-April stripers move into the Croton. Ravenous, they gorge themselves on the alewives, swallowing them whole. The bass chase the herring in towards the shore, they attack from underneath in the pools, they surge after them in the rapids. A pool in the Croton is sometimes alive with swirling bass seeking their prey. (Page 234).

On the Hudson, commercial fishing for striped bass (Hudson River fishermen pronounce it stripe-id bass, but I have no idea why) has been banned since the mid-1970s because of PCB contamination. Since then the spawning success has been spectacular. I have to assume that the situation on the Connecticut is similar.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Alewives: Bait, Roe and Testes

Alewives are among the first – maybe the first – of the anadromous fish to head upstream to spawn in spring. Next come striped bass and shad, then blueback herring. Sturgeon close out the season in early June.

At one time they all seemed to be as common as acorns. In his book Changes in the Land, William Cronon wrote about the reaction of the first European visitors:

The real statements of wonder came from visitors to the settlements, who saw the spring spawning runs of smelt, alewives, sturgeon, and other ocean fish which migrated to fresh water to deposit their eggs. William Wood described the arrival of the alewives 'in such multitudes as is almost incredible, pressing up such shallow waters as will scarce permit them to swim.' So thick did the fish become in some streams that at least one inhabitant fancied he might have walked on their backs without getting his feet wet. John Josselyn had no illusions about crossing streams on the backs of fish, but he was sure that he could have walked knee-deep through stranded herring across a quarter-mile of beach.

Those days are long gone. The great spawning runs died out in the 18th and 19th centuries with the damming of streams for mills, although in some rivers remnant spawning runs persisted. In my book, I reproduced a not-very-clear photo of men scooping herring from the vicinity of a dam on the Mianus River in the 1980s.

Today’s Greenwich Time has an interesting story from the Mianus, where anadromous fish have gotten a boost from a so-called fishway since 1993. This year the state of Connecticut installed a device to count spawning fish, and the first fish to come through have been the alewives.

Alewives, blueback herring and shad are all of the genus Alosa Alosa pseudoharengus, Alosa aestivalis, and Alosa sapidissima. In fact the word alewife is thought to be a derivation of Alosa, from the Latin word for shad, alausa.

Shad of course are a delight to eat. We had shad roe last night, in fact, cooked the way the Hudson River fishermen (or at least one of them) cooked it (scroll back to Feb. 11 to read it). As far as I know, alewives and blueback herring, if they’re caught at all anymore, are bony (as are shad, famously), and so are used mainly for bait. But in The Hudson River, A Natural and Unnatural History, Robert H. Boyle reports the following, apparently seriously:

The roe of a female alewife is only a quarter as large as that of a shad, but it is finer grained and has a more delicate and subtle taste. To me, the testes of the buck alewife are even tastier.

I’m a fan of shad roe, so I’d be happy to try two or three alewife roes. As for the testes, someone else give them a try and let me know what you think.

SoundWaters Photo Show

I was at SoundWaters, at Stamford’s Cove Park, last Friday to talk about the Sound to the crew of the organization’s schooner, and couldn’t help noticing the photographs on the wall – striking assemblages of vegetables, fruits and flowers, arranged almost collage-like. I looked around quickly but didn’t bother to ask about them. Then today a couple of the same photos popped out at me from the Home & Garden section of the Times. Here’s a link but it has only a few photos, so stop by at SoundWaters and take a look.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Locals to Have Less to Say on LNG Decisions

Republicans in the House of Representatives wants to make it harder for New York and Connecticut to have a meaningful say in decisions about liquefied natural gas terminals, such as the one that Shell and TransCanada want to put in the middle of Long Island Sound.

The Providence Journal has an AP story about it.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

How to Catch a Lobster, Blue or Otherwise

Blue lobsters are rarer than blue moons. In fact, just one in every million lobsters is blue. Ronald Christensen, a Bowdoin College scientist who, along with Harry Frank of UConn, discovered the genetic flaw that causes a lobster to be blue (in shell color, not in mood; I'm not sure anyone is studying lobster moods), notes that being blue doesn’t help a lobster hide in the murky depths.

“I suspect more blue lobsters than we realize are born but don't survive because they become major targets for predators,” said Christensen. “The reason you don't want to be a blue lobster is you stick out like a sore thumb.”

Read the New London Day for more.

Assuming you’re not a commercial lobsterman, want to know how to catch Homarus americanus? Matt Sasso has excellent instructions on his Long Island Sound Diver blog (which I’ve added to Sphere’s blogroll, on the lower right, and which I intend to check in with frequently in the quest for first-hand reports about what’s really going on in the Sound.) Read it; it's fun.

Broadwater Answers CAC Questions

Broadwater has posted its response to questions asked that the Long Island Sound Study's Citizens Advisory Committee asked several months ago about the huge liquefied natural gas terminal that Shell-TransCanada wants to put in the middle of the Sound.

Read it for what it is: a public relations brief, written to make it sound as if Shell-TransCanada is concerned about all the things we're concerned about and they'll get to the bottom of them all but in any case don't worry because they're confident that the project will have no affect on the Sound and in fact really isn't that unusual at all. It’s the same baloney that developers always say (on the other hand, much of the opposition rhetoric is the same baloney environmentalists always say).

The questions and responses will go to FERC for use during the environmental impact study scoping process (which is basically the outline for the study).

I didn't find much in it that was illuminating. One assertion: Shell-TransCanada chose a spot in the Sound with limited commercial fishing. Of course the Sound has had limited commercial fishing (as opposed to lobstering) for decades, and the lobster fishery has been wiped out, so I'm not sure what they're talking about.

A quote from Michael Ball, a Block Island Pilot, gives some indication of how busy the Sound is as a route for fuel and, by implication, how culpable we energy-users are in the threat posed by oil tankers and LNG terminals:

”About 500 shipping vessels transit the Sound each year to the East River approaches, as well as ports in Riverhead/Northville, Port Jefferson, LIPA/Northport, New Haven, Bridgeport and New London. Vessels up to 1,000 feet in length with up to 60 foot drafts offload fuel oil at the Riverhead/Northville terminal each month; coal ships up to 800 feet in length with drafts of 45 feet are anchored five miles off Bridgeport twice a month where coal is offloaded from the ships to barges for use in the power plant; tankers up to 700 feet in length and 36 feet of draft call on eight oil terminals in Bridgeport, New Haven and New London. Vessels carrying LNG transitting the Sound would be consistent with the vessels that are already routinely brought into the Sound.”
Read the whole thing at Broadwater's site.

Meanwhile, the Wading River Civic Association reports that LIPA will hire a consultant to the study the economic and environmental impacts of the LNG terminal over 20 to 30 years.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

A Clearer Sound: Childhood Myth or Memory?

Almost inevitably when I give a talk about Long Island Sound, people want to tell me about their experiences on the Sound, usually childhood experiences. People my age or older -- those who came of age in the 1950s and '60s -- invariably say the Sound was so much cleaner when they were kids. Two people told me similar tales on Saturday, after my talk at Audubon Connecticut's annual meeting. One woman, who informed me that she was older than she looked, said she could remember standing in water up to her chin at West Haven and seeing crabs and eels at her feet, as if her toes were a personal Secchi disk (I resisted pointing out that she was probably much shorter then).

To these people, the Sound in the early 21st century is a disappointment; it's too murky to satisfy their memories of an earlier, more pristine era.

Is it possible that the water in the Sound was clearer in 1950 or 1960 than it is now? It is certainly true that the water is clearer now as you move east. Compo Beach is clearer than Rye Beach; Hammonasset is clearer than Compo; Block Island is clearer than Hammonasset. But can people's memories be trusted that the water in West Haven was clearer in, say 1950, than it is now, or are those memories fogged by nostalgia?

Having moved to the Sound area only in 1982, when I was almost 30, I don't have my own personal childhood baseline for water clarity. I remember swimming on the south shore of Staten Island, at Arbutus Beach, among other places, when I was seven, in 1961. By the following year someone realized that the city was dumping raw sewage in the area and, like that, Staten Island's beaches were closed. (In the mid 1970s I brought college friends from upstate New York there, for a look at the Bay, and was astonished at how derelict a beach could become in 15 years.) After that, our swimming was limited to the Jersey shore, where you could scoop blue crabs from the bridge abutments of the Manasquan and Metedeconk rivers, sub-estuaries of Barnegat Bay, and catch snappers from the floats at the local boatyards.

Could the Sound have been clearer 40 or 50 years ago? Estuaries are murky places in general. Diatoms, copepods, larval oysters, larval lobsters and other animals cloud the upper layers of the water. Tiny particles in sewage -- treated and untreated -- make it cloudier still. Debris carried into the Sound via stormwater makes it worse.

To go back to the question of water clarity in West Haven, where the major influence is New Haven .... Between 1950 and 2000, the population of New Haven fell from roughly 164,000 to 123,000, and the New Haven sewage treatment plant, which was one of the region's worst in the 1980s, improved.

In fact, sewage plants throughout the Sound region are better now than in the 1950s. A good percentage of treatment plants 50 years ago were operating at the primary level, which meant that they were removing only about 30 percent or so of the suspended solids -- tiny particles that don't immediately sink to the bottom -- in wastewater. After the Clean Water Act, in 1972, upgrades improved that to about 80 percent. So that alone would tend to make the water clearer.

The problem is that while New Haven has gotten smaller, the surrounding towns have gotten bigger.

While New Haven's population fell by 41,000, or 25 percent, the population of East Haven, Hamden, North Haven, Orange, West Haven, and Wallingford rose from 123,500 to 216,000, or 75 percent. Overall, 71,500 more people, or 27 percent, lived in the greater New Haven area in 2000 than in 1950.

Wastewater engineers figure than each person uses 150 gallons of water a day, essentially all of which ends up in sewage plants. If all 71,500 additional people use sewers instead of septics, the amount of wastewater treated in the area would have risen by almost 11 million gallons a day. That increase would take a large bite out of any improvements in treatment technology.

Add to that the increase in particles and contaminants from the stormwater that runs off all the new roads, driveways, houses and sidewalks in these suburban areas, and it's easy to make a case that middle-aged swimmers in Long Island Sound are probably right: the Sound was much clearer back in the old days -- the days of our childhoods.

At Audubon, a Flicker & a Thrasher

One of the speakers at yesterday's Audubon Connecticut event was John Flicker, the president of National Audubon. He was followed by Holt Thrasher, the chairman of the board of Audubon Connecticut. What are the odds that an organization dedicated to birds would have leaders named Flicker and Thrasher? When it was my turn to speak I suggested that Tom Baptist, the executive director of Audubon Connecticut consider changing his name to Bob White.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Invasive Species and Ballast Water: A Court Victory

A federal court in California has ruled that EPA will have to regulate the discharge of ballast water from ships in an effort to prevent invasive species from taking hold. Ballast water was the likely means of transport for zebra mussels and for Asian shore crabs. Asian shore crabs have had a devastating effect on Long Island Sound (although if you think we have problems, 99 percent of all the living organisms in San Francisco Bay are non-native).

According to the Ocean Conservancy, which was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, EPA will have to issue permits under the Clean Water Act for ballast water that contains living organisms. As I noted the other day when I wrote about Art Glowka and his jar of crabs, as many as 700 foreign vessels a year make calls at Sound ports. Presumably some high percentage (maybe 100?) discharges ballast water in the Sound.

A Sphere reader forwarded me an e-mail from the Ocean Conservancy that summarizes the court decision:

Big CWA victory - The Ocean Conservancy, Northwest Environmental Advocates, Waterkeepers Northern California, San Francisco Baykeeper, and Deltakeeper won a positive ruling in our suit petitioning EPA to regulate the discharge of ballast water (containing invasive species and other pollutants) under the Clean Water Act. Invasive species are the number two threat to biodiversity world wide, second only to habitat loss. They have crippled many marine and freshwater ecosystems. Unlike many conventional pollutants, the introduction of invasive species often has irreversible consequences. This ruling is a big deal because the discharge of ships ballast water is the single largest vector for the spread of aquatic invasive species. Requiring ships to regulate their discharges through the Clean Water Act permit system will greatly reduce the opportunities for invasives to spread.

This will likely have implications for impending federal legislation to regulate invasive species. A bill regulating ballast has been introduced in the Senate, and the NAISA reauthorizations (which look at ballast and other vectors for invasives) were expected next week on both the House and Senate

Here's the Ocean Conservancy's website, but I don't see news of the decision on it yet.
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