Thursday, June 30, 2005

Listing EPA as One of the 12 Worst Polluters in New York: Unfair and Dumb

More on the Citizens Environmental Coalition’s decision to list EPA’s Sound cleanup as one of the 12 worst polluters in New York State …

The link on CEC’s site is now active and if you click on it you can read a brief rationale for the listing. To me, it seems as if the decision were made, and the explanation written, before last month’s compromise was announced. In the sentence that I quote below, note the word “proposed.” Of the 12 citations on the group’s website, that’s the only use of the past tense. My guess is that CEC had this list teed up when the dumping compromise was reached. But instead of taking the compromise into account, and eliminating EPA as one of the worst polluters, they simply put it in the past tense (and even if there had been no compromises, one wonders how a “proposal” can be a polluter), in effect calling EPA one of the state’s worst polluters for something it had merely proposed and then changed its mind about.

Here’s what CEC’s citation says:

Environmental Protection Agency Regions 1 and 2 (Long Island Sound) - proposed to dump 20 million cubic yards of contaminated dredge materials into Long Island Sound over the next 20 years, which would further devastate local fisheries and water ecology.

Environmental Protection Agency Regions 1 and 2 (Long Island Sound)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had a proposal to dump 20 million cubic yards of dredge materials into the Long Island Sound over the next 20 years. They considered designating two long-term dumpsites in the Sound to receive these untreated dredge materials. EPA analyzed four sites to be utilized as long-term dumpsites. Unfortunately, the I EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) highly recommended two sites, the Western Long Island Sound alternative (WLIS) and the Central Long Island Sound alternative (CLIS). The WLIS is located only 2.7 miles from the shoreline and has already received 1.7 million cubic yards of dredged material. It was once a prime lobster producing area but has died off significantly within the last five years. The CLIS is between New Haven, CT, and Shoreham, NY, and has already received close to 14 million cubic yards of dredged material. Higher levels of toxic waste and problems with low dissolved oxygen (hypoxia) are found in and near these sites. Due to the profound impact of this pollution on New York State, EPA Region 2 should be transferred authority over this issue.

Even odder, it continues with a quote from CCE’s Adrienne Esposito, apparently sent in by Maureen Dolan, praising the compromise.

My skepticism about whether they know what they’re talking about increased when I read the sentence about the lobster die-off. The juxtaposition of that sentence with the one before it is clearly meant to imply that the die-off is related to the dumping. Yet no one I know of, least of all the scientists who presented at last fall’s symposium, have made that link. Nor has the Sound’s hypoxia been linked to the dumping in any meaningful way.

I made a living as a reporter by trying to point out, as often as I could, when government policies were bad for the environment. But listing EPA’s Sound cleanup as one of the 12 worst polluters in New York seems not just unfair but dumb.

(In my previous post, I said that CEC cited "EPA's Region 2 Long Island Sound Cleanup." I don’t see that phrase on CEC’s website; that particular phrase must have been written by the newspaper reporter.)

Is EPA's Sound Cleanup Really One of the Worst Polluters in New York?

An organization in New York called the Citizens Environmental Coalition has released its "Dirty Dozen" list of worst polluters in New York State and, bizarrely in my opinion, included "EPA's Region 2 Long Island Sound Cleanup" on the list for proposing that dredge spoils be dumped in the western Sound.

I say "bizarrely" because it was barely a month ago that EPA announced a compromise, endorsed by environmental groups, that resolved a longtime stalemate over dumping. The compromise allows three dredging projects to use the western Sound dump site but refers future decisions to a team of experts.

As of now, I don't know much more about the so-called Dirty Dozen list. This story, published in a paper that purportedly covers the Sound, mentions EPA only in a list and doesn't refer at all to last month's compromise. Here's the CEC website, but the link to the Dirty Dozen list is inactive. More when I learn more.


SLAPP suits were big in New York in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In a typical SLAPP suit, a developer would take someone to court who spoke out publicly against his or her project. SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuit against public participation, and SLAPP suits were designed not just to shut people up but to punish them for speaking out and to deter others from speaking out.

The people who bring SLAPP suits, of course, never call them SLAPP suits. They claim that somehow their rights were violated. This week in White Plains, however, a judge characterized a suit as a SLAPP, and under New York law a trial will now be held to determine how much in damages the developer must pay to the person he sued.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Sandy Point: Birders, Terns & Fireworks

For the threatened shorebirds that nest at Sandy Point, in West Haven, you’d have to figure that rowdy beer-drinking teenagers and unleashed pets were the biggest threats, right?

Well not quite. The biggest problems for Sandy Point’s least terns (see here and elsewhere on Sphere) might be bird watchers and other terns, and, for a few days in early July, fireworks.

Last summer a college student named Jennifer L. Healy, working with Sylvia L. Halkin, of Central Connecticut State University’s biology department, spent 199 hours watching the terns. Since the late 1980s, Sandy Point’s lest tern colony had gone from 200 nesting pairs to only 100 individual adults (which presumably translates into about 50 nesting pairs).

So the Connecticut Ornithological Association proposed the Healy-Halkin study (a copy of which Patrick Comins of Audubon Connecticut sent me) and published it in the Connecticut Warbler, its quarterly journal. The hope is that it might persuade West Haven officials to do a better job of protecting not just the terns but the piping plovers, black skimmers, American oystercatchers and other birds that nest there.

Miley Bull of Connecticut Audubon told me in an e-mail:

We would all love to see the Town of West Haven take some action here. DEP cannot (and should not) be everywhere trying to enforce regulations on Town-owned properties.

Healy spent 199 hours, between May 8 and August 8, watching the colony, counting the birds, and making notes on what disturbed them – that is, what made the adult least terns leave the colony, temporarily abandoning their eggs or their young, exposing them to the elements, and using up energy that presumably could have gone into nesting.

She noted that the most frequent visitors were fishermen, “followed by walkers (including people with dogs), sunbathers, and then birders.”

She added:

Among human visitors, birders caused the highest proportion of disturbances; in some cases, multiple disturbances were caused by a single individual. Fishermen caused the lowest proportion of human disturbances.

It’s easy to speculate on why birders caused the most disturbance. Fishermen and walkers, I imagine, probably couldn’t care less about the terns; moreover, as anyone who has visited a bird colony knows, the ruckus that nesting birds cause when you approach is deafening and unnerving. The birds make it unpleasant to be near them, and the fishermen and walkers probably took the hint. The sunbathers, I guess, were too inconspicuous to bother with.

The birders, on the other hand, were there to see birds, despite the trouble they might cause. They weren’t interested in moving on any faster than they had to. As a result, they caused the highest proportion of human disturbances.

But even birders couldn’t cause more trouble than other birds, particularly common terns, a larger relative of the least tern. Healy noted:

Probably the largest negative impact on Least Tern productivity was caused by Common Terns. The Common Terns tended to nest on the north side of the colony, but as the season progressed some of the nesting pairs moved south to where the Least Terns were most concentrated. Disturbances to the whole Least Tern colony were caused when Common Terns chased and harassed adult Least Terns, sometimes causing the Least Terns to drop the fish that they were carrying. … Multiple people saw adult Common Terns take fish away from chick Least Terns as and after they were being fed by their parents. This behavior occurred frequently, and worsened as the summer progressed. The adult Common Terns sometimes harassed the adult and chick Least Terns to the point where they were picking up the chicks. The Common Tern would fly up with the chick in its beak and drop the chick until the chick dropped the fish. It seems likely that the puncture wounds found in dead Least Terns were caused by the beaks of Common Terns.


Which brings us to fireworks and the Fourth of July. Healy wrote:

On the nights of July 3 and 4, fireworks were visible and audible from the beach. On July 3, the West Haven fireworks did not appear to disturb the Least Terns, but the noise caused some movement of the Piping Plovers. On July 4, the programmed New Haven fireworks caused Least Terns to leave the colony only when the fireworks were extremely loud. However, before, during, and after the programmed fireworks, people on the sandy spit north of the colony were setting off personal fireworks, including noisy sparklers that stayed on the spit, and loud aerial fireworks that exploded over the colony. These caused multiple departures from the colony.

There’s not much that can or should be done about the common terns. It reminds me of 15 or so years ago, when both the weather and sewage were being blamed for Long Island Sound’s hypoxia problem. The weather was about to become an excuse for inaction – after all, you can’t do anything about it – until it was pointed out that the weather is a problem only when it’s compounded by the pollution that we’re causing, and therefore we should control the things we can control and not worry about the rest. Same with the common terns. Take away the intruders and the fireworks, and the least terns can survive the mortality caused by the common terns. And if they can’t, that’s life, and nature.

Healy’s paper concludes with recommendations: more and better signs, and better fences. Having been to Sandy Point twice, in April and May, I concur – the signs are small and easy to ignore.

She also notes quite logically that if the police paid more attention around the Fourth of July, the fireworks problem would go away.

But that would require West Haven to make Sandy Point something of a priority, and thus far nothing I’ve seen or heard indicates that the city thinks it is.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Sewage Spill in Narragansett Bay

More than a million and a half gallons of raw sewage spilled into Narragansett Bay the other day, and the spill was a textbook case of what can go wrong and why big sewage plants can be so dangerous. The only thing that didn’t go wrong was that no one spilled Pepsi on the control board:

The troubles at the Bay Commission's Bucklin Point plant began with a power failure at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The lack of power prevented pumps in the northern diversion structure, just outside the plant, from pumping sewage into the plant. Instead, it overflowed into the Seekonk River.

Generators should have switched on to power the pumps. But Bay Commission spokeswoman Jamie Samons said a computer device called a programmable logic control failed to trigger the generator.

When staff at the plant attempted a manual override, the device blocked them, Samons said. Finally, after an hour and a half, power was restored by Narragansett Electric.

The Providence Journal had the story

Summer Hours

Blogging about Long Island Sound in summer, I can see now, is going to be different from the rest of the year. Circumstances have changed, particularly the circumstance that allowed me to start Sphere, early last winter: with summer vacation here, I no longer have to get up at 6:10 to get my daughter on the bus at 6:45 for middle school. I’m sleeping later, and happily so, but I no longer have 45 minutes or an hour to fill before getting ready for work, and it was during that time that I did most of my blogging.

So bear with me while I figure out a summer schedule that accommodates both sleeping in and blogging.

In the meantime, I’m working on posts about:

-- the big Long Island Sound summit scheduled for July 20 and 21 at Danford’s Inn, in Port Jefferson;

-- and fireworks and threatened shore birds.

Next week I’ll be off to the valleys of the Lemon Fair and Chubb rivers, and if internet connections are available in such remote outposts, I might blog from there. So keep checking in, and if you know of something that I should know, send me an e-mail:

lemon fair

Monday, June 27, 2005

Water Quality at Execution Rocks

UConn has a new water quality sensor, at Execution Rocks off New Rochelle, connected to its MYSound site. It’s a good location to watch because it is absolutely at the heart of the area of the Sound that suffers the most from low dissolved oxygen concentrations.

As of this afternoon, DO at 54 feet below the surface was 4.2 milligrams per liter, or about 0.7 milligrams per liter above the level at which marine biologists start to get concerned. Here’s the Execution Rocks page; the MYSound homepage is to the right.

Execution Rocks, by the way, did not receive their name because Tories chained Colonists (or vice versa) there to await drowning when the tide rose. That's a Long Island Sound myth. They're called Execution Rocks because they were dangerous to sail past. Just like Hell Gate is not really the gate to hell, just a dangerous place for a boat.

The Last Riverkeeper Checks In

The fellow from Pennsylvania who is being sued by Riverkeeper for calling himself the Last Riverkeeper checked in yesterday and read the post I had written back on June 1. He allows himself an anti-Bobby Kennedy rant in the comments section. I like Kennedy myself and I admire Riverkeeper, but in the spirit of a free and frank exchange of views, read what he has to say.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Hold Your Breath

The water is OK so far but the air above Long Island Sound and its watershed is unsafe to breathe again.

Turtle Eggs

The box turtle whose territory includes our property laid her eggs Friday evening. I noticed her at about 5:30 when I stepped onto the back deck. She was standing on some stones below the deck and then walked off onto the grass. She started digging with her hind legs at 5:48 p.m. She chose a spot within five or six feet where we had seen her nest in 2001 and 2003. The lawn slopes very slightly to the west and she positioned herself so she was facing uphill.


I watched her from several different positions. An hour after she started she was still digging. Her forelegs gripped the front edge of the hole; her rear legs would alternate, one leg digging deep, the other bracing herself against the side of the hole. The hole was roughly conical, and maybe as much as eight inches deep.

At 7:30 I decided her stamina was better than mine, so I made a gin and tonic. She was still digging. At 7:50 I noticed that she had drawn her head in. Through binoculars I could see an egg drop into the hole. She kept at it, laying eggs and eventually covering them, until it grew dark. At 9:24 I took a last look. The hole was covered and the box turtle was about to slip under the deck for her rest.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Greenwich Decides to Obey the Court; Town Officials Also Give In to Demands for Public Access to Sound for Dogs. Will Proof of Pedigree be Required?

After talking in foolishly defiant tones, Greenwich officials have decided that it's probably wise to obey the state Supreme Court and comply with an order to release public information -- namely geographic information system data -- to the public. Before they release the data to the man who sued and won, they'll need to adopt a procedure and decide on fees.

The fellow who sued, Stephen Whitaker, is skeptical. Here's how the Greenwich Time quoted him:

"I'll believe it when I see it," he said. "I can't guess what kind of tricks they're going to pull. I've never seen them genuinely forthcoming."

He's got reason to be skeptical, in my opinion.

If the procedure Greenwich adopted after the court ordered them to open their beaches is a precedent, it will be enough of a pain in the neck to deter all but the most determined.

Several years ago a Stamford resident sued Greenwich because they wouldn't let him past the sentry at Greenwich Point Park. The court said sorry, Greenwich, Long Island Sound belongs to all the people and you can't deny access to out-of-towners. So now if you live out of town and want to go to Greenwich Point you can pay your way in -- $10 a person (5 or older) and $20 for parking.

That's $70 for a day at the beach for a family of five. The real pain comes when you drive up to the sentry on your first visit. You can't just pay to get in. You have to go to Town Hall, a good 20 minutes away in downtown Greenwich, to get your single-visit tickets.

A few days ago, a worker at Greenwich Point asked a handful of women to leave as they were preparing for an exercise class. One woman was the wife of Bobby Bonilla, another the wife of George Forster, both of whom used to play for the Mets. When I first read it I thought the worker was probably a Mets fan who remembered how bad Bonilla and Forster were when they played here and still held a grudge, but the women claimed they were told to leave because workers at the beach assume that if you're black or dark-skinned (Bonilla is from Puerto Rico, Forster is African-American), you don't live in Greenwich.

There is good news from Greenwich though. Town officials yesterday approved a new dog park, with a view of the Sound. The rumor is that to be admitted all dogs must have proof of pedigree and that no exceptions will be made for mutts and mixed-breeds.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Northern Ringneck Snake in the Lawn

I found a new species on our property this afternoon -- northern ringneck snake, Diadophis punctatus edwardsii. Unfortunately I found it because I ran over it with the lawnmower. I had been worried about hitting the box turtle that comes around every June to nest. I looked for it before I started, walking the whole lawn, which isn't very big and which hadn't been mown in so long that three or four staghorn sumac saplings had sprouted.

She wasn't around so I began to mow. One of the things my kids complain about occasionally is that they'd like a lawn that somewhat resembles everyone else's -- smooth, with relatively regular grass, one that you can play on in bare feet without stepping on something sharp. I routinely mow so that I leave an island of little bluestem grass, 10 or 12 bunches, which grow to be three or four feet high and turn burnt-orange in the fall. Depending on which of the two bluebird boxes are occupied -- one is in a small meadow that hasn't been mown in six years, the other in what passes for our backyard -- I leave an apron of uncut grass, under the assumption that bluebirds like things shaggy. If a wildflower pops up, I mow around it, to let it seed.

I suppose that all this negligence makes our property somewhat more habitable for small animals than the typical place around here. Most of our neighbors tend to have lawn crews that use unconscionable amounts of fossil fuels to keep their places tidy. I'd be surprised if these lawns, mown every week, ever see the animals we see. We've had wood frogs and pickerel frogs, garter snakes and box turtle, and now a ringneck snake.

I found it when I turned over the mower to dislodge a clump of grass that had clogged the blade. It was wiggling and I shook it loose. It continued to wiggle but it didn't speed away and I thought I saw where the blade had cut it open, but by this time I was completely bummed and wasn't all that interested in examining it. Instead I went inside and looked it up in a field guide. It was obviously a northern ringneck. It was maybe 10 or 12 inches long and although I thought it was a baby, the guide said that adults range from nine to 16 inches. I went outside and looked at it again, then mowed another part of the lawn, then looked again. I couldn't find it. But I didn't look too hard because I wanted to believe it had recovered and slid away.

Barbecued Plover

That Jerry Della Famina is such a funny guy! I mean, East Hampton canceled its Fourth of July fireworks to protect federally threatened piping plovers nesting on the beach, and they forgot to tell Jerry Della Famina, a famous and important celebrity ad man. This was a major inconvenience because Jerry Della Famina always throws a Fourth of July party at his beach house so 500 of his closest friends can watch the fireworks.

This year he had just sent out the invitations when someone – a reporter, probably – broke the bad news to him. What did this funny man quip in response?

"We'll still have it," he said, "but we'll be serving barbecued piping plover. I hear it tastes like chicken."

Barbecuing a federally threatened species! That’s too much! But I don’t blame him. I really really hate it when my parties are disrupted because my local government is trying to protect a threatened species.

According to the New York Times:

Federal regulations impose a fine of up to $10,000 for disturbing the tiny birds and prohibit launching fireworks within three-quarters of a mile of a nest.

I wonder if the Della Famina party qualifies as a disturbance?

Alexandrium on the Move, But Not Here

There's no sign of the toxic red tide in Long Island Sound, or even in Rhode Island, and it doesn't appear to be headed this way. The Providence Journal reports that the Alexandrium algae is now moving south of Martha's Vineyard.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Picking Up Other People’s Trash, Part 2

Let’s face it, Long Island Sound isn’t exactly the wilderness – in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald called it the most domesticated body of salt water in the Western Hemisphere. But there are some places that have the feel of wilderness. Griswold Point, near the mouth of the Connecticut River, is one. The Norwalk Islands qualify as well.

On Friday, July 8, Save the Sound is doing a beach cleanup on one of the islands – Cockenoe – which, if you’re in the mood to pick up trash, will offer a terrific opportunity to see the Sound from a different perspective. The Norwalk Islands are oyster territory and they’re bird territory, and even though boats from Westport and Norwalk are all around, you get a feel for being out on the Sound like at few other places.

Sherrill Baldwin is organizing. A police boat will be the ferry and there’s room for only 8, so if you’re interested, e-mail her.

And while you’re at it, ask her how to pronounce Cockenoe. Terry Backer says Co-KEY-noy, which might be right.

Summer Solstice

Here’s how an environmentalist and blogger spends the summer solstice**:

6:10 a.m. Wake up to get daughter on school bus
6:12 a.m. Realize I don’t feel that great; attribute it to large pork roast and bottle of Portuguese wine at 10 p.m. last night.
6:20 a.m. Drink coffee
6:47 a.m. Put daughter on bus
6:50 a.m. Write blog post about blogging while trying to disguise identity of person I argued with about whether my blog is unfair
8:45 a.m. Start to rehearse Long Island Sound talk scheduled for Wednesday morning to conference of garden clubs from Connecticut and RI.
8:47 a.m. Called away by wife, who finds box turtle near house
8:47 a.m.-10 a.m. Watch box turtle walk across property
10:05 a.m. Rehearse talk
noon Eat lunch -- two veggie burgers with lettuce and salsa, on sesame bread toast
12:15 p.m. Realize that two veggie burgers worth of soy in one meal is probably too much for my intestines to tolerate comfortably.
1 p.m. Take 20-minute nap
1:15 p.m. Drive to New Canaan to get acid reflux prescription and buy gin at Franco’s. Chat with Rick Franco who last year gave us four free box seat tickets to Mets. Try to extend the conversation long enough for him to give us tickets again but no luck
2:15 p.m. Play tennis with wife for 45 minutes while 7-year-old son is in 45-minute-long tennis “camp.” 7-year-old son thinks it’s great that he can hit ball from his court, over two tall chainlink fences, onto our court.
4:30 p.m. Take son and daughter to town park pool. Sit in chair and read McPhee article in New Yorker about UPS and think, ‘John, who cares!?’ Stop reading and take nap.
5:45 p.m. Dump compost in garden, water vegetables
6:45 p.m. Shower
7 p.m. Sit on deck and drink gin and tonic and watch box turtle fight her way through grass, which I haven’t mown in weeks because box turtles nest there.
7:45 p.m. Eat sauted sulphureous mushrooms that wife found on neighbor’s oak tree, and grilled turkey breast, for dinner
8:17 p.m. Remark on how light it is out
8:18 p.m. Lament that days will now be getting shorter
8:30 p.m. Excuse self from table outside where wife and mother-in-law are finishing dinner to go watch Mets.
8:30-10:30 p.m. Watch Mets
10:45 p.m. Go to bed

** Idea borrowed from my daughter, who pioneered the minute-by-minute account on a blog she does with a fellow sixth-grader.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

What's This Blog About? An Explanation for New Readers and Old

Erik Swenson, the executive director of the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee, told his members about Sphere in an e-mail this morning, which I hope will bring some new readers to the site. If so, welcome -- scroll around, click around, bookmark the page, and come back tomorrow.

The possibility of new readers, combined with a "discussion" I had via e-mail the other day with a person who was less than happy with something I had written, makes me think this is a good time to explain what it is I think I'm doing here:

My e-mail correspondent asked this question:

Is a blog an editorial page and has the editor done his/her
homework when forming opinions? Or is a blog a news source where opinions are left at the door and the story is presented on a factual basis? Either is OK as long as it is presented as intended and the homework is done.

Here's what I said, with a couple of slight changes to protect the identity of my unhappy reader:

I think of my blog as being many things, but when I’m at my most high-minded I think of it as being the place where people in the Long Island Sound “community” can go to find out what’s happening beyond the borders of their own towns. And I think of it as having a role in helping form the community and hold it together. One of the things I argued in my book is that the Sound’s problems are tied to the fact that it really has no strong constituency. Maybe I can help that constituency grow.

As for what I put on it, it’s really whatever I learn that interests me and that I think might interest others. It’s not a newspaper. I do a tiny amount of original reporting; and I pass on and comment on what others write. ... I mean it to be fun, first of all for me and then for readers. If it’s not, readers won’t read it and I’ll stop doing it.

Although I have a point of view, I’m as independent as I can be and I’m no more loyal to ... any newspaper than I am to [a local government] or EPA or Save the Sound or Audubon, although I tend to think well of at least some of those.

My correspondent was unhappy that I linked to newspaper articles without confirming their accuracy. I responded that I couldn't possibly fact check the 10 or so newspapers that I look at every morning but that if someone who is quoted in an article or has first-hand information about the subject of an article wants to point out inaccuracies, I'd be glad to consider them and write about them. The beauty of a blog is that you can respond and make changes and corrections quickly.

What I didn't say is that a fair number of the posts on Sphere start as tips or information that people e-mail me. I love to get stories that way and I encourage anyone to do so. My address is in the sidebar to the right. Keep in touch.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Yet Another Study that Says GE was Wrong and PCBs are Bad for You After All

This story, from the upper reaches of the Housatonic, reminds me of the good old days, in the late 1990s, when GE began a public relations campaign designed to convince us that PCBs weren't bad for us after all. Things were simpler then than now, when GE is more ambitiously trying to connvince us that it has gone green.

Spartina: An Invasive Species

It’s old news that salt marshes on the east coast are disappearing. The dominant salt marsh plant in our area is tall cordgrass, or Spartina alterniflora. On the Sound, we could use more of it. But on the west coast, they don’t want it. In fact, Spartina alterniflora is an invasive pest.

From the San Jose Mercury News:

On Thursday, the board of the state Coastal Conservancy, based in Oakland, is expected to approve spending $814,725 for a two-year program designed to stop the invasive cordgrass in its tracks.

The money will fund a plan to spray herbicides from helicopters, trucks on levees, amphibious vehicles and backpack sprayers over 1,400 acres in six counties from August to October this fall and next fall.

Although the idea of chemical spraying may make people nervous, the chemical, imazapyr is safe for wildlife, fish and humans, said Erik Grijalva, field operations manager for the Coastal Conservancy's Invasive Spartina Project.

I especially like the part that says the chemical is safe for wildlife, fish and humans. Right.

Hempstead Harbor Online

Eric Swenson, executive director of the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee, has a new website for his organization. Like many (maybe most) harbors on the Sound, Hempstead Harbor has great municipal diversity in its watershed – in other words, lots of little governments whose land use decisions have a big effect. One of the committee’s goals is to get them to work together to protect the harbor.

Here’s the link; I’ll be adding it to the links list on the right when I get a minute.

Looking at the site made me wonder if those of us on the north shore of the Sound have anything similar.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Wilson's Storm-Petrels in Long Island Sound

One of the marvels of the natural world is how relatively easy it is for birds to get around and therefore how relatively easy it is for them to turn up in unexpected places. For the last couple of weeks, reports of Wilson's storm-petrels in Long Island Sound have been turning up almost daily in the e-mails that the Connecticut Ornithological Association sends out and last weekend observers saw them during the annual Greenwich Audubon summer bird count. From last night's COA email:

From Al Collins:
6/18 - Stamford, 2-3 miles off Stamford -- 4 WILSON'S STORM PETREL

The storm-petrels' visits to the Sound seem different than the sighting of the occasional rarity blown off course, across the ocean from Africa, say, an event that inevitably prompts scores of birders to journey to Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket or wherever to add a rare falcon or heron to their life lists. Those are one-time freak events. In contrast, it's possible that some Wilson's storm-petrels (their scientific name, Oceanites oceanicus gives a good indication of where they are usually found) have made the Sound part of their incredible annual migration route.

In Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds, Scott Weidensaul says of Wilson's storm-petrels:

A weak fluttery flier not much larger than a swallow, this petite bird nonetheless departs each April from its breeding islands off Antarctica and moves up the coast of South America on the southeast trade winds, then clockwise across the North Atlantic during our summer, this time riding the sea breezes known as the westerlies. Then the storm-petrels are pushed south off Gibraltar and Africa, recrossing the Atlantic to South America on the northeast trades, and back to their islands by November, the start of the Antarctic summer and another breeding season. Over this whole, clockwise trip, which may span 18,000 miles, the petrels rarely have to buck a head wind.

Long Island Sound is too small and has too many really good birders living near it for anyone to have missed the storm-petrels over the years. In an email, Patrick Comins, director of bird conservation for Audubon Connecticut, said:

An interesting Sound-related story unfolding...Wilson's Storm-Petrel's seem to be getting more and more regular every year. As of when Zeranski and Baptist [Connecticut Birds] came out in 1990, it listed Wilson's Storm-Petrels as "Very rare visitor from late June to late August with most occurrences in August. It is most likely to appear after tropical storms and hurricanes." Since that time they seem to be getting more and more regular each year and this year there have been a bunch of sightings already, including into far western Long Island Sound. This is one of three seabirds that I can think of that seem to be on the increase in the sound, along with Razorbills and Northern Gannets.

Not sure how much of this can be attributed to increased focus on looking for these species and how much of it is an actual increase. I suspect it is a little of both. Although, in 5 years of regularly working on boats in Long Island Sound in the late '90s, I never saw a Storm-Petrel.

I asked him what he meant when he said he was "regularly working on boats." He explained in a subsequent e-mail:

In the 90's I was working for the Stewart B. McKinney NWR and during the summer I would go out to Falkner Island several times a week. My first year there in '97 we did a Roseate Tern foraging survey, where we would follow the Roseates as they came off of Falkner Island on foraging runs and follow them to where they caught their food and headed back to the island. Sometimes the foraging area was over 10 miles away. We also went out to Chimon, Sheffield and Goose Islands reasonably often.

What's going on with Wilson's storm-petrels? It reminds me of the mid-1980s, when all of a sudden people began finding Kemp's ridley turtles -- the rarest sea turtle on the planet -- in the Sound. It wasn't clear then, and it isn't today, whether they rode the currents into the Sound by accident for a couple of years or if the Sound was part of their regular migratory route.

No one can say definitively whether the Wilson's storm petrels are here to stay or whether their visits are accidental and unlikely to be repeated. But whichever is the case, it's a fascinating addition to the Sound's natural history.

Other interesting things are going on as well. Here's the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time on jelly fish and horseshoe crabs.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Will Greenwich Defy the Court?

What's with Greenwich?

First, the town refuses to give people access to Long Island Sound (which of course is owned by the public) until someone sues and wins (and then the town makes it such a pain to get a permit that the public access is virtually a sham).

Second, the town goes ahead and kills 20 Canada geese without telling the public and its health director asks with a straight face, "Why should I tell the public?" Later, after the public finds out and complains, the town changes its goose-killing policy.

Then the town has three environmentalists arrested for protesting, only to have the state prosecutor dismiss the charges, in effect telling the town that yes, the First Amendment really does apply to Greenwich.

And finally a resident successfully sues to get the town to release public information and despite a unanimous state Supreme Court decision, the town is looking for ways to avoid complying.

I say this with no irony at all: Greenwich residents should be happy they have the Greenwich Time to cover these things, otherwise no one in the town government would be accountable.

Woods Hole's Top Expert Explains the Red Tide (Yet Another Sphere Exclusive)

Don Anderson is the scientist at Woods Hole who has been leading the research on the red tide and the Alexandrium algae. His opinion then is probably the best we're going to get on what's been happening this year. Here's what he told me in an e-mail about how it spreads and whether it will reach Long Island Sound:

In northern New England, there are huge "seedbeds" of Alexandrium cysts that serve as an inoculum for blooms when those cysts germinate. The currents then carry the germinated cells to the south, during which time the cells divide and accumulate, causing the red tides. Those currents and their associated cells are diffused and dispersed as they head south. By the time that water has rounded Provincetown on Cape Cod, the cells are usually not that abundant because of mixing, dispersal, and nutrient limitation. This year, they were quite abundant for reasons we don't fully understand yet, so we had toxicity quite far "downstream" at Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. I expect some cells will have traveled even further and gotten to Long Island Sound this year, but I doubt enough will make it that far to be of any concern.

I thank him for responding.

Norwalk Aquarium to Focus on the Sound

I was at a party in New Canaan the other evening and a fellow who is on the board of the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk told me that the aquarium was now focusing more on Long Island Sound. I raised my eyebrows because I thought it always had been focusing on Long Island Sound.

But apparently it hadn't been. The Board of Directors formally approved the change the other night. This of course is good news. Anything that draws more attention to the Sound helps create a Long Island Sound "community," which eventually will make more people feel as if the Sound is theirs.

The president of the aquarium, by the way, is Jennifer Herring, which is not a bad name for the head of an aquarium.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Stewardship Sites: Huckleberry Island

I was looking again at the list of Long Island Sound Stewardship sites earlier, breaking them into places I’ve been and places I haven’t.

Places I’ve been:

Norwalk River; Hammonasset Beach, Madison; Great Meadows, Stratford; Lower Connecticut River, Old Saybrook, Essex, Deep River, Lyme and Old Lyme; Milford Point, Milford; Quinnipiac River, New Haven; Rocky Neck, East Lyme; Sandy Point, West Haven; Fishers Island Coastline – Southold; Huckleberry & Davids Islands – New Rochelle; Lloyd Neck – Huntington; Manhasset Bay – North Hempstead; Marshlands – Rye; Pelham Bay – Bronx; Plum, Little and Great Gull Islands – Southold

Places I haven’t:

Barn Island, Stonington; Bluff Point, Groton; Charles Island, Milford; Duck Island, Westbrook; Falkner Island, Guilford; Great Neck and Goshen Point, Waterford; Watts Island, East Lyme; West Rock Ridge, Hamden and New Haven; Alley Pond – Queens; Crab Meadow – Huntington; Jamesport State Park -Mattituck Inlet – Southold; Mt. Sinai - Port Jefferson Harbor – Brookhaven; Nissequogue River – Smithtown; Oyster Bay (Mill Neck) – Oyster Bay; Shoreham – Baiting Hollow – Riverhead; Stony Brook Harbor – Brookhaven/Smithtown

As luck would have it, I’ve written about six of the places on the first list, including Huckleberry Island, a tiny place off New Rochelle. When I went there, in June of 1989, it was owned by the Huckleberry Indians, who not surprisingly aren’t real Indians but rather members of a “fraternity” within the New York Athletic Club, which has a yacht club nearby at Travers Island.

When I was researching the story, I called a club official to ask about the Huckleberry Island, and he described the Huckleberry Indians as “basically a bunch of nature fanatics who like to get drunk and run around in the nude.”

By the time I went there, it had been years since the HI’s had used the island, thankfully. Here’s a newspaper story I wrote about it, published on June 26, 1989:

Forget the parks, preserves and bird sanctuaries. Don't bother with the coastal marshes and the north county woods.

When it comes to unbridled wildlife in bewildering concentrations, forget everything in Westchester except Huckleberry Island in the Long Island Sound.

The 12-acre clump of rock, soil and trees is the only place in the county where animals live in numbers that rival the bounty of wildlife that astonished the first European explorers of North America.

Three thousand gulls. Three hundred cormorants. Two hundred night herons. Two hundred egrets. And this year, one pair of glossy ibises, marking the first time the species has nested in the county.

Researchers visited the island this week as part of an annual survey of nesting water birds in southern New York. The island, they say, is thriving, with the number of birds growing each year.

As a result, they say, Huckleberry Island is one of New York's great bird colonies.

''This is the colony for this part of New York,'' says Peter Capainolo, one of the researchers.

The island is part of New Rochelle and is owned by the Huckleberry Indians, a club within the New York Athletic Club yacht club in New Rochelle.

Except for a handful of dilapidated buildings, it is undeveloped, with rugged granite shores punctuated by wedges of beach. The center is thick with hickories, oaks and maples and stands of smaller trees like privet and sumac.

Protected by New York state as a critical wildlife habitat, Huckleberry is a virtual bird factory, a source of both the elegant and the common - the pure-white great egrets and snowy egrets that grace the county's shores and the herring gulls that scavenge wherever they can.

''Islands are perfect because there's not a lot of predation and not a lot of disturbance,'' said Anne Ducey-Ortiz, who works for the study's co-sponsor, the Seatuck Research Program in Islip, N.Y., a Long Island substation of the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. Seatuck is conducting the study in cooperation with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

But although 126 islands dot the Sound, Huckleberry is one of but three that support substantial colonies - Chimon Island in Norwalk, Conn., and Falkner's Island in Guilford, Conn., are the others.

And although the Connecticut atolls are part of a national wildlife refuge, Huckleberry is private. But a visit last week in the company of four researchers - led by Capainolo and David Kunstler, a naturalist at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx - revealed a wild world that in its intensity seemed more likely to be off the coast of Maine than in the shadow of New York.

With vulnerable young in nests and on the ground, the birds were unhappy at the approach of intruders, raising a furious clamor and engaging in a subtle defense mechanism that involved the discharge of gooey streams of white waste.

Under those harrowing conditions, the researchers set to work, mindful of the difficulties of the island's qualities.

''This is a real scene right here,'' said Capainolo, admiring a cluster of cormorants, their black bodies and orange bills stark against the pale sky. ''It's right off the Bronx, but it's like you're in Florida.''

Yet Huckleberry is no serene Eden. Death intrudes regularly: dead gulls splayed on rocks; a dead cormorant dangling from a tree, its neck tangled in a fishing line; a gull cowering in the weeds, its white head stained with blood.

''We have one guy freshly pecked to death. It's still warm,'' said researcher Trish Pelkowski, returning from examining an infant gull.

Kunstler said that if a young gull wandered away from its nest, other adults pecked it to death, a reward for the innocent invasion of their territory.

But despite the mortality, the colonies serve their purpose.

''For one thing, they overwhelm predators,'' said Capainolo.

Whatever the reason, Huckleberry Island is a success.

Ducey-Ortiz said the rookery was discovered in 1975, and Kunstler first surveyed it for Seatuck in 1986. The colony doubled in size from 1987 to 1988.

Although this year's work has yet to be tallied, the researchers think that the number of birds will continue to increase slowly.

''We may have just done a better job counting,'' said Kunstler, explaining the increase. ''But everybody seems to think, including the Huckleberry Indians, that there's more.''

Greenwich Being Forced to Give Public Information to the Public

As a former reporter, I always believe that government hides whatever it can get away with hiding, and makes it difficult for the public to get the rest. A good example is the Greenwich health official who didn’t think it was in the public interest to disclose that the town had killed 20 Canada geese that it considered a nuisance, despite the fact that Canada geese are a public resource.

So I was glad to see this story in today’s Greenwich Time: Connecticut’s Supreme Court ruled that the town’s geographic information system data is public information and has to be made available. I look forward to watching how the town complies and I hope the reporter stays with it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Why Blog About Long Island Sound and the Environment?

Why blog? Substitute “the environment and the natural world” for “art and culture,” and this sums it up.

Bloggers, I learned, wrote as much or as little as they pleased, answered to no editors, and obeyed no rules save for the infinitely malleable ones they made up themselves. Above all, they wrote about whatever they liked and published it whenever they liked. At a time when many American editors and publishers were losing interest in art and culture, this was a crucial consideration.

From Terry Teachout, who wrote it here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

No Red Tide in the Sound Now But It or Something Like It was Here in 2003

The algae responsible for the red tide that has swept through New England waters bloomed briefly in Long Island Sound two years, according to a report in the Connecticut Post.

The paper reports that David Carey, director of the State Aquaculture Bureau in Milford, said that an area off Groton tested positive in 2003.

Carey said there was a recent outbreak of red algae in Long Island Sound…. The beds were shut down until tests showed the clams had purged all the toxins and were safe for human consumption, Carey said.

I have to assume that when they say “red algae," Carey and the reporter are talking about Alexandrium, but since the Post doesn’t say so specifically, it’s just an assumption.

There’s no sign of it here this year, though, Carey says.

The Solution to an Ecological Crisis: Soft-Shelled Crabs

We ate soft-shelled crabs for dinner last night. They were $3 each, which is about as cheap as they get here in the high-cost-of-living belt. But it made me think of a solution to the Asian shore crab crisis.

All crabs molt to grow, which means they all have a soft-shell stage. I suggest that someone who lives on the shore catch a bucketful of Asian shore crabs and keep them in a holding pen in the water, the way watermen in Maryland do. Observe them closely. When the shed, take the peelers into the kitchen, coat them in some flour, and saute them.

If they're good, we might have our own biological control of this invasive pest. Let me know and I promise to publicize the results.

Don't Breathe the Air

Twice so far this month oxygen has been unhealthy in the Long Island Sound area -- not dissolved oxygen concentrations in the Sound itself but the air we breathe (and yes, I know that air is more than just oxygen, but I said "oxygen" for rhetorical purposes). It's interesting that we're spending a billion dollars to restore the Sound so dissolved oxygen concentrations no longer falls to levels that are unhealthy for fish, and yet we hardly hear a peep from anyone when the actual air that we breathe is unhealthy.

In the Sound itself, by the way, dissolved oxygen off Fairfield, Westchester and Nassau counties was at 3.8 milligrams per liter this morning 15 feet below the surface (but higher at the surface and the bottom). That sounds surprisingly low for this time of year -- fish experts start to worry when it reaches 3.5 or 3.0. Check the MySound link at the right for more information.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Sound Stewardship Program: What Does it All Mean?

Tonight marks the start of a series of public meetings to discuss the Long Island Sound Stewardship program, which is part of the Long Island Sound Study.

The stewardship program has been in the planning or gearing-up stage for several years, and it's one of those things that I've always thought probably worthwhile even thought it was never exactly clear to me what it was supposed to accomplish. The program's brochure, which is available from the LISS site (the link is in the righthand column), says the point of the program is to:

identify, enhance and protect special places throughout the Sound and adjacent near-shore areas.

The components of the program are natural area protection, more public access, and important habitat protection. Because environmentalists are no longer allowed to do anything unless they first prostrate themselves to business and development interests, the program seeks to balance conservation, recreation and commercial uses.

Which reminds me that at the first Long Island Sound Citizens Summit, back in 1991, Carl Safina argued that the Sound's problems were caused by the lack of balance between development and the environment. It's the developers and commercial boosters who are now arguing for "balance," and environmentalists have fallen for it, he said. In order to "balance" development and the environment, we need to start outweighing things in the direction of the environment. Here's how Safina put it:

The idea of balanced development is a trick. I don't see how you can have balanced development.

But I digress. The bill that would fund the stewardship program has yet to pass, probably because Chris Shays is sponsoring it and, until he recently brought Dennis Hastert, the right-wing Speaker of the House in to help him raise campaign funds, Shays was persona non grata among House Republican leaders. Perhaps sucking up to Hastert will make a difference.

The question is: What difference would it make?

The Stamford Advocate reported that on Friday EPA's Long Island Sound office released a list of 17 places in Connecticut and 15 in New York that will be on the list of stewardship sites.

How they "released" this list is a mystery to me; my friends Robert Burg and Mark Tedesco certainly didn't "release" it to Sphere. As a result, all I know as of now is which places are on the Connecticut list.

It includes a number of them that are obviously already protected and open to the public (Hammonasset State Park, for example). It includes the lower Connecticut River, which has been the focus of The Nature Conservancy's Last Great Places program. And it includes the components of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge (Milford Point, Falkner's Island, the Norwalk Islands). So I'm not sure what the stewardship program will do for them.

But here they are (when I get the New York list, I'll add it***):

Norwalk River
Barn Island, Stonington
Bluff Point, Groton
Charles Island, Milford
Duck Island, Westbrook
Hammonasset Beach, Madison
Falkner Island, Guilford
Great Meadows, Stratford
Great Neck and Goshen Point, Waterford
Lower Connecticut River, Old Saybrook, Essex, Deep River, Lyme and Old Lyme
Milford Point, Milford
Quinnipiac River, New Haven
Rocky Neck, East Lyme
Sandy Point, West Haven
Watts Island, East Lyme
West Rock Ridge, Hamden and New Haven.

Here's the list of stewardship meetings:
June 13, Norwalk City Hall, Council Chambers, 125 East Ave, Norwalk
June 14, Sage Hall, Yale University, 205 Prospect Street, New Haven
June 15, East Lyme High School, 30 Chesterfield Road, East Lyme
June 20, New Rochelle City Hall, 515 North Ave, New Rochelle
June 21, North Hempstead Town Hall, 220 Plandome Road, Manhasset
June 22, Endeavor Hall, Marine Sciences Research Center
Stony Brook University, Stony Brook

*** 1 p.m. A friend who is not a reporter but who received the press release on Friday has e-mailed me the list of New York sites:

1. Alley Pond – Queens, NY
2. Crab Meadow – Huntington, NY
3. Fishers Island Coastline – Southold, NY
4. Huckleberry & Davids Islands – New Rochelle, NY
5. Jamesport State Park -Mattituck Inlet – Southold, NY
6. Lloyd Neck – Huntington, NY
7. Manhasset Bay – North Hempstead, NY
8. Marshlands – Rye, NY
9. Mt. Sinai - Port Jefferson Harbor – Brookhaven, NY
10. Nissequogue River – Smithtown, NY
11. Oyster Bay (Mill Neck) – Oyster Bay, NY
12. Pelham Bay – Bronx, NY
13. Plum, Little and Great Gull Islands – Southold, NY
14. Shoreham – Baiting Hollow – Riverhead, NY
15. Stony Brook Harbor – Brookhaven/Smithtown, NY

Friday, June 10, 2005

Monitoring Dissolved Oxygen

The Connecticut DEP generally begins cruising the Sound in late June or early July to take dissolved oxygen and water quality measurements. It then generates maps that it puts online here. I’ve added this site (“DEP Hypoxia Maps”) to my list of links in the righthand column, and will post a notice when the DEP starts posting its results.

Water temperature in the Sound has risen dramatically recently, by the way. Near the surface, the temperature is already up to 69 in the western Sound, 66 in the central Sound, and 59 near the Race. The MySound website, which is where I found these numbers, doesn’t seem to have records from similar dates in previous years, so I can’t say for sure whether 69 degrees is warm for June 10. But it seems as if it is. Warm temperatures are a prerequisite for low dissolved oxygen and have been implicated in the lobster die-off of recent years.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Interpreting Pace's Poll About Environmental Attitudes

Pace University, which has joined Quinnippiac College and Marist College in the public polling game, released a fascinating poll today of environmental attitudes in the Hudson Valley. It's fascinating because of what it says and because of the way it's been interpreted.

What it says is that residents of the Hudson Valley, one of the most beautiful areas in the world, are generally happy with their local environmental conditions and that the environment as an issue is pretty important to them.

But Pace PR people, including Hudson River activist John Cronin (the former Riverkeeper; he's now director of the Pace Academy for the Environment), have interpreted it as saying that people are complacent and don't realize how bad things are.

Here's what the pollsters say, in their narrative interpretation: Hudson Valley residents "still consider the environment to be important. More specifically, jobs and the economy (17%), taxes (16%), education and schools (14%), and affordable housing (10%) dominate the top-of-mind issue landscape while environmental issues [including overdevelopment] (8%), crime and drugs (8%), and health care issues (7%) make up the middle tier of residents' impromptu agendas. Nevertheless, two-thirds (66%) of residents think the environment is at least a 'very important' issue when prompted to consider it."

(Links to the poll itself and the press release are here.)

The pollsters go on to say that Hudson Valley residents "still consider the environment to be important" and two-thirds of those polled consider it "very important."

But Cronin and the Pace publicity people interpreted it differently. I've know Cronin since the late 1980s, and I respect him. He's very articulate and persuasive, he's a nice guy, and he's usually right. I have no doubt that he brought his influence to bear on the PR people.

Here's what the Pace press release said:

Although the modern environmental movement was born along the shores of the Hudson River, a new survey by The Pace Poll in conjunction with The Pace Academy for the Environment at Pace University finds the region’s environmental consciousness submerged beneath a flood of other issues....

“A new complacency is overtaking public opinion about the Hudson River,” said John Cronin, the Hudson’s first Riverkeeper who now is Director of the Pace Academy for the Environment. “It is a disturbing trend that if left alone will prove catastrophic for the river’s future.”

There's really no evidence, of course, for the assertion that there's "a new complacency," except for what Cronin remembers of attitudes from when he was Riverkeeper, from about 1982 until 2000. No other polls have been done, to my knowledge, and it's not even clear to me that the Pace poll shows that people are complacent. What it shows is that people have a lot of concerns, and that the environment is one of them.

Here's what the pollsters say:

Perhaps the environmental movement's success has reduced environmental issues' profile. To illustrate this point, consider the many differences between the recent fight to block a proposed cement plant in the City of Hudson and the fight during the 1960s to block a proposed power plant on Storm King Mountain. Leaders of the latter fight had to contend with a legal system that did not even acknowledge their right to contest the proposed plant, and they had to build their organization even as they fought. In contrast, opponents of the cement plant could rely on a well-developed body of law as well as the resources of pre-existing environmental advocacy organizations. Given the environmental movement's enhanced strength, citizens at large may be less likely to worry about the environment because they are more likely to believe that these environmental groups can and will take care of these issues for them.

For years activists on the Hudson have been telling us that two things are happening. The Hudson is improving, so much so that it is now considered the east coast's most vibrant estuary; and the Hudson still faces threats.

Here's what the pollsters say: "Generally speaking, residents are satisfied with their local environment; a majority (55%) rates their local environment conditions either 'very good' (47%) or 'excellent' (8%)" (although only 30 percent rate the Hudson itself either fair or good).

To me, this makes perfect sense. I live in a Hudson Valley county (Westchester, although I live in the Sound's watershed); it's a beautiful place. The Hudson Highlands are beautiful. The stretch of the river along Manhattan and the Bronx is beautiful. Dutchess County and Columbia County are beautiful. Groups like Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson, and Clearwater, not to mention government agencies, celebrate the Hudson Valley's beauty constantly. Why would residents not be satisfied?

The truth is, Hudson River advocates (Cronin is in the pantheon) have done an excellent job in forcing the cleanup of the river. Here's what the pollsters say:

Suprisingly, however, the Young (64%) are less likely to rate the environment an important issue than Hudsoners generally (66%). Likewise, the Young (64%) are less likely to rate the environment as an important issue than the Senior Middle Aged (85%) are. [The Young are people aged 18-24; the Senior Middle Aged are people 45-54]. Pending further research, it is impossible to identify the ultimate source of this generational discrepancy, but we can offer a tentative hypothesis: time heals all wounds, making the parents' obsession the child's curiosity. As Love Canal, Three Mile Island, and the gas crisis fade from memory, environmental issues do not presently force themselves upon public consciousness as perhaps they once did. ... these younger residents did not experience the environmental movement of the 70's first-hand; for them, environmentalism may just be another historical movement, like the Temperance Movement, that has little effect on their daily lives.

And yet here's how the newspapers played the story.

The Journal News (where I worked for 17 years):

A Pace University study released today shows that despite the Hudson River region's history of environmental activism, concerns about water and air quality or waste treatment rank far down the list of issues residents of the area feel are important.

The Poughkeepsie Journal:

Protecting the environment is a low priority for Hudson Valley residents, a new poll has found.

The Pace University poll of 608 Hudson Valley residents found only 5 percent said the environment was the most important problem facing the area. Jobs and the economy, taxes, education and schools, and affordable housing all ranked higher.

The Albany Times Union, which (bizarrely) turned it into a weather story by focusing on one misconception that the poll turned up -- that people think it's unsafe to swim in the Hudson:

This week's sudden onset of summer-like heat has made the days perfect for a swim, but most people who live along the Hudson River apparently don't think it's safe to cool off in its waters.

A new poll of 608 Hudson Valley residents by a downstate think-tank found that 71 percent think swimming in the Hudson is unsafe. Only 19 percent said swimming is OK.

I wrote once a long time ago that John Cronin is something of a PR genius. He knows that if you pitch a story that says people are generally happy with their local environment (although it could always be better) and that the environment is an important issue, reporters and editors will yawn. And if you spend a lot of time and energy on a public opinion poll, a yawn is the last thing you want.

Selling Off a Public Beach in Suffolk County

I was in a meeting the other day with a handful of local government officials and their bond counsel. At one point the bond counsel pulled a volume containing state laws off a shelf and began reading. He read a passage that said land is to be considered as dedicated parkland if a municipality buys it for park purposes or if it is publicly-owned and has been used for park purposes even if it wasn't acquired for park purposes.

In other words, if town people use town land as a park, it's a park. And parkland can't be sold -- or alienated, as they say -- without an act of the state Legislature.

Now, it will come as no surprise to reveal here that I'm not a lawyer. And I was in that meeting for another purposes and so wasn't really concentrating on that part of it, so I might have misheard.

But it sounds to me like people on eastern Long Island's Sound shore who don't want Greenport to sell Clark's beach might be able to make a case that Greenport can't sell Clark's beach. Greenport has said It will sell to Suffolk County but that the county had better not hesitate because if it does, Greenport will sell to a developer.

Newsday reports today that the Suffolk County Legislature took the first step toward considering buying it.

I said here, back in April, that it would be unconscionable for Greenport to force the county to pay full market value for Clark's Beach. But might it also be illegal without authorization from Albany?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Mamaroneck's Historic Harbor Street Fair

If you’re planning to go to the Historic Harbor Street Fair in Mamaroneck on Sunday, stop by at the water quality pavilion in Harbor Island Park and buy a signed copy of this, if you don’t already have one.

Freedom of Expression is Allowed in Greenwich After All

A state prosecutor has told Greenwich that the First Amendment applies in that town and therefore charges filed earlier this year against against environmentalists for protesting have been dropped.

A Big Fish

How big do fish get in Long Island Sound? This one, caught in Hempstead Harbor, is pretty big.

Thanks to John Waldman for letting me know.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Alexandrium the Great: Is the Red Tide on its Way to the Sound?

Alexandrium fundyense, a toxic species of alga that is responsible for so-called red tides, has been spreading throughout coastal waters, from Massachusetts through Maine, over the past couple of weeks. Shellfish feed on the algae, and if you happen to eat a quart of steamers in which the toxins have accumulated, it could well be your last meal.

News accounts, as well as information from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, indicate that this year's red tide is more widespread than at any time since 1972. Generally it does not affect Cape Cod, and a toxic red tide in Buzzard's Bay is all but unheard of. And yet there it is, forcing health and environmental officials to shut down shellfish beds throughout the region. If you're heading to Nantucket or the Cape any time soon, the shellfish you eat won't be local.

The outbreak, and its spread into waters where it's usually not found in great numbers, has made me wonder why Alexandrium fundyense has not bloomed in Long Island Sound. The answer seems to be that Alexandrium isn’t found in the Sound in great numbers to begin with and the winds and currents haven’t pushed it here from the east.

Here's what Oceanus, Woods Hole’s magazine, reports:

In most years, natural current and wind patterns keep the cells from flowing into the coastal waters of southern New England. But during a spring marked by unusual amounts of rain and snowmelt and steady stream of northerly and easterly winds—capped by nor’easters on May 7-8 and May 24—ocean conditions developed almost perfectly for a massive bloom.

Anderson and McGillicuddy [two WHOI scientists] offered several possible explanations for the widespread algae bloom. The first is that the unusual weather patterns this spring—particularly the wind-driven currents from the north—pushed an abundance of Alexandrium cells south into Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay. Another idea is that there was a larger source of cells in the Gulf of Maine, following an intense bloom off western Maine in autumn 2004. Or perhaps the record-setting precipitation of this winter and spring flushed more fresh water and nutrients into the coastal region, creating better conditions for the cells to grow and reproduce. Finally, ocean conditions this year may have favored a particular strain, or genotype, of Alexandrium in the western Gulf of Maine.

So it seems that this strain of Alexandrium is usually confined to waters north and east. Darcy Lonsdale, an ecologist at Stony Brook's Marine Sciences Research Center, told me in an e-mail:

Apparently there are some cells of Alexandrium in Long Island waters but to my knowledge this alga has not bloomed here. Why I really can't say, except that this particular alga has a history of only blooming in waters north of here.

For it to move south and west, it needs unusual conditions to push it in that direction: Unusual winds and currents, nutrients to act as fertilizer, lots of rainwater and snowmelt to wash the nutrients into the sea.

Phil Colarusso, a marine biologist with EPA:

This is primarily circulation driven. The stuff has just made it down around Cape Cod, so any sustained wind out of the east would drive it into Narragansett Bay and Long Island Sound. Fortunately for them, the winds tend to come out of the southwest this time of the year.

But his colleague, Eric Nelson, says:

It's moving in that general direction. With many beds in Nantucket and Buzzards Bay now closed, towns in RI, CT, and NY might be getting nervous. How far it gets will probably depend on longshore currents, wind direction and speed, water temperatures, and sunlight.

New York officials don’t seem especially worried but they are on the lookout. Newsday reports today that the waters around Fishers Island will be tested for Alexandrium.

If it happens, it’s clearly a no-win situation. Alexandrium seems to affect steamers and mussels, even when they’re cooked, more than quahogs and oysters, but all shellfish beds will be closed (not that many shellfish beds aren’t already closed permanently or occasionally because of sewage). Finfish and lobsters aren’t affected (not that there are many lobsters left).

If you should happen to make the mistake of eating a pot of infected mussels, you’re in big trouble. Here’s what happened to a half dozen fishermen working George’s Bank in 1990:

After a hard day of fishing, the fishermen settled down in the ship's galley to eat a pot of steamed mussels that they had incidentally caught in their nets. The Captain, who had joined the meal later than the rest of the crew, witnessed his fellow fishermen become incapacitated due to the paralytic effects of the toxin. He himself also became ill, but was capable of sending an urgent radio message to the US Coast Guard. The Coast Guard airlifted the men to the nearest hospital located on Nantucket Island, MA where they were treated using respiratory therapy to sustain their breathing and prevent them from dying due to paralysis of the lungs.

Late night update: About a half hour after I posted this, I got an e-mail from Professor Sandra Shumway of UConn's Department of Marine Sciences, at Avery Point. Here's what she said:

The red tide hasn't affected Long Island Sound quite simply because it
hasn't reached the Sound. Same with Rhode Island waters. These areas have been blissfully unaffected by red-tides and this latest bloom is huge. It's not a matter of environmental conditions, right now it's a matter of a unique set of circumstances -- meteorological andoceanographic -- that have driven the red-tide laden waters around Cape Cod and through the CC Canal. Check out a map that is regularly updated at:

(Thanks to Mel Cote, Kathy Rhodes, Susan Maresco, and Sherrill Baldwin for helping put me in touch with the experts on this.)

Monday, June 06, 2005

Fisherman's Suit Claims that Branford is Polluting Shellfish Beds in the Sound

Nick Crismale, who fishes for lobster and harvests clams and oysters out of Branford, Connecticut, plans to sue the town because, he says, its sewage system damages 113 acres of shellfish beds his company owns off Branford.

Heavy rains, which are loaded with contaminants throughout the Long Island Sound watershed, force him to have to transfer his bivalves to cleaner water for a period of time until they purge themselves.

He's not looking for big money -- only $15,000 -- but beds that Crismale works were also affected by the big sewage spill in New Haven not long ago, and it makes me wonder if he's planning to sue to compensate for damages there as well.

The New Haven Register covered it today.

The Pollock-New Haven Line Connection

Remember the story from a few weeks ago about the fellow on eastern Long Island who rummaged through his father’s storage locker and found a trove of Jackson Pollock paintings?

Have you ever noticed the Metro North trains that still have the old New Haven Line logo?

At an interesting blog called Design Observer, Michael Bierut makes the connection between the two. The name to remember is Herbert Matter.

Audubon and the Sound

Long Island Sound has become a key issue not just for Audubon's chapters in New York and Connecticut but for the national organization as well. Here's the goal, from Audubon's Sound case statement, which it just put on line:

Audubon's Long Island Sound 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. The Audubon partnership will bring needed resources to help restore marshes, beaches and islands, and improve water quality. The Campaign will further focus on protecting critical habitat for Piping Plovers, Roseate Terns, Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows, waterfowl, and other priority species, to re-create the Sound as it once was - a critical breeding, migratory, and wintering habitat on the Atlantic flyway.

Obviously the point is to support the water quality and habitat restoration goals of the Long Island Sound Study.

Much of the new Sound program will come out of the Audubon Connecticut office. Audubon New York was critical in building support for the start of the Sound cleanup 15 years ago, and the grassroots network that it built was essential. Let's hope Audubon can revive it.

Adriaen Block's Eylandt

There's a massive series of articles about Block Island running in the Providence Journal, featuring audio interviews and lots of photos in addition to regular newspaper stories. I'm just getting started on it.

They Didn't Know it Was Wrong to Pollute the Thames

The state DEP is fining a New London shipyard more than a half a million dollars for polluting the Thames River.

From an AP story, here's the company's lame response:

Wronowski said the company was unaware of many of the laws before DEP officials inspected the shipyard.

But a New London Day story outlines a more complex series of event. Bottom line though is that the company apppears to have been a problem for some time.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Peach Island: Owned by the Public but We Have No Idea What We're Allowed to do There

Peach Island, part of the Norwalk archipelago, is only 2.6 acres but in March the Trust for Public Land bought it for $600,000 to add it to the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. A reporter from the Stamford Advocate took a tour with Cindy Coughenour, assistant manager of the refuge.

Can the public go out there and if so, what are we allowed to do. Here's the best the two of them could come up with:

"Until I talk to my supervisor, I can't say what is allowed and what isn't allowed," Coughenour said.

I have a suggestion for the reporter: How about calling Coughenour's supervisor to find out?

Here's the story.

Friday, June 03, 2005

On the Sound: Keeping Kids Happy During a Nor'easter

From Emily Kingsley, aboard the SoundWaters during last week’s nor’easter:

As crew on Schooner SoundWaters, we take groups of 30 to 40 students out for three-hour sails on Long Island Sound. On beautiful sunny days, kids and teachers are eager to climb on board. Calm waters and warm breezes make for easy days. The cold and rainy weather of the last few days has presented us with challenges which take an enormous amount of positive energy and sheer determination to overcome. When woken by the sound of heavy downpour on the hatches, we know that we've got our day's work cut out for us.

By the time the kids arrive, we've completely soaked ourselves readying the boat for the sail. The first five minutes set the tone for the entire sail, so it's essential that we start out by putting a positive spin on the day. "You are all so lucky! Yesterday it was just too hot! And you didn't even have to wear sunscreen today!"

Teachers and students warily board the boat dressed in a wide variety of rain gear and polar fleece. As rain continues to fall and we hit bigger and bigger swells, we continue trawling, teaching and sailing, constantly reminding the kids how much fun they are having. It's when we see them wholeheartedly agreeing, despite their bedraggled and wet appearance that we realize
we're actually having fun ourselves.

(Thanks to Emily and also to Shane Walden, captain of the SoundWaters, who recruited Emily to send this in.)

Coming Soon in The New Yorker

One of the more interesting of the very few books published about Long Island Sound is Morton M. Hunt’s The Inland Sea. It came out in the mid 1960s and is long out of print, although copies can be found online and in used-book stores. Hunt’s account of sailing around the Sound for two weeks was first published in The New Yorker.

I thought of it when I read in yesterday’s Times that The New Yorker plans to issue facsimiles of every issue, from the magazine’s inception through the 80th anniversary issue published in February, on 8 searchable DVDs. The list price will be $100, which, as the Times points out, means it will be on sale for considerably less. It will be out in the fall.

Among all the other things The New Yorker has done over the years, it has published some ground-breaking environmental reporting. Off the top of my head: Silent Spring first appeared in The New Yorker, as did Peter Matthiessen’s The Wind Birds and McPhee’s Encounters with the Archdruid and Coming into the Country; and Barry Commoner’s articles about ecology, which included his great four principles of ecology (I think he added a fifth later, but it wasn’t as pithy):

1. Everything is connected to everything else.
2. Everything must go somewhere.
3. Nature knows best.
4. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Here’s the Times story.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Answer to the Question of What the West Coast has that the East Coast Doesn't, Besides the Sunshine Where the Girls All Get So Tan: Grunion

Anadromous fish are fish that spend most of their lives in the sea but swim up rivers to spawn. We’ve got a number of them in Long Island Sound and its tributaries – shad, alewives, blueback herring, sturgeon. But what’s the name for a fish that swims in from the sea to spawn on the beach?

I have no idea, but there’s a fish in southern California that does exactly that. It’s called a grunion, Leuresthes tenuis, and it’s running now.

… grunion come out of the water completely to lay their eggs in the wet sand of the beach. As if this behavior were not strange enough, grunion make these excursions only on particular nights, and with such regularity that the time of their arrival on the beach can be predicted a year in advance.

Jon Christensen, whose blog is called The Uneasy Chair, wrote about it today and also wrote an earlier post looking back to grunion fishing (grunion collecting?) when he was a kid:

Swarms of silvery fingerling fish riding the waves all the way up the beach. The female drilling into the sand with her tail to lay her eggs. The males curving round her head depositing their sperm. With the next wave all wriggling free and riding back into the ocean.

When they weren't picked up in our buckets, that is, and run up the beach to a waiting hot frying pan. And eaten on the spot. Then staying up late watching the fire and the adults passing round a bottle and talking and laughing.

Sounds pretty good. I'm an incompetent fisherman, so it sounds like grunion are about my speed. I hope people out there are still catching and eating them.

Greenwich Decides Against Killing Canada Geese

Greenwich has dropped its plan to kill Canada geese. There was no justification for it in the first place, and particularly no health threat, which is what the town claimed in documents submitted to the state.

This is a victory for openness in government and a lesson that more openness is better. The decision to apply for permission to kill the gesse was made by the town's health director, who didn't bother to tell the public because she didn't think it was anyone's business, even though Canada geese -- like all wildlife -- are a public resource. She claimed that the geese were a health threat, despite there being no real evidence to back that up. It was only after her application and her claim were subjected to debate that reasonable people were able to convince Greenwich's First Selectman to try a different solution. Let's hope it works.

My Missed Opportunity to Possibly Learn Who Deep Throat Was

About 16 or 17 years ago I was sitting in the upper deck of Shea Stadium, out in right field, watching a Mets game. They were playing either the Dodgers or the Astros – I can’t remember. My cousin (and friend) Rob and I had seats that were two or three rows above the aisle that runs from the right field corner to the left field corner. I was working as a reporter at the time in New Rochelle and he was a college journalism professor and former reporter.

In between innings I saw someone walking in our direction along the aisle.

“Hey, there’s Carl Bernstein,” I said.

“You’re right, it’s Carl Bernstein.”

He walked past.

“Hi, Carl.”

He smiled and nodded. We grinned at each other and watched him disappear into the right field corner. We looked at each other is disbelief.

“Oh man! We should have asked him who Deep Throat was!”

“What idiots!”

Atlantic Coast Watch

How useful would it be to have someone keeping track of and make available news stories and other published information from up and down the coast? The answer is very useful -- and we already have it.

Atlantic Coast Watch links to dozens of news stories each day and sends out a weekly highlight compilation via e-mail. There's also a bi-monthly online newsletter.

I've added them to the list of "organizations" in the righthand column.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Riverkeeper, a Registered Trademark

I noticed for the first time the other day that the name Riverkeeper, our friends on the Hudson, is a trademark. Now today there’s an AP story from Pennsylvania about a consultant who named his company The Last Riverkeeper, only to be sued in federal court by Riverkeeper for a trademark infringement.

Read the story. Riverkeeper sued in early May but the story came out only now. The owner of the company has strong anti-Bobby Kennedy feelings. It seems obvious that he told the AP about the suit himself and sees it as a way to get publicity and to cast himself as the underdog being trampled by the Kennedy behemoth.

Kunstler's Forecast: Bouts of Violent Upheaval

How’s this for a cheerful view of the future?

Kunstler is an emphatic petro-pessimist who argues that civilization is about to enter a sustained period of economic, social, and environmental decrepitude triggered by the end of the cheap-oil era. He summarily rejects the possibility that renewable energy could forestall disaster, and predicts that spiking fossil-fuel prices will precipitate the collapse of the airline industry, the electricity grid, highway infrastructure, agribusiness, big-box retail stores, and suburbia itself. The majority of Americans, he says, will likely suffer bouts of violent upheaval and be forced to return to agrarian, small-town lifestyles.

The Kunstler in question is James Howard Kunstler, the writer and professional curmudgeon who lives in Saratoga Springs. Let’s hope that if we have to suffer bouts of violent upheaval, it will at least help solve global warming. The summary is from the intro to an interview with Mr. Optimism in Grist.

Tangled Bank

My account of Saturday's beach cleanup at Sandy Point, in West Haven, has been picked up by a sort of group blog called Tangled Bank, which another blog called Organic Matter is hosting this month. Click here for a better explanation and then click through the post to see what else is happening on enviro and science blogs.

Land Protection in the Eightmile River Watershed

The Nature Conservancy is picking up a couple of nice-sounding tracts in the Eightmile River watershed, which itself is in the lower Connecticut River watershed, one of TNC's so-called Last Great Places.
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