Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Noise of Leaf Blowers Infringes On My Freedom

Honestly, it's the noise of leaf blowers that bothers me more than their use fossil fuels. Now, at 2 p.m. on a warm and cloudy Saturday afternoon, one of only two days a week I don't spend in the office, a lawn crew with several leaf blowers is blowing the leaves off my neighbors' lawn, in anticipation no doubt of returning in a week, when more leaves have fallen. The noise penetrates the walls of my house. Outside the noise is a roar. The noise wears on me, makes me tense, makes me unhappy. It forces me to spend Saturday afternoon indoors. It is essentially an infringement on my freedom.

If it's true that "your freedom ends where my nose begins," why isn't equally true that your freedom to use noisy disruptive machines ends where my ears begin?


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A New Report of Water Quality Trends in Long Island Sound Show Things Getting Worse

The Connecticut DEP just released an excellent summary of water quality conditions in Long Island Sound in 2009 and of trends since 1991. It clearly shows that in many ways water quality in the Sound is getting worse.

I can’t say I know why it’s getting worse. The management committee of the Long Island Sound Study is meeting today and perhaps it will be part of the discussion. But the worst hypoxia – the conditions under which no, or very few, fish can live – is getting worse.

The DEP summary uses 2 milligrams of dissolved oxygen per liter as the threshold of severe hypoxia. When DO drops that low, the deep-water habitat of that part of the Sound is all but unlivable for fish – only 18 percent of the fish that normally live there can be found there.

Using 2 mg/l as the criterion, 2009 was unusually good: only 17 square miles of the Sound had dissolved oxygen concentrations of 2 or below. But 2009 was to be an outlier. In 1998, 48 square miles had DO of 2 or below. Eight of the 11 years since then have been worse. Here’s what the DEP summary said:

“It seems that there is an increasing trend towards severe hypoxia in LIS (i.e., hypoxia area at 2.0 mg/L seems to be getting worse).”

Here’s the graph that shows the trend:

For anoxia – DO concentrations below 1 mg/l – the data seems almost as clear, although the report does not say so.

When DO drops below 1, no fish can live there. In nine of the first 11 years of the water quality survey, anoxia affected seven square miles or less. But in five of the last eight years, anoxia affected 28 square miles or more. (And to confuse things just a bit, in two of the last three years, there was no anoxia at all.) The report said:

“Prior to 2002, the average area of bottom waters affected by anoxia was 5.92 mi2. From 2002-2009 the average area affected was 28.4 mi2.”

So what’s going on? Hypoxia is caused by pollution, specifically nitrogen that mostly comes from sewage treatment plants, but hypoxia occurs only when the water is warm and is at its worst when the Sound stratifies into two layers, with warmer water on top above slightly cooler water. The stratification prevents oxygen that gets churned into the water at the surface from mixing with deeper waters.

There are a number of charts and maps included in the DEP report that show temperature and temperature differences in the Sound. But I have to pass the buck and say that unless I get help, I won’t be able to understand them.

Perhaps someone who worked on the report will explain the connection between water temperature and hypoxia as depicted in the DEP maps and charts.

The DEP report, by the way, was sent out via email as a PowerPoint document, so I can't provide a link.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dolphins Smiling in the Sound

There's a new issue of the Long Island Sound Study's newsletter out now, with a terrific day-by-day account of the visit of the bottlenose dolphins to the Sound in June. Kimberly Durham of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation wrote the article. Here are a few excerpts:

The species are identified as coastal bottlenose dolphins and the composition of the group is classified as a mixture of adults, juveniles, and calves. The dolphins are observed exhibiting a mixture of behaviors including lunge feeding, porpoising (leaping), breaching, and tail slapping.

(Editor's question: if when a dolphin leaps it is called "porpoising," is it called "dolphining" when a porpoise leaps?)

Documentation of calves approximately one month in age excites the biologists as they listen to the dolphins vocalize in association with breaching, tail slapping and spy hopping (rises and holds position partially out of the water) behaviors....

Scattered sightings of isolated groupings of the dolphins continue throughout the weekend followed by the report of a large group of animals heading in a westerly direction along the south shore of Long Island. Although sightings of dolphins within Long Island Sound have decreased over the course of the summer, dolphins have continued to be reported along the south shore of Long Island in large pods.

The reason people were so excited about the dolphins is simple: it's very rare to see them in the Sound and a pod of 200 is almost unheard of:

Historic sightings of dolphins and porpoises within the Long Island Sound can be dated back to pre-World War II times when pods of dolphins were a familiar sight to mariners and residents along the north shore of Long Island. Over the last few decades these sightings have become less frequent. Reports of cetaceans have been reduced to isolated individuals often compromised or stranded along the shoreline.

The whole newsletter issue is good. You can find it here.

Listen to the Byrds' "Dolphin's Smile" from a terrific album called The Notorious Byrd Brothers

Monday, October 12, 2009

Public Speaking About the Sound

I had a great time speaking to the New Haven Bird Club last Thursday. About 60 people turned out for the talk, which was at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Thanks to all the birders who listened (and especially to the handful who bought my book).

I'm working on a new talk about the upcoming Quadricentennial -- not of Henry Hudson and the Hudson River but of Adriaen Block and Long Island Sound.

To me Block is every bit as fascinating as Hudson. He spent more time here and ultimately was more influential.

If you have a group or club that would be interested in the talk, send me an email.

Sailor Sees A Really Big Fish in the Sound

A sailor from Port Jefferson, named Gregory Haegele, wrote this evening to tell me he and his family encountered an ocean sunfish, one of the rarest and biggest fish in Long Island Sound, off Greenwich today. Check this out to see just how rare they are.

Ocean sunfish can grow to be 10 or 11 feet long, and they seem to It seems to move in to the Sound in late summer and fall, judging from the few occurrences I've heard of.

Connecticut Post Attempts to Criticize Soundkeeper Terry Backer and Comes Up With Next to Nothing

I wasn't impressed with the Connecticut Post stories over the weekend about Long Island Soundkeeper Terry Backer. The Post's big discovery? Terry makes a living as an environmentalist.

The Post also uses a lame and lazy trick of implying that Terry has numerous critics, when in fact only two are cited and only one is quoted at any length. Look at these examples:

"Backer's ... harshest critics agree ... "

"Backer, 55, calls protecting the Sound's environmental health his life's work. Others say it been his way of bailing out of the hard life of an oysterman to make money as a litigious advocate."

"Some say he is an opportunist..."

"... critics also point out..."

"But critics..."

"Some critics accused Backer ..."

What all these vague, plural nouns mean is that the reporter wants to suggest some criticisms himself but can't find anyone to level them for him.

The truth, apparently, is that only Doc Gunther, a 90-year-old retired state Senator and acknowledged "political foe" of Backer's, would criticize him on the record. The one other critic cited in the story is an oysterman who once testified that Terry's position on the siting of cables crossing under Long Island Sound has not always been consistent. Sorry but that's not exactly an impartial jury of his peers.

The reporter also allows Gunther to claim that Terry has a conflict of interest, but nowhere does he explain what the conflict is. Is it because Terry is both a paid environmental watchdog and an elected official? Maybe, but please explain the conflict.

The reporter also writes this:

Gunther, who dedicated much of his legislative career to environmental issues, said Backer has been shrewdly playing a role to successfully win multimillion-dollar lawsuits against major polluters like New York City for dumping raw sewage illegally into Long Island Sound, as well as against municipal sewage treatments plants around Connecticut.

In other words, Backer's job is to sue polluters and Gunther is criticizing him for suing polluters, and not just for suing but for doing so shrewdly. Heavy stuff.

Read it for yourself here.
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