Wednesday, July 29, 2009

At Least They Close the Beaches

When Long Island Sound beaches are contaminated, health officials shut them down to keep people out of the water (except of course for West Haven). Unfortunately it happens too often.

Government Cash for Old Cars

Ages ago -- 1992? 1993? -- when I was writing about air pollution and automobiles and California standards and all that, I interviewed a few people who told me that the best thing the government could do to reduce pollution from automobiles would be to buy old cars and get them off the road.

Amazingly enough, they're doing it. Unfortunately my 1997 Subaru, which gets 23 miles per gallon, doesn't qualify.


Just to make sure I understand this: non-organic growers buy non-organic tomato plants at places like Wal-Mart, the plants turn out to be blighted, and when the blight spreads, non-organic growers spray fungicides to save their crops from the blight that they spread but organic growers (because they're organic) can't and they lose everything. Does that seem fair?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dead in the Gulf

Hypoxia in Long Island Sound hasn't strengthened into what might be called a dead zone yet but it has in the Gulf of Mexico, where it seems both smaller and more intense than expected this summer.

About 250 estuarine areas in the U.S. alone are considered hypoxic. In other words, our pollution routinely makes it impossible for marine life to live in parts of 250 estuaries every year.


Stimulus in Stratford

Stratford and the feds will stimulate the local economy by razing the decrepit cottages at Long Beach West, to the tune of $909,000. The beach will eventually become a federal wildlife preserve, which is good.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Half as Bad?

The Connecticut DEP’s water quality survey from last week not surprisingly shows that hypoxia is getting worse in Long Island Sound as the weather warms up.

Five of the 37 places where they took measurements were below 3.5 milligrams per liter and two were below 3.

Last year at the same time, 10 were below 3.5 and five below 3.

So it looks like the cool June has left the Sound only half as bad this year as last.

This year, 56.4 square miles are below 3.5. The average from 1999 through 2009 was 101.4 (the Sound is about 1,200 square miles in all).

It’s worth keeping in mind though that the third week of July is often when conditions get really bad and stay there for weeks on end. In 1987, for example, it’s when all he big fish kills took place. So compared to that, we’re doing much better.

But don’t take too much solace. Most of it can be attributed to the weather: hot and humid means terrible hypoxia; cool and breeze means not so bad.

Here’s what the DEP sent out this afternoon, verbatim:

The 2009 July Hypoxia Survey was conducted 20-22 July. Thirty-seven stations were sampled. Bottom water dissolved oxygen concentrations fell below 4.8 mg/L at 24 stations with five of those stations falling below 3.5 mg/L and two stations falling below 3.0 mg/L. In 2008, 18 stations had concentrations below 4.8 mg/L; 10 of those were below 3.5 mg/L and five were below 3.0 mg/L. The lowest concentration was observed at Station B3 (2.43 mg/L), which decreased from 3.3 mg/L measured on 7/20/09 during the IEC survey . Concentrations at A4 increased slightly from those measured during the IEC survey to 3.5 mg/L from 3.2 mg/L. The area of bottom water affected by hypoxia (DO <3.5 mg/L) is 56.4 square miles (146.2 sq. km). The area with DO concentrations less than 3.0 mg/L is 28.1 square miles (72.8 sq km). The average area affected by hypoxia from 1999-2009 was 101.4 sq mi (262.6 sq km). While this is greater than the 2008 area, it is important to note that 11 stations were not sampled in 2008, reducing the areal estimate.

Here's the report from earlier this month.

Neighboring Conditions

On Narragansett Bay: lower bacteria levels in general, some low dissolved oxygen, huge numbers of ctenophores come and gone. Via the Baykeeper.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dangerous Clotheslines

Clotheslines banned at public housing in Greenwich because they're too dangerous.

My alternative proposal: ban the use of clothes dryers (and leaf blowers) from May through September, to save energy.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Killing Bluefish for Fun and Profit

Radio station and car dealership offer big financial incentive to kill animals that live in Long Island Sound.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Don't Swim in West Haven

Amazing story by the New Haven Independent about how, when bacteria concentrations at West Haven beaches reach unsafe levels, West Haven still allows people to swim. Via Connecticut Environmental Headlines.

Governor's Island vs. Davids Island

My former colleague Noreen O'Donnell visits Governor's Island and then asks in the Journal News why Davids Island, in Long Island Sound, is so decrepit in comparison. She quotes our friend Barbara Davis:

"What they're doing that didn't happen on Davids Island is getting people out there to understand it, appreciate it and therefore protect it," said Barbara Davis, New Rochelle's historian. "That's what we were missing. Once it closed, it was abandoned, there was no access and it was lost to public consciousness."

Read the whole thing. Excellent job, Noreen.

Shellfish in Rhode Island

Dramatic reason why preventing combined sewer overflows (CSOs) is a great idea, from a neighboring estuary:

The completion late last year of a $359-million underground reservoir to prevent overflows from Providence’s combined sewer-stormwater system has prompted state officials to shorten rain-driven shellfishing closures in upper Narragansett Bay.

The sections of the far western end of Long Island Sound that are bordered by Queens and the Bronx are still plagued by CSOs, as are areas near a handful of Connecticut cities. It's big money to fix them but the results are big too.

TA is a Happy Clammer

Monday, July 20, 2009

True As Far As It Goes...

From today's Connecticut Post:

... seven years after the state launched its Nitrogen Credit Exchange program, there is no clear indication hypoxia in the Sound is declining. The hypoxic area spiked in 2003, and from 2004 to 2008 has fluctuated slightly below the 20-year average, dropping in some years and rising in others, according to a state report.

And yet there are still five years to go until the 2014 deadline for reaching the nitrogen reduction goal (plus three years beyond that for New York City to reach the extended deadline it was put on). So while it's true there's no clear indication that conditions are improving, it's a bit unfair to expect that there would be.

Add to that the reality that New York City, by far the biggest contributor of nitrogen to Long Island Sound, has yet to finish its sewage upgrades (and that nitrogen from the city actually increases for part of the duration of its construction work) and that Westchester County is still getting its work underway and it makes worries about failure a bit premature, in my opinion.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Spicebush Swallowtail

I came upon this spicebush swallowtail in the garden, around noon, first on a raspberry bush and then on the leaves of a cultivated plant that's grown here for years but that we don't know the name of. The butterfly seemed fresh and bright and, while I know nothing about the life cycle of spicebush swallowtails, I could imagine that it had just emerged and was drying its wings for the first times.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Michael Pollan is always arguing (plausibly) that the centralization of our food supply makes it easier for pathogens like salmonella and E. coli to spread far and wide. The news over the last eight days that a blight being spread by tomato plants bought as Wal Mart shows that the same thing can happen not just to the consumers but to the food supply itself.

As far as I can tell, my friend and former colleague Bill Cary broke the story a week ago, here. The Times website has it today.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Marine Mammals

Here's what happened to the 200 or so dolphins that were feeding in the western end of Long Island Sound in June:

Ed Michels, the East Hampton harbormaster, reports that dolphins have entered the Peconic Estuary after several weeks of plying Long Island Sound.

Also note his last paragraph: a pair of humpback whales have been seen south of Block Island. I have no idea if that's unusual.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Still Good

From the Connecticut DEP, which was out on Long Island Sound collecting water quality data on July 7 through 9:

Thirty-six stations were sampled. Bottom water dissolved oxygen concentrations fell below 4.8 mg/L at four stations, although none fell below 3.5 mg/L. This is an improvement over last year when 10 stations were below 4.8 mg/L and three of those stations were below 3.5 mg/L. The lowest concentration was observed at Station A4 (3.83 mg/L). The area of bottom water with DO concentrations less than 4.8 mg/L is 50.7 square miles (131.2 km2).

So things are good compared to last year. The DEP followed this with a word of caution though:

The next survey (HYJUL09) is scheduled for 20- 23 July. Concentrations will likely decline below 3.5 mg/L with the far west stations becoming hypoxic.


Terrapins on the Runway

Why did the turtle cross the runway or, more to the point, why did 78 diamond-backed terrapins cross the runway at JFK airport last week? Answer here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pictures of Petrels

Check out these photos of Wilson's storm-petrels, taken by Larry Flynn.

Here's what his email said:


I did a 22nm loop in Long Is Sound today from Westport to Stamford, I came across nine Wilson's Storm Petrels. Eight of them were around five different Lobster boats, never more than two at a time. I only came across one that was not near a lobster boat.
They are there, but they were out towards the middle of the sound, four in CT, five in NY.
Enclosed are a few pics from today for your enjoyment.


Thanks, Larry!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Pelagic Birds

Two young, hotshot birders from Connecticut took a round-trip on the New London-Orient Point Ferry yesterday specifically to look for pelagic birds in Connecticut's portion of Long Island Sound, and came away with a sighting of seven Wilson's storm-petrels.

One of the birders, Nick Bonomo, then wrote about it on his blog (called Shorebirder, here), which turns ot to be fun to read if you're into birds. (I also liked and identified with one of the items in his list of ways he spends his time: "...watching the Mets blow a 5-run lead.")

Dozens of Wilson's storm-petrels were in the Sound, off Stamford, four years ago, by the way.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


We never do anything like this when we go to Block Island. All those water-smooth cobbles lining our outdoor shower are from around here. No, really.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Good So Far

Water quality in Long Island Sound as measured by dissolved oxygen concentrations is surprisingly good. The Connecticut DEP's first water quality survey of the season, on June 23, showed that dissolved oxygen was above 5 milligrams per liter everywhere, which is unusual, although not unprecedented. Here's what the report said:

Dissolved oxygen concentrations were all above 5 mg/L with the lowest concentration observed at Station C1 (5.12 mg/L). During the 2008 survey, DO levels were below 5 mg/L at seven stations; in 2007 survey concentrations were still above 5 mg/L during the HYJUN07 survey. The 2006 survey found concentrations below 5 mg/L at two stations. Water temperatures continue to rise; the maximum surface temperature was 18.57ºC (65.4ºF) and the maximum bottom temperature was 18.2ºC (64.8ºF).

My guess is that while water temperatures are rising, they were cooler than usual for June, which helped keep DO's high. The next water quality survey is next week. Historical data are here.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

They Still There?

Where are all the dolphins? Nothing in the news anymore and nothing new even on Twitter. Or has our attention shifted.
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