Wednesday, December 28, 2011

State of the Sound

Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound released its first "State of the Sound" report today (although in truth that's a bit of a misnomer: a more accurate name would have been "State of How We the People Who Live Near Long Island Sound are Doing in Protecting and Restoring It," but that's not quite as pithy).

They found that by some measures, we're doing OK and by others we're doing considerably worse than OK. All in all, the grade they assigned was a C-plus.

You can find a pdf here, and there's coverage by the Connecticut Post here and here (Newsday also wrote about it but you have to pay to see it).

I wrote the foreword (several years ago, actually -- that's how long it took to publish the report.) Here it is;
     Long Island Sound was in bad shape back in mid and late 1980s, when I first started paying attention. If you think of the Sound as a big forest, it was as if all the air had been removed from a third of that forest, and all the warblers, thrushes, butterflies, spiders, bats, squirrels, cicadas, katydids, and deer suffocated or, if they were lucky, crowded into other areas. That's how bad hypoxia was in the summer. Virtually all forms of marine life were unable to survive in the western third of Long Island Sound.
    But that was 20 years ago. What's happened since?
    Lobsters have all but vanished. Oysters, carefully restored with infusions of money from taxpayers and the private sector, succumbed to two diseases and are only now starting to revive. Winter flounder disappeared. The water on average has gotten warmer; warm-water species are replacing cold water species. Salt marshes are dying. And hypoxia returns every summer -- sometimes bad, sometimes not so bad, sometimes critically bad.
    Last year I was on a conference call, planning a public forum with a handful of college professors who teach on the far eastern end of the Sound, and when I used the word "crisis" to describe the late 1980s, one of them interrupted and told me quite peremptorily that there is not now nor has there ever been a crisis in Long Island Sound.
    On the contrary. Long Island Sound exists now in a state of permanent crisis. That's my opinion, of course. But what other conclusion are we to draw? Twenty years ago the U.S government and the states of New York and Connecticut created what has become a permanent -- as well as knowledgeable and dedicated -- bureaucracy to manage Long Island Sound, and yet there's so much going wrong in the Sound we can hardly keep track.
    When I was in elementary school I tried to cover up a failing grade by dropping a strategically-located blot of blue ink from a cartridge pen onto my report card. Reading this "State of the Sound" report card, I see a lot of places where I'd like to drop blots of blue ink.
    After 20 years of anti-pollution efforts, we get a D-plus in raw sewage? Spill an ink blot there. C-minus in low oxygen? Ink blot, please. Adapting to the rise in sea level, and conflicts among the people who use the Sound -- a D in each? Blot, and another blot. A C-minus in keeping stormwater that is contaminated with dog crap and motor oil and chemical fertilizers away from our beaches and shellfish beds? A big ink blot there.
    But we must be doing well in something, yes?
    We get an A in fish ladders. Fish ladders open up rivers blocked by dams, letting anadromous fish swim upstream to spawn (although as the biologist in charge of Connecticut's program has said, swimming upstream is one thing; getting back down past the dams and ladders is another).
    We get a B in coastal habitat, for restoring 600 acres, mainly of coastal marshes.
    And we get a B in beach litter, although not because there's any less of it now. The amount of litter is about the same as it was a decade ago. We earn a B because more people are volunteering to participate in beach clean-ups -- in other words, more people are picking up other people's trash. 
     It takes an act of will not to feel pessimistic in the face of all this, and I'd be lying if I said that at times I don't. But those of us who care about Long Island Sound can't afford to be too pessimistic – or rather, we can't afford to let pessimism deter us from doing what needs to be done.
    What exactly is that? We need to make sure our elected officials know that Long Island Sound is a priority, and that they continue to provide money for sewage treatment plant upgrades and stormwater management, and for increasing and improving public access to the Sound. We need to help organizations like Save the Sound continue to promote the notion that what we as individuals do has an effect on what Long Island Sound is.
     When anyone – a municipality operating a sewage plant, a boat owner heedless about where he dumps his vessel's head, a multinational corporation that wants to industrialize the Sound, a homeowner with a bad fertilizer habit – damages the Sound, we need to take it personally. We need to remember that Long Island Sound is ours.
    And one more thing: although the state of the Sound seems grim, this "State of the Sound" report is excellent – read it, and do what it says.


Anonymous Jim Anderson said...

Tom’s right, “do what it says” because L.I. Sound is our beautiful resource and we’ve messed it up.
Every resident of the lovely communities lining it’s shore has unknowingly contributed to the suffocation and eradication of the fish, lobster and oysters it’s the western third. Likewise, now knowing our mistake, we each are responsible for reducing our footprint and doing our best to restore the Sound to healthy natural beauty. Individually, it isn’t much work and the reward is great. The challenge is reaching out to each and every neighbor to understand the problem to be the solution.

1:46 PM  

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