Peconic Bay fishkill dead fish Long Island toxic algae bloom brown tide nitrogen

Photo courtesy of Stefan Beaumont
Dead fish pile up on the shore of Long Island’s Peconic Bay in this photo taken on June 1, 2015. The fish suffocated when an algae outbreak depleted the water of oxygen. Click image to enlarge.

Thousands of dead bunker fish and hundreds of diamondback turtles washed ashore last May in Peconic Bay on the east end of Long Island, New York. Fed by warming waters and a stream of nitrogen, a foul bloom of algae had so depleted the estuary of oxygen that marine life suffocated. The waters of the bay swirled red and brown.

The late-spring algae bloom was the beginning of a seasonal occurrence that has become distressingly common: a toxic summer in the waters of Long Island, the claw-like banner of land that extends 190-kilometers (118-miles) from Brooklyn to the Hamptons. Aureococcus, or brown tide, covered the south shore in June. Cochlodinium, or rust tide, appeared in Shinnecock Bay and Sag Harbor in early September. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, at least 15 lakes were overwhelmed by microcystis, a toxin produced by blue-green algae.

“We got away cheap with managing our waste. It’s all caught up to us.”

–Kevin McDonald
The Nature Conservancy

“You see pictures on TV of water in every shade but clear,” Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, a conservation group, told Circle of Blue.

Clear water is what Amper, who is 70, remembers from the Long Island summers of his youth. Clear water today is rare. The lethal palette that appears in the bays and rivers is a sobering signal that the island’s ecology is dangerously out of balance.

“You used to be able to wade shoulder deep and still see the bottom,” Amper recalled. “Now you can’t see your feet in 2 feet of water.”

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