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Offshore Ocean Habitats and Inshore Estuarine Habitats

Ocean Action Plan Updates

Here is a closer look at some of the exciting projects we are working on through the New York Ocean Action Plan:

Image of ive people working on the construction of passageways for fish across a dam.

Impediments to Diadromous Fish Passage

Diadromous fish use both freshwater and saltwater habitats during their lifecycles. Anadromous fish live in salt water and return to freshwater to spawn, examples include Alewife, Blueback Herring, American Shad, and Atlantic Sturgeon. Alternatively, catadromous live in freshwater and return to the sea to spawn. The American Eel is the best example of this type, using inland ponds, lakes, and streams to live out their lives and returning to the Atlantic Ocean's Sargasso Sea to spawn. All species of diadromous fish are experiencing substantial population declines as a result of anthropogenic influence. Manmade barriers in state waters restrict diadromous fish species from traveling to and from upstream waters, resulting in low reproductive rates and high mortality. These animals are an important food source for marine mammals and larger pelagic fish and provide a vital energy transfer connecting our estuaries and oceans.

Estuary programs like the Long Island Sound Study and the Peconic Estuary Program, as well as Seatuck Environmental Association, and the DEC Hudson River Fisheries Unit, among other partners, are working to prioritize and evaluate the removal or modification of impediments to fish passage. Recent efforts have restored more than 100 acres of wetlands and spawning habitat for diadromous fish. These projects are increasing populations of diadromous fish species. Oceans & Great Lakes funding has helped paid for the feasibility and design work for fish passage at Sunken Meadow Creek in Sunken Meadow State Park. Funding has also been secured for future fish passage feasibility and design work at Phillips Mill Pond Dam on the Nissequogue River in Caleb Smith State Park, Mill Pond Dam on Bellmore Creek in Wantagh, and the Wilson Woods Dam on the Hutchison River in Mount Vernon. Funding has been secured for future fish passage installation at Lower Lake Dam on the Carmans River in Yaphank. These projects support goals outlined in Action 1 of the OAP, and improve adaptive fishery management and sustainable conservation.

Seagrass Habitat Protection

Eelgrass (Zostera marina)

Seagrass provides critical habitat to numerous fish and shellfish species that are important for recreational fishing and commercially important for the seafood industry. Seagrass forms underwater meadows that can absorb wave energy and stabilize the seabed which deters erosion and supports resilient shorelines. Seagrass meadows have declined considerably and continue to suffer primarily from degrading water quality and climate change, evident in Harmful Algal Blooms (such as Brown Tide: Aureoccus anophageffrens), but also from physical impacts related to shoreline development and boating activities that alter the seabed. Acknowledging the importance of seagrass habitat and the dire need for its conservation, NYS has initiated a Seagrass Management program. Please visit our page to learn more about seagrass and conservation in New York.

Seagrass management activities relate to steps of Action 2 in the OAP, for example:

  • Providing ground level verification support for an aerial based survey of seagrass in the South Shore Estuary Reserve conducted by a partnership of the Governor's Office of Storm Recovery with NYS Department of State.
  • Making seagrass maps accessible for planning to avoid impacts from new projects.
  • Supporting research on seagrass health and environmental conditions including the amount of light needed to promote recovery of eelgrass in NY bays.
  • Developed eelgrass technical synthesis report to support nitrogen pollution management planning on Long Island.
  • Coordinated with the Town of Brookhaven, The Nature Conservancy and Stony Brook University for seagrass restoration activities.
  • Conducting outreach to Suffolk County municipalities to develop Seagrass Management planning.
Tidal Wetland Habitat Map

Wetland Monitoring and Restoration

Wetlands remain a vital part of the coastal ecosystem. Wetlands improve coastal water quality, provide habitats and spawning grounds for marine animals, and act as buffer zones against intense storms. Recent studies have found that our coastal marshes are disappearing. Many factors can contribute to marsh loss such as sea level rise, eutrophication and nutrient loading, low or altered sediment supply and erosion, and coastal development that hinders a marsh's ability to migrate landward. NYSDEC and its many partners (EPA, Peconic Estuary Program, Suffolk County, TNC and NEIWPCC) collaborated on The Long Island Tidal Wetlands Trends Analysis project in order to assess the quantitative and qualitative changes, including the extent of marsh acreage lost or gained, and changes or shifts in tidal wetland vegetation since the last New York State regulatory inventory of 1974. The results of this effort support other studies that have demonstrated substantial loss of tidal wetlands area over the past forty years. Visit Tidal Wetlands for the full report.

In partnership with USGS and LISS habitat restoration staff a Marsh Loss and Water Quality Monitoring system was established. This project monitors temperature, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, water level and marsh elevations at 4 marsh systems in LIS (East Creek, Sands Point; West Pond, Glen Cove; Frost Creek, Lattingtown and Flax Pond, Old Field) embayments. This data allows us to track water quality, water level and marsh elevation/sediment accretion rates over time. This is important information for understanding the quality of our marshes and understanding if they are capable of keeping pace with anticipated sea level rise.

Understanding marsh health is an important aspect of managing the states salt marshes. The Bureau of Marine Habitat is also developing rapid assessment tools to identify marsh quality and potential sites in need of management or restoration. Restoration plans are being developed for one site in Bellport Bay at NYSDECs Fire Place Neck wetland. These restoration plans enable DEC to leverage funding to get the on the ground restoration project completed. With the help of these projects, DEC can help protect wetlands and implement the goals of Action 3 of the OAP.

Artificial Reef Program

Image of material being deployed at Shinnecock Reef
Material being deployed at Shinnecock Reef
Photo Credit: NY Governor's Office

Since 1962, DEC has carried out artificial reef construction to provide habitat for fish and opportunities for recreational anglers. DEC manages 12 artificial reefs in the marine district including the newest habitat Twelve Mile Reef. Most are located near harbors or inlets for easy access to fishermen and divers and are found on both the north and south shores of Long Island:

  • Two reefs in Long Island Sound
  • Two reefs in Great South Bay
  • Eight reefs in the Atlantic Ocean

Artificial reefs increase fisheries habitat and provide marine life additional opportunities for shelter and foraging. New York's marine resources are critical to the state's economy, generating billions of dollars through tourism, fishing and other industries.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the largest expansion of the artificial reef program (link leaves DEC website) in state history, carried out by a multi-agency coordination and with recycled material from the Department of Transportation, Canal Corporation, and the Thruway Authority. Materials being deployed for additional reef structure include tug boats, barges, and scows, as well as concrete and clean, recycled materials from the demolition of the former Tappan Zee Bridge. These materials will support the development of six artificial reefs on Long Island at sites off the shores of Smithtown, Shinnecock, Moriches, Fire Island, Hempstead, and Rockaway.

Blackfish residing one Hempstead Reef
Blackfish residing on Hempstead Reef
Photo Credit: Christopher LaPorta

DEC's Artificial Reef Monitoring Project conducts biological assessments of existing, new and non-reef sites for seasonal occurrence, species biomass, species diversity and population structure for finfish, crustaceans, and epibenthic assemblages. The assessments also help to determine the most cost-effective, repeatable method and sampling procedure for the New York Artificial Reef Program.

In addition to this project, a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for Artificial Reefs will update the most recent science surrounding artificial reefs to provide the basis for permit renewals for existing sites and expansions as well as for new sites. These projects initiate artificial reef development and carry out Action 42 of the OAP.