Peconic Estuary Program
The Peconic Estuary system is located on the eastern end of Long Island, between the North and South Forks. The estuary includes several smaller bays such as Flanders Bay, Great Peconic Bay, Little Peconic Bay, Shelter Island Sound, and Gardiners Bay. The major sources of fresh water to the estuary are the Peconic River and groundwater seepage.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation participates in the Peconic Estuary Program, part of the National Estuary Program. The Peconic Estuary Program (PEP) is a cooperative effort between the state of New York, Suffolk County, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the scientific community, and the citizens of the Peconic Estuary watershed. In 2001 a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) was adopted and addresses issues noted below.
Excess inputs of nitrogen have caused an imbalance in the estuary, which results in periodic algae blooms and related short drops in dissolved oxygen during the summer. This excess nitrogen is also suspected of contributing to a decline in eelgrass beds.
- Habitat and Living Resource Losses
As with most coastal areas around the country, the natural habitats of the Peconic Estuary and its watershed have been profoundly impacted by physical alterations like dredging, filling, clearing for agriculture and development. In addition extensive chemical changes like input of excess nutrients, suspended sediments, toxic contaminants like pesticides and metals, and salinity disturbances, have taken place. The brown tide algae bloom has wiped out bay scallop populations and adversely affected other shellfish species and eelgrass beds. In addition, there are over 150 species of federally threatened or endangered species which occur within the estuary or in its watershed.
Organisms causing diseases in humans can be carried into the estuary where humans may be exposed by eating raw or partially cooked shellfish. Exposure to pathogens may also occur through direct contact with contaminated water or by swallowing it. The largest source of pathogens to the estuary is stormwater runoff which carries material from malfunctioning septic systems and animal waste.
- Brown Tide
The algae bloom known as the Brown Tide has wiped out bay scallop populations and the economically important fishery associated with them. Brown Tide also has adverse effects on other species of shellfish like quahogs and soft shell clams. The causes of Brown Tide are not yet understood, but are the subject of research funded by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal Ocean Program. The research is being conducted through the New York Sea Grant Institute. Research will focus on causes of the bloom, and its impact on shellfish, submerged aquatic vegetation, and other marine species.
- Toxic Contamination
The main concern related to toxic contaminants is the prevention and minimization of inputs. A study of the sediments in open waters, bays and creeks revealed very few samples where federal or state guidance levels were exceeded for the chemicals sampled.