by CONOR GRANT
The Long Island Sound is one of the world’s most beautiful bodies of water. With its striking coastline and beautiful coastal towns and its convenient location between Connecticut and Long Island, the Sound is a popular spot for boaters, sunbathers, fishermen, and all variety of outdoor enthusiasts. For all those who have spent time in the area, it will come as no surprise that more than four million people have chosen to make their home in the coastal communities of the Sound. These four million people make the coastal landscape of Long Island Sound a vibrant and exciting one, but it is important to remember that the Long Island Sound is home to more than just people. In fact, the wildlife population within the Sound dwarfs the sizeable human population that surrounds it.
Long Island Sound is a biologically rich estuarine environment that is home to more than 170 species of fish, more than 1,200 species of invertebrates, and dozens of species of birds. The Sound is a diverse marine ecosystem, characterized by productive salt marshes, sandy beaches, tidal flats, eelgrass beds, rocky inter-tidal zones, and numerous other constituent ecosystems that provide a home for the hundreds of species of flora and fauna that populate the Sound. All of these different ecosystems exist in a tenuous harmony that enables such a diverse spectrum of plants and animals to reside in the multitude of habitats found within the Sound. The natural balance of the Sound, however, has been challenged in recent years by a host of environmental issues brought about by inappropriate stewardship of the Sound and its respective marine environments.
It is estimated that 20 million people live within 50 miles of Long Island Sound. This staggering concentration of human settlement around the Sound means that the byproducts of human consumption have lead to pollution of the Sound’s ecosystems. Polluted water runoff is an increasingly problematic issue in the shoreline communities that surround the Sound. Water quality has greatly deteriorated due to chemical runoff primarily caused by lawn products, pesticides, pet waste, and other chemicals. Floating debris, chemical contamination, the destruction of natural habitats, and increasing hypoxia (de-oxygenation) currently destabilize the waters of the Sound. These problems cause species of fish and other creatures to relocate to less dangerous areas, and in some cases they kill off large biological populations of plants and animals that are unable to quickly to respond to rising pollution levels.
Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the environmental issues pertaining to the Sound have been an important part of public policy in the surrounding coastal areas. Great efforts have been made to manage the watershed areas surrounding the Sound, to limit the use of dangerous and damaging products and chemicals, and to limit the destruction of natural habitats in and around the Sound. Despite these efforts, pollution has continued. Education is crucial.
The millions of people who enjoy the beautiful waters of the Sound must realize the dire consequences of improper stewardship of the Sound; many people don’t realize that the fertilizer they use or the pet waste they improperly dispose of is damaging marine ecosystems. People can help mitigate the effects of pollution on the Sound in a number of relatively simple ways, such as purchasing organic lawn-care products, conserving water, practicing proper septic maintenance, recycling, carefully disposing of hazardous materials (batteries, etc.) and conserving energy.
Many programs and institutions are also working to preserve the natural habitats of the Sound. The Long Island Sound Study is a highly active conservation group involved with clean-up and outreach in the area of the Sound. Together, the people of the tri-state area and the country as a whole can save beautiful natural resources like Long Island Sound by practicing a handful of simple conservation techniques. ✦
Conor Grant is an embedded journalist aboard Rozalia Project’s research vessel American Promise. He lives in Ridgewood, NJ and attends Middlebury College. This article originally appeared at rozaliaproject.blogspot.com and is reprinted with permission.
Rozalia Project is 501(c)(3) non-profit, whose mission is to find and remove marine debris, from the surface to the seafloor, through action, technology, outreach and research. This action-based organization achieves its mission though the use of innovative technology, engaging and inspiring educational activities and sound research and data collection. Rozalia Project’s mothership is American Promise, a 60-foot sailing research vessel equipped with state-of-the-art, seafloor trash hunting technology: two remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) with side scan and imaging sonar. While Rozalia Project operates nationwide, American Promise is based at the Kittery Point Yacht Yard in Kittery, ME and runs along the New England coast picking up marine debris, running educational programs and conducting research during the summer. For more information, visit rozaliaproject.org.