The Fire Island inlet created by Superstorm Sandy is filling up with sand. The carve-out allowed clean ocean water to flush pollutants in Bellport Bay. NewsdayTV’s Tom Maier reports. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost; Photo Credit: Doug Kuntz; Kevin T. Coughlin

A large Fire Island inlet carved out by Superstorm Sandy has filled up naturally with sand, prompting concern among baymen, environmentalists and others about increased pollution and greater risk of future “brown tide” algae blooms in nearby Bellport Bay.

In 2012, the storm opened a gap about 1,000 feet wide and 20 feet deep through the Otis Pike Wilderness section of the Fire Island National Seashore, located about two miles west of Smith Point County Park in Shirley.

The rush of clean ocean water through the inlet washed away pollutants from cesspools and other dirty runoff from the mainland that seep into Bellport Bay.

Now, the environmental benefits from this “ocean flushing” appear to be ending, endangering water quality and recreational and commercial fisheries as Bellport Bay loses its direct link to the Atlantic Ocean, according to federal and state experts.

Christopher Gobler, director of the New York State Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University, said water quality in Bellport Bay “could be reversed” with closure of the inlet.

Gobler said the expected decline in water quality could damage recreational fishing — bluefish, striped bass and black sea bass are among fish caught there — and some commercial clamming operations in the Bellport area.

“With the inlet closing, there’ll be less visibility, and water quality possibly detrimental to shellfish and fish,” said Gobler, who works closely with government environmental agencies.

Alexcy Romero, superintendent of the Fire Island National Seashore, said he expects “more algae blooms” with the inlet virtually closed. Romero said signs of brown tide in Bellport Bay appeared late last summer for the first time in a decade.

Any human-engineered fix is out of the question, experts and federal officials said.

Federal law prohibits dredging or other efforts to prevent the inlet from filling up with sand as part of the natural flow of erosion along the seashore, Romero said.

Bellport Bay is among a number of lagoon-like bays along Long Island's South Shore protected by sandy barriers such as Fire Island, which was created some 10,000 years ago by glacial activity.

Over the past three centuries, an estimated 28 temporary inlets have opened between the Great South Bay and the ocean, the researchers said.

They noted the new inlet in the Otis Pike wilderness area roughly followed the path of an “old inlet” that opened in the early 1800s, and that filled with sand over time.

Research by Gobler and other Stony Brook scientists has documented the degree to which Superstorm Sandy improved the waters of theGreat South Bay, particularly near Bellport Bay, Narrow Bay in Mastic Beach and western Moriches Bay.

From 2013 to 2018, water clarity improved in the area, tests found. At the same time, levels of harmful brown tide algae, chlorophyll and fecal coliform bacteria dropped significantly.

The improvements were centered around the newly formed Fire Island inlet, where the growth rate of juvenile hard clams also significantly increased. Other sections of the Great South Bay located to the west of the inlet did not get the same benefits, the researchers found.

For Bellport baymen such as John DiNaro, the storm-created inlet "made an unbelievable difference in the water, which went from murky to crystal clear."

DiNaro expressed concern that without an inflow of clean ocean water, runoff of nitrate pollutants from drainage leaks and chemical fertilizers used on lawns would harm the bay's fish and plant life.

DiNaro said he already could see the difference.

"The water is not as clear and the fish don't want to be here," DiNaro said.

"I think what is going to happen is that the shellfishing is going to go down," he said. "The fishing is going to go downhill.” 

The new inlet helped inspire creation of a local advocacy group, the Friends of Bellport Bay, devoted to the health of the bay, said co-founder Thomas Schultz.

Schultz recalled scientific research allayed fears of local residents that the new divide through Fire Island might lead to flooding on the mainland.

But arrival of fresh seawater from the ocean changed the way local residents viewed the shallow bay, Schultz said.

After the inlet opened, "you could look down and see the bottom," Schultz said of the bay, which he said reaches a depth of only about 7 feet. "You could tell if a quarter was heads or tails with the clear water."

Schultz continued: "I noticed the bay teeming with more life than before and now it's diminished because we are losing the ocean flushing."

 

. 

A large Fire Island inlet carved out by Superstorm Sandy has filled up naturally with sand, prompting concern among baymen, environmentalists and others about increased pollution and greater risk of future “brown tide” algae blooms in nearby Bellport Bay.

In 2012, the storm opened a gap about 1,000 feet wide and 20 feet deep through the Otis Pike Wilderness section of the Fire Island National Seashore, located about two miles west of Smith Point County Park in Shirley.

The rush of clean ocean water through the inlet washed away pollutants from cesspools and other dirty runoff from the mainland that seep into Bellport Bay.

Now, the environmental benefits from this “ocean flushing” appear to be ending, endangering water quality and recreational and commercial fisheries as Bellport Bay loses its direct link to the Atlantic Ocean, according to federal and state experts.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A Fire Island inlet carved out by Superstorm Sandy has filled up with sand, prompting concerns by environmentalists and others about increased pollutants and a greater risk of future “brown tide” algae blooms in nearby Bellport Bay.
  • The huge storm in 2012 opened a gap about 1000 feet wide and 20 feet deep, allowing a rush of clean ocean water to enter the bay.
  • The environmental benefits from this “ocean flushing” appear to be ending, again cutting off Bellport Bay from a direct link to the Atlantic.

Christopher Gobler, director of the New York State Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University, said water quality in Bellport Bay “could be reversed” with closure of the inlet.

Gobler said the expected decline in water quality could damage recreational fishing — bluefish, striped bass and black sea bass are among fish caught there — and some commercial clamming operations in the Bellport area.

Decline in water quality expected

“With the inlet closing, there’ll be less visibility, and water quality possibly detrimental to shellfish and fish,” said Gobler, who works closely with government environmental agencies.

Alexcy Romero, superintendent of the Fire Island National Seashore, said he expects “more algae blooms” with the inlet virtually closed. Romero said signs of brown tide in Bellport Bay appeared late last summer for the first time in a decade.

Any human-engineered fix is out of the question, experts and federal officials said.

Federal law prohibits dredging or other efforts to prevent the inlet from filling up with sand as part of the natural flow of erosion along the seashore, Romero said.

Bellport Bay is among a number of lagoon-like bays along Long Island's South Shore protected by sandy barriers such as Fire Island, which was created some 10,000 years ago by glacial activity.

Over the past three centuries, an estimated 28 temporary inlets have opened between the Great South Bay and the ocean, the researchers said.

They noted the new inlet in the Otis Pike wilderness area roughly followed the path of an “old inlet” that opened in the early 1800s, and that filled with sand over time.

Research by Gobler and other Stony Brook scientists has documented the degree to which Superstorm Sandy improved the waters of theGreat South Bay, particularly near Bellport Bay, Narrow Bay in Mastic Beach and western Moriches Bay.

From 2013 to 2018, water clarity improved in the area, tests found. At the same time, levels of harmful brown tide algae, chlorophyll and fecal coliform bacteria dropped significantly.

The improvements were centered around the newly formed Fire Island inlet, where the growth rate of juvenile hard clams also significantly increased. Other sections of the Great South Bay located to the west of the inlet did not get the same benefits, the researchers found.

Inlet made 'unbelievable difference in the water'

For Bellport baymen such as John DiNaro, the storm-created inlet "made an unbelievable difference in the water, which went from murky to crystal clear."

DiNaro expressed concern that without an inflow of clean ocean water, runoff of nitrate pollutants from drainage leaks and chemical fertilizers used on lawns would harm the bay's fish and plant life.

DiNaro said he already could see the difference.

"The water is not as clear and the fish don't want to be here," DiNaro said.

"I think what is going to happen is that the shellfishing is going to go down," he said. "The fishing is going to go downhill.” 

The new inlet helped inspire creation of a local advocacy group, the Friends of Bellport Bay, devoted to the health of the bay, said co-founder Thomas Schultz.

Schultz recalled scientific research allayed fears of local residents that the new divide through Fire Island might lead to flooding on the mainland.

But arrival of fresh seawater from the ocean changed the way local residents viewed the shallow bay, Schultz said.

After the inlet opened, "you could look down and see the bottom," Schultz said of the bay, which he said reaches a depth of only about 7 feet. "You could tell if a quarter was heads or tails with the clear water."

Schultz continued: "I noticed the bay teeming with more life than before and now it's diminished because we are losing the ocean flushing."

 

. 

Trump on trial … Nassau getting new police vehicles … Lego camp Credit: Newsday

Lab results due on Bethpage drums ... Trump on trial ... Best LI high schools ... Knicks go up 2-0

Trump on trial … Nassau getting new police vehicles … Lego camp Credit: Newsday

Lab results due on Bethpage drums ... Trump on trial ... Best LI high schools ... Knicks go up 2-0

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