Long Island's South Shore Estuary Reserve is an "ecological wonderland" whose vast natural resources must be managed, protected and restored, state officials said Monday as they released a five-year plan that addresses coastal resiliency, water quality, climate change and tourism.
The estuary's Comprehensive Management Plan, unveiled at Cedar Beach Marina in Babylon as part of National Climate Week, is a blueprint for preserving the South Shore's marine resources. Plan updates are typically released every half-decade and serve as a guide for distributing project funding.
In the past 21 years, state, federal and local programs have provided more than $660 million in Estuary Reserve funding for nearly 460 projects, officials said.
"We need to ensure that this remarkable natural resource is preserved and restored for generations of Islanders to come," said Kisha Santiago-Martinez, deputy secretary of state for development, planning and community supervision. "This plan is not just a retrospective on past. It's a prospective blueprint for the future viability of the South Shore Estuary Reserve."
The plan's agenda will be partially funded with $1 million in annual state dollars — but local advocates must still lobby for critical federal infrastructure funding to help it reach completion. Implementation will be led by the New York Department of State, along with local officials, environmental advocacy groups and business leaders.
The plan was prepared by the South Shore Estuary Reserve Council with help from the Department of State. The council has representatives from the state and local governments, nonprofit and academic groups and other local stakeholders.
It focuses on the impact of pathogens and pesticides in area waterways, analyzing water samples for emerging contaminants such as microplastics, rebuilding shellfish stocks, shoreline hardening, increasing protection for the sea turtle and creating more launch sites for kayaking and paddle boarding.
"Finally, for the 70 miles of estuary, which goes from the Shinnecock Bay to the east to the Atlantic Bay Bridge to the west, we now have a management plan for restoration and protection," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "That's exactly what we need."
The South Shore Estuary Reserve, which is administered by the Department of State, includes numerous beaches, shallow bays, tidal marshes, tributaries, marinas, and upland areas extending from Nassau to Suffolk, and including parts of six townships, the City of Long Beach and 28 villages. The estuary supports about 3,000 businesses that employ roughly 30,000 individuals, officials said.
"Protecting Long Island's waterways and shorelines has never been more important as we face the growing and unprecedented effects of climate change and regular threats to water quality and ecological health," Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement.
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine said the plan's agenda will require millions in funding from the 2021 federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
"This plan is critical if we are to save our waterways and preserve our island. But a plan is exactly that — a plan," Romaine said. "All issues of government are issues of money … So I'm waiting to see the money that will come forward to implement the plan."
Rob Weltner, president of Operation Splash, a Freeport-based environmental group, said the blueprint must include detailed strategies to address concerns about rising sea levels, stormwater runoff, wastewater discharges and harmful algae blooms.
"It also reminds us that the bay is not a bottomless bank that we can keep making withdrawals from," he said, "but a fragile partner that needs help from too many manmade withdrawals."