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State's 10-year plan tackles ocean resource monitoring

New York State will release Thursday a wide-ranging 10-year plan to monitor ocean resources that includes establishing inshore fish surveys, studying the impacts of sewage outfall pipes and examining coastal vulnerability.

Restoring sea grass, monitoring whale movement, reducing marine debris and adding fish passages to aid with migration are all part of the draft plan, released by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of State.

"This plan will help protect the more than 300 marine fish species reproducing and growing in these waters, support the valuable commercial and recreational fishing industries, as well as the 94 miles of New York State beaches that attract millions of visitors each year," DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a news release.

The 134-page plan lists 61 action items, but does not give an overall cost estimate to implement the measures. The state's Environmental Protection Fund can cover some costs but contributions will be needed from federal, nonprofit, academic, municipal and other sources.

DEC officials did not comment further on funding or cost estimates.

"It includes a lot of ambitious goals that are all the right goals," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "It's a serious intention that will require dedicated attention and dedicated funding by the state."

The report is frank in its assessment of issues that have long plagued the area, said Christopher Gobler, a professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.

"It's incredibly comprehensive," Gobler said. "It doesn't shy away from anything that's been going on."

That includes:

Beach closures in 2007 cost Nassau and Suffolk counties $60 million in lost revenue.

In the 1930s, eelgrass covered some 197,684 acres. Today, the number is down to 21,802 acres.

Storm surge and heavy rainfall during superstorm Sandy caused the release of 11 billion gallons of raw or partly treated sewage from Washington, D.C., to Connecticut. New York contributed 47 percent of that sewage.

Each action item comes with a time frame and a responsible agency.

Monitoring tidal wetland loss, reducing fish bycatch, evaluating horseshoe crab populations, predicting flood-prone areas at risk due to climate change, a campaign to increase ocean literacy and evaluating the state's breach contingency plan are all included in the plan.

An inshore fish trawl and monitoring program in waters within 3 miles of shore is also planned. The information will help fisheries scientists understand population, abundance and distribution, which is much-needed data, said Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association in Montauk. "It will give us more information with which population levels can be better established," Brady said. "It will give us more data."

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