If sharks, whales, and stingrays were not enough –
6 Hazards to Beware of at Long Island Beaches This Summer
on July 3, 2015
Long Beach on
Memorial Day 2015. (Photo by Joe Abate)
have begun swarming to the shores of Long Island to cool off now that
school is out and summer is in, but the region’s favorite pastime isn’t all fun
a day at the beach from turning into a trip to the emergency room, swimmers—and
in some cases, even sun worshipers who stay on the sand—should be careful of
common local hazards ranging from pollution to rip currents.
enjoy the start of summer at our beautiful beaches, it’s important for neighbors
to recognize the joy of playing in the ocean is accompanied by the potential
for danger,” warned Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray.
shores are not alone in giving bathers something to worry about. Florida
leads the nation in shark attacks with the Carolinas close behind given the
upswing in recent incidents, some California beaches have been cleaning up oil
inexplicably washing ashore and the Gulf Coast is still recovering from the BP
oil spill five years ago.
the issues on the Island aren’t as dangerous as shark bites and oil spills,
there are still some risks that can roll ashore worth keeping in mind. Here are
Swimming was prohibited at Lake Ronkonkoma beach due to
increased bacteria levels and a blue-green algae bloom advisory on Tuesday,
June 30, 2015. Lake Ronkonkoma reopened to swimming on Thursday, July 2, 2015.
(Long Island Press photo)
At The Petri Dish
doesn’t only keep sunbathers away from the shore when the skies open up,
but also can force health officials to temporarily close beaches on sunny days
that follow storms.
because stormwater runoff washes pathogens—disease-causing bacteria or
viruses—into local waterways, which often prompts health officials responsible
for testing the water quality to temporarily close affected bathing beaches the
day after heavy rains. Bathing in bacteria-contaminated water can result in
gastrointestinal illness, as well as infections of the eyes, ears, nose and
throat, officials say.
have shown that such pollution is the result of stormwater runoff washing
domestic and wild animal waste as well as partly treated human waste from
septic tanks and sewage treatment plants into LI’s bays, rivers and streams.
National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) ranked New York 20th in beach water
quality out of 30 states, according to last year’s annual report that examines
beach closure data. The ranking by the nonprofit environmental group was the
result of 13 percent of samples taken in 2013 exceeding the national Beach
Action Value, a system developed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency
to test safe levels of bacteria in the water.
contributing human waste to bathing beaches are some boaters who flush
untreated sewage into local bays even though the EPA made doing
that illegal when the South Shore Estuary, Peconic Bay Estuary and the
Long Island Sound were all deemed a “no discharge zone” five years ago.
public can help keep beaches open and prevent pathogens from entering waterways
by disposing of animal waste properly, maintaining septic systems and reminding
boaters to use a pump-out station. Before swimming, check local beaches for any
posted warnings by calling Nassau County’s beach hotline at 516-227-9700 and/or
Suffolk County’s beach hotline at 631-852-5822.
from swimmers avoiding pathogens, those who go fishing or clamming in the
waters off LI’s shores have another kind of pollution to worry about.
after industrial sources polluted the waters with heavy metals such as mercury
and carcinogens such as PCBs, those and other toxins have been found in fish and
shellfish caught off both the north and south shores of LI, studies have shown.
primary chemicals of concern in New York City waters and Long Island marine
waters are PCBs, dioxin and cadmium,” the New York State Department of Health wrote in its pamphlet on eating locally caught fish. “In Long Island
freshwaters the primary chemical is chlordane. These chemicals build up in your
body over time.”
advisory, the health department suggests that fishermen and women limit eating
fish caught in certain waterways, with extra precautions urged for children and
women under 50. Fish caught in water farther offshore is less contaminated, the
from issuing warnings for certain fish caught in Block Island Sound, Gardiners
Bay, Jamaica Bay, the South Shore and Peconic Bay, there are also guidelines
for freshwater fishing in lakes, ponds and streams around LI, including
Freeport Reservoir, Lake Capri, Loft’s Pond, Smith Pond and Fresh Pond.
clams oysters and other shellfish, the state Department of Environmental
Conservation (DEC) issued an emergency closure in May for shellfisheries in Shinnecock
Bay after marine biotoxin contamination was found. For the latest advisories,
call the DEC’s local shellfish office at 631-444-0480.
About 40 volunteers picked up trash on the Montauk beaches
collecting everything from shoes and straws to mylar balloons and fishing trash
as part of the Surfrider Foundation Clean up on Wednesday, June 17. (Photo
credit: Dain Ning)
those only going for a long walk on the beach should be careful of debris, as
anyone who’s ever stepped on trash buried in the sand at Jones Beach
State Park knows too well.
glass, rusted metal and fishing line are just some of the garbage that can
occasionally be found littering local shores. Not only is it unpleasant for
humans to step on such trash, animals are often entangled in discarded ropes
and fishing line.
year, 56,891 volunteers cleaned and documented 92,677 pounds of debris along
245.52 miles of New York State’s shoreline,” The American Littoral Society said
on its website. That total is about the weight of a fully grown sperm
whale, which can reach a length of 59 feet.
public can help by disposing of trash properly and volunteering for beach
cleanups through the society, The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and
Preservation and other environmentally oriented groups.
Tens of thousands of dead bunker fish have been washing up along
the Peconic River and Flanders Bay due to low dissolved oxygen levels caused by
overabundant nitrogen, which fuel brown and red tides. (Photo: Long Island
Coastal Conservation Research Alliance Facebook Page)
Tide is High
further than the mass turtle die-off and back-to-back fish kills that flooded East
End waterways with tens of thousands of dead bunker fish last month for proof
that red tide is a problem on LI.
and experts credited all three events in Flanders Bay to red tide—an
overabundance of algae that contributes to the depletion of oxygen in the water
and causes a host of other problems. The blooms are caused by nitrogen
question the biggest problem is nitrogen in our waters,” said Jim Gilmore, head
of the state DEC’s Bureau of Marine Resources. “We have had several occurrences
of fish kills but never of this magnitude. And nitrogen exacerbates the
problem. We want the fish in the water, not dying on the beaches. Algal blooms
fueled by nitrogen are making it worse.”
toxic condition first emerged in LI waters three decades ago and is widely
believed to have contributed to—along with overfishing—the collapse of the
local shell fishing industry, which is now a shell of its former self.
nitrogen leaches into local bays from a combination of sewage treatment plant
outflow pipes, storm water runoff and antiquated septic tanks. The problem is
exacerbated in Suffolk County, where 74 percent of homes and businesses still
use septic tanks since most of eastern LI isn’t hooked up to the public sewer
the recent fish kills, local health officials warned the public not to touch
the dead fish. But people should avoid contact with some of the algae blooms as
well—notably the blue-green algae and red tide, which contains neurotoxins that
can cause paralysis.
also at risk if they drink from water where blue-green algae is present. In
2013, a dog died after drinking water from an East Hampton pond that was
contaminated with blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria. Similar fatal incidents
have been reported nationwide.
in brown tide, which has been spotted in the South Shore bays this summer, is
not known to be harmful. But ingesting water with high amounts of algae can be
risky. An NRDC study found that those exposed to certain types of algae might
suffer from a variety of symptoms such as neurological complaints, diarrhea,
vomiting, respiratory issues as well as skin and eye irritation.
prevent algae blooms, choose organic compost instead of fertilizer for yard
work and gardening.
Lion’s Mane jellyfish
things ruin a day at the beach like a jellyfish sting—especially if the culprit
is the Lion’s Mane jellyfish, which is believed to be the world’s largest.
big, bad jellies are native to the North Atlantic and are no strangers to LI
waters. This species of jellyfish can grow to as large as 6-feet wide and
49-feet long. Although the lion’s mane jellyfish has a beautiful
crimson-colored, bell-shaped head, be warned that these creatures’ tentacles
can leave a very painful sting.
from this reporter, who’s personally been stung by the lion’s mane: This
jellyfish’s sting can lead to hives and blisters. Don’t ignore signs
posted on the beach that warn about jellyfish in the waters, and always
use caution when swimming.Beware
‘Grip of The Rip’
addition to all of the above-listed hazards, top among them are rip currents.
currents are channels of water that are caused by water pressure building up
along the shoreline, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
standing at the water’s edge, swimmers may feel a tugging at their ankles
as the water pulls away from shore; this is the undertow. If the pull is strong
enough, it can lead to drowning. While an undertow and riptides are dangerous,
the number one danger is rip currents, mostly because people have an instinct
to swim against it and exhaust themselves to the point of drowning.
we say beware of the ‘grip of the rip,’ we mean it,” said Hempstead
Town Councilman Anthony Santino. “Even the most experienced swimmers can be
endangered by rip currents, so it’s imperative to be prepared if a situation
arises in the water.”
escape out of a rip current, swimmers should remain calm, swim parallel to the
shore and allow the oncoming waves to assist them back to shore. If a swimmer
has enough energy, it is strongly advised to signal for help. Always remember
to stay within areas that have lifeguards, and don’t swim too far away from
have a blast at the beach but don’t forget your sun block.