Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Moby Duck

I just finished reading “Moby Duck”, which was recommended to me by Liz Roosevelt.  This is a fascinating and enlightening book based upon what seems to be a slim premise – to find out what happened to 28,800 bath toys which were lost at sea just south of the Aleutian Islands on January 10, 1992. The author, Donovan Hohn was a high school teacher who learned of the toy spill through an essay written by one of his students. Hohn assigned his journalism students to write an essay on the “archaeology of the ordinary.”  One student chose to write about his rubber duck which he carried for luck.  He mentioned the toys spill, and that the toys were expected to have drifted through the Bering Strait, the Northwest Passage, the Canadian Arctic and the Labrador Sea, and down to Nova Scotia, arriving sometime in 2003.

And so the odyssey begins.  This is more than just an indulgent quest to satisfy an individual’s curiosity.  Hohn is a very talented writer whose inquiries lead him from manufacturing plants in China, on to remote beaches in Alaska to search for washed up ducks, on an ice breaker in the Northwest Passage, the vast Pacific Ocean off of Hawaii on a scientific research vessel.  Along the way, readers learn about container vessels and how they are loaded, rogue waves, Irminger rings, the Great Pacific Gyre and some disastrous Arctic explorations of the 19th and early 20th centuries.   His inquiries are wide ranging and thoughtful.

He interviews scientists, environmentalists from across the spectrum, ship captains and crew, manufacturers and lawyers.  He examines plastics in all forms and shapes, and the catastrophic effect plastic is having on our oceans and environment.  So little is recycled, and so much winds up on our beaches (some beaches in Hawaii are composed almost entirely of plastic sand), in the ocean as microscopic particles where it is mistaken as food by sea creatures, or floating endlessly in the ocean.

This is not a grim book, full of depressing facts and gloomy predictions for the future.  It is a frequently very funny, always enlightening and completely original book.  I very highly recommend it.   

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

John Turner Lecture

Friends of the Bay supporters had a virtual hike around Long Island at our lecture on Wednesday, March 3.  Noted Long Island environmentalist John Turner read excerpts from his newly updated and revised edition of Exploring the Other Island.  The book is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to get to know the natural side of Long Island better, and there is no better guide than John.  Carl Safina considers John to be “the all-around most experienced, most knowledgeable and most devoted person I know with regard to scientifically appreciating , lucidly explaining and effectively helping to protect this fish shaped Island.”

John told a story about an encounter with an individual in Yellowstone , who upon learning that John came from Long Island, mad e a disparaging remark about the environment on Long Island, and that there is very little worthwhile  here in terms of the natural world (obviously that person never came to Oyster Bay).  Admittedly, there are environmental challenges here, and there has been a lot of habitat destruction and compromise.  However, if a person was to visit all the sites mentions in his book they would be rewarded with a whole new respect and understanding of Long Island’s great natural beauty. 

Exploring the Other Island is arranged by season, so an early March lecture was  perfect timing to start a virtual hike.  John first read a quote about wildflowers from a book written in 1670:  “the country itself to send forth such a fragrant smell that it may be perceived at sea before they can make the land.”   He then began with the earliest of spring harbingers – the nesting of Great Horned owls, the emergence of tiger salamanders and spring wildflowers, the return of piping plovers and spring peepers.   Our spring songbirds are already leaving their wintering grounds in South America to make their long journeys north.  There haven’t been any ospreys seen in Oyster Bay yet, but they should be back in the next couple of weeks. 

Birds are not the only animals that migrate.  The alewives (or river herrings) will be returning to their streams to breed as well.  One of the challenges they face are dams or other obstacles to their passage.  One of the actions recommended in the forthcoming Watershed Action Plan will be to  install fish ladders or remove blockages to restore historic alewife runs. 

The depth and breadth of John’s knowledge of Long Island’s environment was clear as he went through the seasons and around the Island.  I think everyone in the audience learned something that night.  For instance, I never knew that Long Island had once been one of the top five producers of cranberries in the country.  The last commercial cranberry bog , which was in Manorville, closed in 1975.  There are sites on Long Island where cranberries still grow.  We also learned that Woodcocks have the nickname of the “flying meatloaf”.  If you’ve ever seen a woodcock, it makes perfect sense. 

Max Wheaton, the Poet Laureate of Nassau County was in attendance at the lecture, and he was given a challenge of writing a poem to the milkweed.  For so many who are allergic, milkweed may not be a thing of beauty, but the pods in late summer and early fall are really stunning.  

A recurring theme throughout the night was the need for responsible stewardship and appreciation of Long Island’s land and waters.  There are many simple actions that can be taken, recycling, using less water, not using plastic bags when we go shopping that seem small, but taken together, make a difference. Supporting organizations you believe in is critical.  Quoting from Exploring the Other Island “It is difficult for many of us to effect change in the decisions taking place in corporate board rooms and governmental committees due to the time and energy it typically takes to become involved in the political process.   Here’s where conservation and environmental organizations play a surrogate, yet critical, role to your direct involvement by reflecting and expressing your concern for the environment to corporate and political America.  They are able to marshal and focus your support for protecting the environment to achieve gains in protecting wildlife, preserving open space, promoting renewable energy, and in a whole host of other important conservation areas.”  With the current budget crisis playing out in Washington, local organizations are going to be taking on more of the work to protect and preserve our environment. 

John autographed copies of his book and we do have a very few left.  All the proceeds will benefit Friends of the Bay, so if you would like a copy, please let me know.  

Congressional Funding

As I am writing this article, congress is debating a Continuing Resolution to extend government funding for the rest of the year.  By the time you are reading this article, voting may have taken place.  My column last week spoke of the use of Facebook in discovering interesting articles.   This week, Facebook and other social media applications were key tools in helping to spread awareness of the need to make phone calls to help protect our environment.   The astonishing spread of calls for freedom and less restrictive government in the Mideast is also testament to the efficacy of these tools.  All the coverage I have seen gives credit to usage of Facebook,twitter , and email  in arranging and coordinating the protests, and in allowing unedited coverage of these events to spread worldwide. 

The Long Island Sound Study is composed of groups from along the southern side of Connecticut and the north shore of Long Island who work together to protect the water quality of the Long Island Sound.  There is a broad diversity of representation.  Some of them members are locally based like Friends of the Bay or the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee, there are municipal members like the Town of Oyster Bay, representatives from fishing associations, larger regional organizations like Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Audubon New York and Connecticut, and governmental agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Dcpartment of Environmental Conservation.  All of us work together to protect the Long Island Sound and its watershed areas.

Some of the larger organizations have staff members who closely follow what is occurring in Washington and report back to their constituents and to members of the Long Island Sound Study.  This week the amount of urgent emails from environmental organizations was more than I have ever seen.  An email Friends of the Bay sent began with “The environment is under assault in Congress right now”.  These are difficult economic times, and tough choices have to be made.  It seems though that cuts are not being made evenly, or with regard to damage that may be done that is irreversible.  Once a habitat is destroyed, it is gone forever.  As someone  famously said “land – they aren’t making any more of it.”

One of the tables of funding appropriations that was circulated was astonishing to me: 

SF Bay
Puget Sound
South Florida
Mississippi River Basin
Long Island Sound
Gulf of Mexico
Lake Champlain

As you see, funding for the Long Island Sound was being cut by more than 50%, to 2.962 million.  The most the sound ever received was $7 million.  Our shellfishing industry alone contributes $7 million to our regional economy.  $7 million was the most the Sound ever received. 

Understandably, groups were very concerned about these deep cuts.  It had been anticipated that funding would remain at the 2010 level, at $7 million.  Emails were sent out by Audubon New York and Connecticut, requesting assistance in reaching out to legislators.  Friends o f the Bay and Citizens Campaign for the Environment sent out eblasts to our membership and posted alerts on our Facebook pages, which were in turn shared by the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee and Boating Times Long Island.  I heard from representative’s assistants that they were receiving phone calls as a result of these cooperative efforts.  In these very difficult times, when government agencies and non profit organizations are stretched to the maximum, cooperation and support is key to achieving goals.  Public support is crucial.  Your legislators need to know what is important to their constituents. 

As part of this cooperative between organizations, Sean Mahar of Audubon New York provided the following  talking points to use when calling legislators regarding this Continuing Resolution – these can also be used as the basis of a letter or an email to your representative.   The Continuing Resolution may have already been decided as you read this column.  It is still very important to let your legislators know that the environment (and the jobs produced or protected, tourism income, etc) is important to you. 

“Across the nation, our important water ecosystems like the Great Lakes and Long Island Sound are under constant threat from pollution and habitat loss.  We face a massive backlog of projects to clean up and restore these important engines of the regional and national economy. 

The cuts proposed in this Continuing Resolution disproportionately target these important water and wildlife programs, that invest in programs that put people to work restoring the waters that millions of people depend on each day. 

For example, in my district, Long Island Sound is a national economic and ecological treasure that contributes more than $8 billion per year to the regional economy from commercial and recreational fishing, ecotourism and other water dependent businesses. More than 28 million people, or nearly 10 percent of the population of the United States, live within 50 miles of Long Island Sound, and the resultant development has led to increasingly poor ecosystem health.

For the Sound, federal funding through the Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Acts is desperately needed to reach the goals of the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) that has been developed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Long Island Sound Study (LISS).  Yet this CR cuts this program by over 50%!

This attack by the House Republicans on environmental spending is the wrong course, and does little to put our nation on the road to economic and environmental recovery.  Investments in local environmental restoration jobs that cannot be exported elsewhere must be prioritized and not undone when the demand for this funding could not be greater. 
In New York alone, over $70 million worth of projects was applied for in the first year of funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and while the $20 million in funding received by the state is just beginning to yield dividends, we cannot afford to lose ground. 
The longer we wait to reverse the decline of our coastal ecosystems like the Great Lakes, Long Island Sound, New York Harbor, and other of our nation’s great water ecosystems, the costs to bring these places back increase drastically, greatly decreasing the returns on our nation’s investment. 
Therefore I urge you to vote against these cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Long Island Restoration and Stewardship Acts and other EPA Water Programs are the wrong course, and amendments that would handicap the EPA to protect the water and air resources we all depend on. 
In addition, I urge you to oppose the elimination of funding for the State Wildlife Grants Program, the nation’s core program for keeping species from becoming endangered and keeps people working to monitor and improve the habitats that our fish and wildlife rely on. 

This proposed elimination comes at a time when bird and wildlife watching is the fastest growing outdoor recreation bringing in billions in revenue from this ecotourism.  Our state wildlife agencies and organizations need this which every state and territory  in the nation gets their share of the funding based on a formula.  Therefore every state benefits and every state will be negatively impacted by this program’s elimination.

This is why I urge my colleagues to vote against this assault on environmental programs, and take a scalpel to our systemic budgetary problems, instead of a hatchet to funding for our forest, water and wildlife.  The health of our economy, future generations and the planet depend on it.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Oysters to the Rescue in New York

Facebook is something people either seem to love or hate.  Very few people are neutral  about it.  It can be a huge distraction, but used properly, it can be a very informative and engaging tool.  Besides connecting with family and friends, more and more organizations and businesses are using facebook to reach out and spread messages.  Its less technologically challenging than an RSS feed, and easy to set up and subscribe to.  And yes, Friends of the Bay has a facebook page, so if you are on Facebook, become a fan! 

One of the articles which was posted on my facebook page concerned a lecture given at the Museum of Modern Art.  The museum held an exhibit called Rising Currents, which featured plans for dealing with the impacts of coastal sea level rise on New York City.  As part of this exhibit, a lecture was given by Kate Orff.  Kate is a landscape architect and Assistant Professor at Columbia University, and is a founder of a firm called SCAPE.  Kate’s work at Columbia focuses on the integration of design disciplines and earth sciences. 

Kate explained in her lecture that she is passionate about the how the geography of America has shaped history and the American character.  She is attempting to blend the fields of urbanism and ecology to address sea level rise and climate change.  In her efforts to do so she has found a “new hero in the global climate change war, and that is the eastern oyster…albeit a very small creature and very modest, this creature is incredible, because it can agglomerate into these mega-reef structures, it can grow, you can grow it, and did I mention its quite tasty.”  (well, we knew that!).  Kate used the oyster as a basis for a design project she calls oyster-tecture. 

The crux of this very interesting idea is to utilize the power of oysters, eel grass and mussels to help combat sea level rise and cleanse even the infamous Gowanus Canal of pollution.  At one time, oysters the size of dinner plates grew in the canal, so this is kind of a back to the future idea.  Kate believes that by developing an oyster reef in the harbor, the islands that were in New Harbor at one time would be re-created and would help to serve as wave buffers.  The oysters, of course, would provide water filtration and cleansing.  Kate certainly gives a lot of credit to the role of oysters in New York’s history – stating that New York was built on the backs of oystermen, and the streets built on oyster shells. 

She goes on to describe how artificial reefs might be built using ropes, and how possibly the reefs could even become a public space.  Flupsys (floating upwelling systems) are a key part of her plans.   These are the same flupsys that can be seen at The WaterFront Center, or lining the side of Mill Neck Creek by Frank M. Flower and Sons hatchery in Bayville.  Oyster gardens are also part of her plans for the canal. 

It’s a very interesting concept, and one that should be explored further.  The full lecture can be seen from a link at the Friends of the Bay blog.   

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Long Island Sound Health

The 2010 Edition of Long Island Sound Health is out - it is a wealth of information for anyone interested in Long Island Sound.  Its especially valuable for students! Long Island Sound Health

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Oyster Bay/Cold Spring Harbor Protection Committee Coordinator Position


Oyster Bay / Cold Spring Harbor Protection Committee
Oyster Bay, New York


The Oyster Bay/ Cold Spring Harbor watershed located on the north shore of Long Island, New York is a 40 square mile watershed that has been subject to increasing environmental threatsin recent years. These include illegal dumping, polluted stormwater, development pressureand impairments to shellfishing, public bathing, fish consumption, habitat/hydrology, aquatic life and recreation.

In order to help protect andenhance the water quality of these two harbors and their tributaries in the most cost-efficient and effective manner, awatershed-wide inter-municipal committee was recently formed.  Sixteen (16) of the  eighteen (18) municipalities located within the watershed have so far agreed to join the committee, which is  known as the Oyster Bay / Cold Spring Harbor Protection Committee (OB/CSH PC).

The Town of Oyster Bay (one of those municipalities) has secured a grant under the Long Island Sound Futures Fund which provides funding to hire a part time Coordinator to facilitate the further development of the Committee.


Duties include but are not limited to the following:

o   Advance the current steering committee to a working committee

o   Develop a mission statement, a needs statement, and a work plan

o   Investigate various options for OB/CSH PC’s legal structure, decision-making, future funding mechanisms and procedures for those municipalities who want to join the partnership, develop grant proposals as appropriate.

o   .  Investigate Inter-Municipal Agreement (“IMA”) structures and develop an IMA for the municipalities to sign and join the partnership

o   Conduct educational outreach and coordinate among the municipalities

o   Develop a website

o   Coordinate with the Friends of the Bay in the development of a Watershed Action Plan. The Plan will lead to future actions that improve water quality, protect habitat and living resources, educate and involve the public, improve the long term understanding of how to manage the Long Island Sound and its embayments, monitor progress and redirect management efforts.

o   In addition to the Watershed Action Plan, compile all existing plans related to the harbor complex.

o   Investigate the establishment of model codes for the participating municipalities.

o   Develop grant proposals as appropriate.

To the extent that time is available within the established hours, additional duties may be determined by OB/CSH PC.

The position may require attendance at evening meetings.

Office space for the Coordinator will be available at the Friends of the Bay offices located in the hamlet of Oyster Bay.

In addition to the amount described above, the Coordinator will have a budget for contractual services, supplies and materials and travel to carry out the duties described above.


The criteria to be used by the Town in evaluating these proposals shall be the following:

     -      The magnitude, scope and complexity of the services to be rendered
     -      The experience of the Proposer in assignments of similar size, scope and complexity

     -      Special knowledge relevant to the project

     -       The Proposer's knowledge and experience with municipal governments; with Oyster Bay and Cold Spring Harbors; with federal, state and local laws and regulations aimed at protecting watersheds and water quality and with various stakeholder and interest groups that are likely to be involved with the mission of OB/CSH PC.

-          The Proposer’s writing and public speaking abilities.

-            The Proposer’s past performance with the Town and/or any of the other Committee municipalities or other municipalities facing similar needs.

-            Time constraints and deliverability service;

-            The ability of the Proposer to work by himself or herself; and

-            Experience using Microsoft Office (including Word and Excel), internet. GIS a plus. 


The value of the Coordinator’s contract shall not exceed $41,615 over a period of 15 months.  The Coordinator will be paid on an hourly basis. It is anticipated that the Coordinator will work an average of 20 to 25 hours per week.  The Coordinator shall work as an independent contractor for the Town of Oyster Bay and shall be paid upon submission and approval of a Town claim form, time sheets and any other backup determined necessary by the Town.  Benefits are not included with this position.  The position will be subject to quarterly reviews.

Closing Date

The closing date and time are Friday, January 28th at 4:00 pm.  Proposals must be RECEIVED by that time. Proposals must be submitted in hard copy and mailed or hand-delivered.  No electronic proposals will be considered.

Additional Details

Additional details can be found in the Request For Proposals (RFP) package that will be provided upon request.

To Apply

Contact Eric Swenson at (516) 677-5790 or to request a Request For Proposals (RFP) package.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bottled Water Report from the Environmental Working Group

The Environmental Working Group has just published its survey of 173 bottled water products.  No surprise - tap water is best!  Read the full results and compare your brand here - Environmental Working Group Bottled Water Survey