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Why We Should Protect Long Island Estuaries

Facts About the Three Largest Long Island Estuaries

September 16th through the 23rd is National Estuaries Week.  Since 1988, National Estuaries Week provides an excellent opportunity to celebrate our Long Island estuaries.  What better a time to learn more about Long Island estuaries than now?

An estuary is a coastal body of water where freshwater from rivers, streams and groundwater mixes with salt water from the ocean.  Estuaries are usually protected by barrier islands or peninsulas, but are influenced by the tides.  Their habitats can encompass shallow open water, saltwater marshes, swamps, sandy beaches, mud and sand flats, rocky shore, tidal pools and seagrass beds.  Estuarine environments are often touted as some of the most ecologically productive on earth.  Estuaries like our Long Island estuaries support unique communities of plants and animals that are adapted for this specific environment.   

Aside from their ecological importance, Long Island estuaries provide us with economic and recreational benefits that shape our way of life.

Here are some unique facts attributed to the three largest Long Island estuary systems.

Long Island Sound

  • Designated an “Estuary of National Significance” in 1987
  • Home to 1,200 species of invertebrates
  • Home to 170 species of finfish
  • Contains 600 miles of coastline
  • Contributes a whopping 9.4 billion dollars annually to the economy
  • Average depth is 63 feet 

South Shore Estuary Reserve

  • Encompasses 173 square miles of south shore bays and wetlands from Reynolds Channel in Nassau County to the eastern shores of Shinnecock Bay in Suffolk County
  • Formed during the past 5,000 years
  • Average depth is 15 feet
  • The South Shore Estuary Reserve Act was passed by the NYS Legislature in 2001 to protect and manage the estuary system
  • Contains more impaired surface waters due to nitrogen loading than any other region in the entire state.
  • There are more designated “Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats” found in this system than any other region of the state. 

Peconic Estuary

  • Situated between the north and south forks of Long Island, includes over 158,000 acres of surface water.
  • Designated an “Estuary of National Significance” in 1993
  • The Peconic Estuary Program was formed to manage a comprehensive management plan to help restore and preserve the estuary’s resources
  • Hosts a mixture of coastal and underwater habitats that support 140 globally and locally rare species
  • The Peconic Estuary and its watershed have bee identified by The Nature Conservancy as on of the “Last Great Places” in the western hemisphere
  • The New York State Department of State has designated over 90 areas as significant coastal fish and wildlife habitats

Do you want to learn more about Long Island estuaries? Join the Long Island Clean Water Partnership today and find out what you can to do protect these important habitats.

By Jenn Hartnagel, Group for the East End

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