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Rust Tide Spreading Across Long Island

Just in time for Labor Day Weekend, a deadly “Rust Tide” developed and spread across Long Island. What began as an isolated event in Eastern Shinnecock Bay earlier in August, has now spread across Great South Bay, parts of the Long Island Sound, and the Peconic Estuary.

Harmful Algae Blooms (often referred to as “tides”) are caused by excess nitrogen.  The main source of nitrogen in our waters is human wastewater from septic systems and cesspools. Nitrogen from home and agricultural fertilizer is also a source.  This nitrogen flows into our aquifers, and eventually into our bays, harbors, lakes, ponds and streams, fueling the overgrowth of harmful algae. These blooms have devastating effects on marine life and can also be a public health threat. As nitrogen inputs increase on Long Island, these blooms become more frequent and intense.

Increasing summer water temperatures have also been identified as a factor in the proliferation of these blooms. Water temperatures today are significantly warmer than the temperatures of the twentieth century, which has aided in the growth of the algae.

Rust tide algae, or Cochlodinium, can be lethal to marine life at high levels.  This particular rust tide incident caused the death of tens of thousands of aquacultured fish and shellfish, that were caged in eastern Long Island waters. Thankfully, rust tide is not harmful to humans in any way.

The Long Island Clean Water Partnership in conjunction with the Gobler Laboratory will soon be releasing its annual Water Quality Report – which maps these water quality events and allows us to track any progress or deteriorations throughout the years. The Partnership will also be hosting its 7th Annual “Water We Going To Do?” Conference on Wednesday, October 24th. Please stay tuned!
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Rust tide tracked and reported by the Gobler Laboratory of Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences – Press release available here.