Beach season in Long Island is not starting as planned, as thousands of dead bunker fish washed ashore in Peconic Bay. The bay has been the subject of local news lately, as hundreds of dead diamond back turtles were also found just two weeks ago. Both waves of death are thought to be related to the recent contaminant-rich red tide that hit the region a few weeks ago, caused by high levels of pollution in the local waters.
Image via Kristin Thorne
Rather than being a scene of serenity, the beaches around Flanders Bay, Cutchogue, Southold and Riverhead are a conglomeration of piles of rotting dead bunker fish. Although fish kills are not entirely uncommon, locals have said that this year’s influx is the biggest in over 20 years.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation believes that both species that washed up on the Long Island shores are thought to be victims of the recent red tide, a collection of algae blooms that contain a high level of nitrogen. The turtles found just a few weeks ago are thought to have eaten shellfish that consumed the neurotoxin-filled algae from the tide. The recent bunker fish killed were likely caught in the area after being chased by predator blue fish. Faced with the oversized, oxygen-sucking blooms of algae in the red tide, the fish suffocated as the waters they were trapped in did not contain enough oxygen to support animal life.
Experts have also found algae containing large levels of saxitoxin in the Peconic area, which could endanger marine life as it can paralyze sea creatures, causing them to drown. They attribute the influx of damaging nitrogen-rich algae blooms to manmade cesspools, septic systems and waste water treatment plants in the region.
Locals are advocating to push New York State to further develop a plan to deal with excess nitrogen in order to safeguard waterways, drinking water, and marine life.