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New Report: Nitrogen Pollution “Killer Threat” to Seagrass

PHOTO: A new report released by the Nature Conservancy finds nitrogen pollution is a "killer threat" to the diminishing seagrass population off Long Island. Photo courtesy of the Nature Conservancy.
PHOTO: A new report released by the Nature Conservancy finds nitrogen pollution is a "killer threat" to the diminishing seagrass population off Long Island. Photo courtesy of the Nature Conservancy.
June 10, 2014

NEW YORK - A new, federally-funded report identifies nitrogen pollution as a killer threat to seagrass, which has been disappearing along the Long Island coast and throughout the region.

Marine scientist Chris Clapp, with the Nature Conservancy's Long Island chapter, says the federally-funded study found nitrogen pollution from sewage and fertilizer is killing off seagrass, which provides critical habitat for fin fish and shellfish. He says the underwater seagrass population off Long Island is down by as much as 90 percent since the 1930s, and calls that decline a critical indicator of the overall health of the region's water quality.

"It's the canary in the coal mine for our estuaries," says Clapp. "When you begin to lose that seagrass community and that habitat, it's really a signal something is wrong."

Governor Andrew Cuomo has been holding a series of water-quality hearings on Long Island, and Clapp says protecting and restoring the region's seagrass is crucial to protecting local water quality, adding seagrass plays a significant role in helping nurture Long Island's multimillion-dollar shellfish and scallop industries.

"You lose the habitat and scallops have nothing to cling onto, nowhere to hide, and their numbers already declined rapidly in the 80s," explains Clapp. "They've been rebounding the last few years, but a lot more needs to be done. "

Clapp says the bottom line is New York can't afford to lose any more seagrass.

"It's certainly much cheaper to save what you have than it is to restore something you've lost," says Clapp. "The challenges we have here on Long Island, with the population that we have, makes it really, really difficult to turn the clock back."

Removing old cesspools and upgrading local sewage treatment plants are two steps that can be taken to reduce nitrogen pollution killing local seagrass.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY