by Christine Tylee
Have you ever walked into a room filled with people whose love for the environment and drive to gain more knowledge of its inhabitants was equivalent to yours? Well, I did! On Friday, December 6th, over 250 people with this love gathered at the 2nd Annual Natural History Conference at the Brookhaven National Lab. The lobby was pouring with local environmental organizations including Quogue Wildlife Refuge, Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, Long Island Sierra Club, the South Fork Natural History Museum, and many, many more! The most difficult part of the day was deciding between whether I should sit in on “The Development of the Old Inlet Breach and its Impacts on the Great South Bay,” “The Moths of Long Island,” “Connectivity and Gene Flow Among Eastern Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) Populations in Highly Modified Anthropogenic Landscapes,” or “The Bats of Long Island” (I think you get the point!). All presentations spoke to me, in one way or the other. From presentations speaking about eels to furbearers, carnivorous plants to red knots, and the Carmans River to the inlet breach, each had something meaningful to say and each discussion truly hit home.
Early in the day, Cheryl Hapke, a research coastal geologist with the US Geological Survey in St Petersburg, FL, presented her findings on the “Coastal Response to Hurricane Sandy at Fire Island, NY.” The data she collected prior to and after the storm (throughout the winter 2012-2013 and summer 2013) provided her with significant data and understanding of beach morphology. Immediately before the storm, Cheryl and her crew conducted dune measurements including elevation and volume. The dunes were at their highest elevation prior to Sandy. However, if you went to the ocean beach just after the storm, you could not help but see some dunes were flattened! The dunes lowest point of elevation and volume was in the following winter with three eastern locations where the island actually breached. More than half of the pre-storm volume on the beaches and dunes had been diminished. Because the dunes were below the mean high tide line, 47% of the island experienced overwash (when storm-induced waves exceed the height of the dune, sand is transported over top of the dune and deposited inland). Hurricane Sandy left the beaches of Fire Island severely eroded, however, the coastal system has already shown signs of recovery but will take years to rebuild.
By mid-afternoon I was looking forward to hearing what Melissa Griffiths Parrott had to say about “A Day in the Life of the Carmans Rivers.” Being that I have been an avid visitor to the Carmans River growing up, in addition to the Peconic Estuary Program (PEP) doing a program similar to this next fall called “A Day in the Life of the Peconic Estuary,” it seemed like the perfect time to take some notes. Melissa could not have been more enthusiastic as she spoke about this day that requires students to exit the classroom and discover one of Long Island’s largest, NY State-designated Wild and Scenic rivers. The event is organized by the Central Pine Barrens Commission, Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Portal to Discovery, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge. This past September was their second year where approximately 400 kids gathered data all along the Carmans River. Five school districts were designated a particular survey area, from the headwaters to the mouth of the river. This data collection included environmental measurements (salinity, temperature, pH, turbidity), biological surveys (species of birds, invertebrates, mammals, amphibians), and physical data (soil samples). Photos and sketches from the sites add an artistic element to the process. Sayville school district gathered their data from Greens Creek in order to compare the health and status of the two water bodies. PEP cannot wait to organize this program with school districts located within the Peconic Estuary with hopes it will be just as successful!
As it neared 5:00pm, I was overjoyed with all this newfound knowledge I had of Long Island. The 850 moth species that entomologist, Hugh McGuiness, observed in one year; the sixteen species of carnivorous plants Matthew Kaelin discovered living on this island; and the one coyote Joshua Stiller confirmed in Watermill in July; all had me appreciating the natural landscapes of Long Island, for thousands of species depend on it for survival. While not all the information provided was news of optimism and positivity such as the devastating impact of White-nose Syndrome on bat species, the sharp-tailed sparrow population decline due to the bioaccumulation of methyl mercury, I can still say I walked away from an enjoyable experience at the natural history conference with a better understanding of this place I call home!