Protecting Our Seas
By Governor Andrew Cuomo
The waters surrounding Long Island were once home to some of the country’s most fertile shellfish beds, creating a valuable ecosystem for the region. Shellfish, including oysters and clams, filtered the water, creating a welcoming habitat for other marine species and a boon to the local economy. Over the past 40 years, Long Island’s shellfish population has significantly declined, mainly due to overharvesting in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Compounding the problem, the growing occurrence of harmful algae blooms known as brown tide wreaks havoc on Long Island waters. Fueled by elevated levels of nitrogen, brown tide harms aquatic ecosystems and interferes with the ability of shellfish to eat, grow and reproduce. The absence of shellfish, which naturally absorb toxins in the water, has had a multiplier effect, impairing removal of excess nitrogen, and creating conditions for more intense algae blooms. Improved water quality offers a more stable environment for additional shellfish growth and the growth of the local shellfish economy.
Throughout my tenure as governor, I have made great strides to reverse the effects of brown tide on Long Island and restore the area’s shellfish population. In 2015, New York State appropriated $5 million to develop the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan, which represents one of the most significant environmental initiatives on Long Island since the preservation of the Pine Barrens. This multiyear initiative will help reduce nitrogen in Long Island’s waters, which will further reduce the harm caused by brown tides and help return the area’s shellfish population to historic levels.
This past June, I committed $2.05 million in funding to support the New York Sea Grant program, which advances an array of research to improve the health of our oceans. The new funding comes at a time when the federal government is proposing to defund Sea Grant nationwide and the vital work that the program provides. With funding from New York State, Sea Grant will be able to expand its research across Long Island, and help us better understand how we can best increase the shellfish population and improve water quality on Long Island.