Great South Bay

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Map showing the location of the Great South Bay

Great South Bay, actually a lagoon,[1] is situated between Long Island and Fire Island, in the State of New York. It is approximately 45 miles (72 km) long. It's protected from the Atlantic Ocean by Fire Island, a barrier island, as well as the eastern end of Jones Beach Island and Captree Island.

Robert Moses Causeway adjoins the Great South Bay Bridge, which leads to Robert Moses State Park.

The bay is accessible from the ocean through Fire Island Inlet, which lies between the western tip of Fire Island and the eastern tip of Jones Beach Island.

Sunset over the bay

The bay adjoins South Oyster Bay on its western end and Patchogue and Moriches Bays at the east end.

In the early 17th century, European settlers first encountered the native Meroke tribes. Among the earliest British families were the Smith, Carman and Hewlett families[2] Long Island's South Shore, which includes Lindenhurst, Babylon, Islip, Oakdale, Sayville, Bayport, Blue Point, Patchogue, Belport, Shirley, and Mastic Beach. These towns are historic bay towns, with a rich history of clamming, fishing and boating.

Environmental concerns[edit]

[neutrality is disputed]

A man dives into the Bay

All of this heritage, and the bay itself is, however, under grave threat because with 400,000 septic tanks in Suffolk County, along with lawn fertilizers and pesticides, our ground water is killing The Great South Bay, along with every major bay and pond on Long Island. Eel grass beds, an important habitat for shellfish and finfish, have been decimated by massive algal blooms. The bay bottom is barren. Once The Great South Bay produced over 50% of the hard shell clams eaten in the U.S. Once, 6500 clammers worked the bay. We are now at 1% of the yield of 1976. An industry and an environment collapsed, and the South Shore communities suffered greatly. In 1976, 40% of the bay water was filtered by the clams themselves. Without clams to filter the water, the bay began a death spiral. Then came the first brown tide of 1985, and soon all our bays and ponds came under attack from a growing variety of algal blooms—brown, rust, red, blue-green—and in such levels that with brown tide we were setting world records.

In the summer of 2013, in July, The Great South Bay was covered with brown tide throughout, with the algae blocking the sunlight, damaging habitat and adversely affecting the fish and shellfish. The cell counts were over 1 million per liter in much of the bay, the one exception being The Breach / The New Inlet. The reason once more? We installed hundreds of thousands of septic tanks in sandy soil and didn't know that all that excess nitrogen going right into the ground would then seep into the bay and decimate it.

So the question for Long Islanders and for communities along the South Shore is this: Now that we know why our bays are dying, are we willing to do what needs to be done to save ours? Are we ready to stop using high nitrogen fertilizer? Are we ready to support a program that would replace those 500,000 septic tanks for green solutions? What if we only had 5 years to enact this change, or lose the opportunity to turn the situation around, given how much nitrogenous waste is already 'in the pipeline,' in our soil and seeping year by year into the bay?

In discussing nitrogenous waste and its role in killing the bay, we need to mention that many of the issues in the western reaches of Great South Bay stem from waste water treatment plants.

In the late nineteenth century Great South Bay provided many of the clams consumed throughout the region and even the country. The first oysters to be exported from the US to Europe came from Great South Bay. By the latter 20th century, a significant percentage of the habitat was lost and the clam population was dramatically reduced, devastating the neighboring communities that depended on it. In the 19th century thousands of baymen worked the waters of Great South Bay. Now, only a scant few can be seen.

The majority of these concerns could be alleviated due to the Great South Bay's new-found ability to begin flushing itself out.[3] Recently the largest storm on record since 1938, Hurricane Sandy, made land fall with devastating impact to Fire Island sea shores, including multiple breeches. The largest forming just south of Bellport, Long Island. This was formerly known as Old Inlet. Residents were concerned it would have effects on tidal increases and potential flooding, when in actuality it has allowed the bay to relieve some of its captive water, which has changed the salinity and nitrogen levels in the bay.[4] The Bay has finally, after roughly 75 years, begun flushing itself out which may improve the water condition within the bay.[5] The only thing holding the breach open are the regulations set forth by the US Government National Wildlife Preserve, which has a seven mile stretch of land (The Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness) which prohibit any unauthorized parties from performing any kind of man made changes. There have been a number of ongoing public meeting discussing the future of the Inlet.[6] All the other breaches were closed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

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Coordinates: 40°41′25″N 73°06′07″W / 40.69028°N 73.10194°W / 40.69028; -73.10194