By Mike Busch
With boating season starting, some of you may have noticed how clear the bay is right now.
The eastern bay in the vicinity of the Old Inlet Wilderness Breach has enjoyed much cleaner water than the rest of the bay since it opened, but people are reporting great water quality from end to end now.
I wish I could say this was a permanent change or that the efforts of Save the Great South Bay and others fighting nitrogen loading were responsible but it is probably more complicated than that.
I reached out to Chris Clapp, a marine scientist with the New York Nature Conservancy for a more scientific explanation.
According to Chris, the clear water can be the result of a number of factors, some related and some not.
Water temperature is one. March and Early April were a little colder than normal, keeping Algae from growing.
Chris says another factor could be the comeback of eel grass. Many of you may remember eel grass covering the bottom of the bay before collapsing along with the commercial clam business.
Since Old Inlet opened up in 2012 Chris noted that eel grass is spreading as far west as Davis Park and making an even bigger recovery east in Narrows Bay.
Eelgrass plays several important roles, acting as a refuge for a wide range of fish, providing food for others, and serving as a natural filter, cleaning out the nitrogen that is constantly leaking into the bay from our lawns and septic systems.
If these new beds continue to thrive that will be very good news longer term for the bay.
Another factor is rainwater runoff. At this point of the year Islip is about 12% below average. Big rainfalls will flush oil, salt, lawn fertilizer and pesticides right into the bay.
Regardless of the reason, don’t expect the water to remain tropical much longer. As the water warms up the water clarity will decrease from normal algae growth.
Hopefully we can somehow avoid a more harmful bloom of brown, mahogany or rust tide later in the season.
For more information on the different algae blooms plaguing Long Island and what we do about, visit Save the Great South Bay and join the STGB Facebook Page.
The Nature Conservancy of New York has also put together a video series about water quality on Long Island that is excellent.
The images and video below were taken from the bay side of Fire Island at Bellport Beach on Easter Sunday.