NFEC Highlights Volunteer Water Testing Program

Pictured Above: Dan Carroll testing water in Mattituck Inlet this past summer. | NFEC photo

Throughout the world, citizen scientists are doing some vital work in monitoring the health of our environment, and the East End is no exception.

This past year, the North Fork Environmental Council signed on to a comprehensive project organized by Connecticut non-profit Save The Sound to document changes in water quality throughout the year in Mattituck Creek and Goldsmith Inlet, giving environmentalists insight into the health of the only two East End embayments that drain into the Long Island Sound.

As of the end of 2021, there were 42 embayments of the Long Island Sound being studied through Save the Sound’s Unified Water Study, said Save the Sound’s Director of Water Quality, Peter Linderoth, at a Dec. 8 Zoom forum sponsored by the North Fork Environmental Council. 

The project is currently funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

At each site, from May through October, volunteers measure dissolved oxygen, turbidity, chlorophyll A, temperature, salinity and the types of seaweeds found there. 

More comprehensive testing, including continuous monitoring of dissolved oxygen, and quantitative measurements of nutrients and seaweeds, are also being done at several “Tier 2” sites throughout the estuaries.

All the volunteers are given the same training and are loaned the same equipment, which is collected and recalibrated at the end of the season.

Their biweekly data, collected by volunteers from numerous community and environmental organizations, is uploaded in near-realtime to Save the Sound’s Sound Health Explorer website (soundhealthexplorer.org).

This data also is used to compile Save the Sound’s annual Long Island Sound Report Card, which since 2016 has given scientists and policy-makers insight into the effectiveness of their efforts to keep the Sound swimmable, fishable and livable.

While most of the sampling sites are in Connecticut, several important bays and harbors being studied are on Long Island, including Port Jefferson Harbor, the Nissaquogue River, the Huntington/Northport complex of embayments, Hempstead Harbor, Manhasset Bay, Little Neck Bay and Flushing Bay.

The North Fork sites were added this year after the North Fork Environmental Council signed on to be a part of the program. 

NFEC Office Manager Dawn Carroll and her brother, Dan Carroll, agreed to do the sampling at the beginning of 2021, initially planning to do the sampling via kayak. They quickly realized that Mattituck Creek was too big to use a kayak. Anthony Martignetti, who owns the Old Mill Inn on the creek, offered the NFEC space to tie up a small boat with an outboard engine, allowing them to sample six points within the creek, twice a month.

“When we started, we had no experience whatsoever,” said Ms. Carroll. “There was a huge learning curve.”

The data was also required to be collected within three hours of sunrise, because dissolved oxygen tends to be lowest at night, when plants are unable to do photosynthesis because of the lack of light. These parameters of data collection are designed to keep the Unified Water Study in compliance with the EPA’s quality assurance plan for the project, said Mr. Linderoth.“They really rose to the occasion,” said NFEC Programs Director Debbie O’Kane. “There was a lot of training involved, and lots of good data collected.”

Stephan Boscola, of the community group Save Mattituck Inlet, has been sharing the NFEC’s data on the group’s website, savemattituckinlet.com.

Save Mattituck Inlet began in response to Strong’s Water Club’s plan to expand their marina on Wickham Avenue.

“We realized our mission was even bigger, and we wanted to focus on all aspects of quality of life alongside the inlet,” said Mr. Boscola. “Our goal was to share the data from this study in real-time fashion. The public liked the fact that there was water quality monitoring going on along the creek. They want to see that Mattituck Inlet is cared for.”

The good news was that the data stayed in the healthy range throughout the course of this year’s study. 

This project is not designed to determine the presence of bacteria that might make it unsafe to recreate in the water — the Suffolk County Department of Health Services collects bacteria samples and compiles that data at bathing beaches throughout the county.

It is, however, a series of great indicators of the health of the aquatic life there, said Mr. Linderoth.

“Chlorophyll A is a measure of phytoplankton floating in the water,” he said. “If there’s too much algae in the water, this is indicative of too much nitrogen in the water. If you have a lot of seaweeds and algae in the water, dissolved oxygen is going to be really high in the middle of the day, when the plants are doing photosynthesis, but around 2 to 3 a.m., it flatlines. That’s very stressful for aquatic life.”

“Something would be wrong if our waters were crystal clear, but if it’s too cloudy and there’s sedimentation, that’s a problem too,” he added.

Mr. Boscola helped connect the dots in the NFEC’s participation in this study during a conversation with Save The Sound’s New York Natural Areas Coordinator Louise Harrison, who is a conservation biologist on the North Fork.

“People pay hundreds of dollars per hour for this type of data at this level of quality,” said Ms. Harrison, thanking for the volunteers who make the program possible. “Every group is collecting so much data, and submitting it for so many purposes.”

— BHY

Beth Young

Beth Young built her first boat out of driftwood tied together with phragmites behind her family’s apartment above the old Mill Creek Inn in Southold. Nowadays, she spends most of her time kayaking, learning about shellfish, writing newspaper stories, trying to sail a Sunfish, and watching the way the bay changes from day to day. You can send her a message at beth@peconicbathtub.com

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