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Updated: 10/15/2009 - 4:20 AM



Destructive algae bloomed throughout the Peconics this summer
Red tide newest seasonal resident to North Fork
  7 comments below

Photo courtesy of Chris Pickerell
Streaks of red tide in Cutchogue Harbor run along the western side of Nassau Point in this image taken during the summer. A form of plankton like its brown tide cousin, the red tide has been a hit-or-miss visitor to the Peconic Estuary System for the last several years.
Wild blooming algae stained the waters throughout the Peconic Bay estuary again this summer, but the tide ran red, not brown.

The infamous scallop-killing brown tide has not appeared in the Peconics since 1995, but in recent years a different species has taken its place. The brown algae often left very little clear water, but the red tide has appeared primarily in long avenues or patches. Its impact this past season on marine life, particularly shellfish, also apparently hasn't matched the destructive nature of its brown cousin.

The seasonal drop in the bay's temperature, currently below 70 degrees, seems to have ended this year's red tide, which began appearing in mid August.

A microscopic form of algae known as a dinoflagellate, a type of self-propelled plankton, turns the water red when it reproduces in huge numbers. The species found in the Peconics poses no threat to humans.

The red tide killed 10 to 15 percent of the seed oysters cultivated at the Suffolk County Marine Environmental Learning Center at Cedar Beach in Southold, where about a half million of the small shellfish remain, said Gregg Rivara, an aquaculture specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

"It could have been worse if we had all of our stuff in one basket," he said.

'It could have been worse.' Marine scientist Gregg Rivara
The lost oysters were growing in Cedar Beach Creek adjacent to the learning center, one of the waterways hit by the red algae. The aquaculture program had some of its shellfish in Goose Creek in Southold and Mattituck Inlet, both free of the red tide this summer.

The scallops spawned at the Cedar Beach facility were relocated to Orient Harbor by early summer, Mr. Rivara added.

"If the red tide was there, it wasn't in bloom quantity," he said.

Southold Town Trustee David Bergen described the algae as "very patchy and very mobile. You wouldn't see it in the same area two days in a row," he said.

The impact on non-seed shellfish and other marine life has yet to be determined. "We were lucky that is was there for such a brief period of time," said Mr. Bergen. "It's not clear if it had the time to do that much harm."

The red algae can do considerable harm, said Dr. Chris Goebler, a marine sciences professor at Stony Brook Southampton. The neurotoxin it releases can kill finfish and shellfish quickly, and the species first identified in West Neck Bay on Shelter Island in 2002 was responsible for fishing industry losses of $100 million in Korea, said Dr. Goebler.

He argues that the presence of the red tide in the Peconics might be hampering the bay scallop recovery, despite continuing reseeding programs and the absence of brown tide for close to 15 years.

tkelly@timesreview.com

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