Marine biologist: Water quality improves in the Sound but work remains

January 2, 2019

GREENWICH — In explaining the overall conditions in Long Island Sound, marine biologist David Hudson surprised his audience at the Retired Men’s Association of Greenwich with some positive news.

The biennial report card on water quality from the nonprofit organization Save the Sound shows an improvement, going from a C-minus in 2013 to a B-minus in 2018 for the Eastern Narrows, which covers all of the coastline in Westchester and up to Darien, including Greenwich.

“We started to see some improvement,” Hudson said of water quality. But the density of the urban population still poses problems.

“We have a high population on the coast so the area is certainly a challenge,” said Hudson, a research scientist at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. “Because of the high population, we have a high (amount of) nutrient loading in the system, which is from fertilizers, septic tanks, sewage treatment. And there are still straight pipes going out of developments that’s right into the Sound.”

He said he’d liked to see the grade rise to an A, but the levels of dissolved oxygen levels in the water near Greenwich needs further improvement.

“We have a number of organizations that are involved in helping to clean that up,” Hudson said, pointing to the Maritime Aquarium, which is now in its second year of a research and conservation program.

“We’re taking up that mantle now,” Hudson said of the aquarium’s more active role in protecting vulnerable species and enhancing its records and data.

One notable improvement is the return of black sea bass, which Hudson said fishermen never saw 40 years ago in the Sound.

The nearly 75 people in the audience applauded the improvements.

“It’s wonderful that Long Island Sound is getting cleaner,” Cynthia MacKay said during the question-and-answer section. “That’s good news in this era of very depressing stories.”

Hudson’s talk also focused on the challenges facing the Sound such as climate change and invasive species. He takes a lesson about the challenges of rising sea levels to local classrooms to teach kids about coastal resilience.

Invasive species are also a problem in the Sound, with Hudson pointing to the presence of green crabs and Asian shore crabs, which he called “a ravenous little thing.” These crabs and other invasive species can create major problems in fresh water, he said.

But on the positive side, the Sound has welcomed back whales, dolphins and even sharks, he said. Bluefish are also coming back stronger, Hudson said, as are sea turtles. The populations have grown so much that alerts are issued to boaters during the season to be on the watch for the larger aquatic species.

The state and the federal government are working to improve water quality, Hudson said, but it will also come down to citizen involvement, too. Citizen action programs have pushed educational efforts on such topics as banning straws and getting to 97 percent free of single-use plastics at the aquarium.

“You’d be surprised how hard it is to get that last 3 percent,” Hudson said. “We’re trying then to provide guidance to other businesses. We are a not-for-profit, but we’re trying to provide a lesson about what choices that are out there that other people can take.”

Overall, Hudson said the aquarium, working with groups like Save the Sound, is focusing on marsh restoration and conservation as well as more work with coral reefs.

“It’s a lot and we’ve gone from 0 to 60 very fast when it comes to the last few years,” he said. “We’ve taken this role mostly with partnerships and making sure we’re providing the support we can through each individual project.”


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