July 26, 2006

Peconic Baykeeper Publishes Groundbreaking Report

Yesterday, as The Independent went to press, The Peconic Baykeeper hosted a lunch to honor the inaugural release of the Baywatch 2006 Report. (And no, Pamela Anderson was not invited to the event.)

The East End was once a renowned fishing community, typified by pristine bays and diverse marine life. Today, local waters are at stake. Significant changes must occur if we are to repair ecological damage. Kevin McAllister, the president of the Peconic Baykeeper, the 19th organization sanctioned by the Water Keeper Alliance, is leading a campaign to ameliorate environmental strife.

Backed by Global Resource Action Center and a promising team of scientists, McAllister coordinated the first publication of "Baywatch: Long Island's Bay Health." The annual report tracks the state of various marine plants and animals, such as eel grass, bay scallops, hard clams and winter flounder, to name a few. These specimens are used as indicators. Their diminishing numbers and health point to greater problems such as poor water quality and nitrogen pollution. Additionally, the publication uses a unique rating system to measure current findings against those documented in the 1970s, when experts maintain "the bays were by all other verifiable standards healthy and productive." The ratings also consider the specimens' possibilities for recovery.

"Some of the work we have done is cutting-edge," McAllister said. "We've distilled these various reports and information in a manner where the average person, not a scientist, will get it. I hope the report will be a wake-up call and a call to action." According to McAllister, the key to success is education. Citizens cannot rally behind a cause if they don't understand it.

The first step is to acknowledge the depletion of local natural resources in the last 30 years. Ironically, local waters fell victim to the very prosperity they helped engender. The "beauty and bounty" of the East End led to an increased population. Regrettably, the development of the area proceeded with little environmental regard. In turn, wetlands, rivers, creeks, harbors and bays suffered. Some waters became inhospitable for fish and wildlife. The "Brown Tide" of 1985 raised a red flag and prompted Long Islanders to take action.

McAllister assumed the position of Peconic Baykeeper in 1998. Today, he remains "optimistic that with collective action we can see some real improvements. However, it will take a great deal of money and commitment." He believes the Hudson River, which recovered from its former polluted state, is a testament to people's ability to mend local waters. "Let's get back to the 1970s bay," he said, adding that if East Enders speak out, the local government will have more incentive to help save local bays.

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