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SoMAS News from Stony Brook University and other sources

Low Oxygen and pH Levels in Estuaries Causing More Death to Larval Blue Crabs

Photo above: Zoea, or larvae, of the Atlantic blue crab have a distinctly different morphology than adults. They are often spawned in estuaries, where they can be exposed to low dissolved oxygen and acidified conditions. Photo credit: Stephen Tomasetti

STONY BROOK, NY—Inhabiting a vast network of estuaries along the Atlantic coast, blue crabs are ecologically important and represent one of the valuable and prized fisheries in the United States. Blue crabs spawn in estuaries at a time of year when water-quality issues such as low dissolved oxygen (hypoxia) and low pH (acidification) can be the most persistent and severe. A group from the lab of Christopher Gobler, a Professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University, investigated the effects of these individual and combined stressors on early life stages of the blue crab. Their study, recently published in PLOS One, provides evidence that larval blue crabs experience increased mortality when exposed to low oxygen and/or low pH conditions at levels routinely found in degraded estuaries.

While hypoxia is known to be a common condition within coastal zones, recent studies from across the globe have emphasized that many estuaries that are over-enriched with nitrogen and experience low oxygen simultaneously experience low pH and acidification.  While the effects of hypoxia on marine life have been well-studied, this is the first study to assess the effects of these two stressors on larval crabs.  And, the research is timely as climate change has also been decreasing oxygen and pH levels in the oceans.

Co-author Stephen Tomasetti, a doctoral student in the Marine Science program of Stony Brook University’s SoMAS explained that even at moderate levels of dissolved oxygen exceeding common regulatory targets, larval survival declined. “It’s concerning, given that climate change is generally expected to continue to worsen conditions. However, with an emphasis on restoration, and sound management, coastal environments can see improvements in water quality,” he said.

“Global climate change is acidifying and deoxygenating our oceans and those processes are, by and large, running out of control,” said Gobler. “The findings of this and similar studies demonstrate that serious efforts need to be made at the watershed level to mitigate the factors that regionally contribute to acidification and low oxygen of our waters, namely nutrient overloading. This is likely our best chances to preserve fisheries that rely on estuaries as their primary habitat.”

Their findings suggest that the dissolved oxygen and pH levels of known spawning locales are important considerations for the management and conservation of blue crab populations.

Link to article in PLOS ONE:

Individual and combined effects of low dissolved oxygen and low pH on survival of early stage larval blue crabs, Callinectes sapidus.

About Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University is going beyond the expectations of what today’s public universities can accomplish. Since its founding in 1957, this young university has grown to become one of only four University Center campuses in the State University of New York (SUNY) system with more than 25,700 students, 2,500 faculty members, and 18 NCAA Division I athletic programs. Our faculty have earned numerous prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Indianapolis Prize for animal conservation, Abel Prize and the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. The University offers students an elite education with an outstanding return on investment: U.S. News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 40 public universities in the nation. Its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. As part of the management team of Brookhaven National Laboratory, the University joins a prestigious group of universities that have a role in running federal R&D labs. Stony Brook University is a driving force in the region’s economy, generating nearly 60,000 jobs and an annual economic impact of $4.65 billion. Our state, country and world demand ambitious ideas, imaginative solutions and exceptional leadership to forge a better future for all. The students, alumni, researchers and faculty of Stony Brook University are prepared to meet this challenge.

The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) is SUNY’s designated school for marine and atmospheric research, education and public service. SoMAS is among the leading oceanography and atmospheric sciences institutions in the world, providing students with access to wet laboratories, shipboard experiences, and interactive and high-powered radar and computing facilities. The School provides leadership to understand climate change and other environmental impacts at regional and global scales and provide mitigation and adaptation strategies at state, national and international levels. SoMAS provides expanded study opportunities in the fields of ocean conservation, climate change and extreme weather, sustainability, waste management, marine fisheries and resources, and many others.  Students have many options for participating in study abroad programs including, Jamaica, Cuba, Tanzania, Kenya and Ireland.


Christopher Gobler,, 631-871-2109

Stephen Tomasetti,, 407-221-7543

To Mark Sandy Anniversary, B.P. Brewer, Advocates, and Downtown Leaders Highlight Need for Better Storm Prep and Resiliency Investments

Picture above: LiDAR image showing flooding of New York City at 4 foot water heights over the area.

NEW YORK – Thursday afternoon, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer was joined by advocates, leaders, and residents from lower Manhattan for a press conference marking the sixth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, which on flooded lower Manhattan and much of the region on October 29, 2012 with 9- to 12-foot storm surges, claiming 43 lives in New York City alone.

Sandy caused an estimated $71 billion in economic damage to the New York-New Jersey region, with $19 billion in losses accruing just within New York City. While the storm’s immediate impact lasted only weeks, major infrastructure systems, including mass transit, its tunnels and electrical and telecommunications systems, sustained lasting damage, some of which are still not repaired.

At the press conference, the leaders discussed the status of planned resiliency projects and investments in lower Manhattan, government’s failure to move forward quickly on certain critical projects, and the need for a coordinated, layered, regional approach to protect against future storms and sea-level rise.

The leaders called on the mayor and city government leaders to support a regional storm surge barrier and to devote significant capital funding to the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project. Significant investments are underway or planned for Manhattan’s Lower East Side, with federal commitments of $338 million, city commitments of $422 million, and planning underway, but the Financial District and neighboring Lower Manhattan neighborhoods remain unprotected and extremely vulnerable both to storm surges and rising sea levels.

“Storm surges and sea-level rise are clear and present dangers to the safety, security, and economic future of this city,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “The task is enormous, but we can’t turn away from it – we need to be working toward a regional storm surge barrier that can prevent the next Sandy, and perimeter walls, marshes, berms, and other features that can protect and preserve all our at-risk neighborhoods – especially lower Manhattan.”

“Six years after Superstorm Sandy, we continue to witness the negative impacts of climate change with the understanding that another storm of this magnitude could occur again,” said Congressman Jerry Nadler. “It is imperative that that we support, fully fund and implement resiliency measures across New York City to ensure that our city and all its residents are protected from future natural disasters. I am committed to continuing to fight alongside my fellow elected officials, the community and all stakeholders to make sure that a comprehensive plan is developed and put in place to protect our coastline.”

“This somber anniversary is a time for us to reflect on the damage that Sandy wrought on our neighborhoods, and the long recovery that is still taking place. However, this day should also be a wake-up call about how far we have yet to go in terms of protecting our homes, small businesses, and infrastructure from the next big storm that we know will come,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin. “I am proud to join so many people involved in the effort to create a more resilient city, which must begin where New York began – right here at the Seaport. Thanks to Borough President Brewer, Captain Boulware, Catherine McVay Hughes, and others who have never forgotten the lessons of Sandy and how we need to continue to work together.”

“Events like Sandy will happen again and with greater frequency. Rising sea levels will incrementally increase these flooding events. Normal tidal cycles will come with greater risk of inundation, and the Seaport remains incredibly vulnerable to events like this,” said Captain Jonathan Boulware, President of the South Street Seaport Museum. “The Seaport Museum is actively at work on resilience for its own physical plant, and actively engaged in efforts related to city-wide resilience. This is the future of New York City. How will we adapt to this new challenge? How will 22nd century New York be thriving precisely because of the work and planning we’re doing today?”

“Six years later, the City, northern New Jersey, the Hudson River Valley, and the south shore of Long Island are just as vulnerable as they were the night before the storm hit. Conflicting statements and positions by special interest groups abound,” said Malcolm Bowman, Distinguished Professor of Coastal Ocean and Estuarine Dynamics at Stony Brook University and Chair of the NY-NJ Storm Surge Working Group. “The NY-NJ Storm Surge Working Group is a visionary and representative professional group which sees more clearly than most that the only way to save the region for the next 100 years is a regional solution that transcends political and geographic boundaries. We call for a hybrid regional approach to protect against the separate threats of storm surge and sea-level rise. One-size-fits-all impossibly high seawalls cannot realistically hope to defend the 1,000-mile shoreline against the combined threats of storm surges and future sea level rise.”

The hybrid system proposed by the Storm Surge Working Group consists of:

1. A regional outer NY Harbor Sea Gate system to address threats to life and property from future storms (but not gradual sea level rise). Built as far away from densely developed areas as possible, and normally open 99.99% of the time during settled weather, sea gates will not interfere with the normal tidal circulation and river discharge, necessary to maintain the ecological health and water quality of the Harbor and the Hudson River.

The gates would be closed for only a few hours during extreme high tides and storms to block the ocean surges without causing backups inside the barrier and damage elsewhere, especially to neighboring communities.

Without the regional barrier, many communities could be left out of a comprehensive solution. These include communities around all sides of New York Harbor, the outer Boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn, Jersey City, Port Elizabeth, Hoboken, the Two Rivers, up and down the Hudson River Valley, the three major airports, and along the south shore of western Long Island, including Jamaica Bay.

2. Local perimeter, land-based, low-profile seawalls, which, while they cannot protect against storm surges, will provide critical protection from gradually rising sea levels over the decades and centuries ahead. Investment to erect seawalls and other barriers are on track in some, but not all of the areas that need them. Some plans currently under consideration call for higher walls intended to provide protection against storm surges as well, but these are ineffective when compared to a regional surge barrier, and would also interfere with waterfront access.

“The Financial District is the fourth largest business district in the country,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, who served as chair of Manhattan Community Board 1 during Sandy and the recovery period. “One out of every 18 jobs citywide is here, and 50,000 people call FiDi home – yet there is no coastal defense at our shoreline or anywhere else in our neighborhood!”

“Six years after the shock of Superstorm Sandy, too many of our neighborhoods are just as vulnerable now as they were October 29th, 2012,” said Roland Lewis, President of the Waterfront Alliance. “We must recognize that there is no silver bullet – all adaptation options for our coastal city must be considered and implemented. More important, there is no silver – local, state and federal government must find the resources to invest in protection. Last and most important there is no time – downtown Manhattan and the entire city of New York must recognize the urgency of now to protect our city in the face climate change.”

The New York-New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study includes Natural and Nature-Based Feature Examples such as Tidal Marsh, Vegetated Dune, Oyster Reef, and Freshwater Wetland. It is imperative to save the Metropolitan Region while maintaining healthy Hudson and East Rivers.

For more information is available on the US Army Corps of Engineers New York/New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Focus Area Feasibility Study website.

Please Contact:
Andrew Goldston  Tel: 917-960-1187
Malcolm Bowman Tel: 631.632-8669

Press conference of Storm Surge Working Group at South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan, where 6 feet of water from Superstorm Sandy covered the area back in 2012.

Press conference of Storm Surge Working Group at South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan, where 6 feet of water from Superstorm Sandy covered the area back in 2012.

Sea Gates Save Lives And Protect Property From Devastation



School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University

Hurricane Florence is another wake up call for the New York-New Jersey-Long Island region. Six years ago Sandy devastated the New York-New Jersey-Long Island Metropolitan region. Unfortunately, virtually nothing has been built to prevent a recurrence of its damage. We should not have to wait for a second superstorm before we act to protect the nation’s most densely populated and economically important region.

While some environmental advocates and New York City officials have called for caution and construction of half-measures to protect portions of the region piecemeal, these will leave a million and more residents unprotected, many of them living in low-income communities. This local approach will also not protect our most valuable infrastructure systems and economic assets.

Although Hurricane Florence now threatens the Carolinas, residents of the New York-New Jersey-Long Island Metropolitan region should be very alarmed by two characteristics of this storm and other recent hurricanes that will make future storms an even greater threat to our Metro region than Sandy was six years ago.


We did not heed the first wake up call from Superstorm Sandy. Our Metro region is just as unprotected and vulnerable as before Sandy. Millions of residents still live at risk.

New York City has ignored the imperative for a regional solution that transcends geographic and political boundaries and is pursuing a local solution which is likely to lead to failure in the decades ahead.

Florence’s rapid development from a tropical depression into a catastrophic category 4 hurricane in less than 48 hours is most alarming. The prediction is that the storm will stall for days near the coastline, creating even higher storm surges of longer duration and the potential for severe riverine and urban flooding due to predictions of 20+ inches of rainfall.

Meteorologists believe that both of these characteristics appear to be the result of climate change and are likely to shape development of future hurricanes that could threaten our region.

Here in the NY-NJ Metro region we dodged the bullet this time because a high pressure system over the North Atlantic forced Florence into a track that now threatens the Southeast Coast.

But we can be sure that future extreme storm events will again cause devastating storm surges across the metropolitan region.

And while it would be impossible to build hundreds of miles of seawalls to protect the vast low-lying coastline of the Carolinas and its low-density ribbon development from storm surges, we can protect our densely-developed region from similar devastation by building a system of offshore storm surge sea gates, as more than a dozen other global cities have already done.


The first of these sea gates would be a five-mile long string of opening gates stretching from Breezy Point in the Rockaways, Long Island to Sandy Hook, NJ. A system of enhanced sand berms would stretch from the on-shore ends of each barrier along both peninsulas to prevent flood waters from breaching these low-lying barrier beaches. A second sea gate would be built across the northern end of the East River near the Throgs Neck Bridge to prevent Long Island Sound storm surges from inundating the city from the east.

This system would protect many hundreds of miles of low-lying floodable shoreline in both states, as well as all three major airports, rail and roadway tunnels, seaports, iconic landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, hospitals and all of the region’s major business and population centers. Both gates would consist of movable sections that would remain open except during threatened storm surges, to permit unrestricted movement of tides, fish, marine mammals and sediments in settled weather, yet leave intact all of the natural features of the Hudson River and New York Harbor estuaries. This system would utilize established technology that has protected London and the Netherlands from storm surges for decades.

This system would cost an estimated $10-20 billion. While this seems like a very high cost, it is far less than the losses from Superstorm Sandy of more than $75 billion value of the region at risk with its $1.5 trillion economy. Further, it would protect the region for a century or more from threatened storm surges and prevent hundreds of billions in economic losses and loss of life.


Following Katrina, the US Army Corps of Engineers built a similar $14.5 billion regional system to protect New Orleans from future hurricanes, and completed the project on-time and on-budget in less than five years. The Army Corps is now conducting a feasibility study of alternative measures to protect our region from storm surges, and we are pleased that one of the alternatives being considered is the Stony Brook Storm Surge Working Group’s proposed off-shore sea gate system.

The Storm Surge Working Group is strongly urging the Army Corps to proceed with a thorough examination of this alternative, and that if chosen, it be built on a similar accelerated construction schedule.

We must demand construction of a regional protection system that will protect the entire region from future devastation caused by future hurricanes like and worse than Florence.

For further information contact:

Malcolm Bowman, Distinguished Service Professor, School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences |631-632-8669/cell 631-355-3120

Robert Yaro, Adjunct Professor, SoMAS

William Golden, Adjunct Professor, SoMAS

SoMAS Faculty Serving on NYS DEC Ocean Acidification Task Force on Coastal Waters

Photo above, from left:  SoMAS Professors Larry Swanson, Malcolm Bowman and Carl Safina

From DEC ANNOUNCES NEW YORK OCEAN ACIDIFICATION TASK FORCE TO EVALUATE IMPACTS ON STATE’S COASTAL WATERS from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, August 22, 2018

Task Force to Examine Adaptive Strategies for Ocean Acidification in State Waters

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced the creation of a 14-member Ocean Acidification (OA) Task Force to assess impacts of acidification on the ecological, economic, and recreational health of New York’s coastal waters, work to identify contributing factors, and recommend actions to reduce and address negative impacts. The Task Force includes experts in climatology, hydrology, economics, marine fisheries, aquaculture, oceanography, and ecology. The task force’s first meeting will be scheduled this fall.

Commissioner Seggos said, “Governor Cuomo established New York’s Ocean Acidification Task Force to ensure that the best available science is used to assess and respond to this emerging threat to our coastal waters and fisheries. The task force is charged with providing New York with the tools and information to protect our natural resources from changing ocean chemistry and safeguard the long-term sustainability of our fisheries.”

Signed into law in 2016, the 14-member Task Force is composed of experts appointed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, the State Senate, the State Assembly, New York City, and Nassau and Suffolk counties. As the lead agency, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos’ designee will chair the Task Force. The Task Force will also include representatives of the New York State Department of State and the Office of General Services.

The Task Force members named to date are:

  • James F. Gennaro, Chair, DEC Deputy Commissioner (DEC designee)
  • Marci Bortman, Director of Conservation Programs, The Nature Conservancy and Stony Brook University Alum (Governor’s designee)
  • Professor Malcolm J. Bowman, Distinguished Service Professor, Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (Assembly designee)
  • Todd Gardner, leader of the New York State Office of General Services green sustainability procurement team (OGS designee)
  • David Gugerty, Democratic Commissioner of the Nassau County Board of Elections (Nassau County designee)
  • Jeff Herter, Division of Community Resilience and Regional Programs, Office of Planning & Development, New York Department of State(DOS designee)
  • John K. McLaughlin, Managing Director, Office of Ecosystem Services, NYC Department of Environmental Protection (New York City designee)
  • Karen Rivara, Owner, Aeros Cultured Oyster Company and former president of the Long Island Farm Bureau (Suffolk County designee)
  • Professor R. Lawrence Swanson, Former Dean and Director of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (Governor’s designee)
  • Professor Carl Safina, Endowed Research Chair for Nature and Humanity at Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and Director of the Safina Center, a not-for-profit research, educational, and environmental advocacy organization (Assembly designee)
  • Jeremy Thornton, Former U.S. Navy SEAL and Strategic Markets Director at Janssen Pharmaceutica (Senate designee)

The task force will produce a report and an action plan, including:

  • An assessment of the anticipated impacts of ocean acidification;
  • Recommendations to provide stronger, more protective standards, and the implementation and enforcement of such standards in the context of OA;
  • Recommendations for adaptive measures to respond to OA, including measures to identify and monitor early effects of ocean acidification on marine life, animals, plants, and natural communities, and integrate ocean acidification mitigation and adaptation strategies into state environmental plans;
  • Recommendations on state and local regulatory and/or statutory actions to respond to the impacts of OA;
  • A review of existing scientific literature and data on ocean acidification and how it has directly or indirectly affected or may potentially affect commercially harvested and grown species along the coast;
  • Monitoring data on factors contributing to OA; and
  • Recommendations to increase public awareness of OA.

The OA Task Force’s efforts will be supported by DEC’s Division of Marine Resources in East Setauket and faculty of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.

When dissolved in water, atmospheric carbon dioxide forms carbonic acid. Increased levels of carbon dioxide are making ocean waters increasingly acidic. Ocean acidification can be further impaired by runoff and nutrient influx from land. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), each year the ocean absorbs approximately 25 percent of all the CO2 emitted by human activities, and ocean acidity has increased by about 30 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The current rate of change of ocean acidification is faster than any time on record and 10 times faster than the last major acidification event 55 million years ago.

The Atlantic Ocean along the Northeast U.S. shore has the potential to be especially vulnerable to acidification because carbon dioxide is most soluble in cold water and the Northeast is subject to increasingly intense rain events leading to more intensive runoff. Still under scientific study, it is believed that ocean acidification could have an adverse impact on the marine fisheries industry.

New York’s marine resources are critical to the state’s economy, supporting nearly 350,000 jobs and generating billions of dollars through tourism, fishing and other industries. More than 500,000 anglers in the region will reap the benefits of this initiative, supporting the region’s growing marine economy which accounts for approximately 9.7 percent of Long Island’s total GDP.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Chair of Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, said, “One of the primary reasons I drafted this legislation is that we have a responsibility to prepare for the impacts of climate change, and that includes the impacts on the ocean. With millions of New Yorkers living near the coast, this Task Force has some important work to do. Like climate change, the process of ocean acidification is invisible. The work of the Ocean Acidification Task Force will bring the magnitude of this threat into plain sight and help us develop strategies to mitigate and adapt to ocean acidification. I am confident that the Task Force participants will be up to the challenge and look forward to seeing their findings.”

SoMAS Study Shows Threatened Sharks Still Common in Fin Trade

Photo above: These are randomly selected shark fin scraps derived from fin processing being prepared for DNA testing in the laboratory. This step is essential in order to determine if the fin parts are CITES listed endangered species. Credit Diego Cardeñosa

From Study Shows Threatened Sharks Still Common in Fin Trade on SBU Happenings on July 24, 2018

As millions of viewers watch the Discovery channel’s Shark Week 2018, two Stony Brook researchers are among a team that is determined to protect endangered shark species.

A study published in Conservation Letters by lead author Diego Cardeñosa, a Stony Brook University PhD student, reveals that several threatened shark species are still common in the fin trade after being listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). “CITES‐listed Sharks Remain Among the Top Species in the Contemporary Fin Trade” is the first assessment of the species composition of the fin trade after CITES regulations were put in place for commercially important shark species.

Since September 2014, CITES has regulated scalloped hammerheads, smooth hammerheads, great hammerheads, oceanic whitetips, and porbeagle sharks, some of the world’s most vulnerable and highly traded shark species. This means that permits are required to ship their products from country to country.

From February 2014 to December 2016, a collaborative research team from the U.S. and Hong Kong surveyed small scraps that are produced when imported fins are processed — when the skin, meat and cartilage is trimmed off the fin. Hong Kong is one of the world’s largest importers of shark fins, which are used to make the delicacy, shark fin soup.

The team conducted DNA testing on randomly selected scraps to look for CITES-listed species. They also recorded the incoming weights of fins from these species reported through the CITES Trade Data Base in 2015. According to this database there were only 16 shipments of these species into Hong Kong at a total weight that was less than one half of a percent of the weight of all fins imported that year.

“If this is an accurate reflection of imports, we would expect CITES-listed species would be uncommon among fins being processed in 2015-2016,” said Cardeñosa, a PhD student in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS).

“However, our research shows that these species are still commonly being processed at least one year after regulations were implemented,” emphasized Cardeñosa. “In fact, CITES-listed scalloped and smooth hammerheads represented the fourth and fifth most common species found in our survey, out of 82 species and species groups in total.” He also pointed out that because the time lag between import and processing is unknown, it is difficult to determine if some of the fins were imported before the regulations were in place.

“Although we can’t rule out some delayed processing of fins, the disconnect between reported imports and how common these species were in our survey does suggest that major underreporting of CITES imports is occurring,” said Cardenosa. “It also seems unrealistic that many countries that exported fins of these species to Hong Kong suddenly stopped doing so when the regulations came in. But these findings would be consistent with other studies that have shown that compliance with CITES regulations is relatively low during the initial phase of implementation.”

“It is great that there is now a system in place to monitor trade in these threatened shark species,” said Demian Chapman, research team leader from Florida International University. “But listing them is just the first step. Our study highlights that countries fishing, trading, and consuming shark products all have a lot of implementation work to do.”

The team made some practical suggestions on how to improve inspection efficiency so that shark-importing nations like Hong Kong can better meet their obligations to CITES. While Hong Kong has been successful in their implementation efforts — hosting nine CITES workshops for enforcement officials which led to the seizure of 5.1 metric tons of fins from listed species since late 2014 — the research team recommends these additional actions:

  • Scaling up inspection capacity by employing additional inspectors
  • Improving inspection efficiency by centralizing ports of entry for fins and conducting real-time DNA testing in the field
  • Conducting assessments to flag high-risk shipments to prioritize inspections

Cardeñosa is now living and studying in Hong Kong to help authorities develop new approaches to monitoring fin imports for CITES-listed species, including DNA testing of fins directly at the port of entry.

“There is tremendous public support for better management of the shark fin trade in Hong Kong and the government has been willing to work with us and others to control what is coming in more effectively,” said Cardeñosa. “I am hopeful that with cooperation, increased investment, and time, CITES regulations will be fully implemented for these threatened sharks.”

Co-authors of the study include: Andrew Fields of SoMAS; Elizabeth A. Babcock, of the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami; Huarong Zhang and Gunter Fischer of the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden in Hong Kong; Kevin Feldheim of the Field Museum, Chicago; Stanley K. H. Shea of the BLOOM Association in Hong Kong; and Demian D. Chapman of Florida International University.

The work was supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Pew Marine Fellows Program and The Roe Foundation.

Scientists Explore New Experimental Model Systems to Advance Biology

Photo above: Marine protists known as thraustochytrids produce carotenoids, which are responsible for giving them a yellow to orange color. Carotenoids are essential nutrients for animals, and of biotechnological interest for several applications. EMS scientists are using genetic tools to test whether a novel thraustochytrid gene is involved in carotenoid biosynthesis. What results from the genetic manipulation is the white colonies on these plates – a possible indication of the phenotype of carotenoid-less thraustochytrids that results when the novel gene is inactivated. 

STONY BROOK, NY, July 19, 2018 – Tremendous advancement of basic biological knowledge has come from genetically manipulating model organisms to test mechanistic hypotheses. But the selection of traditional model organisms available offers a limited view of biological diversity, meaning that they cannot be used to investigate a broad swath of novel and important processes. Now an international team of scientists including Jackie Collier, PhD, an Associate Professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University, is investigating how to genetically manipulate a variety of marine protists –unicellular microscopic organisms that are not classified as a plant, animal or fungus – to develop new experimental models that may help to advance scientific understanding not only in oceanography but in other areas of the biological sciences.

The initiative, launched in 2015 is called the Experimental Model Systems (EMS) Program. A paper describing the diversity and implications of these new model systems, and the unusual collaborative approach of the EMS program, is now published in PLOS Biology.

“Our group created new tools to genetically manipulate a variety of marine protists,” said Collier. “These protists comprise a very diverse group of single-cell eukaryotes that are major components of marine ecosystems and food webs – including the phytoplankton that perform about half of the photosynthesis in the oceans and cause problems in coastal systems such as harmful algal blooms like brown tide – and because of this we may be able to discover new insights into basic biology with broad ecological implications.”

According to the authors, the “EMS program has ignited new drive, progress, and resources to overcome what many in the field of marine prostisology, ecology, and oceanography have recognized as a significant obstacle to understanding these complex and important biological systems.”

The EMS Program is part of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Marine Microbiology Initiative. Collier’s research at SoMAS is supported by the Foundation.


About Stony Brook University 
Stony Brook University is going beyond the expectations of what today’s public universities can accomplish. Since its founding in 1957, this young university has grown to become a flagship as one of only four University Center campuses in the State University of New York (SUNY) system with more than 26,000 students and 2,600 faculty members, and 18 NCAA Division I athletic programs. Our faculty have earned numerous prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Indianapolis Prize for animal conservation, Abel Prize and the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. The University offers students an elite education with an outstanding return on investment: U.S. News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 50 public universities in the nation. Its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. As part of the management team of Brookhaven National Laboratory, the University joins a prestigious group of universities that have a role in running federal R&D labs. Stony Brook University is a driving force in the region’s economy, generating nearly 60,000 jobs and an annual economic impact of more than $4.6 billion. Our state, country and world demand ambitious ideas, imaginative solutions and exceptional leadership to forge a better future for all. The students, alumni, researchers and faculty of Stony Brook University are prepared to meet this challenge.

The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) is SUNY’s designated school for marine and atmospheric research, education and public service. SoMAS is one of the leading coastal oceanography institutions in the world and features classrooms on the water. The School is also the focus for the study of atmospheric sciences and meteorology and includes the Institute for Terrestrial and Planetary Atmospheres, Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, Institute for Particle-Related Environmental Processes, Living Marine Resources Institute, Waste Reduction and Management Institute and Long Island Groundwater Research Institute.

Stony Brook University Newsroom Press Release


eDNA Analysis: A key to Uncovering Rare Marine Species

A pod of killer whales, an endangered species, swims near Seattle. By using eDNA from seawater samples, marine biologists can often detect rare species like the killer whale without seeing them. (Credit: C. Emmons, NOAA Fisheries)

From eDNA Analysis: A key to Uncovering Rare Marine Species by Greg Filiano at the Stony Brook Newsroom, June 14, 2018

STONY BROOK, N.Y., June 14, 2018  — The days of searching the oceans around the world to find and study rare and endangered marine animals are not over. However, an emerging tool that can be used with just a sample of seawater may help scientists learn more about rare marine life than ever before. According to Ellen Pikitch, PhD, of Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), this 21st Century tool that holds such promise is eDNA analysis. Her explanation was published in a perspectives piece on June 15 in Science.

In the ocean, eDNA can be obtained from seawater that contains sloughed skin cells, scales, secretions and other matter from marine organisms. The method has been shown to reliably and non-invasively detect rare, elusive and difficult-to-study species such as threatened whales, sharks and dolphins.

In the Science perspectives piece, Professor Pikitch explains how eDNA is being used to detect species presence and quantify the abundance of species. She compares the method head on with other techniques that are being used to study rare marine species, many of which are less sensitive, more labor-intensive, involve capture of animals and destruction of their habitat.

Professor Pikitch says that “eDNA outperforms traditional research methods used to study marine species in many respects. Given its advantages, eDNA is likely to quickly become the method of choice for detecting rare and elusive marine species.”

In addition, eDNA methodology is improving rapidly and becoming more cost-effective.

“Both as a complement to prevailing methods and on its own merits, eDNA holds great promise for accelerating our understanding of ocean life,” she concludes.

Pikitch, E. K. (2018). A tool for finding rare marine species. Science, 360(6394), 1180 LP-1182.


About Stony Brook University
Stony Brook University is going beyond the expectations of what today’s public universities can accomplish. Since its founding in 1957, this young university has grown to become a flagship as one of only four University Center campuses in the State University of New York (SUNY) system with more than 26,000 students and 2,600 faculty members, and 18 NCAA Division I athletic programs. Our faculty have earned numerous prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Indianapolis Prize for animal conservation, Abel Prize and the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. The University offers students an elite education with an outstanding return on investment: U.S. News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 50 public universities in the nation. Its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. As part of the management team of Brookhaven National Laboratory, the University joins a prestigious group of universities that have a role in running federal R&D labs. Stony Brook University is a driving force in the region’s economy, generating nearly 60,000 jobs and an annual economic impact of more than $4.6 billion. Our state, country and world demand ambitious ideas, imaginative solutions and exceptional leadership to forge a better future for all. The students, alumni, researchers and faculty of Stony Brook University are prepared to meet this challenge.


Reservation for two species—fisherman and dolphins are grabbing a bite at the same NY artificial reef

Above: This underwater microphone heard people and dolphins using an artificial reef in New York to find fish to eat. Credit: Stony Brook University

From “Reservation for two species—fisherman and dolphins are grabbing a bite at the same NY artificial reef” on

There’s plenty of fish in the sea for human fisherman and bottlenose dolphins to feast on and now, according to a study by researchers at Stony Brook University published in Marine Mammal Science , both species are using a New York artificial reef at the same time to find fish to eat – a new finding.

Using an underwater microphone deployed at 55 feet on an artificial reef three miles south of Atlantic Beach on Long Island, researchers were able to observe the sounds made by both species to determine eating habits and timing. Stony Brook graduate student in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and lead author, Colin Wirth, listened to recordings from a six-day period in June 2015 and identified sounds from human activity (recreational boat engine noise), bottlenose dolphins and noise-making fish (weakfish, oyster toadfish.)

“Dolphins make lots of very different sounds – whistles to communicate, clicks to find fish and even one that sounds like a gun going off. Boat noises are very distinct, you can hear the engines go in and of gear, so you can tell when boats are drifting at idle or are moving back and forth over the reef. It’s interesting to think about how we used the sounds to identify what fish were present and wonder if the dolphins are doing the same thing,” said Wirth.

The underwater microphone also captured sounds from animals that were not seen visually during numerous visits to the reef. “With the planned expansion of the NY artificial reef program by New York State, there are numerous opportunities to extend this work to multiple locations and new sites to further study how humans and dolphins (as well as other species) are sharing these habitats,” said Joe Warren, Associate Professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Wirth’s advisor and co-author of the study.

Above: Co-author Dr. Joseph Warren recovers the underwater microphone that was deployed on a New York artificial reef to study how humans and dolphins use the reef as a food source. Credit: Stony Brook University.

Multiple artificial reefs have been constructed by New York State and are designed to attract fish and provide a productive location for recreational fisherman to use.

Sound Check

According to researchers, boat noises began to rise in the early morning before tapering off in the mid-afternoon and were louder on weekends than on weekdays. While dolphin noises were heard regularly at the reef both day and night. During the loudest times of the study (weekend mornings) there were periods where no dolphin noises were heard. “During 100s of miles of boat surveys and dozens of SCUBA dives at the artificial reef sites, none of us ever saw a dolphin, so I was completely surprised when Colin told me that he was hearing them regularly in the recordings. Using an underwater microphone provided us a unique view of what animals (including humans) are doing at these sites,” said Prof. Warren.

This research was partially supported by funding from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Explore further: The fishy problem of underwater noise pollution

More information: Colin Wirth et al. Overlapping use of an artificial reef by humans and an apex predator (Tursiops truncatus ) in the New York Bight, Marine Mammal Science (2018). DOI: 10.1111/mms.12515

SoMAS Professor Analyzes Storm Damage on North Shore

Photo above by R. Lawrence Swanson: An eroding bluff at Long Beach has been stabilized by constructing a stone seawall at the bluff’s base. The bluff has been terraced to capture material that rolls down from the top and can be planted with vegetation that will help stabilize it.

In a January 11, 2018 editorial on TBR Newsmedia titled “Your Turn: Forgotten North Shore vulnerable to sea level rise,” SoMAS Interim Dean Larry Swanson highlighted how the South Shore of Long Island is featured in the majority of proposals for preparing for the next big storm after Superstorm Sandy.  According to Dr. Swanson, “the North Shore of the Island has been largely neglected in the sea level rise/storm surge discussions and planning even though it is equally vulnerable to these processes.”

The early March Nor’easter demonstrates the power of nature and the difficulty of implementing resiliency measures that are effective and affordable.  The combination of wind, rain, and storm surge severely eroded the bluffs of Nissequogue on Long Island’s north shore.  The photos clearly show the slumping of the morainal when left unprotected.  However, stabilization measures were left wanting as well.  The terraced slopes failed and even the hardened sea walls suffered damage.  Comparison of Fall 2017 photos with those of March 4 2018 shows these situations along with the hanging stairs where some two to three feet of elevation were lost on the beach face.

Comparison of storm surge elevations in Stony Brook Harbor shows that by historical standards, the recent event was not as high as had been previously recorded.  The undermining of the unprotected and stabilized bluffs could have been far worse and most likely will be in the future.  New York State and the communities located along the north shore need to explore reasonable measures to protect that coastline including both the bluffs and the downstream barrier beaches that are maintained by the natural erosion of those bluffs.

Date Height above Mean Level Water Height above Predicted High Tide
feet meters feet meters
September 21,1938  11.8  3.60  4.7-6.0 1.43-1.83
December 11, 1992  12.8  3.90  6.0 1.83
December 24, 1994  10.5  3.20  5.2 1.58
April 16, 1996  8.7  2.65  2.5 0.76
October 19, 1996  10.3  3.14  4.3 1.31
February 12, 2006  9.5  2.90  3.7 1.13
April 15, 2007  10.6  3.22  3.2 0.97
March 13, 2010  9.7  2.96  3.6 1.10
August 28, 2011
(Hurricane Irene)
 11.9  3.63  4.5 1.37
October 29, 2012
(Superstorm Sandy)
 12.4 3.78  7.3 2.22
March 2, 2018
 10.3 3.14  2.6 0.80

Table above from Swanson, R. L., & Bowman, M. J. (2016). Between Stony Brook Harbor Tides: The Natural History of a Long Island Pocket Bay. SUNY Press.

PDF Report on March 2018 Nor’Easter


SoMAS joint faculty member leads team that discovered “Supercolony” of Adélie Penguins in Antarctica

From “Supercolony” of Adélie Penguins Discovered in Antarctica on the Stony Brook Newsroom by Gregory Filiano

Additional coverage of this story is featured on CBS News, Futurity, Drone DJ,, Newsday, BBC and the New York Times

STONY BROOK, N.Y., March 2, 2018 – For the past 40 years, the total number of Adélie Penguins, one of the most common on the Antarctic peninsula, has been steadily declining—or so biologists have thought. A new study led by Stony Brook University ecologist Heather Lynch and colleagues from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), however, is providing new insights on this species of penguin. In a Scientific Reports paper, the international research team announced the discovery of a previously unknown “supercolony” of more than 1,500,000 Adélie Penguins in the Danger Islands, a chain of remote, rocky islands off of the Antarctic Peninsula’s northern tip.

Thomas Sayre-McCord (WHOI/MIT) and Philip McDowall (Stony Brook University) pilot a Quadcopter at an Adélie penguin breeding colony on Brash Island, Danger Islands, Antarctica. Credit: Stony Brook University, Courtesy Alex Borowicz.

“Until recently, the Danger Islands weren’t known to be an important penguin habitat,” says Lynch, Associate Professor of Ecology & Evolution in the College of Arts & Sciences, Joint Faculty at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and the paper’s senior author, titled “Multi-modal survey of Adélie penguin mega-colonies reveals the Danger Islands as a seabird hotspot.”

These supercolonies have gone undetected for decades, Lynch notes, partly because of the remoteness of the islands themselves, and partly the treacherous waters that surround them. Even in the austral summer, the nearby ocean is filled with thick sea ice, making it extremely difficult to access.

“Now that we know how important this area is for penguin abundance, we can better move forward designing Marine Protected Areas in the region and managing the Antarctic krill fishery,” explained Lynch.

In 2014, Lynch and colleague Mathew Schwaller from NASA discovered telltale guano stains in existing NASA satellite imagery of the islands, hinting at a mysteriously large number of penguins. To find out for sure, Lynch teamed with Stephanie Jenouvrier, a seabird ecologist at WHOI, Mike Polito at LSU and Tom Hart at Oxford University to arrange an expedition to the islands with the goal of counting the birds firsthand.

When the group arrived in December 2015, they found hundreds of thousands of birds nesting in the rocky soil, and immediately started to tally up their numbers by hand. The team also used a modified commercial quadcopter drone to take images of the entire island from above.

Danger Islands Expedition team members on Heroina Island, Danger Islands, Antarctica. Credit: Stony Brook University, Courtesy Casey Youngflesh.

“The drone lets you fly in a grid over the island, taking pictures once per second. You can then stitch them together into a huge collage that shows the entire landmass in 2D and 3D,” says co-PI Hanumant Singh, Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Northeastern University, who developed the drone’s imaging and navigation system. Once those massive images are available, he says, his team can use neural network software to analyze them, pixel by pixel, searching for penguin nests autonomously.

The accuracy that the drone enabled was key, says Michael Polito, coauthor from Louisiana State University and a guest investigator at WHOI. The number of penguins in the Danger Islands could provide insight not just on penguin population dynamics, but also on the effects of changing temperature and sea ice on the region’s ecology.

“Not only do the Danger Islands hold the largest population of Adélie penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula, they also appear to have not suffered the population declines found along the western side of Antarctic Peninsula that are associated with recent climate change,” says Polito.

Being able to get an accurate count of the birds in this supercolony offers a valuable benchmark for future change, as well, notes Jenouvrier. “The population of Adélies on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula is different from what we see on the west side, for example. We want to understand why. Is it linked to the extended sea ice condition over there? Food availability? That’s something we don’t know,” she says.

It will also lend valuable evidence for supporting proposed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) near the Antarctic Peninsula, adds Mercedes Santos, from the Instituto Antártico Argentino (who is not affiliated with this study but is one of the authors of the MPA proposal) with the Commission for the Conservation of the Antarctic Marine Living Resources, an international panel that decides on the placement of MPAs. “Given that MPA proposals are based in the best available science, this publication helps to highlight the importance of this area for protection,” she says.

Also collaborating on the study: Alex Borowicz, Philip McDowall, Casey Youngflesh, Mathew Schwaller, and Rachael Herman from Stony Brook University; Thomas Sayre-McCord from WHOI and MIT; Stephen Forrest and Melissa Rider from Antarctic Resource, Inc.; and Tom Hart from Oxford University; and Gemma Clucas from Southampton University. The team utilized autonomous robotics technology from Northeastern University.

Funding for this research was provided by a grant to the Wood Hole Oceanographic Institution from the Dalio Ocean Initiative. Logistical support was provided by Golden Fleece Expeditions and Quark Expeditions.


About Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University is going beyond the expectations of what today’s public universities can accomplish. Since its founding in 1957, this young university has grown to become a flagship as one of only four University Center campuses in the State University of New York (SUNY) system with more than 26,000 students and 2,600 faculty members, and 18 NCAA Division I athletic programs. Our faculty has earned numerous prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Indianapolis Prize for animal conservation, Abel Prize and the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. The University offers students an elite education with an outstanding return on investment: U.S. News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 50 public universities in the nation. Its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. As part of the management team of Brookhaven National Laboratory, the University joins a prestigious group of universities that have a role in running federal R&D labs. Stony Brook University is a driving force in the region’s economy, generating nearly 60,000 jobs and an annual economic impact of more than $4.6 billion. Our state, country and world demand ambitious ideas, imaginative solutions and exceptional leadership to forge a better future for all. The students, alumni, researchers and faculty of Stony Brook University are prepared to meet this challenge.

Reporter Contact:  Gregory Filiano
631 444-9343

SoMAS Faculty Testify Against Off Shore Drilling

Photo above:  Interim Dean Larry Swanson speaks about how oil from drilling offshore Long Island would reach our shores based on his research on prevailing winds and the movement of plastics debris in the Atlantic. Photo by Assemblyman Steve Englebright.

Content provided by Dr. Carl Safina, Dr. Malcolm Bowman and Dr. Larry Swanson.

SoMAS faculty joined with public officials, environmentalists and concerned citizens to speak out regarding the Long Island focus of the United States Department of Interior Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s National OCS Program.

On Wednesday, February 14, 2018, Dr. Carl Safina spoke at a meeting hosted by New York State Assemblyman and SoMAS lecturer Steven Englebright.  His testimony, “Why Not To Drill off the East Coast of the U.S.” is below:

Thank you for this opportunity to share my thinking.


I’m a bit out of synch with some other environmentalists worried about the big spill, warning of another Deepwater Horizon or Exxon Valdez-type fiasco coming to the Northeast. To me it’s not about “the big spill.” It’s about the day-to-day of chasing oil, the wrong-headedness of it all.


It’s not that I don’t have some personal history with the major oil calamities of recent decades; I do. In my early teens the first televised images of oil-coated birds during the 1969 blowout off Santa Barbara shocked me and the nation, inspiring the first Earth Day and helping propel the burst of environmental laws signed by Republican president Richard Nixon.


Twenty years later, at home working on a scientific paper, I heard the radio’s news of the Exxon Valdez’ rupture, and of thousands more oiled birds and otters, and sitting right there at my desk I began sobbing.


A decade later I visited Cordova, Alaska, and saw how the Exxon Valdez’ pain and disruption had seeped into lives as thoroughly as the oil had seeped into shoreline sediments and the livers of waterfowl. After citizens were awarded damages in a judgment against Exxon, an appeals court had reduced the judgment by roughly 90 percent.


And in 2010 I spent a lot of time along, on, and above the Gulf of Mexico while oil freely gushed from the hole PB had made in our coastal soul. There was the failure of the ‘blowout preventer’ to prevent the blowout, the crazy “junk shot” attempt to jam golf balls and shredded tires down a gushing well against the geologic force of the upward-shooting oil, the ghastly photo of one nearly unrecognizable brown pelican dying jacketed in crude. I was there when fishing stopped, tourism stopped, property values went to zero, and the oil would not stop. My chronicle of that summer of anguish became the book, A Sea in Flames.


We’re here thinking about all this because the White House has proposed opening a large area off the Eastern Seaboard to oil exploration and potential drilling. No exploration has been allowed here since the 1980s.


With everything we know about the threats of drilling and extraction to marine mammals, it’s noise and disruption to them and to other ocean wildlife, the possibilities of catastrophic spills and blowouts, and the mere grind of daily oil-producing infrastructure—with all we know about the need to move off of fossil fuels and onto renewables—no new areas should be explored for oil. We should be looking, planning, and investing forward to cleaner tech and cleaner energy.


During that summer of anguish in 2010 while I was witnessing BP’s Deepwater Horizon debacle in the Gulf, I got an invitation to appear on The Colbert Report. During the show, Stephen Colbert expressed alarm as a native South Carolinian that the oil might come up the coast and get into the South Carolina marshes. “Those are my marshes,” he said, sounding every bit the homeboy. Colbert’s concern about his beloved marshes is now grounded in possibility.


I’d seen Colbert’s marshes while researching my book Voyage of the Turtle. Sally Murphy of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources took me on an aerial survey of leatherback turtles migrating up the east coast during springtime. Many of them weigh nearly half a ton, so you can see them from the air. As we flew from the airport towards the ocean in a light plane, I wrote, “Soon, we’re over a mosaic of wooded islands inlaid into emerald marshes, grouted with wriggling creeks, spanning expansively toward the coastal contour. The verdant sprawl of a blossoming summer, languid and luscious, stretches to the planetary curve.” More simply, they’re still the most beautiful coastal marshes I’ve ever seen. It’d be nice if they could stay so.


I’ve also seen the Mississippi Delta from the air. Louisiana has lost more than 2,300 square miles of wetlands. Each year, another 25 square miles of marsh disintegrate. Oil leak or no leak, mere busyness of getting oil perpetuates the most devastating disaster that’s hit America’s wetlands.


That’s why, as the oil was gushing in 2010, I came to the conclusion that the main disaster is the oil we don’t spill. It’s the daily grind of oil extraction. That’s why I find myself not focusing on the inevitable big accidents. I’m more worried about the day-to-day.


Sally Murphy, the South Carolina sea turtle researcher who’s now retired after 33 years working for that State, says, “It’s not a fear of a big spill. But everything else: the tanker traffic, the storage tanks, the increased highways, railways, the omnipresent smell of petrochemicals. You might get an occasional big spill,” she says, “but it’s the daily, chronic, minor spills that just pollute everything. Go to Houston, and you get the picture. It’s infrastructure, port expansion—. Our number one industry is tourism. All the stuff that would be needed for oil; where will it go?”


And then, yes, there is the possibility of a blowout or major spill. When that stuff gets on every blade of marsh grass and every mile of beach, there’s no getting it out. It can remain in the sediments for decades.


A question becomes: are we willing to realize that our coast is precious?


Oil-related jobs are being dangled before our eyes, but maybe we’d like to hold on to the multi-billion-dollar tourism that comes for lovely shores and clean waters.


And before we get the first drop of oil, we’d have to find it. To do so, seismic air-guns fire intense blasts of compressed air as frequently as every ten seconds, for days to weeks at a time, loud enough to harm marine life.” A 2012 Draft Environmental Impact statement estimated that the seismic surveys would cause millions of instances of harassment to whales and dolphins annually. [Draft EIS, p xiii]


I asked whale expert Ken Balcomb about this. He was the first person to document Navy sonar kills of whales. “There are many cases of air gun use leading to injury and death of marine mammals,” he said.


With seismic exploration, marine animals often have time to move themselves away from the noise before they’re in the zone of injury. Slowly ramping up air-gun noise is another way to let mammals get out of the area. But “the area” happens to be where they live and hunt for food. They’re there because it’s where they need to be.


Thanks to oil industry lobbying and subsidies, we have built no viable clean alternative to oil. I think our very own coastal ocean is as good a place as any to stop the advance of the fossil fuel footprint.


We get the jobs we plan for. So let’s plan for cleaner, renewable, eternal energy instead. The heat of the sun, the strength of the wind, the power of the tides, the warmth of the earth. It’s there. Remember, a solar spill is called: a sunburn.

Additional coverage of the 2018-02-14 event is available in The Statesman, TBR News, CBS and Newsday.

On Friday, March 2, 2018, the Department of Interior was invited by Representative Lee Zeldin to the Town of Brookhaven offices in Farmingville, New York for a public hearing in response to President Trump’s Executive Order to permit offshore oil drilling all around the US Exclusive Economic Zone.  Dr. Malcolm Bowman noted that there were “several hundred people in attendance.” The hearing focused on the offshore waters of the New York Bight, out to the edge of the continental shelf.  All speakers were given three minutes to make their presentation.

The public comment period closes on March 8, 2018 and the event offered the chance for many to voice their concerns.

The hearing began with the testimony of Congressman Lee Zeldin (R) of the 1st Congressional District of New York, who came out very strongly against the permitting of oil drilling off the coasts of New York. This was followed (in no particular order) by testimonies by NY State Assemblypersons Steve Englebright (D), Christine Pellegrino (D) and Fred Thiele (I), Town of Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle and Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). All spoke against the proposal.

This was followed by a long stream of testimonies lasting over three hours from representatives of NGOs, academia (Dean Larry Swanson and myself), advocacy groups and private citizens. All testimonies were strongly negative. Not one speaker spoke in favor of permitting offshore drilling.

SoMAS Interim Dean Larry Swanson and Professor Malcolm Bowman both spoke at the event.  Dr. Swanson’s testimony is below:

I am Dr. Larry Swanson, Director of the Waste Reduction and Management Institute and Interim Dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. It is an honor to be able to speak to you today. I am pleased to be able to express my concerns about the prospects of opening the New York Bight to oil exploration and production.


Represetative Lee Zeldin introduces a public comment session where SoMAS professor Malcolm Bowman, Interim Dean Larry Swanson and SoMAS alum Carl LoBue (pictured) were there to speak

Represetative Lee Zeldin introduces a public comment session where SoMAS professor Malcolm Bowman, Interim Dean Larry Swanson and SoMAS alum Carl LoBue (pictured) were there to speak

The Federal Government proposal to explore and possibly drill for oil in the New York Bight (continental shelf area off the Atlantic shores of Long Island and New Jersey) is irresponsible and must be prevented. We have four decades of experiences dealing with medical waste and other marine debris wash-ups in this area to inform us of the consequences. The events demonstrate the vulnerability of the coasts to polluting activities within the Bight driven by its oceanographic processes — particularly oil at the surface. We can say with certainty that major negative ecological and economic consequences will occur.


Some 70 miles of beaches were closed at times from Rockaway Inlet to Moriches Inlet on Long Island in June 1976. New York State Governor Hugh Carey declared the area a disaster and President Ford sent the Job Corps to clean up under the supervision of the U.S. Coast Guard. In 1988, essentially the same beaches were closed, off and on, for most of July. The central coast of New Jersey experienced a similar problem in 1987. These latter wash-ups raised the marine debris problem as an international concern and was the cover story of NEWSWEEK on August 1, 1988. Following Superstorm Sandy, when considerable debris escaped into the marine environment, little of it returned to our local beaches.


All this can be explained quite nicely by wind patterns throughout the seasons. Floating debris, like an oil slick, tends to be transported at about 3 percent of the wind speed and in the direction of the wind. Our prevailing summer winds (May-September) are from the south to southwest. If there is debris on the water surface in the Bight (i.e., from combined storm sewers, oil, etc.) these winds, if persistent, will transport it to the ultimate barrier, Long Island’s south shore. Persistent southerlies (blowing continuously from a given direction for days) are rather common in summer. In a controlled experiment in the 1970s, drift cards, designed to mimic surface oil spills, were released some 14 miles south of Long Island during summer. They were recovered on the south shore beaches within days, further substantiating the drift of debris and oil.


The New Jersey wash-up in August 1987 was a consequence of easterlies — somewhat unusual in summer. Superstorm Sandy debris, if in the Bight, most likely moved with the northwesterly winds of winter offshore and to the south.


In a way, these incidents served as grand experiments — ones that are informative, couldn’t be replicated at the same scale as a science experiment, and hopefully won’t be replicated in reality. In 1976 and 1988, for days, even weeks, debris washed ashore in waves. According to records, debris could be identified that came from as far away as Maryland. And, when TWA Flight 800 crashed in July 1996, it took little more than two days for wreckage to wash ashore in the vicinity of Quogue, some 20 miles northeast of where the plane went down. These debris incidents clearly ascertain that the ocean coast of Long Island will be particularly susceptible to the chronic oil discharges from oil rigs and devastated by a spill in summer. New Jersey is less at risk during summer. However, if oil sinks, it could impact New Jersey beaches due to upwelling (bottom water transported shoreward) driven by the southerly winds.


The economic costs of the 1987/1988 incidents were $1.3-5.4 billion ($2.8-11.8 billion in 2018). Summertime visitations (3 months) at Jones Beach, Long Island dropped about 1.4 million from 1987 to 1988. It took until 1993 for attendance to recover.


We can look forward to constantly having oil and tar balls on our beaches during the prime tourism months from offshore oil products as well as spills. Stations dispensing alcohol towels to wash one’s feet will probably be necessary just as it is in much of Florida and the Caribbean.


Predictably, spilled oil will have serious environmental consequences. While it is relatively easy to clean oil off sandy beaches, the real challenge will be in preventing the spilled oil from entering the ecologically sensitive and prolific south shore lagoons, where New York State is trying to restore water quality and shellfish populations. It will be necessary to have floating curtains at the ready at all seven inlets along the south shore to prevent spilled oil from entering.


Clearly, the downsides of oil drilling are excessive and the undertaking is not worth the environmental risks. When it comes to drilling in the ocean, we can with certainty guarantee an accident no matter the assurances of industry. Twenty-five years ago, the Federal government ended ocean dumping of a variety of wastes in the Bight by passing the Ocean Dumping Act (P.L. 100-688), with the idea that we would be able to clean it up for numerous beneficial uses. Let’s not allow the Federal government to reverse this positive step by permitting major polluting activities by the oil industry.


This concludes my testimony and I will be glad to answer questions.

Dr. Bowman did not submit a written testimony; however his oral remarks will be entered in the Federal Register along with all submitted written testimonies.  After introducing himself as a Distinguished Service Professor of Physical Oceanography at the School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), also President of the NY Marine Sciences Consortium and Chair of the Metropolitan NY-NJ Storm Surge Working Group, he made the following points:

Hydro Power. The US Federal Government is now heading in exactly the wrong direction in terms of energy policy. However, NY State is blessed with abundant resources and possibilities for renewable energy. New York is the largest hydroelectric power producer east of the Rocky Mountains and is fourth in the nation in the generation of electricity from hydropower. More than 300 hydroelectric generating stations – some very small, a few very large (St Lawrence River, plus Quebec Hydro imports) and many in between – connect to New York’s electric grid. Hydro plants typically meet at least 17 percent of the state’s total electricity demand with renewable, clean and inexpensive power.


Wind Power. An increasing number of wind power turbines are being installed, both onshore and offshore. The American Wind Energy Association ranks New York eleventh in the nation for installed wind generation capacity. As of 2014, 20 projects are operating with a rated capacity of a little more than 1,812 MW, approximately 2.6 percent of all the electric power available from generation facilities in New York and enough to power more than 500,000 homes. In addition, two wind power projects are under construction in New York, and one is under active review .

Solar Power. NY-Sun is Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s $1 billion initiative to advance the scale-up of solar and move New York State closer to having a sustainable, self-sufficient solar industry. The growth of solar in the State has increased more than 300 percent from 2011 to 2014, twice the rate of U.S. solar growth overall. The NY-Sun Incentive Program will help bring affordable solar electric power to 150,000 new homes and businesses by 2020.


Many opportunities are available to continue this growth of renewable energy.


The 2015 New York State Energy Plan is committed to:

  •  40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels
  •  50% electricity will come from renewable energy resources
  •  600 trillion Btu increase in statewide energy efficiency.


Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has also recently unveiled his 20th Proposal of his 2018 State of the State message: New York’s Clean Energy Jobs and Climate Agenda.  He has also released his First-in-The-Nation Offshore Wind Master Plan to Guide New York’s Development of Renewable Energy.  He has also to set an Energy Efficiency Target for New York. His promise claims to be an important first step to transforming the state into a national energy efficiency leader. It includes offshore wind power, expanding energy storage, and reducing power plant pollution. Energy efficiency is fundamental for climate progress and integral to the state’s clean energy platform.


In November 2017, the northeastern States of Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island released three reports on offshore wind development, claiming that industry has the potential to power almost four million homes and provide thousands of U.S. jobs.


Nine eastern States have agreed to cut power plant emissions by an extra 30% between 2020 and 2030. The compact of Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont) known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has worked for two years to hammer out the next step in their landmark emissions cap-and-trade program, which puts a price on carbon dioxide emissions from the production of electricity. The program has a track record of cutting emissions fairly painlessly across a densely populated section of the country.


Because of humanity’s insatiable appetite for fossil fuels, we are heading down the slippery slope of the so-called “worst case scenario” as defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This details the worst effects of the continuing increase in atmospheric CO2 buildup in the atmosphere (and associated acidification of the oceans). In a recent article published by the National Academy of Sciences , the worst case scenario is predicted to lead to a rise in sea level of up to 1.8 m (six ft) by the end of this century .


Long Island, a relic pile of sand (terminal moraine) left over from the retreat of the last ice age, is especially vulnerable with its low topography and the especially vulnerable southern and eastern coastlines. Even a two-foot sea level rise will be catastrophic for Long Island and a serious threat to New York City and coastal New Jersey. A 6 ft rise in sea level will spell the end of life as we know it in Metropolitan New York, coastal New Jersey and Long Island.


New York State

DEC has officially taken the position that a 6 ft rise in sea level may occur by the end of this century and all available steps need to be taken to adjust to this grim prediction.


As a state and as a nation, we need to reverse this dangerous reliance on fossil and fuels and drive forward to a fossil free future before it is too late. As a society, we need to think hard, before it is too late about the legacy we will leave to our descendants. What kind of world will they inherit from us?

Additional coverage of the 2018-03-02 event is available in Newsday, WSHU, TBR News.

Dr. Swanson’s testimony included the following references:

Ofiara, D.O. 2015. The New York Bight 25 years later: Use impairments and policy challenges. Marine Pollution Bulletin 90:281-298.

Long Island Beach Pollution June 1976. 1976. Report coordinated by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Marine EcoSystems Analysis (MESA) New York Bight Project, Stony Brook, New York, R. Lawrence Swanson, manager; with major contributions from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region II (EPA-RII) and U.S. Coast Guard, 3rd District, Marine Environmental Protection Branch, Governors Island, New York Environmental Research Laboratories.

Swanson, R.L. et al. 1978. Pollution of Long Island Ocean Beaches. Journal of the Environmental Engineering Division, ASCE, Vol. 104, Issue 6, 1067-1085.

Swanson, R.L. and R.L. Zimmer. 1990. Meteorological conditions leading to the 1987 and 1988 washups of floatable wastes on New York and New Jersey beaches and comparison of these conditions with the historical record. Estuarine, Coastal, and Shelf Science 30:59-78.

Swanson, R.L., K. Lwiza, K. Willig, and K. Morris. 2016. Superstorm Sandy Marine Debris Wash-ups on Long Island – What Happened to Them? Marine Pollution Bulletin 108, Issues 1-2, 215-231.

SoMAS Participates in New York Harbor Educational Tour

On October 10, 2017, the National Institute for Coastal and Harbor Infrastructure commemorated the fifth anniversary of Super Storm Sandy with a Coastal Resiliency Storm Surge Barrier Boat Tour in New York Harbor.  As described in the invitation “Join us as Scientists, Engineers, Urban Planners and other experts narrate a NYC waterfront view of the impacts of Sandy and how the NY NJ Metropolitan Regional Storm Surge Barrier would provide a “layered defense” protecting the city and 820 miles of NYC Metro coastline for the next 100 years or more.” The group departed Chelsea Piers aboard the Classic Harbor Lines Yacht “Manhattan II” from Pier 62, West 22nd & the Hudson River

SoMAS Professor Malcolm Bowman was on board to continue to push for storm surge barriers to protect the New York area.  Dr. Bowman is the chairman and founder of the New York New Jersey Metropolitan Storm Surge Working Group.

Bill Golden, President of the National Institute for Coastal and Harbor Infrastructure sent this message following the event:

Thank you for joining us on Tuesday’s Coastal Resiliency and Storm Surge Barrier Boat Tour.

Our sold out Tour provided us all with an opportunity to witness first hand the continuing vulnerability of the region to flooding and devastation from the next Super Storm. It was clear from the presentations of over 20 experts given the physical oceanography of the region and the complicated regional interdependence of infrastructure, commerce, workforce and diverse lifestyles, only a regional storm surge barrier system could reliably and comprehensively protect the dense integration of development, recreational facilities and historic and cultural sites that is our Metropolitan area.


With your strong and continuing support, our proposal for a Regional Storm Surge Barrier System for Long Island and the New York and New Jersey Metropolitan Area has now been endorsed by a growing number of public and private sector leaders. Our Proposal has also attracted significant media interest and support.


In addition to being the cover story of amNewYork, the front page of the Metro Section of the New York Times, on CBS TV, PBS TV and Radio in both New York and New Jersey, the Boat Tour and our May Conference has been covered in an article just published in Downtown Magazine. I have also been contacted by Newsweek and by Associated Press and informed that they are working on more extensive articles.


Again, thank you for your continuing support and assistance and for working actively to build support for a regional storm surge barrier system with your elected representatives, colleagues and communities.

For more information about the event or the National Institute for Coastal and Harbor Infrastructure, please visit their web page.

2017 Press



2016 Press

2015 Press
Feb 19, 2015 STONY BROOK, NY, February 20, 2015 – Science on Tap, a live event and web … the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and marine biologist Debra …
Feb 8, 2015 … the last 100 years dramatically changed the atmospheric asymmetry … University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences(SoMAS), ……/2015-01-14-david-conover-vp-for-research.php
Jan 13, 2015 … David O. Conover, Interim Vice President for Research and Professor of Marine Science in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences …
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