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Dolphins Have Returned to Our Waterways

Attributed to Improved Water Quality

The pod of some 150 or more bottlenose dolphins sighted last week in Hempstead Harbor off Glen Cove feasting on large schools of herrings and smaller bait fish is an encouraging sign, some say, that the area’s water quality has improved.

 

“For me, the appearance of such large numbers of dolphins in our waters speaks directly to the town’s focus to make the greening of the environment a priority,” said North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman. “I am excited that the area’s water quality appears to be returning to its pristine state, benefiting constituents not only environmentally but recreationally as well.”

Town Councilman Fred Pollack echoed the sentiments of Supervisor Kaiman.

“Two hundred dolphins can’t be wrong,” Councilman Pollack said. “Their presence in Hempstead Harbor is a signal to all of us that the harbor’s waters are clean and that we must continue our efforts to enhance the harbor.”

The promising prognosis for the area’s water quality can be credited to a network of dedicated groups including local environmental agencies and a municipal consortium of which the Town of North Hempstead is a member. The groups, including the Long Island Sound affiliate of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor and the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee have worked since the early ’90s on a number of initiatives designed to restore the health of the area’s waterways and its delicate eco-systems.

Carol DiPaolo, programs director of the water monitoring program for the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor, said the efforts appear to have been largely successful.

One of the main priorities was to try to understand what is impacting dissolved oxygen which marine life needs to survive, DiPaolo said. Storm water runoff, for example, was a huge culprit, she said, adding that storm water mitigation and heightened awareness through educational outreach has helped to reverse the declining water quality.

DiPaolo and others pointed out that Hempstead Harbor, like most of the bays around the Long Island Sound, once supported a thriving shellfish industry, which was ultimately ruined by bacteria caused by habitat deterioration. The coalition partnered with North Hempstead on a number of initiatives including a shell fish survey, she said, while the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee, with the town’s help, was awarded grants to do habitat restoration along the west side of the harbor.

“We have noticed a marked improvement,” DiPaolo said. “One thing that is obvious is that over the last 15 years the diversity and the quantity of marine life have improved dramatically.”

Even the bird population, including herons, egrets, and ospreys, which have been absent from the area for some time, have returned.

Daniel Donatelli, president of Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington, can attest first hand to the much improved health of Hempstead Harbor.

Donatelli said he was conducting rescue drills in the Harbor with his yacht club on June 30 and was struck by the quality of the water.

“It was crystal clear, as beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Donatelli said he and his crew had just finished the drills when they spotted about 150 dolphins. “They were swimming all around the boat,” he said.

The sightings in Hempstead Harbor were later followed by sightings in the Long Island Sound and off Smithtown in Suffolk County.

“They are here because their prey species are coming into the Sound and the fish are attracted by the improved water quality,” said Kimberly Durham, the rescue program director at the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, which operates the state’s only marine mammal and sea turtle rescue program. “I’m hoping this is a signal the Sound is healing and that we’ll see more of this. We welcome them.”