Toxic Rust Tide Returns To Long Island’s South Shore Bays

Originally published: August 26, 2013
Updated: December 29, 2014 at 11:22 am

Rust tide caused by Cochlodinium in the Peconic Estuary, 2012 (photo courtesy of Bill Portlock).

Hampton Bays, NY (MorichesDaily) – A toxic algae known as “rust tide” is back in Long Island’s eastern waterways for the 10th year in a row.

The organism is turning the blue waters of the Shinnecock and Peconic bays a murky orange color and while rust tide is harmless to humans, scientists say it can kill some fish in a matter of hours.

According to experts, the tide has been detected in the Shinnecock, Flanders and Peconic Bays, including tributaries such as Meetinghouse Creek.

The collection of algae, which gets its name from the brown and orange hue that upon its arrival, replaces the clear blue tint on the water’s surface.

Christopher Gobler, a professor at Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, says rust ride is an explosion of algae fed by excess nitrogen in the water. The nitrogen comes from fertilizers and septic systems.

Experts say the rust tide could stick around for another month or two until the bays’ temperatures dip below 60 degrees.

The toxic algae bloom is believed to be caused by human waste, farm fertilizer and other pollutants.

It is feared that the bloom could have huge impacts on the environmentally fragile wildlife estuaries and salt water bays on Long Island’s east end, officials said.

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The algae can kill fish in hours, and shellfish in days.

The organism makes cysts, or seeds, which sit at the bottom of the bay and emerge each summer to start a bloom. At the end of the bloom, they turn back into cysts and once again settle to the bay bottom, allowing them to return year after year.

“It typically extends into the fall or until water temperatures drop below 60 degrees,” said Gobler. “As nitrogen loading has increased into our bays, these events have intensified.”

It is also expected to reappear next summer to start another bloom and if it continues, the toxic tide may also spell disaster for tourism to the area.

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