Local SPLASH Opens Season with College Study Tour

The Merrick-Bellmore-Wantagh chapter of SPLASH (Stop Polluting Littering And Save Harbors) opened its season recently by taking Adelphi graduate students of Dr. Christensen’s environmental studies class into the bays and channels to study sediment deposits and their effects upon the South Shore Estuary.

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Dr. Christensen leads the graduate class along a sandbar

Rob Weltner, president of SPLASH, told the class as it assembled along a stretch of beach and dug into the sand to reveal several colored layers of sediment, that “We need irrefutable information from your university studies and science to bring to policy makers that can help change policy for the benefit of the bays.”

Gary Smith, president of the Merrick-Bellmore-Wantagh chapter, told Your NewsMag that SPLASH has evolved beyond simply cleaning out the bays of debris, to focusing squarely on educating residents about the bays, how they came to be and their composition, and how to take care of them.

SPLASH3Students check out the composition of the sand

Captain Don Harris, educational coordinator for SPLASH, told those assembled that SPALSH in fact was the de-facto steward of the West, Middle and East Bays, and South Oyster Bay (collectively known as the Western Bays) in which their stewardship covers and includes education, the economy, the animal life and the vegetation. “We have over 3000 members interested in this work,” he maintained.

Sediment Shapes the Islands

With 14 students in two Carolina Skiffs, the excursion passed by several islands, nesting grounds to a host of bird species. Dr. Christensen pointed to the sediments as shaping the meandering contours of the shores of the islands, and discussed how the islands had likely been built: as grassy marshes that collected sediment floating in on tidal waves, creating sediment buildup.

SPLASH5The thought is that sediment floating in from the tidal flood deltas disperses throughout the bays, collecting on marsh grasses to create sediment buildup

She noted that the islands are always in a state of dynamic motion, always changing from the tidal current, and that within a generation or two the islands could be a different shape than they are presently. Sifting through quartz sand crystals picked up from the beach, she noted red garnet that was depositing on the shoreline. She called it unusual, in that garnet is usually found much farther east, in Suffolk waters.

Such a find, she said, was attributable to the power of superstorm Sandy in redistributing sediment along the entire East Coast.

Calling the inlets, such as the Jones Beach Inlet, flood tidal deltas, she maintained the tidal currents of the flood deltas are also constantly redistributing sediment around the bays – hence the buildups and contouring.

Weltner, however, offered a more immediate reason he believed the islands – at least in the Middle Bay – may be changing: effluent from the West Bay has been seeping east into the Middle Bay, eating at and eroding the roots of the grasses along their shorelines, and weakening their hold on the sediment. Tidal waves – or wave energy – he inferred, were hastening the erosion process, to change the contours.

SPLASH4Sediment near the shore is collected to determine it composition, relative to low-wave energy

The skiffs then cut through slightly choppy waters, which buffeted the boats at times, to arrive at a narrow channel. Students dropped tools down into the water at the shore of an island and brought up soil samples. The skiff then drifted further into the channel and into stronger currents, where the students again dropped tools to retrieve more sediment samples.

Dr. Christensen said the sediment sample of mud at the shoreline would prove the existence of low wave energy in changing composition, but the sediment at the currents would prove high wave activity was at work changing the sediment structure, and shifting the bottom of the bays.

After the study tour, one student was impressed with the work SPLASH has done in focusing on sewage spills within the bays and correcting them, most notably at the Bay Park sewage treatment facility.

Volunteers Welcome

Still another student signed up as a SPLASH volunteer. But all students helped remove debris from water and pick up debris from the islands they were researching.

SPLASHThe students acted as good stewards of their environment, scouring an island for debris to clean up

Smith, president of the Merrick-Bellmore-Wantagh chapter of SPLASH, invites students in environmental and marine studies to join the chapter to study the bays, while helping remove debris within an environmental setting. The chapter also seeks seniors and other residents interested in a healthy outing in the mornings to view the beauty of the bays and the animal life and help remove the unsightly debris that blemishes the beauty of the environment.

Call Smith at 785-4234 to help clean the bays – and keep them beautiful.

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