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Shelter Island is unique in state for natural resource

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO State Department of Conservation official Soren Dahl, addressing the Town Board Tuesday on the health of the bay and harbor bottoms.

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO New York State Department of Conservation official Soren Dahl, addressing the Town Board Tuesday on the health of the bay and harbor bottoms.

With gloomy environmental statistics and worse forecasts for future conditions, it’s rare to here some good news. But that was the case at Tuesday’s Town Board work session.

Soren Dahl, an official with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), told the board that Shelter Island has the most flourishing underwater seagrass meadow in New York State.

Speaking about Coelcles Harbor, Mr. Dahl said “there’s no other place left in the state like this. Few harbors have any seagrass left.”

Mr. Dahl has been assigned by the DEC Bureau of Marine Resources to meet officials on a local level to develop plans to protect seagrass and encourage it to flourish. Also called eelgrass, seagrass is a long plant that provides a habitat for flounders, bay scallops, clams and other aquatic life.

According to a Nature Conservancy report, almost 65 percent of the seagrass meadows are gone from southern New England and New York waters, beginning their long and perilous decline in the mid-1970s, according to the report.

The New York State Seagrass Protection Act of 2012 calls for the development of seagrass areas and to work with local governments, businesses, fishermen, environmental groups and individuals to come up with plans to stop the erosion of the natural resource.

Seagrass is harmed by several factors, Mr. Dahl said, including a lack of light filtering through water and “physical disturbance,” or boats, moorings and anchors scouring out the meadows. He showed the board newly developed moorings that prevent the meadows from being ruined.

Mr. Dahl added that individual municipalities can prevent the disappearance of seagrass though management plans. He praised Shelter Island for developing a comprehensive plan put together by the Town Board and several committees, which is an in-depth, 20-page report on the situation here and a plan of action to keep the bay and harbor bottoms flourishing.

Councilman Jim Colligan, who has led the efforts to complete the Island’s seagrass management plan, said several programs would be put into action in 2018.

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