Protecting & Restoring Long Island's Peconic Bays

10 Ways to Show Love for Estuaries

By Jenna Schwerzmann

Fertilizers are made to feed plants on land, but they can lead to harmful algal blooms if they reach the water.

1. Fertilize responsibly, if at all.  One of the biggest issues that the Peconic Estuary faces is nutrient pollution. Fertilizer uses nitrogen and phosphorus to help plants grow on land, but it also feeds algae if it runs off the land into water.  This can lead to harmful algal blooms, which use up oxygen and suffocate marine life, shade underwater plants, and can be toxic to people. We must be careful about our fertilizer use.  There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Watch the forecast. If a rain storm is approaching, wait to apply.
  • Use slow-release and organic fertilizers.
  • Leave grass clippings on the lawn to decompose, returning nutrients (like nitrogen) to the soil.
  • Reduce your lawn size or other impermeable surfaces by installing a garden.
  • Plant native plants, which have adapted to our climate and don’t require pesticides or fertilizers.
  • Don’t apply at all! Studies show the main reason people fertilize their lawns is not because the grass needs it, but because they think they have to keep up with the neighbors.  It’s also illegal to apply fertilizer in Suffolk County between November 1st and April 1st.


Pet waste can act as a fertilizer to algae and bring pathogens to local waters.

2. Clean up after your dog. Similar to the effects of fertilizer, pet waste can contribute excess nutrients to surrounding water bodies. They can also contain pathogens that could cause diseases in humans or other dogs. A common response to this problem might be, “What about the wild animals that live around the estuary ?” The difference with wild animals is that they inhabit our natural environment, however, humans are responsible for the extra waste left behind from our dogs, so we must clean up after them to help reduce the amount of nutrients entering our waterbodies.  If we have the power to help, then we should take part in the effort. Plus, it’s the law!


These cigarette butts were collected from our rain garden, which trapped them before they could float into the storm drain. Cigarette butts are the #1 type of debris found on beaches.

3. Pick up litter from the streets, trails, and beach.  Rainwater and snow melt carry more than just nutrients and pollutants.  They also carry litter from the streets to surrounding waters through storm drains.  Did you know that over 90% of storm drains on the East End discharge directly to the local bays without being treated?  So, even if you’re not close to water, you can prevent marine debris by picking up litter from the ground (and refrain from creating it yourself, of course!)  If you find any fishing line along the way, you can bring it to one of the fishing line recycling receptacles on the East End.


A North Fork resident gets a septic system upgrade.

4. Upgrade your septic system or cesspool.  Another big contributor to harmful algal blooms are outdated septic systems and cesspools.  Just like lawn fertilizer and pet waste, human sewage is creating problems for water quality in the Peconic Estuary.  Because most residents do not have access to sewers, many use on-site systems which are outdated and do little to reduce the amount of nitrogen that leaves the system.  Excess nitrogen can get into our groundwater, which travels to surrounding estuary surface waters and our drinking water. Wastewater is the largest land-based source of nitrogen (50%) to the Peconic Estuary.   It is very important that local residents take action and upgrade their sewage systems.  Suffolk County is offering grants through their Reclaim Our Water Initiative.


You can visit our demonstration rain garden at the Peconic Riverfront Park in Riverhead.

5. Plant native plants or install a rain garden or rain barrel. Native plants are adapted to our climate, so they are relatively low-maintenance and do not require pesticides or herbicides.  A rain garden is designed to catch excess stormwater and can use native plants to filter runoff through the soils.  Similarly, rain barrels help collect water that would normally run from a gutter onto driveways and pavement, carrying pollutants to our estuary. Instead, that water can be collected and used to water gardens or wash a car over grass.  Learn more about how to create a Peconic-friendly yard.


Residents on the East End can return their hazardous household products to their town’s recycling center.

6. Use natural cleaning products and return hazardous materials through a S.T.O.P. program.  Although our wastewater treatment plants can remove many chemical compounds from water, they aren’t able to remove everything.  You can read more about this topic here.It’s best for our environment and our health to use non-toxic, natural cleaning and personal products.  However, hazardous materials can’t always be avoided – you can return your car batteries, pharmaceuticals, lawn, pool and household chemicals to a S.T.O.P. collection site near you. Never flush old medications; if your recycling center does not collect them, they can be accepted at police stations.


A boat off Red Creek Road in Hampton Bays.

7. Boaters: use pump-out services, avoid eelgrass beds, and abide by no-wake zones. All these practices help to reduce disturbance to natural habitats, which are crucial to aquatic life. Be a Peconic-friendly boater!


Montauk Point State Park has a trail to a popular haulout location for seals that visit the Peconic Estuary.

8. Stay on marked trails when exploring.  This will prevent disturbing native flora.  Make sure to also carry out whatever you may carry in.


Volunteers measure a pair of horseshoe crabs.

9. Get involved. The Peconic Estuary Program has many opportunities to volunteer and be active participants in your community, including our Citizens’ Advisory Committee and various citizen science projects like monitoring for horseshoe crabs and diamondback terrapin turtles.


10. Participate in the #iheartestuaries campaign. There are many reasons to love our estuaries. Share our articles with the hashtag #iheartestuaries or tell us your own reasons for loving your estuary!

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