Protecting & Restoring Long Island's Peconic Bays
PEP will build scientific understanding and support decision-making to address threats to habitat and species.
The Peconic Estuary is home to some of the most valuable and rare habitats in the world. Physical alterations to the Peconic Estuary and its watershed such as navigational channel dredging, hardening of the shoreline with bulkheads and other erosion control structures, and clearing of land for roads and buildings all harm the habitats and living resources within and around the Estuary. At the headwaters of the Peconic River, the sensitive pine barrens ecosystem protects important drainage areas to the aquifer, which eventually outfall into the main estuary system. These alterations, along with pollution and climate change, have led to the loss and degradation of critical habitats such as the pine barrens, eelgrass beds, marshes, and diadromous fish habitat.
The habitats of the Peconic Estuary face several key threats:
Peconic Estuary Partnership provides program and project updates!
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In 1997 the Peconic Estuary Partnership Habitat Restoration Workgroup was formed and charged with identifying important Peconic natural habitats with enhancement or restoration potential, developing overall habitat restoration goals, and identifying and prioritizing potential restoration projects. The end product was the “Habitat Restoration Plan for the Peconic Estuary” dated December 2000. This Habitat Restoration Plan was subsequently updated in 2009 and again in 2017. Over the years, the Peconic Estuary Partnership has completed projects to restore a variety of habitat types, including beaches/dunes, grasslands, diadromous fish habitat, eelgrass, and wetlands.
The decline of eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) in the Peconic Estuary over the last 70 years has contributed to the degradation of the estuary as a whole. The PEP has undertaken several initiatives to advance the protection and management of eelgrass in the Peconic Estuary. Since its inception, the PEP has supported a Long Term Eelgrass Monitoring Program conducted by Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Marine Program. This monitoring program, has focused on collecting data pertaining to the health of the eelgrass beds at various sites throughout the Peconic Estuary. PEP also conducted aerial surveys of eelgrass in 2014 to map and identify changes in the extent of the resource over time. In 2009, an Eelgrass Management Plan was adopted to provide a nesting ground for discussion, theories, and new actions necessary to minimize impacts to eelgrass and to provide a suitable environment for eelgrass to exist.
Below are the most recent Long-Term Eelgrass Monitoring Reports:
The Seagrass Bio-optical Model has been developed in cooperation with The Research Foundation of SUNY Stony Brook to provide site specific information on what areas of the Peconic Estuary provide suitable habitat for eelgrass to guide future eelgrass protection and restoration projects. This project will lead to a better understanding of specific light and temperature requirements for eelgrass in the Peconic Estuary (PE). This is the critical next step towards understanding the threats to the eelgrass community and where restoration projects have the best probability of success. The final report is linked below:
The Seagrass Restoration Map and Tool will be posted here when available to share the results with our stakeholders..
Click here for the presentation on the final Seagrass Bio-Optical Model: Living on the edge- analysis of Z. marina and potential for restoration- Kaitlyn O'Toole (2020).
The PEP is working with the NYSDEC and SUNY Stony Brook to analyze spatial and temporal trends in the Peconic Estuary finfish trawl survey dataset, and develop risk metrics from ecological relationships for the Peconic Estuary that examine whether local and regional environmental changes have increased the vulnerability of individual finfish and mobile invertebrate species, community assemblages, and ecosystem processes.
The ECOSIM is a quantitative modeling framework that can represent all major ecosystem functional groups and can be used to identify and assess structural changes in the ecosystem in response to environmental change. The proposed study will identify vulnerable species, critical habitats, and ecosystem properties within the Peconic Estuary. This information has direct application to decisions affecting the use, management, and conservation of the natural resources in the bay.
A SUNY Stony Brook is advertising for a post-doctoral position currently to complete the work. The expected completion period is Fall 2021.
The Woodhull Dam is the next major barrier to fish passage on the Little River. Providing permanent fish passage at Woodhull Dam will create access to 95 acres of prime spawning habitat within Wildwood Lake. Wildwood Lake is located within preserved lands and would provide high quality, protected habitat. Funding for the construction of the dam was awarded to Suffolk County Parks/PEP through a NYSDEC Water Quality Improvement Project (WQIP) Grant and the Suffolk County Water Quality Protection and Restoration Program (WQPRP) grant. The project includes the construction and installation of a combination Denil pass and step pool fish passage and eel passage through the dam bypassing the existing culvert, with a video monitoring and fish counter system.
Click here to Learn about PEP’s Progress in Diadromous Fish Habitat Restoration. See below for the fish and eel passage design:
The Upper Mills Dam is the next major barrier to fish passage on the main stem of the Peconic River. In addition to the dam, USGS maintains a concrete weir two-hundred and fifty (250) feet downstream of the dam in order to measure the stage and discharge of the Peconic River, which also impedes fish passage. A feasibility and alternative analysis for fish passage at the Upper Mills Dam was completed in 2011. PEP is currently contracting with L.K. Mclean Associates P.C. to complete the engineering design and permitting services for construction of a fish passage at the Upper Mills Dam and Weir. This project will open 40 acres of historic spawning and maturation habitat for diadromous fish.
Click here to Learn about PEP’s Progress in Diadromous Fish Habitat Restoration. PEP is currently developing engineering designs for selected design alternative below:
In 2019 PEP completed a conceptual design, with Land Use Ecological Services, Inc., for the priority habitat restoration project at Narrow River Road, Southold, NY. Click here for the Narrow River Road Wetland Restoration Conceptual Design Plan.
Narrow River is a tributary of the Peconic Bay and flows south from the Town’s Whitcom Marsh Preserve under Route 25 and along the eastern side of Narrow River Rd in Orient, NY. An earthen dam was constructed after the 1938 hurricane to prevent tidal flooding of the lands north of the dam. The westernmost section of the dam blocked the tidal flow from Narrow River to the large meadow area north of the dam known as Broad Meadows and Whitcom Marsh Preserve north of Route 25.
Remediation of the culvert and earthen dam is needed to improve the tidal exchange throughout the extent of the river and increase the salinity of the river to promote the re-establishment of native vegetation and important waterfowl and wading bird habitat. The potential extent of the restoration area is 80 acres. PEP is working with partners to secure funding for engineering design plans and construction.
In 2019 PEP completed a conceptual design, with Land Use Ecological Services, Inc., for the priority habitat restoration project at Meetinghouse Creek, Riverhead, NY. Click here for the Meetinghouse Creek Wetland Restoration/ Construction Conceptual Design Plan.
This site is located at a large wetland area that forms the headwaters to Meetinghouse Creek in Riverhead, NY. Meetinghouse Creek is listed as an impaired waterbody on the NYSDEC Priority Waterbodies List. The wetland vegetation at this site is dominated by Phragmites.
The conceptual design recommendation is to construct a 1.2-acre stormwater wetland to treat stormwater runoff in the 5.6 acre contributing watershed. This will improve water quality in the downstream wetland and surface waters. Additionally, it will greatly increase the ecological quality of the habitat and improve plant and wildlife diversity.
An RFP for Engineering Design and Permitting will be re-advertised after the COVID-19 pandemic. PEP will work with the selected contractor and Town of Riverhead to complete the Engineering Design and Permitting services.
In 2019 PEP completed a conceptual design, with Land Use Ecological Services, Inc., for the priority habitat restoration project at Lake Montauk, East Hampton NY. Click here for the East Hampton: Lake Montauk Alewife Access and Habitat Enhancement Conceptual Design Plan.
The goal of the conceptual habitat restoration design plan is to restore connectivity for diadromous fish species between Lake Montauk
and Big Reed Pond by replacing an undersized culvert, and between Lake Montauk and Stepping Stones Pond by replacing an undersized,
impassable culverts under Old West Lake Drive and removing debris.
Suffolk County Capital funds have been secured to replace the culvert that leads to Big Reed Pond and PEP staff will be working with Suffolk County parks to complete the permitting and construction. PEP staff are also working with partners to secure funding to complete engineering design plan and construction of the culvert leading to Stepping Stones Pond.
The status and trends of living resources are closely related to the amount of land preserved in the Peconic Estuary. Benefits to land protection include preserving unique species and natural communities, and controlling nutrient and pollution loads to the Estuary. In addition, the public has exhibited a strong attachment to the natural resources and amenities provided by the Peconic Estuary region. The Peconic Estuary Partnership developed a 2004 Critical Lands Protection Strategy (CLPS) that outlined land still available for development that also meet certain criteria used to determine land protection priorities. The Partnership shares this information with State and local agencies so that it can be used to make land acquisition decisions. Since 2006, approximately 2,443 acres of land have been protected in the Peconic Estuary watershed. The most significant source of funding for land protection is the Community Preservation Fund (CPF), administered by the five East End towns. This funding is supplemented by County and State governments, and not-for-profit organizations (especially The Nature Conservancy and the Peconic Land Trust). In 2019 the Critical Lands Protection Strategy was updated to continue protecting land for habitat and water quality protection, adaptation to sea level rise and groundwater protection. PEP worked with Anchor QEA, LLC. to re-evaluate the original prioritization of the Critical Lands Protection Strategy (CLPS) and the lands within the watershed were evaluation and prioritized considering climate change impacts. The 2019 Critical Lands Protection Strategy is included here in the 2019 Peconic Estuary Partnership Climate Vulnerability Assessment and Action Plan.
The Peconic Estuary Partnership will be sharing this information with the municipalities within the Peconic Estuary watershed over the course 2020.
PEP worked with Peconic Land Trust and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Suffolk County to create a living shoreline on Peconic Land Trust's Widow's Hole Preserve in Greenport, NY. This is the first living shoreline project to be completed in the Peconic Estuary. It will be monitored to assess its efficacy in providing storm resilience and coastal habitat, and the changes in elevation of the shoreline over time to identify loss/gain of sand and the growth of smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) and America beachgrass (Ammophila) Click here to view the project story: Widow’s Hole Preserve Story Map.
Phase II of the project scope, extending the living shoreline to the entire Widows Hole Preserve property, has been developed by CCE and added to the PEP Habitat Restoration Plan.
Peconic Estuary Partnership is working with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County to complete a demonstration living shoreline project at the Suffolk County Marine Environmental Learning Center (SCMELC) in Southold, NY. The project incorporates smooth cordgrass and ribbed mussels and will be evaluated to determine its ability to provide storm resilience and coastal habitat, but also the shoreline’s effectiveness in reducing nitrogen and pathogen inputs to the Peconic Estuary. The project is expected to be complete in August 2020.
With the help of GIS interns, PEP is completing a GIS mapping project to quantify the amount of hardened shoreline in the Estuary. The last survey was in Peconic Estuary Hardened Shoreline Mapping Report was completed in 2003.