Seafloor Mapping Project Kicks Off in Port Jefferson

Stony Brook University research vessel “SeaWolf” to help map Long Island Sound.

On Friday, representatives from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the Environmental Protection Agency joined Stony Brook University researchers and local officials to kick-off the Seafloor Mapping Project of Long Island Sound.

Scientists will use the Stony Brook University marine research vessel named SeaWolf docked in Port Jefferson Harbor to survey the bottom of the Sound, creating a detailed topographic map, testing the texture and makeup of the seafloor and marking underwater habitats. The idea is to get a better sense of the Sound’s resources in order to protect them.

"This is an opportunity for agencies and institutions to collaborate for the public good," said Minghua Zhang, the dean of Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at the event held in the . "We are proud to be a part of it."

Zhang said that Stony Brook has the leading experts in sonar mapping technology working on this project.

While talking about the importance of the project, state Senator Ken LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, pointed out the "great visage" of the Long Island Sound behind him at the podium.

"It’s something we want to protect and preserve," he said.

He went on to say that both Connecticut and New York have put a lot of resources and a lot of money into preserving the Sound, including the Federal government.

This latest project piggybacks on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency’s (NOAA) attempt to update nautical charts, according to Dawn McReynolds of the NYSDEC. Using sonar, the SeaWolf will trawl the Long Island Sound to map the topography of the seafloor in detail. Scientists will also be collecting samples to find out the texture and make up of the seabed as well as the habitats of the organisms that live at the bottom.

“Finding out what’s in it and what lives in it?” said McReynolds.

A settlement between Connecticut, New York, Long Island Power Authority, Northeast Utilities and the Cross Sound Cable Company back in 2004 is providing the $1,382,020 in funding for the project.

McReynolds said that NOAA is the overarching administrator of the various agencies involved in the project. There was a similar kick-off this past June at Fort Trumbull State Park in Connecticut when researchers on the other side of the Long Island Sound introduced the public to the NOAA ship Thomas Jefferson that will also be involved in the mapping effort.

While existing maps show a general depth of the Long Island Sound, this new project will be extremely detailed.

When Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-7th District, joked at the press conference that a few years ago he lost a good fishing reel and he’d like to go out and retrieve it after the mapping is done, Mark Tedesco, the Director of the EPA’s Long Island Sound office said that the detail will be so good that there was a good chance of finding it.

Tedesco went on to say that when trying to do their work, researchers are often in the dark, having to make guesses at the very thing they strive to protect. The Seafloor Mapping Project will help to give much greater detail of the regional makeup of the Sound.

"When we had a challenge by Broadwater to put a platform to take liquid gas and transport it we fought it off because we had a great natural resource here," said LaValle.

Tedesco said that the project will help when fighting off future challenges to the health of the Sound.

"We have assembled a dream team of researchers," he said. "The scientific rigor here will certainly aide this program."

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a local environmental group, said that there are voids in our knowledge and the project will fill those information voids with good science.

"Those battles could have benefitted from this," Esposito said referencing the Broadwater fight.

She said that in the future we can find uses for the Sound in ways that impacts it the least.

When the SeaWolf is not out doing scientific research it spends its time docked in Port Jefferson Harbor. Mayor Margot Garant said that the dock was converted from an oil off-loading pier to recreational use in 2002. A partnership was struck with Stony Brook University to keep the research vessel in Port Jefferson.

Garant is proud to have the SeaWolf in her village and also drew attention to the scene from the windows of the Village Center as to why people come to the North Shore to live and play.

"No matter what time of year we come to this building you can’t help notice the views," she said.

Assemb. Steve Englebright, D-4th District, agreed saying that the Sound is a vital resource.

"It is our reason for living here for many of our residents," he said. "We’re interested in learning more about the natural history of the Sound."

A geologist, Englebright described the Long Island Sound as a saltwater basin that dates back not too far in the past.

"Arguably the most biologically diverse part of New York State," he said. "This is really about protecting and preserving an important part of our heritage and why we live in this part of the state."

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