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Shell Game, Your Move

by Dennis Lane

While at the moment I may not be a scientist or work for the town, one thing I do have is first hand knowledge through actual observation of life underwater. Let me begin by stating that I have around one thousand scuba dives under my belt and while wreck diving is my passion, most dives were in shallow water sites such as bays and inlets under and or around docks and floats. I presently hold both an Advanced Open Water Certification from PADI since 1995 and an Advanced Nitrox Certification from Technical Diving International since 2001, for those familiar with scuba diving.

Let’s begin by “Google-ling” the term “artificial reef “, which returns nearly a million results. Google “natural reefs” and there is less than half that number. Why? It is accepted science that if you build or drop a structure into the water, whether it is a bottle or a massive ship, it will attract animals to live in and around it. While I am not advocating polluting our waters, not all of what we term trash is harmful. If you do not believe me go to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website and do the same search. There you will find a very extensive list of what was submerged below the surface in our State and where and when it was dropped.

Even our military placed a number of Gulf War era tanks upright into the Atlantic Ocean just a few miles off the City of Long Beach as artificial reefs, while NYC for different reasons dropped the old Cross Bay Bridge and many city buses and subway cars in the area known as the Mud Hole. What were created were reefs that attract both fish and plant life, ask any sport fisherman if he knows this area. All around our country, and in fact around the world, this is accepted as good practice for the creatures that live below the surface. Some countries do it to supplement or to replace natural reefs that, for one reason or another, are failing or have died. Without an underwater anchor, whether natural or man-made, our underwater environment can resemble a desert or lunar landscape devoid of much life. Small fish unable to hide from their predators will seek out and take up residence in just about any structure they can find to avoid becoming prey.

I dove on these particular sites mentioned above, and many more both here and abroad, and I can tell you that structures are magnets for all types of marine life. My disclaimer (naturally) is that for any structure to be beneficial, it must not be radioactive or releasing any toxins into the underwater environment at a level which would harm any part of a life cycle. So when I hear an argument that a dock is inherently bad for the underwater environment, I have to question the motives of those making these assumptions.

The bottom of my floating dock is rich with animal and plant life, such as various shrimp and soft sponges, which they hide amongst. Around and beyond the dock there is no obvious plant or animal life in the sand fields, besides fiddler crabs and other gypsies of the sea.

One thing we might be able to agree upon, is that any shading, which might occur, is for a limited duration and never always in the same spot, at the same intensity, all day everyday. After all, this is about small private docks, not some behemoth structure such as Broadwaters would have been were it allowed to be sited in the Sound.  I hope that no one in town is considering felling trees at the shorelines or dismantling bridges so as not to cast a shadow on an area where they suspect eelgrass may some day grow. Not all locations are suitable for underwater grasses due to the depth, brackishness, turbidity, currents or lack thereof, or temperature of the water in any particular area. So even if you waited really patiently for years it may not occur, ever.

How big would a shadow cast from a typical private dock be on bottom from say 30 feet to the surface? I do not know, but I’m sure that someone somewhere has studied this and is ready with an answer, maybe someone from Cornell, but not so fast. Should we not take into consideration the average turbidity of the water in each area, since this can drastically limit or even eliminate a shadow from being cast on the bottom. I have been underwater when I could not see the hand in front of my face and at other times in the same area have seen the moon at depths of thirty feet or more from under the surface. Our waters here in the Northeast are, for the most part, not as clear as, say, the Caribbean, This is due simply to our water being much richer in life sustaining plankton, which our diverse marine inhabitants need, but which also can and will reduce the amount of light which is able to penetrate our waters.

Political stunts

I watched in horror the video footage on the Suffolk Times website of those who call themselves friends of the environment trample marsh areas, areas likely not disturbed in a very long time until of course they came along with a ladder. Maybe it was not entirely because it was hard to get to that they chose that place, as they would infer, but rather because no one besides them and their desire to perform a political stunt would bring them to this spot in the first place.  Apparently, not only did they step onto sensitive vegetation in areas no one else would think to have gone, they showed contempt for any form of ownership. They seemed quite happy to trespass on others’ property, claiming that if a hard structure were not there, they would not have to, but this belies the fact that not all shorelines are in fact traversable between the high and the low water mark. They appear ready and willing not only to stomp on nature, but on us as well, all the time pointing a finger in our direction as though we were doing harm. If this is, as has been reported, how local guardians of our environment treat nature and private property, just imagine for one instance what visitors without a vested interest in our part of the world may do. Fortunately for us, most visitors, unlike some of our residents, take great care to leave it as they found it, with only a small proportion in my eyes abusing nature’s blessings on the North Fork.

The total square footage of all the docks already in existence and those, which could conceivably be built, is minuscule as a proportion of the total square footage of all near shore areas of water in the entire Southold Township. Does the town really think that the sun will be blacked out from reaching the bottom if a few docks, or even a few hundred docks, are built? No, something else must be at work here. The town received no applications to build a new dock before the moratorium was invoked.

to be continued

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