Georgica Pond Residents Fund Research

Algal blooms’ causes and solutions sought
Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook University, center, along with Jennifer Jankowiak and Ryan Wallace, graduate students, will conduct research on Georgica Pond’s water quality. Stony Brook University

A group of property owners around East Hampton’s Georgica Pond has raised $359,000 for a research project intended to identify the causes of the pond’s recent degradation and toxic algal blooms and develop a remediation plan. The project has the support of Stony Brook University, the East Hampton Town Trustees, and the Nature Conservancy.

Christopher Gobler, a professor at Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, will lead the effort, assisted by two graduate students, Ryan Wallace and Jennifer Jankowiak. Dr. Gobler has been monitoring water quality at several sites for the town trustees, who manage many of the town’s beaches, waterways, and bottomlands on behalf of the public, since 2013.

Last summer, the trustees banned shellfishing at the pond, citing cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, which can be harmful to humans and animals.

“Last year, the pond had a lot of different problems: macro algae blooms, toxic blue-green algae blooms, very low oxygen conditions, fish kills, even a report that a deer or two had died on the pond,” Dr. Gobler said last week. “There was a lot of concern — all this happening at once.”

Annie Gilchrist Hall, who with her husband, John Hall, lives near the pond, said last week that she and her neighbors were sufficiently concerned about the pond’s health to raise the money for the research effort. In 2012, the couple’s dog died after exposure to the pond’s water. “She went into toxic shock,” Ms. Hall said. “All she did was lick her paws. I had her stomach tissues sent to Cornell, and that’s when it came up that she had cyanobacteria.”

High nutrient levels, particularly nitrogen and phosphorous, are behind the algal blooms, which suppress oxygen and can harm marine life, Dr. Gobler said. “So the first part of the project is to quantify the rate of nutrient delivery to the pond and what the sources of nutrients are, specifically where in the general pond area they are coming from.”

A telemetry device will be installed in the pond, allowing continuous water-quality monitoring. It will record and send data to a web address. “If things change rapidly, like if the oxygen levels suddenly drop, or an algal bloom suddenly pops up, we’ll know immediately,” Dr. Gobler said. Researchers will also sample the groundwater in the area and the water in the pond’s tributaries.

A focus, Dr. Gobler said, will be clearer identification of the types of algae present. Georgica Pond, he said, is a rare ecosystem. While the trustees typically open it to the ocean on a biannual basis, which allows tidal flushing and helps regulate the water level, the opening usually closes naturally within a few weeks.

This year, however, it has remained open, which raises the prospect of better water quality than last year, Dr. Gobler said. “Thus, the opening of the pond could also be a management scheme for keeping the pond as healthy as possible.”

“There isn’t another water body in New York State that’s like Georgica Pond in that the salinity gets low enough to support these blue-green algae,” he said. “If we know what the sources of nutrients are, the precise algae that are growing there, and what’s making them grow, that will provide the basis for a management plan to improve the pond.”

Because the pond was “under real duress” last summer, Ms. Hall said her neighbors had gotten together to discuss it in August. The group then met with East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and agreed to fund Dr. Gobler’s research. Ms. Hall credited Nancy Kelley, executive director of the Nature Conservancy, for working on the cooperative effort. “She is incredibly knowledgeable,” Ms. Hall said. “She’s been a real leader on this. People care about Georgica Pond. We’re encouraged.”