Studying the Life of a Pond

Daisy Kelly, left, Conrad Kabbaz, and Serrana Mattiauda, interns with the Third House Nature Center, talked about the health and environs of Big Reed Pond in Montauk on Friday. Janis Hewitt

Interns studying water quality in Montauk’s Big Reed Pond for the Third House Nature Center presented their findings to a small group at the Montauk Library on Friday.

Conrad Kabbaz, Daisy Kelly, and Serrana Mattiauda explained that a contaminant called cyanobacteria, otherwise known as a blue-green algae bloom, has choked the freshwater pond of its oxygen, killing off plant life and several species of fish, including large-mouthed bass and whitefish. The bacteria can be toxic to people and to animals, who may sip from the water or as they walk around its edge.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently issued a warning that animals that come in contact with the bacteria could suffer from convulsions, seizures, and paralysis. Contact can be fatal.

The algae bloom became visible after heavy spring rains several years ago and has only gotten worse over the years, the interns said. They were surprised to see so much debris surrounding the pond, mostly from hunters who often leave shotgun shell casings and food wrappers there.

The bacteria is easily spread into other bodies of water through its spores, which can be carried on the bottoms of small boats such as kayaks, from one pond to another. Big Reed Pond is in the woods off East Lake Drive, where many take walks with dogs in tow.

“I wish I had known about it sooner,” Serrana, a senior at East Hampton High School, said of the spot. She added that if more people knew about the pond, they might get more involved in its preservation.

Conrad spoke of the birdhouses the group built with Ed Johann of the Third House Nature Center, then placed throughout the area to attract a variety of bird species, including the purple martin, whose population has been in decline in New York State. As part of their study, they entered the birdhouse placement in a GPS system in order to track and document the wildlife.

During the program, the interns regularly collected samples from the pond for testing and to establish baseline data for future studies, said Daisy. Once the samples were collected, they were not to be disturbed. “It was a lot harder than it sounds,” she said. On the last day of the program the interns found a live eel in one of the traps they set. “It was a positive sign that the pond can support life even though it’s been overrun with algae,” she said.

The interns also worked with Vicki Bustamante of the nature center to identify, tag, and locate the many types of trees and plants that surround the pond, marking invasive plants and documenting their range of growth. They went out on the pond in canoes with Matt Stedmen, also a member of the nature center, to gauge water quality and examine fish traps.

These three were the second group of interns to work with the nature center. “This group really stepped it up and could identify most of the indigenous flora and fauna that they studied,” Mr. Johann said.

The program was made possible through a scholarship award from the East Hampton Garden Club, which allowed the Nature Center to begin a long-term study of the pond, its shoreline, and the surrounding woods and grasslands. A new program with new interns will start in September.