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CCE IN THE NEWS

Source: The Journal News

Asian shore crabs 1 threat to Long Island Sound ecosystem

BY MICHAEL RISINIT

Posted: July 3, 2013
Originally Published: June 30, 2013

RYE —Forget sandwiches and drinks. Inside the red-and-white cooler sitting on the sand were some 2,000 Asian shore crabs scrabbling about trying to escape.

The scratching of their claws and legs as they tried to flee their plastic prison sounded like scores of fingernails scraping at a bedroom window. But these crabs are a different kind of horror: invasive stowaways from the western Pacific Ocean that have all but wiped out small native crabs along the Long Island Sound shore.

On the beach at the Edith G. Read Sanctuary in Rye, finding a crab —any crab other than the Asian shore crab —is almost impossible.“We know the biological community here has changed as a result of the invasion,” said George Kraemer, a Purchase

College, SUNY, biology professor who has been studying the crabs there for 15 years.“What we don’t know is what’s happening out in Long Island Sound. Each female may send off 15- or 20,000 offspring to float around in the Sound for four or five weeks eating other things,” he said.

Kraemer’s project is just one of the many research and restoration efforts in the 1,320-square-mile estuary spreading behind him on a recent day.

In the 10 years since federal officials and leaders in Connecticut and New York implemented the Long Island Sound Agreement, supporters are still working to fully rejuvenate the Sound.

In that time, toxic discharges into its waters have decreased, thousands of acres of shellfish beds have reopened and fish populations have stabilized. But heavy rains still send disease-causing bacteria into the water, often leading to beach closings. And the western Sound’s waters remain stressed because of insufficient oxygen and habitat recovery is still a top priority.

The Long Island Sound Agreement is part of the Long Island Sound Study, a partnership of the two states and the federal government.

Without that arrangement, said Mark Tedesco, who heads the Environmental Protection

Agency’s Long Island Sound office, there would be less progress and “more isolated activity that wouldn’t add up to the accomplishments made by working together with a shared vision.”Still, advocates worry the Sound is getting shortchanged.

Federal funding for programs to restore and protect the Sound was about $4 million last year. In his proposed 2014 budget, President Barack Obama cut that to $2.9 million. The water body contributes at least $5 billion annually to the regional economy, according to government figures.“It’s one of the least-funded estuaries in the country, for one reason or another,” said Leah Schmalz, Save the Sound’s legislative affairs director. “Sometimes people kind of forget about Long Island Sound. It’s fairly close to Chesapeake Bay and everyone knows Chesapeake Bay.”Federal funding for Chesapeake Bay was about $20 million annually in the 1990s and, more recently, about $50 million, according to its regional partnership. The Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Acts reached a high in 2010 at $7.8 million. Since 2003, that figure has typically ranged from about $2.3 million to $6.2 million.

“The goal is not to see the program die. At $2.9 million, it’s greatly diminished or weakened,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Senators from both states last month urged their colleagues to bump up the funding to $10 million.

“The Long Island Sound is a treasure and we must do everything we can to protect it,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said.

The partnership among New York, Connecticut and the federal government has much to do.

Tedesco said new contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals, are working their way into the water. Climate change and sea level rise are threatening the Sound’s shoreline and fish populations.

The group’s goal by 2020 is to restore 2,000 acres of shoreline habitat. So far, that figure stands at 1,419 acres. Tedesco’s office this year is highlighting 33 preserves and sanctuaries around the Sound deemed ecologically and recreationally significant. Both Read and the Marshlands Conservancy, also in Rye, are on the list.

“(That) simply reflects ongoing work to communicate what is special about these areas and to help galvanize public appreciation, support and action to use, protect and enhance them,” Tedesco said.