A Letter from Curt Johnson, Executive Director of CFE’s Save the Sound program

Recent research shows human activity is significantly affecting four of the nine key systems essential to maintaining the stability of the Earth. Our actions could have dangerous consequences if we don’t make a change. I’m proud to say CFE/Save the Sound is pushing the envelope on two of those systems —to save Long Island Sound from the combined scourges of excess nitrogen and localized ocean acidification.

Bill-Revill-Hammonasset-just-days-after-SandyLast week, our Director of Western Sound Programs Tracy Brown and I presented at the Latitude 41 conference at Avery Point, CT. The symposium brought together the best and brightest scientists, civil leaders, and advocates from the Bronx to Cape Cod to focus on the twin threats of nitrogen/hypoxia and ocean acidification in our Latitude 41 waters. You hear a lot from us about how nitrogen causes low-oxygen dead zones all around the Sound. Ocean acidification is a lesser-known evil that is turning our oceans more acidic over time, threatening finfish, shellfish, coral, and the web of life that depend on them.

What we learned at the symposium makes me so proud of Tracy’s work and our Legal Team’s nitrogen petition demanding that EPA slash excess nutrient flows that are suffocating our ecosystem. We learned that not only is nitrogen creating “dead zones” of low oxygen all around the Sound. More disturbingly—scientists are now discovering that these low oxygen zones set off a chemical cascade that is resulting in disturbingly high localized ocean acidification.

Excess nitrogen loading allows for big, slimy, and sometimes toxic algae blooms to grow. This slimy mess rots, sucks oxygen out of the water, and adds carbon dioxide into the water column. That sets off a reaction, making the water more acidic in that local dead zone. Ocean acidification, when “boosted” by low-oxygen hypoxia, creates conditions that further threaten the young of our oysters, clams, and our local fish.

Sound bad for marine life?  You bet.

We also heard from Lisa Suantoni, a senior ocean scientist at Natural Resource Defense Council (and New Haven resident). Lisa shared NRDC’s ocean-wide analysis of locations where ocean acidification is likely to wreak the most havoc on coastal ecosystems as well as on us folks who choose to live in a coastal state. Guess what?

Long Island Sound and Narragansett Bay are right at the very top of the Most Threatened List. Nitrogen and acidification are already wreaking havoc with our Sound’s ecosystem, limiting the ability of shellfish to build strong shells and impairing the ability of finfish to hunt for food.

That’s the bad news. The good news is we can beat this. As it turns out, scientists are fairly confident that nitrogen and associated low-oxygen dead zones are a far greater factor in causing acidification in the Sound than the climate change-driven worldwide ocean acidification trend.

Sound complicated? I suppose it is. But we’re working in the right direction. The nitrogen petition we filed with EPA on February 11 demanding quick action to curb nitrogen poisoning could not have been filed a day later. We need to continue to take bold action, and focus like a laser on breathing life back into and protecting the Sound from ecological disaster while we work to clean up sewage-related bacteria.

We need our great-grandkids to enjoy a life-filled Sound that’s safe to wade, swim, or kayak (or ride a wave on a robotic drone kite). Onward!

Curt Johnson signature

Curt Johnson
Executive Director
Save the Sound
A bi-state program of CFE

Curt head shot inside

Photo by Bill Revill of Hammonasset Beach

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