Though no longer an uncommon occurrence each summer, a streak of red tide hit local waters as early as last week, a premature showing from the algal bloom that officials say is likely responsible for a fish kill in an Aquebogue creek.
A spokesman with the Department of Environmental Conservation stated on Thursday that on Aug. 2, dead killifish, snappers, and black sea bass — all with a coating of "orange slime" — were reported at Cases Creek in Aquebogue.
The report, which is "almost certainly" red tide according to the DEC, came earlier in the summer than typical occurrences — and bodes for a summer where locals will likely see the dark algae in higher quantities across the East End.
"It generally appears in late August," said Chris Gobler, a professor at the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences in Southampton. Gobler is part of a team that was awarded a multi-year grant to study the impacts of algal bloom in Long Island waters. "As such, its arrival in late July this year is earlier than usual, perhaps due to the high water temperatures."
Gobler said in a phone interview on Friday that the early arrival will likely lead to a more "intense and widespread" distribution of red tide, which he's found could impact fishermen, as the algae — though not toxic to humans — can be fatal to fish in dense atmospheres.
"The fishermen I've spoken to have said as soon as the bloom moves in, the fish move out," he said.
In Shinnecock and Tiana bays, authorities are still wondering what led to the death of . One Southampton Trustee, however, said most of — and crabs shedding their shells is a natural part of their life cycle.
Gobler added that a fish kill as seen in Cases Creek — which he estimated killed "hundreds" of fish — is a rare sight, as most fish typically swim away from the bloom to find oxygen. The creek itself has reportedly been a subject of controversy all its own, as an aging bulkhead has kept county officials from dredging the mouth of the creek.
Red tide has appeared in Long Island waters every year since 2004, and Gobler said that the only year he's seen red tide earlier than this summer — his first confirmed report was the end of July — was in 2010.
As for the cause, he added that, "Prior research in my lab has demonstrated that these blooms are made worse by increased flow of nitrogen into these bays."
Nitrogen sources could include cesspools and fertilizers, though further research is still needed, Gobler added.
"Now we're working on specifically where that comes from."