Climate Change Comes in Waves: How Garbage Affects the Great South Bay

The Great South Bay is a lagoon on the south shore of Long Island, and it is beloved by the island’s residents. They swim in it, clam in it and take the ferry across it to get to Fire Island, which is the home of famous beaches like Cherry Grove and the Pines. But doing all of that and more was a lot simpler when the bay wasn’t polluted.

In 2012, a few people who grew up in Sayville, New York noticed that the bay was not being maintained properly, and that climate change had to do with some of the damage done. There was garbage in the water and the clams and oysters were disappearing. Rising sea levels were becoming a problem in general, and it was clear these issues amongst others would only get worse over time. So, the residents created the Save the Great South Bay organization to attempt to spread awareness for how Long Islanders could make small changes in their lives that would impact the state of the bay significantly. One of the group’s biggest tasks is eliminating litter going into the beloved body of water.

Floating debris and the Great South Bay

Conversations surrounding climate change usually come up when hurricanes, intense blizzards and flooding occur. But when massive weather events like these hit areas that are not prepared for them, bodies of water like the Great South Bay can be harmed so much more than anyone would ever expect. “Floatable debris” is just one aspect of this harm. The debris is finding its way to the island’s 50 creeks, also known as the “lifeblood” of the island, as they flow into the bay and contribute to its overall health. 

So, if the creeks are being mistreated, the bay is as well.

For example, when the litter going into the creeks kills wildlife such as oysters, the shellfishing industry on the island gets depleted. Oysters ingest murky water caused by pollution — meaning if there are no oysters in the creeks or the bay, the water isn’t being naturally cleaned like it’s supposed to be, contributing more to the problem.

So, what can residents do?

Since the largest trash-sorting provision on Long Island will be shut down soon, Long Islanders can step up to protect the bay from waste by volunteering for one of the Save the Great South Bay’s creek defenders projects. These projects focus on cleaning up gardens, beaches and more in order to prevent trash from getting where it shouldn’t be.

But if a Long Island resident wants to help and can’t participate in these projects, good old fashioned recycling is another great way to make sure they aren’t causing further harm.