Combating water pollution on Long Island Sound  

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Beach goers enjoy a day along the Long Island Sound shore.
The Long Island Sound Network is focused on working to reduce pollution loads entering the Sound and its many waterways. Its first webinar aims to showcase and advance local actions targeting pollution. Photo via Long Island Sound Study

On April 14, the Long Island Sound Coastal Watershed Network held the first webinar of its interactive and collaborative 2022 series, “Driving Local Actions to Tackle Water Pollution” related to Long Island Sound. This first webinar, sponsored by the Long Island Sound Coastal Watershed Network, focused on marine debris and plastic pollution, and how although they threaten the quality of human life, they can and will be fixed with peoples’ help. As an interactive meeting, the webinar opened up with a poll, featured a panel of experts — scientists and practitioners — and ended with small group discussions. 

Engaging the 60+ virtual audience, the webinar began with interactive poll questions presented to attendees. One multiple choice question asked what individuals thought to be the biggest pollutant issue on Long island Sound, with a large portion selecting bottle caps and cigarette butts. 

Following the polls and a discussion around them, Rebecca “Becky” Genia sang a beautiful song honoring the water in gratitude of the attendees, and more broadly, everyone who wants to help our Mother Earth. 

The panelists, Nancy Balcom, Scott Curatolo-Wagemann, Dereth Glance and Adrienne Esposito laid out their respective fields of expertise and their relation to marine pollution in the Long Island Sound. 

The conversation started with Balcom, associate director and extension program leader for the Connecticut Sea Grant and senior extension educator of UConn Extension, who discussed the Marine Debris Action Plan for Long Island Sound, followed by Curatolo-Wagemann, senior resource educator of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk Country, who discussed lobster fishing and marine debris. 

Complementary to these topics, Glance, deputy commissioner for Environmental Remediation and Material Management of the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, discussed implementing proposed state policies that aim to reduce plastic waste and unnecessary packaging. 

“NO ONE IS DISAGREEING THAT [WASTE MANAGEMENT] NEEDS TO BE DONE…THERE IS DEFINITELY DISCUSSION ABOUT THE BEST WAY TO DO IT.”

Adrienne Esposito

Glance explained that proper disposal of waste is important, “but [it’s] also important [waste] doesn’t get there in the first place, and that’s what we’re trying to move toward.”  

Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, discussed policies that can help achieve environmental goals. She discussed how people must move away from a linear economy and single-use plastics and toward a circular economy in which materials are returned to the supply chain. 

“No one is disagreeing that [waste management] needs to be done … there is definitely discussion about the best way to do it,” Esposito said. One of the better aspects of waste management is that it can be tackled at a local level, she mentioned. 

Attendee Deb Moshier-Dunn discussed in the chat about the organization she works for, Save the River-Save the Hills on the Niantic River Watershed. It is a local grassroots organization that aims to protect the river by protecting watershed forests, Moshier-Dunn explained. She also explained that not only is the river important to maintain for water, but also for the town’s entire economy, including for fishing and tourism. 

“CHANGING PUBLIC BEHAVIOR IS ONE OF THE HARDEST THINGS, BUT WE CAN DO IT.”

Adrienne Esposito

To digest and discuss this influx of knowledge, participants joined small breakout groups based on topics of interest. One participant asked how people can combat the confusion around recycling, as what can be recycled varies across states and even cities. Glance emphasized the need to “demystify” recycling and to move the responsibility of recycling to the producers to increase consistency and reduce confusion among the public. 

Another participant, a former teacher, discussed his concern about an overwhelming amount of plastic water bottles thrown into the trash every day. He wondered how schools could increase the use of reusable water bottles — or at least increase the disposal of one-use bottles for recycling. 

“Changing public behavior is one of the hardest things, but we can do it,” Esposito replied, concluding the conversation on a positive note.  

A recording of the Marine Debris Webinar is available on the network website. The series, hosted by Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Save the Sound, The Nature Conservancy and the Long Island Sound Funder Collaborative, will continue to cover the greatest threats to quality water. Furthermore, the series will discuss technology and policy that can combat these issues, focusing on local actions that people from the Sound can personally take to fight marine pollution, clean up the coast and maintain a safe, healthy home. The next webinar of the series tackles nitrogen pollution on May 12 at noon, and the series concludes by discussing fecal bacteria pollution on June 16 at noon. You can register on the network’s website to get involved, learn more about the cause and take action to help protect our planet. 

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