Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bullhead Bay: The canary lives!

One of the first sites we like to visit in the Peconic Estuary (PE) every year is Bullhead Bay in Southampton. This meadow is near and dear to our hearts in that it is really an anomaly…a statistical outlier. According to what we “know” about eelgrass in the region, the Bullhead Bay meadow should not exist. This warm water, muddy bottom, stagnant site is surrounded by a golf course on two sides. It is literally a dinosaur that could go extinct right before our eyes. I hate to use the ticking time bomb analogy, but that is what comes to mind…

In fact, a couple years back we did lose most of it. Over one winter it nearly disappeared only to return in a smaller form the following year through seedling recruitment. This pattern of natural recovery has repeated itself in successive years for the last several years and we are seeing the grass expand back slowly to what it was, but it has a LONG way to go. At least Bullhead has faired better than Noyack Creek which eventually just vanished under the pressure. Bullhead is a shadow if its former self, but at least it is still there!

Bullhead Bay has the distinction of being the furthest west natural meadow in the PE. The next natural eelgrass meadow is 12miles to the east near Shelter Island! We have established a small meadow at Red Cedar Bluff, 4 miles west of Bullhead (see post), at the western edge of Great Peconic Bay, but we have yet to achieve the size and density and complexity of a natural meadow. We hope to get there soon.

As is typical our first dive in Bullhead (5-1-08) revealed some new and interesting details. As this is the furthest west and warmest meadow in the PE we expect that the flowers will be well developed and ahead of anything else in the PE. This was definitely the case as we observed both pollen release (above right) and stigma elongation. This is always a good sign and means that the meadow will likely set seed again to survive another season.

Another interesting aspect of this dive was the grazing community observed. We expect to see mud snails (Ilyanassa obsoleta) and we did see them on the bottom, laying eggs at the base of the leaves and even up on some of the flowers, but it was the other species that caught our attention. What struck me most was the almost total lack of Lacuna vincta and the presence of two other species which we do not see. The most interesting to me is what APPEARS to be the very large and orange Rough Periwinkle (Littorina saxatilis) (see top photo). Although this species is known to frequent grass in areas north of here, we have never seen this species in eelgrass on Long Island. Another interesting occurrence was a small unidentified species that looked very much like Bittium (above left), but we don’t know what this is either. This could also be a species in the Rissoidae family. Kim had seen a similar, if not the same species, in Great South Bay last year in the grass…

Other interesting sightings included isopods, grass shrimp, sea cucumbers (right) and stickle back nests. These are all kind of typical for a protected muddy bottom site like this and Coecles. This just goes to show how productive and diverse this type of meadow can be. All the more reason why we need to protect grass in these areas.

I could go on, but that’s enough about Bullhead. We’ll be sure and check back later in the season to observe seed production and also for our regular PE SAV monitoring in August. Another site where swimmers itch is almost guaranteed in summer…joy!


No comments: