Four scientists performed a deep dive in the waters off Plum Island last summer to better understand and preserve an underwater ecosystem largely untouched by man.
The findings were unveiled earlier this month in a 33-page report by the New York City Natural Heritage Program and sponsored by the nonprofit Save the Sound through donors. It is called “Survey of the subtidal marine habitats of Plum Island”.
As federal officials prepare to move the USDA operation to a new facility in Manhattan, a city in Kansas, the Preserve Plum Island Coalition hopes the study will bolster its efforts to preserve natural beauty and marine life. in the 800-mile landmass and its surrounding waters.
The information collected in August could serve as the basis for future environmental studies, said Louise Harrison, New York City natural areas coordinator for Save the Sound, which coordinates the Preserve Plum Island Coalition.
Proponents also hope the island could become a nationally protected park or monument. The more data the coalition has, the better equipped it will be to convince authorities of the ecological importance of Plum Island.
“Letting the world know how biologically diverse Plum Island is from top to bottom…helps make the case for its preservation,” Harrison said.
InnerSpace Scientific Diving of Albany has been contracted to perform the work Aug. 2-6, which spans a similar dive in 2019.
The number of species found during the 2021 dive doubled compared to the 2019 collection, from around 60 to 126. New discoveries include the striped anemone, a translucent white creature sometimes found at the off other parts of Long Island, but which was not seen in 2019. Thousands were spotted in 2021.
Cash was stored in plastic bags and vials and then transferred to researchers at Cornell Cooperative Extension for safekeeping.
The scientists said nearly every spot was teeming with life, but referred to a “wow site” they found on the last day of the dive that was teeming with underwater creatures.
“We wish we had more time to go back,” said Steven Resler, owner of Innerspace Scientific Diving. “It was laden with anemones and sponges in numbers we haven’t seen anywhere else.”
At one point, sampling was halted when divers spotted gray seals nearby. The animals are believed to have stolen the contents of a mesh bag of samples and tools that went missing while researchers were working. The bag was later recovered, Resler said.
What the divers did not find were signs of pollution or human impact. Resler said the searchers found no more than a piece of fishing line during the dive.
Plum Island’s coast and waters encompass several habitats rare for Long Island, including eelgrass meadows, rocky intertidal areas, and subtidal areas with large boulders. It is also the largest seal stranding site in New York.
“Our scientists have discovered a world of underwater biodiversity that few can see,” said Matthew Schlesinger, chief zoologist for the heritage program in a press release. “The waters of Plum Island are home to a surprising diversity of life, most existing below the surface. Our body of knowledge about this unique place continues to grow.