Long Island’s well-being depends on a healthy environment, including healthy beaches, according to Kevin McAllister, who was the Peconic Baykeeper for 16 years and is the founder of Defend H20, a nonprofit organization that advocates for clean water.
However, the beaches are in peril due to the rising sea levels associated with climate change, and we need to act soon, according to Mr. McAllister.
On Thursday, August 15, from 6 to 8 p.m., Mr. McAllister and the actor and activist Alec Baldwin will engage in a conversation, titled “Living on the Edge in the Face of Climate Change,” at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum. The public discussion will focus on the future of Long Island’s shoreline, rising sea levels, climate change and water quality. Tickets are $150; cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and a clam bar will be served.
“My job is using my training, understanding the issues and trying to educate. A lot of my time is spent in front of town boards. I’m trying to reinforce forward-thinking behavior, educate and illuminate what’s important. We need to have these conversations,” Mr. McAllister said last week in a question-and-answer interview. “Is Gerard Drive in Springs going to be there in 20 years? Let’s have a plan.”
Q: Is sea level rising? How much has the sea level risen locally?
The sea level has risen in our region 4 inches in the past 40 years. Now, what scientists are projecting with glacial melting over the next 40 years is a range of 11 to 30 inches. That’s exponential.
Q: What does 11 to 30 inches mean to our neighborhoods?
Four inches over 40 years sounds modest compared to 30 inches over that next 40 years. What we’re really starting to see over the last five years is people taking notice of the 4-inch change. We’re getting into a period where sea level rising is going to ramp up.
Salt water is denser than fresh water. It comes in like a wedge. As sea level rises, it wedges in and taints the fresh water.
Years ago, basements in Sag Harbor that were dry, are now flooding because the groundwater comes in. Think of a septic system that sits in the groundwater; when you have a high water table and emerging groundwater, the likelihood of contamination to nearby creeks is also increased.
Q: What are some of the signs of climate change on the East End?
Migrating wetlands — wetlands that are moving inland.
Drowning forests. I can show you areas where trees that stood for over a hundred years are now dead because of salt. These are big oak trees in Flanders Bay and Moriches Bay and other areas that have been swamped. Sea water is coming in and salinity is changing because of sea level rise.
Shrinking shorelines, eroding shorelines, increasing number of sea walls — these are all signs of sea level rise.
Higher groundwater table. Old waterfront Sag Harbor homes, built in the ’50s, septic systems used to be high and dry. Now, decades later, the properties are being constantly flooded. That’s because of sea level rise. Once upon a time, the flooding wasn’t bad like this.