PRESS RELEASE: PLUM ISLAND–New underwater survey wows divers, fills gaps in data. Also pending legislation to cancel sale.


September 18, 2019

Contact: Melissa Schlag,, 860-398-0569

PLUM ISLAND: New underwater survey wows divers, fills gaps in marine diversity data. Also pending legislation to cancel sale, and successful paddle to preserve the island.

Underwater survey sheds light on rich habitat

Pagurus pollicaris (flat-clawed hermit crab). Credit: InnerSpace Scientific Diving

Southold, New York – Flourishing wildlife and vibrant habitats fascinated a team of divers during a recent five-day marine biodiversity survey of underwater habitats in the waters surrounding Plum Island. The survey will help describe natural communities and begin to document marine species, as well as provide important data to guide a larger study in future years.

A Plum Island Biodiversity Inventory report (Schlesinger et al. 2016) included a brief survey of the eelgrass meadows on one side of the island, but the marine habitat and underwater species around the island have been largely unknown. The final report recommended additional survey work, expanding the scope of the marine study.

“In our 2015 inventory of Plum Island, we focused primarily on terrestrial, freshwater, and nearshore ecosystems, plants, and animals,” said Matt Schlesinger, chief zoologist with the New York Natural Heritage Program and leading coordinator of the dive project. “This year’s offshore surveys will allow us to begin to describe, for the first time, the offshore habitat and biodiversity of this unique place. We are fortunate to be able to partner with Save the Sound and InnerSpace Scientific Diving to conduct a scientifically rigorous look at Plum Island’s marine environment.”

Louise Harrison, New York natural areas coordinator with Save the Sound said, “The dives this week in the marine waters around Plum Island will serve both science and conservation. The New York Natural Heritage Program’s diving team is confirming how rich the State’s waters around Plum Island are in biodiversity—exceeding previous forecasts.”

Dan Marelli collecting data inside quadrant. Credit: InnerSpace Scientific Diving

“For 33 years, I’ve wanted to dive to conduct a survey of this area,” said Steve Resler, with InnerSpace Scientific Diving. “What I have seen this past week surpasses what I had expected, and I am thrilled to be a part of this project.”

Another InnerSpace diver, Dan Marelli, commented on the marine life the team has been documenting, “It was diverse and vibrant. I was proud to be part of the effort to move the project forward towards conservation and education.”

A variety of high-priority Species of Greatest Conservation Need (NYS DEC 2015), including harbor porpoise, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, American lobster, tautog (blackfish), lined seahorse, white shark, and the Roseate Tern, may be relying on habitats around the island for protection and food. Documenting their occurrence gives some information about what is underneath the surface, but additional fieldwork is needed to produce a detailed map of sediment type to understand which underwater communities and at-risk species can be supported in this important area.

“The federally and New York State-endangered Roseate Tern, and other threatened species, depend on Plum Island’s waters as an important source of forage fish,” said Jillian Liner, director of bird conservation with Audubon New York. “To save birds and protect the places they need, Audubon depends on sound science. We look forward to seeing the results of NYNHP’s surveys and to learning more about these critical feeding grounds. The more we learn, the better the case for permanent protection of Plum Island.”With this year’s survey complete, samples and photographic evidence will be processed and logged; a draft report will be prepared in early 2020. A final report and presentation will be released sometime in March 2020.

Diadumene sp. (anemone). Credit: InnerSpace Scientific Diving

Save the Sound’s Soundkeeper program and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation supported the survey work, funded by an anonymous donor.

Higher resolution photographs are available upon request. All photos should be credited with InnerSpace Scientific Diving.

Closest legislative effort to date to protect Plum Island from sale

Washington, D.C. In what might be one the most important legislative opportunities to date, the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee is poised to debate language for the 2020 appropriations bill that would repeal the requirement to sell Plum Island. Additionally, an accompanying House report encourages the Senate the Homeland Security Subcommittee to limit any future use of the island to research, education, and conservation.

The House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee already approved the language in their bill.

For many years, members from both s­­ides of Long Island Sound, both sides of the aisle, and both chambers have been working hard to repeal the language that puts this ecologically critical island in jeopardy.

Paddle for Plum Island brought kayaktivists to the cause

Southold, New York – On August 17, over fifty kayakers from the Long Island Paddlers joined Save the Sound at Orient Beach State Park, at Orient Point, New York, for their second Paddle for Plum Island. Kayakers raised almost $1,000 to benefit ongoing efforts to conserve the ecological resources and history of the island, while exploring the Sound’s beautiful bays and renewing their enthusiasm for protecting this special place.

Plum Island, located off Orient Point, Long Island, is currently slated to be sold at auction after the Plum Island Animal Disease Center moves to Kansas. Legislation to permanently protect the island has been introduced in Congress several times. Save the Sound and The Nature Conservancy are in the midst of a multi-month stakeholder process to develop a viable and broadly supported vision for the future of the island.


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