Back in the 1980s, the Great South Bay used to be so clear you could see the roaming bottomfeeders.
That’s how Todd Shaw, 53, remembers the bay when he was growing up on the Amityville River.
“It was crystal clear,” he said. “There was rarely a day you couldn’t see the bottom.”
However, over time, nitrogen pollution from lawn fertilizers and septic tank leakage, scientists have concluded, caused the brown tide algal bloom that first cropped up in the 1980s and has plagued the bay system ever since — slowly decimating the natural ecosystem.
To help revitalize the body of water and its wildlife, a group called Save the Great South Bay formed following Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“A healthy bay means a healthy economy for the South Shore and it means preserving a public good for future generations,” reads a statement from the organization.
To restore the bay, the nonprofit’s members are taking a three-pronged approach.
One is the Shellfish Restoration Program, which strategically reintroduces aquatic life into the bay for environmental remediation. The second is the I Love Long Island Campaign that educates people on bay-friendly lawn maintenance techniques.
And with the third, they roll their sleeves up for its Creek Defender Program.
This initiative calls for the 20 communities that touch the Great South Bay — from Lindenhurst to Mastic — to help clean up its tributaries.
Shaw, who is a director for Save the Great South Bay, helped start the Creek Defender Program in Babylon last year.
“[The creeks and rivers] are like veins and the [Great South Bay] is like the heart,” he said, “If your veins get clogged then your heart is done.”
In its inaugural year, Shaw, along with about 80 volunteers, met up in Babylon Village last Earth Day and collected 28 tires and filled over 100 bags worth of trash.
Babylon’s Creek Defender Program’s next cleanup is again on Earth Day, Saturday, April 21.
Shaw’s group will be congregating at the Babylon Park Tennis Courts at 11:30 a.m. From there, they will walk to the nearby creeks and pick up garbage.
[Update: An earlier-in-the-day cleanup led by Karen Vaccaro Marvin has been cancelled due to the fire that destroyed her South Shore Paddleboards shop.]
In a walkthrough, Save the Great South Bay has identified at least 52 tires, several shopping carts, and about 200 bags worth of trash.
After Babylon, Save the Great South Bay is seeking others from other villages and hamlets to come forward to add the Creek Defender Program to their communities.
“We want to do this in every town, around every creek,” said the Save the Great South Bay’s co-founder, Marshall Brown. “Lindenhurst, Amityville, Bay Shore, West Islip, Islip, East Islip, Great River, Oakdale, Sayville, Bayport, Bluepoint, Patchogue — for the 41 creeks along The Great South Bay.
“We will clean them all, community by community.”
Here are photos from last year’s clean up courtesy of Save the Great South Bay.