Study: Animal Feces Contaminating Georgica Pond

Dr. Christopher Gobler, pictured giving his annual State of the Bays lecture at Stony Brook Southampton in 2016.

The Gobler Lab of Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and the Friends of Georgica Pond Foundation, Inc. announced Monday preliminary results of a study on the bacterial contamination of Georgica Pond in Wainscott — a study that indicates animal, not human derived bacteria, is what exists at high levels in Talmage Creek and Georgica Cove.

The study, which used DNA-based microbial source tracking techniques to identify the source of fecal contamination in Georgica Pond, was launched after high levels of bacteria were detected in both Talmage Creek in the northwest corner of the pond, and in Georgica Cove, in the southeast corner of the pond. These high levels are amplified after rainfall events and were first documented by the Surfrider Foundation and verified by the Gobler Lab. Both tributaries are adjacent to roads and receive direct road runoff from storm water drainage pipes.

According to a press release issued by the Georgica Pond Foundation, surveys were performed spatially, seasonally and in response to large rainfall events in an effort to assess the source of contamination. Preliminary results show human derived bacteria only comprised five percent of the total, with dog and potentially other species of mammals including cats and rodents averaging 67-percent of the total, followed by birds at 24-percent and deer at six-percent. The study also concluded that road runoff is primarily how the bacteria is entering the tributaries.

Fecal bacteria are just one of the pollutants carried by stormwater run-off. While not a major source of nitrogen to Georgica Pond, other contaminants common in run-off which flows over roads, parking lots, driveways and lawns are motor oil, sediment, garbage including plastics and fertilizer and pesticides.  Dr. Gobler said “actions to divert run-off to these tributaries should be a top priority of the responsible governmental agencies.” Sara Davison, Executive Director of the Friends of Georgica Pond Foundation credited the Village of East Hampton and the Town of East Hampton for initiating an engineering study of the Georgica Cove drainage pipe and added that “a major project to redesign the Rt. 27 Rest Stop is warranted.”