Northeast Coastal Areas Study
Significant Coastal Habitats
Site 10 (NY)
I. SITE NAME: Acabonack Harbor Area
II. LOCATION: Acabonack Harbor is located midway on the South Fork of Long Island along the shore of Gardiners Bay and southwest of Gardiners Island.
TOWN: East Hampton
STATE: New York
USGS 7.5 MIN QUAD: Gardiners Island West, NY 41072-12
USGS 30x60 MIN QUADS: Long Island, East 40072-E1; New Haven 41072-A1
III. GENERAL BOUNDARY: The core area boundary is outlined on the accompanying map and consists primarily of Acabonack Harbor and East Harbor, including the barrier spit that separates the harbor area from Gardiners Bay. In addition, Lionhead Beach and Sammys Beach, located along the shore approximately 2 and 4 miles (3-6 km), respectively, west of Acabonack, are included within the general complex so as to consider these beaches as part of a closely-related beach system.
IV. OWNERSHIP/PROTECTED STATUS: Most of this area is in public ownership (State, Town) or preserved by The Nature Conservancy.
V. GENERAL HABITAT DESCRIPTION: The Acabonack Harbor is a habitat complex of shallow open water (less than 6 feet (2 m) deep), extensive tidal salt marshes dominated by cordgrasses (Spartina alterniflora and S. patens), mud flats, spoil disposal areas, and small wooded islands. The landward areas around the harbor and marshlands are mostly undeveloped woodlands. East of the enclosed water and marsh system is a barrier spit system that serves as the primary boundary between the harbor and Gardiners Bay. This sandy and pebbly beach and dune complex is sparsely to moderately vegetated and in some areas contains dredging spoils. Lionhead Beach and Sammys Beach provide similar habitat. Mean tidal range in this area is approximately 2.3 feet (0.70 m).
VI. SIGNIFICANCE/UNIQUENESS OF AREA: The Acabonack Harbor area serves as an important feeding area for osprey (Pandion haliaetus) - both for birds nesting in the area as well as those which nest on Gardiners Island, 4 miles (6 km) to the northeast. Other birds of special emphasis in the region that are believed to nest in this area are green-backed heron (Butorides striatus), American black duck (Anas rubripes), mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), gadwall (Anas strepera), northern harrier (Circus cyaneus), American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus), black skimmer (Rynchops niger) and seaside sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus). The harbor is also a productive area for finfish and shellfish, serving as a nursery and feeding area for scup (Stenotomus chrysops), summer flounder (Paralichthys dentatus), bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) and winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus). There is a commercial and recreational shellfishery for bay scallop (Aequipecten irradians) and hard-shelled clam (Mercenaria mercenaria) in the harbor. The beaches at Acabonack, as well as Sammys Beach and Lionhead Beach, are important nesting areas for least tern (Sterna antillarum) and the U.S. Threatened piping plover (Charadrius melodus), although the number of breeding pairs has been very variable for the latter. Sea-beach knotweed (Polygonum glaucum) has been reported from these beaches in the past and may still occur here. Portions of the beach at Acabonack have been designated under the Coastal Barriers Resources Act.
VII. THREATS: Because of ownership by the County, Town and The Nature Conservancy, the area is generally well-protected from development threats. Of primary concern is human disturbance to nesting beaches of terns and piping plovers. Such disturbances range from destruction of eggs and nests by beach-walkers, unleashed pets and off-road vehicles to deliberate acts of vandalism. Illegal or unregulated dredge spoil deposition can also be a problem at such sites. Although much of the harbor area receives relatively little human disturbance, there is extensive use of the beaches for recreation.
VIII. CONSERVATION CONSIDERATIONS: Protection of the nesting beaches of terns and piping plovers during the critical nesting period (mid-April to August) from human-related disturbances is of high priority. All available means should be used to prevent human-related disturbances of these areas, including fencing, area closures, posting, warden patrols, trapping of pets and other predators and public education programs. Efforts should be made to identify tasks outlined in the piping plover recovery plan that may be applicable to the beaches in this area, including those to enhance, restore or protect habitat, such as control of vegetation in nesting areas and use of dredging spoils. Bay and harbor waters and the fish and wildlife populations using these areas should be monitored closely and protected under pertinent environmental regulations and pro-active conservation programs to ensure the long-term maintenance of the highest levels of water and habitat quality for fish and wildlife and the continuance of compatible human usage of this area.
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