Fire Island National Seashore

Fire Island National Seashore

Natural World

About Fire Island

Fire Island is a barrier island that stretches east to west off the southern coast of Long Island, New York. Approximately 32 miles (55 km) long and averaging less than a mile (about 0.5 km) in width, the island is bordered by Fire Island Inlet to the west and Moriches Inlet to the east, and is separated from Long Island by the Great South Bay, Patchogue Bay, Bellport Bay, Narrow Bay and Moriches Bay. To its south is the vast Atlantic Ocean.

Under Public Law 88-587, Fire Island National Seashore (FIIS) was established on September 11, 1964, "for the purpose of conserving and preserving for the use of future generations relatively unspoiled and undeveloped beaches, dunes and other natural features…."

Fire Island National Seashore consists of 26 miles (42 km) of Fire Island itself (See Park Map). The Seashore encompasses 19,579 acres (7,832 hectares) of marine and terrestrial property within its boundaries, including Smith Point County Park located at the eastern end within the boundaries of the National Seashore, and the pre-existing communities on Fire Island. (See Park Statistics.)

Approximately 15,000 acres of the Park are submerged in the Great South Bay or Atlantic Ocean.

The boundary of Fire Island National Seashore extends approximately 4,000 feet into the bay, and approximately 1,000 feet seaward of the ocean shoreline. The park includes several islands, sand flats and wetlands landward of the of the barrier island.

The character, or physiognomy, of Fire Island is typical of Atlantic barrier islands that grade from a primary dune along the ocean to salt marsh along the bay. The dominant vegetation includes pitch pine (Pinus rigida), beach grass (Ammophilia breviligulata), wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), bayberry (M. pensylvanica), shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis), and common greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia). This particular composition of vegetation is typical of the island except within the various communities where residents have planted non-indigenous vegetation.

The percentages of terrestrial habitats found at Fire Island National Seashore include: 10% forested and 40% wetlands, 25% open (beach, swale and fields), 25% developed either by the National Park Service or the 17 local communities on the island. Of the submerged portion, 80% is in the Great South Bay and 20% is the Atlantic Ocean. All existing habitats within the Seashore are listed as threatened.

Unique resources include the Sunken Forest, a federal wilderness area (520 hectares), and eel grass beds. The Sunken Forest on Fire Island is a 16 hectare maritime oak-holly forest occurring behind the secondary dune, one of only a few mature maritime forests in the New York area and the northernmost holly-dominated maritime forest on the Atlantic barrier island chain. The Nature Conservancy listed this community type as globally imperiled (G2), and in 2001 the New York Natural Heritage Program ranked this maritime holly forest as "globally rare" or "G1G2 S1" meaning there are few remaining occurrences of this assemblage of plants throughout the world. Both federal and New York State endangered species either breed or germinate in the park, along with eleven other species of concern.

The William Floyd Estate, located across Great South Bay on the Long Island mainland, is quite different from the Seashore's barrier island habitat. The William Floyd Estate is 65% forested, 25% wetlands including salt marsh, 5% open space and 5% developed around the estate house area. Species found at the Estate include great blue herons, great and snowy egrets, willets, and diamond-backed terrapins.

 

The percentages of terrestrial habitats found at Fire Island National Seashore include: 10% forested and 40% wetlands, 25% open (beach, swale and fields), 25% developed either by the National Park Service or the 17 local communities on the island. Of the submerged portion, 80% is in the Great South Bay and 20% is the Atlantic Ocean. All existing habitats within the Seashore are listed as threatened.

The National Park Service is mandated to preserve and protect the natural resources, processes, systems, and values of the units of the National Park System in an unimpaired condition to perpetuate their inherent integrity and to provide present and future generations with the opportunity to enjoy them. In order to preserve and protect natural resources in parks for future generations, NPS managers must be able to evaluate current management and restoration practices, recognize changes and trends in the condition of the resources, and anticipate future threats to those resources. The National Park Service has implemented a natural resource inventory and monitoring program for the parks. Fire Island National Seashore is grouped in the Northeast Coastal and Barrier Network with seven other NPS areas that have similar natural resources. Each unit contains critical coastal habitat and protects vital coastal wetlands which are essential to water quality, fisheries, and the biological diversity.

Natural Features & Ecosystems

Fire Island is a 32-mile-long barrier island lying on the continental shelf off the southeastern coast of Long Island, New York. Averaging less than a mile in width, the island is bordered by Fire Island Inlet to the west and Moriches Inlet to the east, and is separated from Long Island by the Great South Bay, Patchogue and Bellport bays,

Fire Island National Seashore consists of 26 miles (42 km) of Fire Island itself (See Park Map), and includes portions of the adjacent estuary and ocean within its boundaries. The Seashore's William Floyd Estate, on mainland Long Island at Mastic Beach, protects additional habitat as it stretches from the tidal marshes along the Narrow and Moriches bays to the woodlands and grounds around the old Manor House, almost 11⁄2 miles inland and at elevations as high as 15 feet above mean sea level.

While Fire Island is not a uniformly natural barrier island system, a variety of natural features and ecosystems are managed by the National Park Service at Fire Island National Seashore.

The National Park Service is responsible for critical coastal habitat for many rare and endangered species, as well as migratory corridors for birds, sea turtles and marine mammals. Within its boundaries, the Seashore also protects vital coastal wetlands, essential to water quality, fisheries, and the biological diversity of coastal, nearshore and terrestrial environments.

These resources are valuable economically and environmentally. Fisheries, recreation, navigation, clean water, protection from storm damages—these are a few of the values placed on Fire Island National Seashore's natural features and ecosystems.

However, the chain of barrier islands and sand spits that includes Fire Island is a sand-starved system, dominated by highly dynamic processes and struggling to maintain its integrity in the face of sea-level rise and storms.

Waves, tides, currents, overwash, barrier breaching and relative sea level change are all natural processes that are critical to the formation and evolution of barrier islands, sand dunes, sand flats, lagoons and vegetated wetlands.

Air Quality

At Fire Island National Seashore, it's reported that you can see the skyline of Manhattan from the top of the Fire Island Lighthouse on a very clear day.

Most days on Long Island are not quite that clear, but clean air is one of the qualities that makes Fire Island such a special, magical place.

As recorded in the 1977 Final Environmental Assessment for Fire Island National Seashore:

Air quality at Fire Island National Seashore is variable depending on turbulence, wind direction, and thermal stratification of the atmosphere. Prevailing westerly winds often carry pollutants over Long Island from the heavily industrialized areas of New Jersey and metropolitan New York. The far western horizon is usually shrouded in smog. The nearest air quality monitoring stations to central Fire Island are at Islip, about 8 miles away. In general, the levels of most monitored pollutants are in the intermediate range—much lower than downtown New York City but still substantially higher than rural upstate New York. Activities on Fire Island itself generate almost no on-site air pollution.

Locally air quality is still monitored at Islip, New York. States are responsible for the attainment and maintenance of national air quality standards developed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Through a web site managed by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, you may track regional trends of the following pollutants:

Elevated concentration of these pollutants can have adverse impacts on park resources and visitors.

The National Park Service has a responsibility to protect air quality under both the 1916 Organic Act and the Clean Air Act (CAA). Vegetation, visibility, water quality, wildlife, historic and prehistoric structures and objects, cultural landscapes, and most other elements of a park environment are sensitive to air pollution and are referred to as "air quality-related values."

The NPS seeks to perpetuate the best possible air quality in parks to preserve natural resources and systems; to preserve cultural resources; and to sustain visitor enjoyment, human health, and scenic vistas.

While Fire Island National Seashore does not qualify as a Class I area under the Clean Air Act (national parks over 6,000 acres and national wilderness areas over 5,000 acres that were in existence on August 7, 1977), park management considers the impacts of air pollution in all its operations and planning.

Fire Island National Seashore is in a Class II area, meaning that the state may permit a moderate amount of new air pollution as long as neither ambient air quality standards, nor the maximum allowable increases over established baseline concentrations are exceeded.

Sand Dunes

Some of Fire Island's primary dunes east of Watch Hill are as high as 40 feet. Most of the primary dune line on the island, however, is much smaller. Behind many of the primary dunes lies a series of crescent-shaped secondary dunes, with a low interdunal swale in between.

Dunes are critical to the health and sustainability of sandy beaches. The primary dune ridge (foredunes) lies adjacent to the shoreline. Secondary dune fields may lie further inland. Dunes may form anywhere that eolian processes (wind transportation) occur.

Dunes provide much-needed protection to back-barrier environments (including human development) against severe wave, wind, and storm events. In addition, these geomorphic features provide critical habitat to a variety of migratory birds and mammals.

Dune vegetation is very important for the formation and stabilization of dune complexes on barrier islands. Both the root system and exposed vegetation restrict sand movement around plants, helping to secure the dune.

Beaches

Fire Island's beaches are composed mainly of white quartz sand of varying grain size. Occasional layers of heavy mineral sands—which include grains of garnet and magnetite—appear as colored bands among the predominantly white sediment. Occasionally, you will find pebbles or other gravel and fragments of shell on the beach.

The particle size of beach sand is layered, depending on the energy of the depositing waves and wind.

The size and shape of the beach is always changing. While sediment is constantly being moved more or less perpendicular to or from shoreline by tidal and wave action, the predominant net movement of sediment along Fire Island's coast is parallel with the shore through the effects of longshore currents. The movement is called longshore sediment transport and its rate is dependent on wave energy and the angle at which waves strike the coast.

 

Coasts / Shorelines

Fire Island is a barrier island, which is believed to have developed as a spit of sediment formed from an eroding headland after the end of the last ice age. Its sand comes from two sources: the eroding cliffs and bluffs of Montauk to its east, and from offshore sources which were deposited by retreating glaciers and remain from earlier inlet deltas.

Fire Island's coastline is constantly being shaped and re-shaped by wind and water. Littoral drift, offshore bottom currents, wind, inlet formation, tidal delta growth, and occasional overwash are all essential to maintain a dynamic equilibrium on a barrier island.

Environmental Factors

The National Park Service is mandated to preserve and protect the natural resources in parks for future generations. To meet this challenge, a variety of environmental factors must be considered in all park management actions. The impact on the quality of water, air, geological resources, and a number of ecological, biological, and physical processes is evaluated for all plans, proposals and projects at Fire Island National Seashore.

Fire Island National Seashore preserves critical coastal habitat for many rare and endangered species, as well as migratory corridors for birds, sea turtles and marine mammals. Within its boundaries, the Seashore also protects vital coastal wetlands, essential to water quality, fisheries, and the biological diversity of coastal, nearshore and terrestrial environments.

Many threats to a park's resources, such as air and water pollution or invasive species, often originate outside of park boundaries. Managing most national parks requires a partnership-based, ecosystem-wide approach.

At Fire Island National Seashore—with significant cultural features and landscapes, the presence of 17 vital preexisting communities within park boundaries at one end and a federally designated wilderness area at the other end of the spectrum, all so close to major urban centers, and coupled with conflicting mandates from other land management agencies overseeing the same or neighboring resources—the park managers' ability to arrive at sound decisions can be further complicated.

However, the National Park Service is committed to protect, manage and administer the parks so there is no degradation of the values and purposes for which the area was established.

The plant life of Fire Island is diverse and reflects the great variation in such environmental factors as wind, salinity, the availability of soil moisture,and the extent of human activity. Many habitats, like the beach and primary dune face, are so severe that only a few plant species can survive. However, just a few feet away in a more protected habitat, many species may thrive.

When the park was surveyed in 1971 and 1974, fourteen major vegetation types or subtypes were identified on Fire Island. These included the beach grass grasslands, beach heather and bearberry dwarf scrubs, thickets, pitch pine woodland, broadleaf forest, and a variety of wetlands and salt marsh. Vegetation recorded at that time for the William Floyd Estate included upland forests, lowland forests, thickets, upland meadow, cultivated fields, residential land, common reed grassland, and tidal marsh.

In recent years, more advanced classification and recording systems have been adopted to help us better understand plant species associations. More than 30 vegetation associations were mapped for Fire Island National Seashore by 2002.

At least 237 plant species have been identified within the Seashore. The casual observer, however, may only be interested in knowing a few of the most obvious plants.

Plants on the Primary Dune
Onshore winds desiccate vegetation on the oceanfront dunes and periodically mist the vegetation with salt spray. Roots and underground stems of beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata) and a few other plant species stabilize dunes. Leaves and aerial stems of plants trap wind-blown sand, which may eventually engulf and cover low vegetation.

Eventually a dynamic equilibrium becomes established: the plants help stabilize the dunes and the vegetated dunes ameliorate the harsh environmental conditions for plants growing behind the dunes.

The diversity of plant species generally increases with distance from the ocean and the density of cover.

Common Plants of the Interdunal Swale and Dune Shrubland
Wooly beachheather (Hudsonia tomentosa) and seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) are early colonizing plants behind the dunes. On backdunes, dunelets, secondary dunes and in swales, shrubs grow with many other species of herbaceous plants. Dense thickets of beach plum (Prunus maritima), northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), and poison ivy (Toxicodendrum radicans) form behind dunes.

In swales behind the dunes, the availability of soil moisture, the salinity of the water, and the depth to the water table are major determinants of the distribution of vegetation types on Fire Island.

Winds and salt spray that pass over the foredunes or through gaps in their crests control the height of the shrub canopy, and the height increases northward, away from the ocean. The shrubs of the backdune zone can tolerate limited burial by sand.

Plants of the Thickets and Forests
Further back on the island other vegetation communities may also be found. Thickets of black cherry (Prunus serotina), northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) may grow in more protected areas behind the primary dunes.

The pitch pine woodland, predominated by Pinus rigida, eastern poison ivy (Toxicodendrum radicans), northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) and catbrier (Smilax sp.), may grow in protected depressions near the northern portion of the island.

Maritime forests comprised of American holly (Ilex opaca), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), and other hardwoods are able to develop behind tall secondary dunes.

In low depressions where fresh water can accumulate, bog species may grow. Red maple (Acer rubrum), blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica), blueberry (Vaccinium sp.) and other shrubs, and sphagnum moss and ferns are found in this habitat.

Plants of the Salt Marsh
Smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) grows near the water's edge and into the intertidal zone, while the taller saltmeadow cordgrass (Spartina patens) grows on higher ground in the salt marsh, forming a mat dense mat at the end of each growing season. Inland saltgrass or spike grass (Distichlis spicata) grows around the edges of tidal pools and at the high-tide mark in the salt marsh.

Many of the plant species of the barrier island have large edible fruits that serve as food sources for a wide variety of bird species. In return, migrating birds provide a means of plant dispersal as they follow the Atlantic flyway.

Plants also provide homes for nesting birds, and food and cover for other forms of wildlife.

In the year 2000, sampling began for the development of a detailed description and map of the vegetation of Fire Island National Seashore and the William Floyd Estate using the National Vegetation Classification System. This program was developed by The Nature Conservancy and the Association for Biological Information in conjunction with the Federal Geographic Data Committee and the Ecological Society of America Vegetation Subcommittee.

The product was developed to provide natural resource managers with baseline information about the Seashore. This map and description of the park's vegetation is based on a current standard national classification scheme. Information on community composition and rarity can help to inform decisions on management of particular areas and natural communities within the park. Such information is critical to ensure the persistence of the native plant and animal species in the park in light of human use, invasion of non-native plant species, deer browse, and other disturbances to the habitats.

Wetlands, Marshes and Swamps

Fire Island National Seashore includes a considerable amount of salt marsh within its boundaries. Salt marsh vegetation has extensive root systems that enable them to withstand brief storm surges and buffer storm impacts on upland areas.

Salt marshes act as filters. They are able to absorb nutrients and pollutants, reducing the amount that would otherwise run into both estuarine and coastal systems. They are also sediment traps, preventing sediments from washing offshore and often creating more land area.

Salt marshes are nursery grounds for important commercial and recreational fishes as well as other species that are a vital part of the estuarine food chain. Salt marshes are valuable habitats for wading birds and waterfowl. They provide refuge for birds feeding on adjacent mudflat; breeding sites for waders, gulls and terns; a source of food for passerine birds in autumn and winter; and a feeding ground in winter for large flocks of geese and ducks.

Salt marsh communities often serve as biological indicators of the overall ecological health of a park. Threats to a salt marsh include sea level rise, storms, shoreline changes, invasion by exotic species, ditching, watershed development, and nutrient loading.

To monitor the health of several salt marsh communities on the Atlantic coast, the National Park Service has established protocols for monitoring specific variables, which will be implemented at Fire Island National Seashore.

Pests

Fire Island National Seashore is a complex park with a number of historic and modern structures, landscapes, and natural areas, including wilderness and dynamic coastal dunes with accompanying vegetation. Beyond the usual assortment of urban and rural pest issues, extensive populations of exotic invasive plants present an additional challenge. Invasive plants and animals often find their way into the park through neighboring non-federal lands.

An invasive plant mapping project in 2002 found fifteen invasive plant species on Fire Island. Weeds were found predominantly in disturbed areas, such as along boardwalks, around buildings, and wherever there is vehicular or pedestrian traffic. The barrier island's nutrient-poor soils, desert-like conditions and salt spray prevent many weeds from gaining a strong foothold on Fire Island.

The most prominent invasive plant species on Fire Island is the common reed, or Phragmites australis. This plant, which can grow up to 20 feet high, forms dense stands by a network of roots and rhizomes. One plant can spread more than 10 feet in a single growing season.

Fire Island's most abundant weeds include the autumn olive (Eleagnus umbellata), nodding thistle (Carduus nutans) and spotted knapweed (Centaurea aculosa).

The National Park Service implements a nationwide Integrated Pest Management Program to reduce risks to the public, park resources, and the environment from pests and pest-related management strategies.

Deer

A first-time visitor to Fire Island is probably thrilled to see the seemingly tame deer on the island. However, these deer are potentially dangerous wild animals, posing both health and safety risks for humans. The number of deer on some parts of Fire Island is believed to be at an unhealthy density, which also puts pressure on other animal and plant populations.

More than forty years of vegetation studies in Fire Island's Sunken Forest reveal an alarming reduction in the number of herbaceous plants and small trees in the understory of this rare maritime forest. Some scientists are concerned that the century-old American holly, sassafras, black cherry, black gum and other trees may not be able to regenerate. The lack of establishment of new seedlings coincides with the implementation of wildlife protection policies on Fire Island in the 1970s.

In 1974, Fire Island's deer herd was estimated at 50 individuals; by 1989, it was close to 500, and in 2003 it was estimated to be 500-700. From population density studies conducted over the past seven years, it is estimated that 300-500 deer now live on Fire Island. Average deer density varies widely between locations.

Since 1993, the National Park Service has conducted a research project cooperatively with university scientists from SUNY Syracuse, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and several communities to determine whether an immunocontraceptive vaccine can be useful at Fire Island as a deer management tool. In September, bait stations are set up to lure deer into appropriate areas. Female deer are darted with PZP (porcine zona pellucida), which prevents does from becoming pregnant.

In February 2006, in order to study the efficacy of administering PZP at alternate times, Fire Island National Seashore and HSUS initiated a winter deer-darting operation throughout the mid-island communities of Corneille Estates to Sailors Haven. In September 2006, darting was again conducted in the western communities. A winter darting program was conducted again in 2007.

During winter 2006, a total of 75 vaccines were successfully administered during a four-week effort. For winter 2007, a total of 72 PZP vaccines were successfully administered during a five-week effort.

The National Park Service continues to gather data necessary for the possible development of a deer management plan. Whenever possible, natural processes are relied upon to maintain native plant and animal species and influence natural fluctuations in populations of these species. The National Park Service may intervene when certain criteria are met. (2006 Management Policies, Chapter 4, Section 4.4.2)

Fire Island National Seashore's objective is to determine what management actions are needed in order to keep the deer population within a range that will not significantly impact natural populations of vegetation within the boundaries of the park. Fire Island National Seashore is also one of the parks in NPS Northeast Region that is currently hosting a research project relating to human-wildlife interactions. Cornell University's Deer, People and Parks web page provides updates as this study progresses.

The National Park Service is concerned about the health, safety and welfare of both animals and people. The long-standing tradition of feeding deer by people on Fire Island is not in the animals' best interest. Deer behavior and population dynamics—and possibly their susceptibility to chronic wasting disease (CWD)—are adversely affected by deer being fed by humans. As a primary host for adult ticks, deer play an indirect role in the transmission of Lyme disease to people.

For the safety of your pet, the park's resources, and other visitors, you must keep your pet on a leash and under control. Leashes must be six feet in length or less, which decreases the chance of a dangerous encounter with wildlife.

Birds

More than 330 species of birds have been recorded on Fire Island, more than 1/3 of all species found in North America. Fire Island is without a doubt one of the best birding locations in the New York area, particularly during the spring and fall migrations.

Located along the Atlantic migratory flyway, Fire Island plays host to a wide variety of both migratory and resident bird species. The island's rich mosaic of forest, dune, and marsh habitats offers feeding and nesting opportunities for a wide array of shorebirds, songbirds, raptors, waterfowl, and waders.

Fire Island National Seashore is one of more than 40 National Park Service sites that are recognized as "Globally Important Bird Areas" by conservation organizations. The Seashore's Atlantic coastline is a part of the American Bird Conservancy's designated Long Island Piping Plover Nesting Beaches.

You can watch the fall migration of raptors (hawks, etc.), viewed from the raptor-viewing platform (just east of Robert Moses State Park, Field 5). The Fire Island Raptor Enumerators (FIRE) is a group of dedicated individuals who collect data and keep records on the numbers of raptors and their flight patterns in this region. Raptors tend to fly in a pattern across the island near the raptor-viewing platform. 

Raptors, crows and jays are among the birds that are monitored each year for the presence of West Nile virus. These birds, if infected, may transmit the virus to certain mosquitoes that bite—and infect—humans. 

Amphibians

Around 30 species of reptiles and amphibians live within or visit Fire Island National Seashore, from giant leatherback sea turtles to the secretive Fowler's toad. Fowler’s toad (Bufo woodhousei fowleri) and the bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) are amphibian species identified on Fire Island. A greater number of species are found at the William Floyd Estate.

Mollusks

Fire Island forms an interface between two distinctly different marine environments: the nearshore waters of Atlantic Ocean on its southern border and the Great South Bay and other estuarine environments on its northern exposure.

The estuary is one of the most productive habitats on earth, with its phytoplankton, eelgrass beds and salt marshes. In the Great South Bay, that means home for a variety of sea life. Detritus from the marshes is washed into the bay, where it is used as food by many organisms, including mollusks.

Economically important shellfish include hard-shell clams (Mercenaria mercenaria), soft-shell clams (Mya arenaria), bay scallops (Argopecten irradians), blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) and oysters (Crassostrea virginica). These mollusks are all bivalves. Other bay bivalves include the ribbed mussel (Geukensia demissa) and (Laevicardium mortoni), and the tiny gem shells (Gemma gemma). Univalve mollusks or gastropods in the bay include mud snails (Ilyanassa obsoleta, Littorina littorea) and slipper shells (Crepidula fornicata and C. convexa).

The open water of the Atlantic Ocean along the southern shore of Fire Island does not provide the protection for organisms that is afforded by the less turbulent, estuarine waters of the bay. However, a number of invertebrates—including mollusks—dwell in the sand on the bottom of the continental shelf along Fire Island.

The economically important surfclam (Spisula solidissima) lives on the ocean side of the island. It is harvested far off-shore, but its shells frequently wash onto the beach. You may even see a flock of gulls fighting over one of these live mollusks on the beach. Other ocean mollusks include the bivalve razor clam (Enis directus) and the univalve conch (Busycotypus canaliculatum).

To learn more, stop by a Fire Island National Seashore visitor center. Touch tables, exhibits, reference books, volunteers or rangers may be able to help you identify the shells you've found on the beach. Here you may learn more about the mollusks and other animals that once lived in these homes.

Reptiles

Around 30 species of reptiles and amphibians live within or visit Fire Island National Seashore, from giant leatherback sea turtles to the secretive Fowler's toad.

Reptile species identified within Fire Island National Seashore include the eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum subrubrum), spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata), northern diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin), snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina), eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina), eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), and northern black racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor).

Northern diamondback terrapins are found on the backbay sides of barrier islands. The turtles forage in tidal creeks of marshes and in the open bays. The northern diamondback terrapin feeds on marine snails, clams, and worms. The species typically comes ashore along the bay in June to lay eggs, which hatch in late summer.

Five species of sea turtles have been documented around Fire Island, although none nest in the area. All are federally threatened or endangered species. The Kemp's ridley turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), and hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) are federally endangered species. The loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) and green turtle (Chelonia mydas) are federally threatened.

Four of these species may be found seasonally in the coastal waters of New York, normally from May 1 to November 30. The sea turtles in northeastern nearshore waters are typically small juveniles. The loggerhead and Kemp's ridley turtles are the most abundant. Coastal Long Island waters are sometimes warm enough from June through October to support green sea turtles. The leatherback, when found in the waters off Long Island, may be pursuing their preferred food source, jellyfish.

 

Mammals

More than 30 species of mammals either visit or live within the boundaries of Fire Island National Seashore. These mammals range in size from finback whales and other whales— which occasionally swim close to shore or wash up on the beach—to the tiny masked shrew, which though rarely seen, is very common throughout the island.

Seventeen species of terrestrial mammals were identified on Fire Island during surveys conducted in 1974.

In the mid-1970s, eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) were abundant throughout the Seashore. Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) were very common. Raccoons (Procyon lotor) were far less numerous. The white-footed deer mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) and meadow voles were abundant, and muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) and Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) were numerous on both Fire Island and on the mainland at the William Floyd Estate. Squirrels were restricted to the mainland.

Other common species identified in the survey included the masked shrew (Sorex cinereus), short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda), and weasel (Mustela spp.). Weasels and mink were secretive but locally common predators throughout the seashore in the mid-1970s.

The little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) was one of two bat species identified on Fire Island, while eight species were recorded at the William Floyd Estate.

It's interesting to note that in the mid-1970s a herd of only approximately 50 white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) was reported to be maintaining itself on Fire Island, where they have no natural predators and are protected from hunting. Within a quarter of a century, that number had swelled.

Nineteen species of marine mammals—whales, porpoises and dolphins, and seals—have been recorded within the boundaries of Fire Island National Seashore. The harbor seal is a regular winter visitor at both Fire Island inlets.

Three species of endangered whales may occur in the waters offshore of Fire Island: fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) and northern right whale (Eubalaena glacialis).

Threatened & Endangered Species

Since 1986, Fire Island National Seashore—together with other federal, state, and local governments, volunteers, and private organizations—has been preserving and monitoring critical habitats and open spaces for the protection of threatened and endangered shorebirds and coastal plants.

Two federally listed threatened and endangered (T & E) bird species are known to nest within Fire Island National Seashore. The piping plover (Charadrius melodus) is on the federal threatened and New York State endangered list. The roseate tern (Sterna dougallii) is federally and state endangered. The state-listed threatened least tern (Sternula antillarum) and the common tern (Sterna hirundo) also nest on Fire Island.

The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was officially removed from the federally threatened list on August 8, 2007. Eagles continue to be protected by the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Bald eagles are occasionally sighted in the national seashore. Its presence is recorded during the annual fall hawk watch by Fire Island Raptor Enumerators (FIRE) near the Fire Island Lighthouse.

The seabeach amaranth (Amaranthus pumilus) is a federally threatened annual plant species that grows on some of Fire Island National Seashore's beaches.

The seabeach knotweed (Polygonum glaucum) is a New York State rare plant that can be found on Fire Island.

Fire Island National Seashore's piping plover monitoring and protection program begins in March with a restriction on driving, pets and kites on portions of the beach. Symbolic fencing is installed to mark suitable plover habitat.

As nests are established, exclosures are constructed to protect both nest and eggs. After the chicks have fledged, restrictions on pets and kites are lifted, but the symbolic fencing is left in place for the protection of beach plants.

You Can Help

  • Respect fenced areas and stay clear of bird nesting areas.
  • Where they are permitted, always keep dogs leashed.

Three species of endangered whales may occur in the waters offshore of Fire Island: fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), humpback whale(Megaptera novaeangliae) and northern right whale (Eubalaena glacialis).

Five species of sea turtles have been documented around Fire Island, although none nest in the area. The Kemp's ridley turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), and hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) are federally endangered species. The loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) and green turtle (Chelonia mydas) are federally threatened.

Occasionally, a threatened or endangered species will wash ashore, where it may be rescued or recovered by the Riverhead Foundation, one of Fire Island National Seashore's partner organizations. Cold-stunned sea turtles are particularly vulnerable.

You Can Help

  • Patrol the beaches for sick & injured marine mammals and sea turtles
  • Report any sightings of healthy marine mammals and sea turtles to 631-369-9840 ext. 15
  • Riverhead Foundation's 
    24-hour Stranding Hotline 631-369-9829

Fish

Numerous species of fish have been recorded in the waters around Fire Island.

The finfish species likely to be landed by commercial harvesters from nearby waters are bluefish, winter flounder, summer flounder, weakfish, Atlantic silversides, and menhaden.

Recreational fishing species include fluke, winter flounder, bluefish, weakfish, tautog, and black sea bass.

Some of the fish species found within the boundaries of Fire Island National Seashore are present only as older juveniles and adults, and do not use the bay as a spawning and nursery area. These transient species include striped bass, menhaden, and eels.

Other species (bluefish, winter flounder, fluke, tautog, black sea bass) use Fire Island waters as both nursery grounds for young-of-the-year stages as well as adults. The value of Seashore estuarine habitats for these species is great.

Ecologically important species, those that are an important forage species for piscivorous (fish-eating) fishes, include Atlantic silversides, bay anchovy, sand lance, northern pipefish, and others. Killifishes are a major component of the fish fauna of salt marsh habitats.

 

A series of Science Synthesis Papers was published in 2005 to support the preparation of a General Management Plan for Fire Island National Seashore, and includes the following related reports.

 

* Water Quality and Ecology of Great South Bay (Fire Island National Seashore Science Synthesis Paper) by Kenneth R. Hinga, University of Rhode Island
* Conservation and Management of Living Marine Resources (Fire Island National Seashore Science Synthesis Paper) by David O. Conover, Robert Cerrato, and William Wise, Stony Brook University

Essential Fish Habitat
The waters offshore and around Fire Island have been identified as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) for various lifestages of the following species of fish:

* Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) EFH
* Pollack (Pollachius virens) EFH
* Whiting (Merluccius bilinearis) EFH
* Red Hake (Urophycis chuss) EFH
* Winter Flounder (Pleuronectes americanus) EFH
* Yellowtail Flounder (Pleuronectes ferruginea) EFH
* Summer Flounder or Fluke (Paralicthys dentatus)
* Windowpane Flounder (Scopthalmus aquosus) EFH
* American Plaice (Hippoglossoides platessoides) EFH
* Ocean Pout (Macrozoarces americanus) EFH
* Atlantic Sea Herring (Clupea harengus) EFH
* Monkfish (Lophius americanus) EFH
* Bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) EFH
* Atlantic Butterfish (Peprilus triacanthus) EFH
* Atlantic Mackeral (Scomber scombrus) EFH
* King Mackeral (Scomberomorus cavalla) EFH
* Spanish Mackeral (Scomberomorus maculatus) EFH
* Cobia (Rachycentron canadum) EFH
* Scup or Porgie (Stenotomus chrysops) EFH
* Black Sea Bass (Centropristus striata) EFH
* Sand Tiger Shark (Odontaspis taurus) EFH
* Common Thresher Shark (Alopias vulpinus) EFH
* Blue Shark (Prionace glauca)
* White Shark (Charcharadon carcharias) EFH
* Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvieri) EFH
* Dusky Shark (Charcharinus obscurus) EFH
* Sandbar Shark (Charcharinus plumbeus) EFH
* Shortfin Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrhyncus) EFH
* Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) EFH
* Skipjack Tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) EFH

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) is one of eight regional fishery management councils created by the 1976 Magnuson Fisheries Conservation and Management Act, renamed Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act in 1996 (PL-94-265). The MAFMC is responsible for the creation of management plans for fishery resources (FMPs) in Federal waters off New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.

Insects, Spiders, Centipedes, Millipedes

Hundreds of species of insects and spiders occur on Fire Island, from dragonflies to monarch butterflies to the ubiquitous mosquitoes. Ticks are locally superabundant from May to September.

Many of these insects are valuable pollinators that sustain natural ecosystems, helping to preserve the quality of human and all other species of life.

Odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) are considered by scientist to be excellent indicators of wetland ecosystem health and condition. An inventory of Odonata is one of the current NPS Inventory and Monitoring projects being conducted at Fire Island National Seashore.

Fire Island's beach and intertidal invertebrate communities, an important component of the ecosystem which serves as forage for shore birds, includes several species of insects. A recent survey found that:

Of the five dominant taxa collected along the bayside were three types of insects: Ephydridae (shore flies), Lasius neoniger (turfgrass ant), Muscidae (muscid flies).

Of the five dominant taxa collected along the oceanside two were the insects Ephydridae and Clivinia sp. (ground beetle).

Results of the study found the most abundant species in all collections (benthic core, wrack sight and pitfall trap) to be the tenebrionid beetle (Phaleria teastacea), the talitrid amphipod (Talorchestia longicornis), the ant (Lasius nenoiger), the anthicid beetle (Mecynotarsus candidus), homopterans and the planthopper (Delphacodes sp). The most common taxonomic groups were: Coleoptera, Diptera, Amphipoda, Hymenoptera.