Nick Mancuso, a state wildlife technician, collects bodies of dead turtles from Iron Point in Flanders this morning. Photo: Peter Blasl

The Suffolk County Health Department is warning residents against eating shellfish harvested from tributaries of the Peconic Estuary due to the presence of a marine biotoxin known to cause paralytic shellfish poisoning, a serious and potentially lethal illness in humans.

Symptoms of paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP, depend on the amount of toxin ingested, and can progress from tingling of the lips and tongue, to numbness of the face, neck and limbs and loss of muscular control, followed by difficulty breathing, the health department said in a press release this afternoon. Residents who may have consumed shellfish from this area and experience any of these symptoms should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

The discovery of the marine biotoxin saxitoxin in the tributaries of the Peconic Estuary prompted the state Department of Environmental Conservation to close Terry Creek and Meetinghouse Creek in Riverhead, James Creek in Southold and western Shinnecock Bay in Southampton for the harvesting of shellfish, according to advisories issued by the DEC during the past two weeks.

The health department said the die-off of terrapin turtles discovered this week in Flanders Bay, first reported by RiverheadLOCAL, is suspected to be a result of the turtles eating contaminated shellfish and/or gastropods. Terrapin turtles feed on mollusks, the health department said.

The health department, which has begun screening water samples collected on Friday, May 15 throughout Flanders Bay and its tributaries, has found elevated concentrations of Alexandrium, the harmful algae that causes PSP, in Terry Creek, Meetinghouse Creek and James Creek. Full quantitative analysis results from these areas will be available next week, the health department said.

“Residents are advised, there is potential for this organism to spread to other areas,” the agency said.

Currently, all of the tributaries to Flanders Bay and the western portion of that bay (Simmons Point to Goose Creek Point) are already closed to harvest of shellfish for bacteriological concerns; therefore, residents should avoid consuming shellfish from these areas, as well.

Contact with water in and around areas closed to shellfishing is not expected to cause symptoms, however, it is generally recommended to avoid contact with water that appears discolored. If contact does occur, rinse off with clean water immediately.

For more information about Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning  visit the Suffolk County health department website and NYSDEC website.

For the most up-to-date information on water bodies affected by marine biotoxins, click here.

Riverhead Bay Constable Jim Divan reported seeing 'thousands of dead bait fish" while rowing in Peconic River Friday evening. Shown is a pile of dead bunker on the river's edge across from the Moose Lodge. Courtesy photo: Jim Divan
Riverhead Bay Constable Jim Divan reported seeing ‘thousands of dead bait fish” while rowing in Peconic River Friday evening. Shown is a pile of dead bunker on the river’s edge across from the Moose Lodge.
Courtesy photo: Jim Divan

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.