Raising Awareness at the Fire Island Lighthouse
By Emma Boskovski
Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society held its third annual “Fin-Tastic celebration of the shark,” to raise awareness about marine life, not just sharks, on Sunday, July 22.
“We host the ‘Day of the Shark’ each year to inspire learning about marine life,” said Amanda Vaskas, program director and volunteer coordinator. “Sea turtles, whales, dolphins, and of course sharks are brought to light for educational purposes with shark-themed educational activities. We have movies, shark art, and a face painter for kids to enjoy and learn. We have 170 volunteers who make these events possible every year.”
The Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMSEAS) was also present at the event to inspire and educate that “conservation starts with you,” as their mission is to promote conservation of the marine environment through action.
The AMSEAS volunteers used their display of sea turtles to educate families who attended the Day of the Shark that tagging of stranded marine mammals can provide insight through the collection of data into climate change, marine traffic, and other manmade changes to the environment.
More than 24 different species of whales, dolphins, sea turtles and seals depend on New York’s beaches, bays, estuaries, and ocean for food, shelter, nurseries for young, and migratory routes, according to AMSEAS.
“This whole thing really began with shark art,” said Vaskas. “David Adams, from the East End of Fire Island, has dedicated his whole life to bringing art to everybody. He joins us every year in the Art Studio to help others create shark art.”
The Lighthouse’s Art Studio used to be an old horse stable, and is now used to evoke the creative side of all ages to make different works of art. The shark art has proven to be a popular part of the Day of the Shark.
“I think doing crafts is entertaining,” said Ethan Jensen, a 10-yearold volunteer. “I have lots of fun at the Day of the Shark because I get to decorate different crafts and learn about different creatures.”
A contest is also held by the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society that calls upon local artists, or simply creative minds, to construct their own model of the lighthouse. The voting commences during the Day of the Shark in the Lens Building, where educational movies are also shown.
“Last year we only had one entry, and this year we have six,” said Betty Berman, trustee and volunteer. “We are hoping that each year it grows in a direction that influences maritime and lighthouse education.”
The Day of the Shark is made possible with funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Arts Council with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and is administered by The Huntington Arts Council, Inc.
“People often forget that the lighthouse is a National Park,” said Vaskas. “Although we are so close to one of the largest cities in the world, we are also very close to the 17 communities that populate the Fire Island National Seashore. Lots of animals call these waters home, and they are protected.”
The two sharks that bit both 13-year old Matthew Donaldson and 12-year old Lola Pollina, off of both Atlantique Beach and Sailors Haven, are also protected species of the Fire Island National Seashore – despite the attacks.
The incident happened around 11:15 a.m. on July 18, and neither child faced any life-threatening injuries. A tooth however was found in Donaldson’s leg and was used by experts to try and determine the species of the shark and the size. According to ABC News, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Marine Bureau was unable to identify the species of shark, and the tooth fragment was returned to Donaldson to keep.
Shark attacks are very uncommon on Long Island, but shark sightings are not. According to NBC News, since 1837, there have been 10 reported shark attacks in New York State.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has sent the DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos to Suffolk County for further investigation of the attacks.
“It is important to provide people with information about sharks so that they can properly educate themselves,” said Vaskas. “These attacks, while tragic, can serve as a reminder that sharks share our waters.”
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