The significance of Fire Island
Fire Island Lighthouse

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The significance of Fire Island


FIRE ISLAND—Irving Like and John T. Tanacredi are continuing their efforts to convince Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to designate the Fire Island National Seashore as a world heritage site. They hope the designation will help to preserve Fire Island, the Great South Bay, and all the species that live in these ecosystems.

Like is a Babylon-based attorney who, along with the late Murray Barbash of Bay Shore, was instrumental in preventing Robert Moses’ plan to build a four-lane highway across Fire Island. Their action ultimately led to the formation of the Fire Island National Seashore.

Dr. Tanacredi is a professor of earth and environmental sciences at Molloy College, where he is also the director of the Center for Environmental Research and Coastal Oceans Monitoring, which is the only facility in the United States that captive breeds Limulus polyphemus (horseshoe crabs). He is looking to designate the sea creature as a world threatened species.

Like recalled meeting Tanacredi for the first time, many years ago, when he served as an expert witness and provided ecological testimony in support of his client’s case at the time. In the years that followed, Like consulted with Tanacredi regarding many environmental issues.

There are 10 criteria to be named a world heritage site. Like and Tanacredi believe Fire Island meets five. Only one is needed, according to the organization’s website. 

Like, a Bay Shore resident, hopes the title will help to protect Fire Island, its estuarine resources, and the South Shore mainland against the threat of rising sea levels and climate change through the world-class expertise and operational principles gained from other world heritage sites, which include the Great Barrier Reef.

Like believes the biggest obstacle to combating climate change is the present administration’s stance on the issue, as well as their announcement that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris climate accord.

Nevertheless, Like remains confident that Long Island residents will look at the issues in an open-minded, fact-based way, and reach a decision that is fair and in the public’s best interest. Like says Long Island citizens have a history of supporting “sound projects” that protect the environment and public safety, citing the farmland protection and Pine Barrens programs, as well as their opposition to the Shoreham and Jamesport nuclear and coal plants, offshore oil and gas drilling, and the Rye/Oyster Bay Bridge proposal.

Tanacredi, who described himself as a “real Long Islander,” has been gradually moving east his entire life. He was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens, before living in Valley Stream for 27 years. He has lived in Melville for the past 14 years.

“Fire Island National Seashore represents more than a significant natural resource embodying the coastal resiliency and social diversity important in society,” Tanacredi said. “It reflects the social justice of a global community as well.”

Many U.S. national parks, like the Grand Canyon, are designated sites due to their natural resources. The Statue of Liberty, on the other hand, is designated as a cultural unit. Some of the world’s most famous cities, from Berlin and Venice, to Damascus and Mexico City, are also designated sites.

Tanacredi noted that Fire Island National Seashore, which includes the nation’s smallest designated wilderness area, is in close proximity to a substantially large urban population. This, he believes, perfectly exemplifies why such a title is necessary. “Being along a dynamically changing coastline also lends credibility to this proposal,” he added. “This designation does not change the way these resources are managed, but does add to the identity of a fragile area to be protected in perpetuity for the entire world to appreciate and understand.”

Tanacredi said stopping unlimited urban sprawl, “the major contributor of environmental pollution overall,” is one of the best ways to combat climate change. He also advocates for the revitalization of urban downtowns, providing homeowners a financial incentive to routinely maintain their septic systems, “which indirectly controls sprawl and loss of habitat,” and reducing ground-level ozone, “which combines with nitrous oxide emissions from autos and then washes out with every precipitation event as a major contributor to nitrogen in surface waters,” he said.  Tanacredi also pointed out that Nassau and Suffolk counties have the highest amount of ground-level ozone in New York State.

Providing economic incentive for solar energy zoning to place solar panels on all abandoned landfills, as well as all administrative buildings in New York State, is also vital, according to the professor, as is increasing mass transit on Long Island. “You can travel east and west, but you can’t travel north and south,” Tanacredi noted.

Like’s top concern is remedial action not being taken “before the existential threat becomes irreversible,” he said. It is for these reasons that he intends to contact Pope Francis regarding Fire Island and the world heritage site designation.

During his address to the United Nations in 2015, Pope Francis said the “right of the environment” exists for two reasons: “First, because we human beings are part of the environment, we live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which ‘are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology,’ is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favorable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity.

“Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good,” said Pope Francis in his speech.

Irving Like and Dr. John T. Tanacredi believe Fire Island meets five out of the following 10 criteria to be named a World Heritage Site. Only one is needed, according to the organization’s website.

(1) To be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it becomes vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change

(2) To contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance

(3) To be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geometric or physiographic features

(4) To be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals

(5) To contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation