Ferry Park photo by Laurie Marshall

This year was action-packed for the Fishers Island Conservancy. Thanks to your support, we focused on a wide variety of initiatives, starting with a successful spring Parade Grounds burn with the Fishers Island Fire Department, continuing through to our fall Migratory Bird Count.

Tom Sargent

If you’re on-Island and haven’t yet checked out Ferry Park, please do. Lucinda Herrick and others had a vision to upgrade the land and shoreline berm by the entrance to Silver Eel Cove, and we were happy to partner with the Fishers Island Ferry District to help them realize their concept. Over 15,000 native Virginia beach grass plugs have transformed a barren parking lot into a charming pocket park. As you know, native plants bring native insects, native insects bring native birds, and so on…

Below, you’ll find more exciting 2022 highlights and shout-outs. We’re looking forward to continuing this momentum and accomplishing even more together next year. To help make that possible, please consider donating a year-end gift now.

If I may, another request. Do you have phragmites on your property? We’ve entered into a five-year program to treat phragmites in and around the Parade Grounds. In conjunction with the Town of Southold and the NY DEC, we’ve hired outside contractors to tackle the problem. If you have phragmites on your property, please let us know and we’ll manage the estimates, coordination and timing to help eradicate this insidious invader. Contact Kristen Peterson at kmpfic@gmail.com to get started.

Thank you again for being part of our community and for caring for Fishers Island as much as we do.


Tom Sargent
President, Fishers Island Conservancy

Thanks to you, more highlights from 2022:

  • The John Thatcher Native Garden and Parade Grounds never looked better thanks to Dianne Crary, Alden Butt, Geb Cook, Charlie Curtis, Dave McIntyre and others.
  • We had the honor of recognizing two legendary members of the community, Carol Giles and Ellie Kelly, at Sunset on the Beach in July. They have led by example in science education and environmental activism. Thanks to all who joined us to celebrate.
  • Michele Klimczak’s relentless efforts in our Marine Debris program continued to be a cornerstone of FIConservancy’s impact, and many of you rolled up your sleeves and joined in this important program, removing tons of waste from our shoreline. Michele’s work is highlighted in artist Duke Riley’s exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum on display now!
  • We tallied a whopping 64 species during our Spring Migratory Bird Count, and in October, despite howling winds and cold temps as Hurricane Ian swept through, we were able to coax out 42 species for the Fall Bird Count.
  • Stephanie Hall led the largest group of Island Sentinels yet! These eager young environmentalists monitored sensitive sites Island-wide and collected data to record changes in our fragile ecosystem.
  • Our youngest islanders converged on the Parade Grounds for creative, informative activities and lots of ice cream at Nature Days in August. Thanks to our Executive Director, Kristen Petersen, for her efforts on this event and the many tasks she accomplishes throughout the year.

Your generosity is essential to our work — we couldn’t do it without you. Thank you.

A gift to the Fishers Island Conservancy is a gift to Fishers Island.

Please give today.

(l-r) Honoree Carol Giles, FIConservancy President Tom Sargent and Honoree Ellie Kelly at award ceremony. Jane Crary Photo

The Fishers Island Conservancy honored two outstanding women, Ellen “Ellie” H. Kelly and Carol Giles, at FIConservancy’s annual event, Sunset on the Beach July 16 at the Big Club Beach.

Mrs. Kelly, the second president of FIConservancy, has dedicated her life to environmental causes both on and off Fishers Island. Carol Giles, who retired in June after 33 years as science teacher at Fishers Island School, has motivated countless students to become thoughtful and creative problem solvers in the field of science.


Mrs. Kelly was FIConservancy President from 2002-2006, but her dedication to preserving Fishers Island’s natural environment began in the 1970s before FIConservancy existed. Mrs. Kelly reflected on her early involvement with FIConservancy:

“Every Saturday in the 1970s, a little truck from Southold would spew out a cloud of DDT, spraying up and down every road, every driveway on the Island. Inspired by the groundbreaking environmentalist, Rachel Carson, Cherry Rafferty called together a small group: Mary Wood, Serge Doyen, John Thatcher, me and a few others. We wrestled with the problem of how to stop Southold’s mandated spraying of DDT on Fishers Island.

“Mary, Cherry and I would traverse Southold in Cherry’s old overheating Island clunker to attend meetings about banning the spraying of DDT. We were successful, and our indomitable first president John Thatcher organized organic mosquito control on Fishers Island.

“Our next problem was the dumping of toxic dredge spoil from the Thames River to a dump site two miles off the coast of Fishers Island. The fledgling FIConservancy sued the Navy. We were awarded a stipend, which became our little nest egg.

“As president, my aim was to broaden the scope of involvement in the Conservancy, establishing working committees, for example, to address mosquito control and the cleanup of West Harbor by pumping out waste from boats in the harbor.”

Off-Island, Mrs. Kelly impacted all of the boards on which she served, including the Rachel Carson Council, National Parks Conservancy and the Garden Club of America Conservation Group, which she started.

She has been acknowledged nationally for her work on the Alaska Lands bill by Jimmy Carter and influential with other bills such as the Clean Water Act as well as local laws protecting water and open space in the state of Maryland. Starting at the grassroots level, Mrs. Kelly always expanded to align herself with the larger public.


FIConservancy has developed a special relationship with Carol Giles through FIConservancy grants awarded to the school for specific science projects. Mrs. Giles speaks with pride about her students and their achievements:

“Maddie Hatfield’s four-month science project studying ocean acidification on a specific marine sponge species would not have been possible without FIConservancy’s grant to purchase two tank coolers and two filtration systems. Maddie’s research took one of the top prizes at the 2022 Long Island Youth Summit. 

“Lili Kane received a grant to purchase a vernier oxygen and carbon dioxide probe to conduct research on, “The Effect of Earthworms Lumbricus Terristris on Climate Change: Carbon Source or Sink?” Two years of research won Lili 1st Honors and Special Awards, including being a finalist for PepsiCo/Pfizer life Sciences, Petit Family Foundation Women in Science and Engineering, and Future Sustainability Awards at the 2021 Connecticut State Science Fair, and Best Research Paper on Climate Change for the 2021 Long Island Youth Summit.

“Arabella Hatfield used the fluorometer, provided through a FIConservancy grant, to conduct research on, “Ocean Acidification: How it Effects the Phytoplankton Species Nannochloropsis oculata”. Her project earned State Finalist status in the CT State Science Fair and was selected Outstanding Climate Change Research Project in the Long Island Youth Summit.

“FIConservancy has purchased binoculars for the school used by both elementary and high school students, especially for our seal counts, and also has supported the ongoing Biorock Project: Low voltage electricity is sent to a steel geodesic dome that causes the reduction of calcium carbonate causing the formation of an artificial reef.”

Michele Klimczak, FIConservancy’s Marine Debris Coordinator hauls debris from Fishers Island beach. Ian Lockey Photo

Fishers Island is being inundated with marine debris: Fishers Island Conservancy has cleared and hauled away over 10 tons in the past two years.

Michele Klimczak, FIConservancy’s Marine Debris Coordinator, has the monumental task of clearing this pollution year-round to help conserve our Island and protect our wildlife and community. But there’s still more shoreline to cover and more debris to collect.

We need your help! Sign up here.

Last summer, dozens of Islanders joined in our beach cleanup efforts, contributing to THOUSANDS of pounds of marine debris being cleared from Fishers Island’s shores. Will you join us this year? Here’s how:

How to Become a Shoreline Superstar

Step 1: Sign up here!

Step 2: Review our Beach Cleanup Safety Guidelines below.

Step 3: Gather friends and family and bring a bag to the beach.

Step 4:

  • Text Michele at 631-800-9394 whenever you have a full bag so she can collect the debris & snap a photo of you and your haul.
  • OR, you can take your own photo, drop your bag at the FIConservancy truck by the movie theater and text Michele your photo and beach clean up location.

Step 5: Repeat steps 3 & 4 when you can.

Michele will weigh and sort the debris, properly disposing of anything that cannot be reused.

The three teams that collect the most marine debris throughout the summer will receive prizes!

Together, we can help conserve Fishers Island and its waters. JOIN US HERE.

Enormous thanks to Michele for her passion and hard work and to you for your continued support. Together, we can “Keep it Clean” to help conserve beautiful Fishers Island.

See you on the beach!

IMPORTANT: Beach Cleanup Safety Guidelines

Rusted metal, hypodermic needles, glass and sharp plastic are commonly encountered during beach cleanup. The following guidelines should be followed to ensure safety.

What to bring:

  • Large bags, preferably reusable, in which to place the debris
  • A “sharps container” for items found such as metal or glass
  • A trash/debris nabber, if you have one

What to wear:

  • Thick work gloves to protect your hands
  • Fully enclosed, supportive shoes (no sandals or open-toed shoes)
  • Long pants are preferable, and don’t forget your sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat

What to do:

  • Bags should be carried an arm’s length from body for your safety
  • Follow the steps listed above and have fun!

The Fishers Island Conservancy is pleased to have been a part of the Fishers Island Ferry District’s new berm project at Silver Eel Cove.

Maddie Hatfield, a Fishers Island School junior and honors Regents chemistry student, with the graphic explanation of her award-winning science project. Maddie’s research was made possible with a grant from FIConservancy.

Maddie Hatfield, an honors Regents chemistry student at Fishers Island School, took one of the top prizes at an April 8 Long Island high schools science competition and did it with an unplanned harvest of marine sponges from docks at Pirate’s Cove Marina.

When Maddie discovered that a Maine vendor did not have the specific marine sponge she needed for her research, Carol Giles, Maddie’s science teacher, came up with a potential solution.

“I had noticed sponges growing on the docks at Pirate’s Cove,” Mrs. Giles said. “But sponges are difficult to identify because of only slight differences in external features. Maddie obtained a sample of a sponge different from her initial intention, but one she thought might work for her research.

“She extracted and measured microscopic particles and identified the species as Halichondria bowerbanki, exactly what she wanted. I reached out to Connor Jones, former FI Seagrass Management Coordinator, who posted pictures on several marine sponge listservs.

“Over a dozen scientists responded with varying species identification, but two offered to confirm its identity. Dr. Robert Thacker of Stony Brook University verified Maddie’s identification, as did Dr. Sergio Vargas of LMU München, the most prestigious university in Germany, who DNA-barcoded the sponge.

“Maddie’s four-month science project studying ocean acidification on a specific marine sponge species would not have been possible without Fishers Island Conservancy’s grant to purchase two tank coolers and two filtration systems,” Mrs. Giles said.

FIConservancy continues to support Fishers Island School through a series of grants, including a 2020 purchase of a fluorometer, which measures phytoplankton density.

Maddie was one of five top students out of 300 finalists at the Long Island Youth Summit, a partnership between Northwell Health, St. Joseph’s College, Vision Long Island and other public and private organizations. 

The purpose of the Summit is to engage talented high school students of diverse backgrounds, encouraging them to think about solutions for local and regional problems related to social, economic and environmental issues. The Summit aims to develop the students’ research, creative and social skills by allowing them to work together with leaders in business, government and non-profit sectors.

Birders gather May 8 in the John Thatcher Native Garden next to Movie Theater. Tom Sargent Photo

Sunday, May 8 was a great day for birding! Dr. Adam Mitchell of Tarleton State University led a group of enthusiastic volunteers who counted birds from the West End to the East End of Fishers Island, following Audubon Bird Count rules.

“We observed a total of 52 species during the migration count, and 58 species overall for the weekend.” Dr. Mitchell said. “To put that in perspective, the average migration count over the past eight years is 47 in the spring and 39 in the fall.

“According to birdcast.info (a great migration tool!), however, the predicted overall migration rate for birds this spring was low. The late spring, compounded by cold and windy weather, kept many of our overwintering and migrant birds on the Island.

“More recent migrants, like warblers, vireos and other passerines (perching birds), were  forced to wait out our recent storm front by hiding in the dense undergrowth, rather than gleaning from the exposed tree branches, so our detection on these birds was likely to be fairly low.

“Of note was the unusual amount of brown-headed cowbirds in the mix,” Dr. Mitchell said. “It’s possible that these migrants were blown in from the storm. The bird count list is below:

American black duck

American crow

American goldfinch

American robin

Baltimore oriole

Barn swallow

Black-and-white warbler

Black-capped chickadee

Blackburnian warbler

Blue-winged warbler

Brown-headed cowbird

Blue-gray gnatcatcher

Blue jay

Canada goose

Carolina wren

Chimney swift

Chipping sparrow

Common eider

Common grackle

Common loon

Common raven

Common tern

Dark-eyed junco

Double-crested cormorant

Downey woodpecker

Eastern towhee

European starling

Fish crow

Gray catbird

Great black-backed gull

Great egret

Herring gull

House finch

House sparrow

House wren



Mourning dove

Mute swan

Northern cardinal

Northern flicker

Northern harrier

Northern parula


Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-tailed hawk

Red-winged blackbird

Ring-necked pheasant

Ruby-crowned kinglet

Ruby-throated hummingbird

Song sparrow

Tufted titmouse

Tree swallow

Turkey vulture

White-breasted nuthatch

White-throated sparrow

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow warbler

Mark your calendars for the 2022 Spring Bird Count Sunday, May 8, 8 a.m.-10:30 a.m.

E.O. Wilson (pictured in 2003). The Royal Swedish Academy, which awards Nobel Prizes, awarded Wilson the Crafoord Prize, an award in biosciences and geosciences not included in Nobel Prize categories. 

E.O. Wilson, considered the father of biodiversity and “Darwin’s heir”, died Dec. 26, 2021 at the age of 92.

Dr. Wilson was one of the most distinguished American scientists in modern history and devoted his life to studying the natural world, becoming the world authority on ants and later focusing on the critical link between conserving functional ecosystems and the survival of all species on our planet.

As a young student, University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy, FIConservancy’s mentor for transforming our tangled Parade Grounds into rolling meadows, met and was inspired by “E.O.”

“My work studying native plants and insects, and how crucial they are to food webs, was inspired by Wilson’s eloquent descriptions of biodiversity and how the myriad interactions among species create the conditions that enable the very existence of such species,” Tallamy wrote in a thoughtful and heartfelt tribute to E.O.Wilson.

Read Doug Tallamy’s Tribute to E.O. Wilson:

Restored grassland at Parade Grounds.

While the pandemic continues to present challenges for the Conservancy, overall things have returned to a somewhat normal state. We have been able to get back to our mission of preserving and protecting the natural environment of Fishers Island. We could not be more pleased.

Tom Sargent

After our schedules had been hobbled in 2020 due to the pandemic, 2021 was much less restricted as vaccines became available early this year. As a result, were able to return to our annual burn in the Parade Grounds in March. Fishers Island Fire Department volunteers activated our prescribed burn plan, and it went off without a hitch. What a sight to see several acres crackling and hissing, flames reaching high into the sky. As fast as it started, it was over. The prescribed burn is a critical part of our Parade Grounds maintenance. It releases natural nitrogen into the soil and clears woody underbrush, leaving a healthy grassland habitat for several species of ground nesting birds. I can’t thank the entire FI Fire Department enough for their experience and guidance in this annual ritual.

Still pressed with the pandemic, we were unable to operate our “weed team” of graduate students from the University of Delaware (UD). We are in current conversations, however, with Professors Tallamy and Mitchell and expect to have a full complement in place for next season. While we missed our UD team, the slack was picked up via our Island Sentinels program run by Stephanie Hall. We had a record number of participants in our student scientist program, and they took hundreds of readings at multiple sites across the Island. We are currently collecting and collating this data, which will be available to the public as trend lines become apparent as to the health and vibrancy of the Island’s unique habitats.

The Conservancy held both Spring and Fall Migratory Bird Counts according to Audubon standards. We were able to bring back our scientist birders, Emily Baisden and Will Almeida. Both counts were well attended. On a happy note, we observed the highest number of birds at locations with the least number of invasive plant species, but now we have to quantify it with the science. Along these lines, I would like to suggest a title for a little winter reading, A World on the Wing by Scott Weidensaul. The author explores the only-recently understood odyssey of migratory birds, many of whom use this little tuft of refuge as a brief stop to rest and refuel before continuing their several-thousand-mile migratory journeys. This book illuminates the importance of native habitat—a subject not lost on our community.

Our two big summer events were back in force: Sunset on the Beach and Nature Days. We had record numbers of participants at both events. I think the pent-up demand to get out, see people and celebrate our beautiful Island was overwhelming. I want to thank our Executive Director Kristen Peterson, our Sunset Sponsors and all the volunteers for making these two events so special for the Conservancy and for the Island Community. We at the Conservancy are deeply grateful to our friends and supporters for all you do to keep this organization humming. Thank you!

As we enter the quiet time of late fall, and the last of the warblers have left for warmer climes, please remember that a gift to the Fishers Island Conservancy is a gift to Fishers Island.

Cheers, Tom