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A Georgica Pond Leadership Shakeup

Thu, 11/02/2023 - 10:42
Sara Davison, the executive director of the Friends of Georgica Pond since its founding in 2015, will retire at the end of this year.
Durell Godfrey

The Friends of Georgica Pond Foundation, an organization established in 2015 to remediate the pond’s degraded water quality and preserve its ecosystem, has announced several leadership changes.

Sara Davison, the organization’s executive director since its founding in 2015, will retire at the end of this year. She will be succeeded by Laura Tooman, a former president of Concerned Citizens of Montauk and a former aide to Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.

Priscilla Rattazzi, one of the organization’s founders, who has served as president for the last eight years, will step down but will remain on the board. Jonathan Wainwright, the current treasurer, will replace Ms. Rattazzi as president. Sid Perkins, a board member, will replace Mr. Wainwright as treasurer. All of the changes will be effective as of January.

For close to a decade the pond, which is encircled by about 77 houses, was beset with blooms of toxic cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, during the summer months. In 2012, a dog died after exposure to its waters, and the East Hampton Town Trustees, who have jurisdiction over the pond, often closed it to the taking of shellfish. Harmful algal blooms such as cyanobacteria thrive in brackish, low-salinity water.

The foundation embarked on a campaign to upgrade septic systems serving the houses around the pond, and have periodically employed an aquatic weed harvester to remove macroalgae from it. A trial experiment started in 2019 has demonstrated that oysters, which can filter up to 50 gallons of water daily, can thrive in the pond.

Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences has monitored the pond and recommended remediation efforts for several years. The group’s efforts have paid off, with a dramatic reduction in cyanobacteria blooms in recent years. 

Ms. Davison came to the South Fork as a chapter director for the Nature Conservancy in 1987, later serving as director for the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons.

“I felt it was a good time to pass the reins to a younger person who can take Friends of Georgica Pond to new heights,” she told The Star. “It’s always good to get fresh views and insights after a period of time. I’ve adored working with the board, the trustees, the public. It was a job that brought together all of my skills that I’d learned through various jobs — I was able to do fund-raising, science, administration, all in one job, so it suited me perfectly.”

Ms. Tooman called Georgica “a pond I love and enjoy, as a lot of local people do. It’s very exciting to be able to continue to carry on the work.”

“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing because it’s working well,” Mr. Wainwright said. “Georgica Pond — I have lived there since I was a kid — is back to where it was in the 1950s. We really have made huge strides, and that’s evidenced by all the crabs that are spawning in the pond — but also preyed upon by poachers, which is a problem.”

“We’ve got to give Chris Gobler a lot of credit,” Mr. Wainwright added. “He’s done a fabulous job.”

“This is a long-term project,” Ms. Davison said. “There has been great progress, but there are decades of damage that have to be undone. The organization will adapt to new and changing threats.”

Ms. Rattazzi no longer lives on Briar Patch Road, near the pond in East Hampton Village, so “it made no sense for me to be president any longer.” She remains on the foundation’s board, and plans to spend next summer in Southampton.

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