By: Lisa Scheppke, Guest Blogger
When people think about New York City, a rich and diverse wildlife habitat is not usually what comes to mind. However, NYC is home to Jamaica Bay, a unique intact estuarine ecosystem consisting of 25,000 acres of salt marshes, intertidal flats and upland forests. 330 species of birds, 70 species of butterflies and over 100 species of finfish, breed, spend the winter in, or use the area as a vital migratory stopover. Situated in both Brooklyn and Queens, Jamaica Bay has an abundance of shellfish and benthic fauna and is visited by the federally-listed endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, the federally-listed threatened loggerhead turtle and the largest population of diamondback terrapins in the Northeast. Fishermen, boaters, birders, bicyclists and nature lovers come from across the five boroughs and beyond to enjoy this incredible natural resource.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the ecology of the bay has faced challenges from several factors, including dumping, over-development, pollution and a lack of awareness of its rich resources. As a result, the bay’s valuable tidal salt marshes are declining at an alarming rate. In addition to the pre-existing marine debris issues in Jamaica Bay, Hurricane Sandy brought up to six feet of flooding throughout the surrounding communities, along with an overwhelming amount of large marine debris, including boats, docks, pilings and construction debris. Pollutants from derelict vessels were released into the water and marshes and essential aquatic habitats were damaged by large marine debris compacting sediments and smothering vegetation.
Public awareness is on the rise, however, and community groups and citizens have banded together to advocate for the protection and restoration of the bay. Educational outreach and an open dialogue with the community have been key components of our large marine debris removal project, Jamaica Bay Clean Sweep. With generous support from the NOAA Restoration Center and the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the American Littoral Society spearheaded the removal of 60 items of large marine debris in the Floyd Bennett Field area of Jamaica Bay over the last two years. Thirty-six metric tons were disposed of with the assistance of the Department of Sanitation and the National Park Service.
Public engagement has been critical to the success of this project, with 840 dedicated volunteers contributing 4,658 hours of their time to remove 270 cubic yards of smaller debris from the shorelines of the bay. Community presentations and the distribution of informational brochures have enlightened the public about safe and legal disposal alternatives for unwanted boats.
The American Littoral Society is currently continuing its public engagement and restoration efforts by removing debris from the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge with support from NOAA in partnership with Restore America’s Estuaries.
Lisa Scheppke is the Habitat Restoration Project Coordinator for the American Littoral Society. Cathy Sohn, Director of External Affairs for the American Littoral Society, contributed.