Preserving New York City’s bodies of water is a necessity — for survival, aesthetics and recreation. That’s why a large movement to protect and restore Jamaica Bay was born at the start of the 21st century, and remains strong as it nears the end of the decade.
At least two large projects to restore evaporating marshlands in the 25,000-acre lagoon are under way, sparking hope for Jamaica Bay’s sound future from those at the forefront of the movement.
“There’s a lot that’s up in the air right now,” said Don Riepe, founder of the Jamaica Bay Guardian organization. “But people are pulling together, trying to work together to make things happen in the bay.”
Those people come from numerous environmentally conscious individuals, groups and agencies, including the Jamaica Bay EcoWatchers; the New York City Council; the city Departments of Environmental Protection and Parks and Recreation; the Gaia Institute; the Regional Planning Association; the Natural Resources Defense Council; and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The projects borne from the collaboration and dedication of these groups could save the marshlands, they just need money, time and expertise, Riepe said.
The Army Corps of Engineers has already completed restoration of two marsh islands and is planning to begin work on a third island this spring. The success of a 2003 pilot project to restore Big Egg Marsh, which sits at the southwest corner of Broad Channel, prompted the corps to continue with the $16 million Jamaica Bay Marsh Islands Ecosystem Restoration project.
Elder’s Marsh East is restored and will be monitored for the next five years, while its once attached other half, Elder’s Marsh West, is awaiting restoration preparations to begin in the next two months. According to Riepe, Yellow Bar Hassock could be next on the list, with a possible plan to restore 60 acres of marsh.
“It still remains to be seen whether we can actually, eventually catch up with the marsh loss,” Riepe said. “But it’s going to require kind of a quicker time frame than they’re working on now, and a lot more money.”
Protecting and restoring marshland is essential for the health of the ecosystem within and around a body of water. Marshes are necessary for the survival of wildlife and the growth of vegetation, which reduces area flooding and cleans bodies of water.
In Jamaica Bay marshland is rapidly eroding and disappearing at a rate of about 40 acres per year. The causes of erosion are varied, but there seems to be a general consensus among environmentalists that nitrogen pollution is a main factor.
A task force created in 2005 by Local Law 71, authored by City Councilman James Gennaro of Jamaica Estates, who chairs the council’s Committee on Environmental Protection, found that close to 40,000 pounds of nitrogen — found in treated wastewater — was being dumped into Jamaica Bay daily.
The DEP, which is responsible for the four wastewater treatment plants that empty into the lagoon, has agreed to work with the Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection taskforce to create a comprehensive solution.
Reducing the amount of nitrogen will be of some help to those protecting the bay, but they want more.
The Jamaica Bay EcoWatchers and the Department of Environmental Protection are working on a proposal that could help reduce nitrogen levels in the lagoon: the establishment of oyster beds.
But these beds wouldn’t be for harvest — they would serve as water filters, cleaning up to 65 gallons of water a day, according to Dan Mundy Jr. of the EcoWatchers. Mollusks are known to absorb nitrogen, preventing it from creating harmful effects.
The DEP has committed $600,000 to a project in Hendrick’s Creek, which empties into Jamaica Bay carrying discharge from one of the wastewater treatment plants. Mundy Jr. said the agency has issued a Request For Proposals and hopes to begin work this summer.
An $80,000 project proposed by the EcoWatchers and the National Parks Service will study information gathered from the DEP project in order to improve its success.
The EcoWatchers will discuss the project and seek approval during a meeting next week with various agencies, including the New York State Departments of Sanitation and Environmental Conservation, and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Significant effects of such a project would likely become evident after a self-sustaining habitat is created in the bay. It would allow oysters and other species to survive, spread and restore the bay naturally.
Full funding, time and resources for protection and restoration projects may not always be readily available, but a steady supply of support for such activities is.
Riepe said he and others passionate about reviving Jamaica Bay will continue fighting for the bay. Teamwork and dedication are what will make it happen, he said. “There’s a lot of interest, a lot of concern, and things are moving forward.”