In recent weeks, Broad Channel residents have noticed floating lights out in Jamaica Bay in the wee hours of the morning that they recognize as the sign of a wildlife menace: poachers.
On Wednesday night United States Park Police responded to a group of poachers on Terrapin Point, an area south of West Pond in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, and issued 20 summonses to two individuals who were gathering turtles, according to Dan Mundy Jr., of Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers.
“We think there’s a big commercial market with this that’s going on because of the volume of people we’re seeing. Some nights there’s 40 or 50 people just in this one location,” Mundy told the Chronicle.
Mundy said that in recent weeks, he’s been inundated with calls and texts from Broad Channel residents who have a perfect vantage point to spot the late-night poachers searching for horseshoe crabs, turtles and clams in the marshy areas around the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. All of those species are protected in the park.
The illegal activity though is not limited to the wildlife refuge. Last summer environmentalists raised alarms that droves of people were illegally harvesting buckets of clams from the southeast side of the North Channel parking lot along the Joseph P. Addabbo Bridge for what also appeared to be commercial purposes — an activity banned in Jamaica Bay since the ’60s due to pollution.
Around Terrapin Point near the wildlife preserve, all the activity happens between roughly 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. when the low tide exposes the mudflats bringing all the critters to the surface — everything from eels, crabs, horseshoe crabs and turtles, according to Mundy.
According to Mundy, and other environmentalists last summer, the poaching has gotten worse over the past year, starting when New Yorkers were locked down during the pandemic. Mundy plans on asking for a concerted response to the problem by coordinating the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the National Park Service and perhaps the NYPD to provide a helicopter.
“I think the big challenge going forward is to get these agencies to come out, not on a once-in-a-while basis, but to really let [their presence] be known. Our position is if you’re out here at three in the morning, you know you’re up to no good,” said Mundy.
An NPS spokesperson said she had asked park police for information about the bust but not yet received any as of last Friday.
“Poaching is a serious matter, and we are working to address recent reported incidents with increased patrols. Visitors should call U.S. Park Police Dispatch immediately at (718) 354-4700 if they see anything suspicious,” said Daphne Yun of the NPS.