2003-07-11 / Community

Dying Marshes Get Life Support At Last

By Elizabeth Roth
Dying Marshes Get Life Support At Last By Elizabeth Roth

A large hole in the marshes where the program is planned.A large hole in the marshes where the program is planned.

The marshes on Jamaica Bay are not something the average resident of Rockaway thinks about much. They are just there, like the tides, or seagulls, or the skyline. But the marshes on Jamaica Bay are disappearing. They may be gone entirely inside of twenty-five years. It does not sound like something that could affect life in Rockaway beyond visuals- but the experts agree that it will, in many ways. So the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, who have been fighting for recognition of the problems for over 6 years, and Gateway Park Service are pioneering a new program aimed at keeping the marshes alive.

One of the main causes of the marsh’s erosion is loss of soil. "Most people think the main cause of it is the inability of sediment to keep up with the tides. The marshes are drowning." explains Don Riepe, an advocate for the American Litoral Society. The erosion of the ground in which the marsh grasses grow will uproot them. That will increase water movement, which will result in waves that could easily increase flooding all over the Peninsula. It is also a major habitat for fish and birds. In fact according to Dan Mundy, president of the Ecowatchers, the area, as far as natural resources go, is equal to the rainforest in production levels. So with the use of some federal spraying equipment, is spraying replacement sediment onto sections of the marsh, to see if it works as a method of replacing the lost acreage. If it does, the program will be extended to larger portions of land. If it doesn’t, they will scrap it and try something else. But something certainly needs to happen and fast.

"It’s like a cancer" Mundy says. "starting on the inside and working its way out and all of this is just going to rot away." It was Mundy, with his friends and associates who boat around the bay, who started raising the alarm around late 1996. They had noticed the reducing marsh, but it took a surprisingly long time to convince the authorities with the money to do something about it. They formed the Ecowatchers, and had to follow around assorted state and environmental agencies with pictures and color-coded maps for years before anyone would even admit there was a problem. Mundy is still fighting to get core samples, which he describes as sort of an autopsy for the marsh, taken to explore the causes in further depth. Until that happens, or the experiment starts to show results, the only thing to do is wait and see.

Mundy points at a different hole in his waters.Mundy points at a different hole in his waters.

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