2006-07-14 / Front Page

Bay Researcher Finds Marsh Killer

By Patricia Hannan

A Long Island-based researcher says he may have found the smoking gun in the investigation into the rapid decline of marshes in Jamaica Bay.

While the cause of the depletion of marshes is unclear, postdoctoral researcher Dr. Alex Kolker has found a connection. Kolker, of Stony Brook's Marine Science Research Center, says it is the result of the mid-90's decision by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, to process increasing sediment in the wastewater plants at Jamaica Bay. Studies show that increased sediment caused more nitrogen inputs. The nitrogen inputs lead to the eventual deterioration, as the marshes turn to plain mud.

The entire Jamaica Bay ecosystem has declined drastically in the past decade, and Local Law 71 has been enacted to restore it, with a plan proposed by Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan Advisory Committee.

Listed in the committee's report are 15 priority recommendations that were reached in consultation with scientific experts as well as commentary from the public. Included are the best management practices and measures to conserve the ecosystem and its infrastructure, as required by Local Law 71.

The first of three challenges to Jamaica Bay is the degraded water quality. Recommendations for improvement include: upgrading the treatment plants to minimize nitrogen inputs, and ceasing all centrate processing (or at least further treatment to minimize nitrogen inputs). As Jamaica Bay Eco Watcher and Broad Channel resident Dan Mundy notes, "After ten years talk, study, pilot projects and input from numerous agencies and individuals who all agree on the problem, is this the 'smoking gun' we have been searching for?"

Also of concern to the committee is the compromised ecology within Jamaica Bay. Goals for improvement of ecology include: transferring ownership of the wetlands from the city to a designated, trustworthy public agency; extending the tidal wetlands buffer zone from 150 to 300 feet, in which coming within 300 feet of any marshland is prohibited; and filling depleted marshes with sediment and monitoring results.

The third concern remains insufficient planning and outreach, for which goals include: increasing monitoring stations in Jamaica Bay, and increasing awareness by adding a unit on Jamaica Bay watershed into schools' science and social studies curricula.

The committee noted that for local residents, Jamaica Bay serves not only for recreational purposes, but also as a means to flood and shore erosion protection. It is also home to the endangered piping plovers and over 80 fish species. For both people and animals, this restoration could not have come at a better time, as the marshes could be completely gone in as little as 20 years.

With these measures, the committee hopes to restore the wetlands back to their natural state, before urbanization took over. As Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan Advisory Committee Co-Chair Brad Sewell noted, "For too long, Jamaica Bay has been treated like a sewage dump rather than a national treasure."

For more information and to read the full report, go to http://nbii-nin.ciesin.columbia.edu/jamaicabay/jbwppac/advisorycommittee.html

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