2007-08-03 / Community

Bay Marshes Rapidly Disappearing: Study

By Brian Magoolaghan

Brad Sewell, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, speaks at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. The presentation featured illustrations of marsh loss. Brad Sewell, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, speaks at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. The presentation featured illustrations of marsh loss. Almost all of the salt marshes in Jamaica Bay could die off in as little as five years if immediate action isn't taken, according to a new study released Thursday.

The study was prepared by the Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan Advisory Committee and Gateway National Recreation Area. It makes four recommendations: Expand marsh restoration projects like the one

The report calculates that the marshes, an important wildlife habitat, suffered a 67 percent loss from 1951 to 2003, but the most alarming find is that new satellite images and aerial photographs of four out of the five marshes studied show a 54-acre or 30 percent loss from 2003 to 2005 alone.

"Something has to be done, and it has to be done now," said Dan Mundy, a Broad Channel resident and founding member of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, which is largely responsible for bringing the disappearance to light and championing the cause. at Elder's Point and Big Egg marshes; immediately increase the scientific effort to find the cause of the mash loss; create a task force to address the marsh loss; and reduce nitrogen discharges into the bay.

The two suspected causes of the marsh loss, according to the study, are increased nitrogen levels and decreased sediment deposits. "The city's four sewage treatment plants discharge more than 250 million gallons of treated wastewater containing thirty to forty thousand pounds of nitrogen into the bay daily," says a written statement announcing the study's findings. "It is possible that nitrogen pollution sets off a chemical reaction whereby the salt marsh root structures fail and the islands break apart."

Another possible cause is that development along the bay's shore and borrow pit dredging could be "acting as barriers" to sediments that the marshes need to survive.

The study comes two months before the Department of Environmental Protection - the agency that runs the city's water plants - is set to release its final watershed protection plan for Jamaica Bay. Brad Sewell, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and co-chair of the committee, said that the DEP needs to take costly measures to reduce nitrogen output. But a DEP spokesperson recently told the New York Times that the link between nitrogen and the dying marshes is "very weak."

Speaking at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Contact Station Thursday, Sewell conceded that the exact cause of the marsh loss is unknown, but he said, the report should serve as "a call to immediate action."

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