2007-10-26 / Community

DEC 'A-Team'To Return To Jamaica Bay

Ateam comprised of nearly a dozen experts from the Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) Division of Water, Bureau of Marine Resources, and Legal Counsel has been created to address the rapid loss of Jamaica Bay, DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis announced today. The team is tasked with developing long-term water quality and ecological strategies for Jamaica Bay, Queens County.

"Jamaica Bay marsh lands are an invaluable natural resource and wildlife habitat for New York State, and they are in jeopardy," said Commissioner Grannis. "The deteriorating condition of the wetlands calls for us to utilize the expertise and significant research backgrounds of Department staff to address this threat. This team will be dedicated to accelerating a clear plan of action to deter further loss of marsh lands and improve water quality."

Jamaica Bay serves as a premier habitat for over 300 different species of birds and 100 species of fish, while offering a broad range of recreational opportunities including fishing, birding, and boating. The wetlands and surrounding areas in Jamaica Bay provide invaluable natural functions for habitat, marine research, pollutant reduction, and flood control protection. The Bay's setting in the midst of an urban environment also serves as an important asset to the community and residents in the area, providing them with the opportunity to learn about tidal wetlands and their value to the area.

Studies have shown significant losses of vegetated tidal wetlands, principally Spartina alterniflora (Intertidal Marsh), in the marsh islands of Jamaica Bay. The examination of historic maps shows that between 1857 and 1924, the intertidal marsh islands area varied in size, with average changes of up to 10 acres per year. During periods of significant storms, there were losses of marsh islands, but in the years where there were not major storms, the marsh islands were able to rebuild.

Since 1974, studies show that the rate of loss of intertidal marsh islands is accelerating. Between 1974 and 1994, 526 acres of marsh islands were lost - an average rate of 26 acres per year. Between 1994 and 1999, 220 acres were lost - an average rate of 44 acres per year.

While data details the accelerating loss of intertidal marshlands is occurring in Jamaica Bay, the reasons are not fully understood and are the subject of further research. Potential contributing factors include sediment disruption, sea level rise, dredging, wave energy, erosion, inlet stabilization and mussel dams on the marshes. High levels of nutrients from the four sewage treatment plants and polluted runoff from city streets are also strongly suspected of causing marshland loss. Many areas of the interior portions of the marsh appear to be at a lower elevation and water logged, soft and compressed rather than "spongy" like healthy marshes.

The objective of the DEC response team is to look at the potential causes of vegetation loss and outline goals, recommendations and actions to address this threat and protect the remaining tidal marsh from further loss, while improving the marine environment. Long-term marsh restoration will be a central focus of the response team.

"Understanding the causes of marsh loss in Jamaica Bay, and developing an effective response program, will require consideration of ecological, engineering, political and social issues," said team member Stephen Zahn, DEC Marine Resources Program Manager. "The team-based approach provides the multi-discipline resources needed to fully address the situation."

As part of the action plan, DEC's team of experts will conduct a complete review of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Jamaica Bay Comprehensive Report developed pursuant to a judgment with the state, and work with DEP on an agreement and course of action to take with the plan. DEC's team will work actively with the many concerned citizens and civic organizations on this effort. The team will develop proposed final nitrogen effluent limits for Jamaica Bay and permit variances for sewage treatment plants that discharge into Jamaica Bay, in an effort to achieve dissolved oxygen and ammonia levels throughout the Bay for habitat protection and survival.

The team will outline the actions needed to address the marsh loss that may be, in whole or in part, caused by nutrient nitrogen discharges. The DEC team will also be evaluating compliance with water quality standards that, in turn, may heighten programs for sewage treatment plants, wetlands and habitat restoration. DEC will continue to support research on the causes of Jamaica Bay tidal marsh loss and evaluate interim measures to protect the remaining marsh.

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