2009-05-08 / Columnists

Rock Solid

Commentary By Vivian Rattay Carter

Don Riepe, Jamaica Bay Guardian for the American Littoral Society, displays horseshoe crabs to students at PS 47 in Broad Channel. Don Riepe, Jamaica Bay Guardian for the American Littoral Society, displays horseshoe crabs to students at PS 47 in Broad Channel. For readers who may have missed the first of this series of columns, which began on April 10, it will showcase some of the peninsula's most effective notfor profit groups. The organization I will write about today, the Northeast Chapter of the American Littoral Society, has been working for almost 25 years to maintain the beauty and cleanliness of our shorelines. Perhaps no group has done more to advance this cause. Even more importantly, the leaders of ALS have nurtured a love of the creatures and features of our marine environment for thousands of residents and visitors. Northeast Chapter of The American Littoral Society—Beach Cleanups and More!

If you are a birder or ecologist in New York City, you know Don Riepe's name. Renowned for his nature photography, he is also founder of the Northeast Chapter of the American Littoral Society and serves as Jamaica Bay Guardian. If you enjoy nature walks, you know the name Mickey "Maxwell" Cohen, as well. Don and Mickey are the heart and soul of the Northeast Chapter of the American Littoral Society. Hardly a weekend goes by that you won't find one or both of them leading a group of visitors in our local national park, the Gateway National Recreation Area. Both are former teachers. Mickey, now retired, was once the chair of the Science Department at Beach Channel High School. Don retired as administrator of Gateway's Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, and now heads up the ALS chapter.

Rockaway has a cadre of devoted fans of these walks. Gateway tries to require reservations, and limit the number of participants, but if the weather is beautiful and sunny, as it was two weeks ago on Saturday, more than 60 people may show up for a scheduled event. Mickey and Don share their expertise enthusiastically with others, and the ripple effects extend far and wide.

I fell in love with horseshoe crabs about five years ago as a novice science teacher, after I attended a walk that was timed to coincide with the annual mating season of the crabs at the May full moon. Don led this walk. I passed on my fascination with this amazing creature to my own children, to the students in my classroom, and to my New York City Teaching Fellow colleagues at Brooklyn College.

On even a cold January day, you can find Mickey and Don, clad in parkas and woolen hats, leading the annual Montauk beach walk. For those with bigger budgets and more exotic tastes, Mickey is leading two eco-tours to Tanzania this summer, and ALS has sponsored previous tours to Belize, Costa Rica, the Florida Everglades, the Galapagos Islands, and Iceland. Log on to the group's website, www.als nyc. org. There, you can view the stunning photo gallery and get a flavor for these trips.

Don and Mickey are backed up by statewide beach cleanup coordinator Barbara Cohen (married to Mickey for many decades) and Broad Channel historian Barbara Toborg, who runs the ALS office and co-edits the newsletter. When he isn't leading nature walks, Don attends meetings around the city and cruises from place to place around the bay in his boat, building osprey platforms and owl nesting boxes, coordinating marsh plantings and hauling debris out of the water. Anyone who has recently peered up in wonder at the osprey in its nest on the tall pole perched high above Cross Bay Boulevard can appreciate the efforts of our Jamaica Bay Guardian.

The ALS beach cleanup and data collection project is, unquestionably, the most sustained and effective volunteer ecology activity of the past decade in the Rockaways. A generation of schoolchildren has learned about how man-made waste ends up on our shores by participating in these ALS-sponsored activities every fall. Due to the dedicated efforts of ALS leaders and scores of volunteers who have been gathering and counting the numbers of bottles washing up on our shores, the Bigger Better Bottle Bill recently passed in the New York State Legislature, requiring collection of a nickel deposit on sales of water bottles.

A great way to learn about ALS and our marine environment is to make a reservation for a Jamaica Bay Sunset Cruise, scheduled for May 30 and June 20. These tours depart from the pier in Sheepshead Bay. Reservations for these cruises and for other worldwide eco-tours can be made by visiting www.alsnyc.org, or by calling 718-318-9344.

Comments and suggestions about this column are encouraged. To make a private comment, you may email me at: vrc@rockawave.com, or call 718-634- 4000 ext. 32. If you wish to comment publicly, feel free to use the "Add Comment" feature on the website of The Wave, www.rockawave.com, which appears at the end of each article.

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