Over 80 different species of fish live in a 25,000 acre tidal estuary surrounded by concrete and asphalt virtually in the heart of New York City. Bordered by Brooklyn, Queens and Nassau County, Jamaica Bay is becoming a reclaimed salt marsh, tidal flat, and open water bay. Suffering from years of abuse from dredging, construction, landfill, sewage and just about any other negative impact you can think of, the bay may be on the road to recovery.
Efforts by the City of New York, New York State, the National Park Service, The US Fish & Wildlife Service and several local environmental groups are setting the stage for a cleaner more productive body of water.
The Bay is already home to many fish species like winter flounder, scup, tautog, bluefish, striped bass, American eel, American shad, blueback herring, Atlantic menhaden, summer flounder, weakfish, black sea bass, Atlantic sturgeon and many others. A cleaner, healthier bay will only mean an increase in these and other important fishes.
Other wildlife also depends on this bay and the winter can see thousands of wintering waterfowl like greater and lesser scaup, snow geese, widgeon, mallard, black ducks, northern shoveler, canvasback, pintail and others using the bay. Each year exotic visitors include waterfowl like Eurasian widgeon.
The uplands and islands in the bay are frequented by osprey, herons, egret, peregrine falcons and several varieties of shorebirds including the endangered roseate tern. Many shorebirds are attracted to the bay in the spring due to its population of horseshoe crabs. The eggs from the crabs are an important part of the breeding birds diet.
Recently oysters have been reintroduced to Jamaica Bay to join in with the already present quahog, soft shell clam, and blue mussels to aid in filtration of the nutrient overloaded water. These nutrients get in the bay from runoff and sewage treatment plants. Keep in mind that the bay is surrounded by residential and commercial development including John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The negative impact of a nutrient overload are extensive phytoplankton blooms in the summer which cause oxygen depletion on the bottom layers of the water column. This coupled with the fact that seventy-five percent of the bays original wetlands have been filled in while other areas have been dredged both for navigation channels and to provide fill for development make restoration of a high water quality an ongoing challenge.
This bay is not just an important waterway for New York City, but is also important to the entire Atlantic coast. Jamaica Bay is the turning point between the east/west direction of the New England coast and the north/south direction of the mid-Atlantic coast. It is an important stopover for migrating fish and birds and also an important breeding ground and nursery.
Let’s hope the work in the bay continues to be successful and this once fertile and abundant habitat can again be as fruitful as it was in the past.