Preserve ecosystem of Jamaica Bay for everyone’s enjoyment

JoAnne Castagna Our Water Ways

Recently, I went fishing for the first time in my life. The experience was enjoyable because it was a new adventure and I was doing it near my home, on the pier in Jamaica Bay Gateway National Recreation Area, a park visited by millions of people each year.

It was a Friday afternoon after work and my friend persuaded me to join him for some night fishing. I was tired from my long day, but mustered the energy and helped pack poles and fish bait.

Night fishing turned out to be entertaining. I witnessed parents with their children netting schools of tiny silver fish and pouring them into buckets. The children gazed at them wide-eyed as if they were silver coins from a sunken ship.

As this was occurring, the bellies of aircraft flying overhead brought in a breeze as they glided into nearby John F. Kennedy International Airport. I witnessed all of this while minding a large bluefish my friend caught early that evening.

Before I knew it, my wristwatch read 4 a.m. The next day, I enjoyed the breaded and lightly seasoned blue for lunch. As I removed the fish's bones, I thought about how this fish was swimming offshore hours ago. It also got me thinking of how clean our waters are and how much cleaner they have become in recent years.

I am aware of one project keeping Jamaica Bay's water and environment healthy. Federal, state and local agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, have been successfully restoring salt marsh islands in Jamaica Bay.

According to Corps sources, maintaining these islands' health is important because they clean the water environment, reduce flood risks and sustain wildlife, such as fish and migratory birds.

Since colonial times, around 90 percent of Jamaica Bay's salt marsh islands have disappeared and experienced habitat loss due to years of commercial construction and development along the shore, increased boat traffic, etc.

The remaining islands are disappearing at a rate of 44 acres per year, faster in the last decade. If these islands are not restored, they will be completely lost within the next three decades.

One of these salt marsh islands is Elders Point Island — just a fishing pole line's throw from where I went fishing. Elders Point Island is made up of two separate islands connected by muddy land: Elders East and Elders West.

In 2006, Elders East was built back up. The Corps took dredged sand from our harbor channels and placed it on the island, then hand-planted vegetation, including salt marsh cordgrass and salt hay. Today, you can see wildlife, such as migratory birds, returning to the island.

Elders West is to receive the same restoration, according to Corps officials. Early this winter, the island will receive sand and next spring will be planted with vegetation.

After my new fishing experience and hearing about the successful work that's being performed in Jamaica Bay, I am certain to be back at Gateway for summers to come and have even better fish tales to tell.

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