Jamaica Bay cruise shows beauty, highlights environmental fragility

The sun setting over Jamaica Bay during Saturday's cruise.
THE COURIER/Photo by Ryan Haas


Dozens enjoyed a special cruise along Jamaica Bay on Saturday to take in its natural beauty while also learning more about the environmental risks it faces.

The Golden Sunshine launched from Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn and journeyed into the waterway bordering Brooklyn and Queens, with nearly 100 naturists, birdwatchers and locals aboard. Part of the Gateway National Recreational Area, Jamaica Bay is home to more than 300 species of bird and 100 kinds of fish.

Although some boarded just for a 3-hour getaway from yellow taxis and honking horns, the focal point behind the cruise was to spread awareness of the pollution dilemma within the bay’s waters.

Renowned naturalists Don Riepe and Mickey Cohen narrated the guide, providing those on board with a wealth of knowledge on what the bay has to offer its wildlife and fellow New Yorkers.

“Jamaica Bay is a great urban resource,” Riepe said. “It’s an amazing wildlife resource and a great recreational area, but it’s in a transitional period right now. Our main goal is to try to clean up the bay and restore the marshes as best as we can, which we’re doing now in the western part of the bay. We’ve got hundreds of volunteers, and we’re working with volunteer agencies to figure out what marsh should be next on the agenda.”

Riepe went on to explain how the bay is “unswimmable,” claiming there to be an enormous amount of pollutants, such as pesticides and heavy metals in the water. He stressed that eating fish caught out of the bay was even riskier.

“You would definitely have to peel the skin, since that’s where the heavy metals build up in the fish,” he said.

In addition to the marsh cleanups, shorelines are looking to get overhauls in the near future as well. One hundred beaches throughout New York State are slated for cleanups this season, 12 of which surround Jamaica Bay.

Among those who spent their Saturday afternoon aboard the cruise ship were Stephanie Goldstone and Mona Haas, who came out to support the movement to clean the waters of Jamaica Bay and restore its marshes.

“It’s a lovely way to spend a fall afternoon,” Goldstone said regarding the cruise. “Taking care of this national park and oasis is essential. My husband and I have been coming here for more than 30 years to birdwatch, and I think anything that can be done, should be done.”

Haas, who visited Jamaica Bay for the first time on Saturday, echoed Goldstein’s comments.

“I’m not necessarily a big birdwatcher, but I’m very conscious about our economy,” she said, “and I think if you take care of our environment, even if it’s just cleaning up our waters, it will go a long way.”

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