Vision Unveiled For "Mosaic of Habitats" in the New York/New Jersey Estuary
By JoAnne Castagna, Ed.D.
While underway aboard the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's vessel Hayward, the Army Corps hosted a group of waterfront leaders, including congressional representatives and other key-decision makers from over 20 organizations, during a New York & New Jersey Harbor inspection that included traveling up the Hudson River.
"It's the 400th Anniversary of Henry Hudson's historic exploration up this great river." said Col. John R. Boulé II, the Army Corps' New York District Commander, as he addressed the group while standing on the bow of the Hayward. "Our view must have been very different from his. Years of industrialization have considerably degraded the Hudson River that's part of the New York - New Jersey Harbor Estuary," he informed the guests who were taking in the New York City skyline and steady harbor breeze.
The Army Corps' is presently helping to turn back the hands of time on the estuary. The agency hosted this event to celebrate the unveiling of an innovative comprehensive restoration plan created in collaboration with various partners with a joint focus on restoring the estuary.
Restoring the estuary will not only create a healthier environment for fish and wildlife, but it will also provide the public cleaner waters, healthier fisheries, increased flood protection, recreational opportunities, and a boost to the region's economy. "The primary goal of the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Comprehensive Restoration Plan is to develop a mosaic of habitats that provides maximum ecological and societal benefits to the region," said Lisa Baron, project manager and marine biologist with the U.S. Army Corps', New York District.
Baron along with a diverse group of technical experts and consultants with the Army Corps' New York District developed the plan as part of the Hudson Raritan Estuary Ecosystem Restoration Study with The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the project's local sponsor. The plan was prepared in collaboration with the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program and more than sixty partnering organizations, including federal, state and local agencies, non-governmental organizations and regional stakeholders.
The overall plan is unique in that these agencies are presently leveraging their funds and forces in an effort to reduce redundancy, become more efficient and save tax payers a considerable amount of money. It will also serve as a master guide and framework for all restoration efforts throughout the estuary. The plan involves many partners because the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary spans 1,600 square miles across New York and New Jersey. An estuary is the area where the fresh waters of a river meet the salt water of the sea. The New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary includes not only the harbor, but also rivers, wetlands, coastlines and open waters and is located within a complex ecological system within a metropolitan region with a population of 20 million people.
The plan's boundary covers a large region of the estuary, which is a 25-mile radius around the Statue of Liberty National Monument. "To perform restoration work in the estuary, the plan divides the estuary into eight regional areas associated with specific watersheds," said Peter Weppler, Chief of the Army Corps' New York District Coastal Ecosystem Section, who assisted in developing the plan. He is also a biologist with an extensive background in ecological investigations.
These eight regional areas are delineated on the regional areas map that accompanies this article. The plan includes 11 priority targets for restoration, recognized as Target Ecosystem Characteristics. These Characteristics include methods to restore and create habitats, ensure these habitats live in harmony and with the surrounding urban infrastructure, and to ensure the estuary is safe and accessible to the millions of estuary residents and visitors.
Baron continued, "We live in an urban environment where there are lots of hardened surfaces and surface water runoff." Surface water runoff is water, from rain, snowmelt, or other sources that flows from the land surface into water ways, which can bring with it contaminants from the land. Wetlands filter and detoxify our water by catching contaminated sediments in the water.
"Wetlands are also nature's sponges and act as shoreline barriers and stabilizers. They diminish wave impact, reduce erosion and provide a buffer from flooding for our coastal areas and the communities living there," said Jodi McDonald, Chief of the Army Corps' New York District Ecosystem Restoration and Flood Risk Management Section, who is also a marine biologist responsible for developing the reports that justify the Army Corps involvement in performing the restoration opportunities presented in the plan. The plan has identified over 26,000 acres of wetlands throughout the estuary that is suitable for coastal wetlands creation and restoration.
These reefs provide nooks and crannies and potential nursery grounds for other species because they provide hiding places, feeding grounds, and egg attachment sites for many species. Shellfish also improve water quality. As shellfish feed, they filter sediment from the water and improve water clarity. They filter out about 50 gallons of water every day. They act like a filtration unit in your pool or aquarium at home.
Islands for Waterbirds
Coastal and Maritime Forests
Over the years, the estuary's 1,000 miles of natural shorelines have been replaced with piers, docks, and bulkheads. These structures destroyed the naturally sloped shorelines that transitions from shallow to deep water needed by fish and sea life to thrive. The plan suggests replacing abandoned piers with naturally sloped shorelines and creating new piers and other shore structures that will be designed in a way to have less of an impact on the natural shoreline and foster habitat complexity.
Regional fish, crabs and lobsters, such as the American lobster, blue crab and striped bass, require many different habitats to breed, raise their young and to develop into full maturity. To provide these diverse habitats, the plan suggests connecting and creating a mosaic of habitats, including oyster reefs, eelgrass beds and tidal marsh habitats, wherever possible throughout the estuary.
Habitat Support Structures
The plan recommends removing unnecessary barriers and reconstructing others to include such things as fish ladders that can connect upstream habitats with the rest of the estuary. In addition, dams that currently don't allow fish passage could be reconstructed to do so. In some areas of the estuary bodies of water are isolated or enclosed, such as dead-end canals. Often these areas collect pollution discharge and storm water runoff, resulting in water that is polluted, stagnant, contains sparse vegetation, has low species diversity and emits noxious odors.
Health and Societal Values
Increasing and improving public access throughout the estuary is also a goal of the plan. "Although not a prime Corps mission, the improvement of public access is of the utmost importance to the region," said Baron. "Our hope is to enable everyone in the region to be able to reach the estuary in a 20-minute walk or by public transportation." The public will be able to once again enjoy boating, swimming, fishing, walking and biking along a scenic waterfront.
First of its Kind
The plan is a living document. Presently, the plan's partners have identified 296 habitat restoration opportunities and 436 public access opportunities. These numbers will increase as more opportunities are identified by the team and nominated by the stakeholders. The partners are also holding extensive public outreach events and are using feedback from these meetings to revise the plan as needed.
Just some of the plan's short and long-term goals include creating 1,200 acres of coastal wetlands by the year 2015 and 15,200 by 2050; enhancing four or more islands for water- birds by 2015 and all islands by 2050; creating or restoring 250 acres of coastal and maritime forest by 2015 and 1,000 by 2050; and creating 500 acres of oyster reefs habitats by 2015 and 5,000 by 2050.
The New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Comprehensive Restoration Plan was launched to become the blueprint for the region to move estuary restoration forward in the future. "The team is already achieving the plan's restoration goals," said Weppler. "Salt marshes are being created within some of the estuary's regional areas. This is tangible evidence towards fulfilling our vision of a restored estuary."
To learn more about the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Comprehensive Restoration Plan and how you or your agency can get involved, please visit www.TheWatersWeShare.org . Specific questions can be sent to Lisa Baron, Lisa.A.Baron@usace.army.mil
Dr. JoAnne Castagna is a technical writer-editor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District. She can be reached at email@example.com
revised 7 July 2011
With the skyline of Manhattan in the background, Col. John R. Boulé II, Commander of the Army Corps' New York District addresses a group of waterfront leaders aboard the Army Corps' vessel HAYWARD in the Harbor.
Waterfront leaders and Army Corps personnel assemble on the deck of the Corps vessel HAYWARD for a group photograph near the Statue of Liberty National Monument.