An urban marsh’s unfinished saga
New York’s Jamaica Bay serves as a microcosm for the world’s wetland woes.
If we view cities as densely populated areas surrounded by increasingly less populated and wilder land, then New York’s Jamaica Bay wetlands present this phenomenon in reverse. The 39-square-mile saltwater marsh at the far eastern edge of Queens and Brooklyn is a piece of nature engulfed by the country’s largest metropolitan area. Since the mid-1990s, the marsh, which hosts a multitude of fish and bird species, has been disappearing at an accelerating rate.
“Something has dramatically changed,” says Dan T. Mundy, a battalion leader for the New York City Fire Department and a lifelong resident of Broad Channel, Queens, an island community in the bay. “The marsh has lost its ability to hold itself together.”
Scientists have a list of possible culprits. None – excess nutrients and the hardening of the bay’s shoreline, for example – is mutually exclusive. Indeed, the combination of several factors – what one scientist calls “a destructive synergy” – is likely behind the marsh’s degradation.
“We don’t think there’s necessarily a [single] smoking gun,” says Kim Tripp, director of the National Park Service’s Jamaica Bay Institute. “There’s basically been a snowball rolling downhill, and now it’s an avalanche.”
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