From the Gotham Gazette:
The largest urban wildlife preserve in the United States sits adjacent to Kennedy Airport, near the high-rise apartments of Starrett City and the Rockaway housing projects. Home to the peregrine falcon, the loggerhead sea turtle, the short-eared owl, the area -- Jamaica Bay -- at the intersection of Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island, serves as a stopover for 20 percent of American bird species on their annual migration along the East Coast.
For years, though, this estuary, a shallow marsh where fresh and saltwater meet, has been vanishing into the toxic waters of the New York City harbor, losing an estimated 33 acres annually to deterioration, nitrogen buildup and rising sea levels. Spanning some 16,000 acres about a century ago, the salt march islands have shrunk to a mere 800 acres. Thought not nearly as dramatic as the environmental catastrophe now confronting the Louisiana coast, the threat to Jamaica Bay could completely destroy the marsh by 2024, decimating the home for an abundance of rare and endangered plants and animals.
Now, the federal state and city governments, prodded by citizen's groups, have stepped up their efforts to preserve the area. This year, government and private groups collaborated to update the Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan to try to avert disaster in the urban refuge. Whether government will keep its commitment and whether its actions can reverse the decades of deterioration remains to be seen.
Oyster gardening is still in the beginnings stages of a two-year experiment that will determine whether they will benefit the bay's condition. The next several years will be critical to see if the oysters can once again thrive in the estuary as part of a recovering environment and if the marshes can once again shelter and nourish an authentic mix of native New Yorkers.