Could NYC's Saltwater Marshes Disappear Within the Next Five Years?

According to a new study released yesterday, the saltwater marsh islands located near the John F. Kennedy airport in New York City could vanish within the next five years due to environmental degradation caused by the increased dumping of treated sewage. The city's Department of Environmental Protection had previously estimated that the islands of Jamaica Bay — the wildlife-rich marshes — would disappear by 2024; this new study moves up the date 12 years to 2012.

Home to more than 80 fish species, the islands of Jamaica Bay also serve as a resting stop for almost 20% of North America's migratory birds and provide flood protection for the city. Over time, what has happened is that as the tidal creeks on the islands have been expanding, the vegetated areas — first turning into mud flats and then sand flats — have been slowly disappearing. From 1924 to 1999 the bay lost close to half of its tidal wetlands, with recent losses — from 2003 to 2005 — accelerating at an even faster clip. The Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan Advisory Committee, which conducted the study, believes the culprit is the high nitrogen content of the treated sewage. Some officials with the Department of Environmental Protection have disputed that hypothesis, laying more of the blame on expanding coastal development and dredging — which has cut off much of the sediment that once fed the marshes.

Though there may still be some debate within the department and between the different advisory committees, what is clear is that more needs to be done immediately to protect these vulnerable marshes. Even if nitrogen isn't the main culprit, it's a no-brainer that the unregulated dumping of treated sewage should be stopped and that measures should be taken to ensure to curtail the continued coastal development and dredging of the marshes. Losing them could result in a future flooding disaster or worse. The situation may not be as bleak as this latest study positions, but it's bad enough that we should take action now.

Via ::Reuters: Study Shows New York Marshes Vanishing Fast (news website)

See also: ::Iraq's Marshland Still Not Safe, ::Eco-Tourism at the Iberá Marsh in Corrientes, Argentina
Image courtesy of Pro_Zak via flickr

Tags: Biodiversity | New York City | Pollution

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