Identifying and prioritizing restoration opportunties in the New York - New Jersey Harbor Estuary is no easy task. Historically, a consensus driven process has been used to nominate habitat restoration and acquisition sites. However, this format leaves a large amount of room for the interpretation of where and why habitats should qualify. A new approach, introduced by Kelly Kunert while at Duke, shows how GIS (Geographic Information Systems), and existing scientific information can be utilzed as a tool in the decision-making process. JB
“To those who know it, the Hudson River is the most beautiful, messed up, productive, ignored, and surprising piece of water on the face of the earth” (Boyle 1969). This river, which is part of the equally surprising New York-New Jersey (NY/NJ) Harbor Estuary, was once described as “clear as crystal, and as fresh as milk” (Boyle 1969). The Harbor was teeming with life; it contained an abundance of fish and 350 square miles of oyster beds. Today, the NY/NJ Harbor Estuary is seen by many to be an industrial wasteland, with degraded habitat, contaminated sediments, and polluted water. About 80 percent of the harbor’s original benthic habitat and tidal wetlands have been lost. This loss accounts for approximately 300,000 acres, or an area roughly 1.5 times the current area of New York City (Steinberg et al. 2004).
Threats to habitat in the NY/NJ Harbor Estuary are a continuing problem. Recently, plans have been developed to build a NASCAR track on valuable wetland habitat on the western shore of Staten Island (Alderson 3/9/05). While it is true that the NY/NJ Harbor has suffered severe environmental degradation due to industrial pollution, urban development, and harbor dredging, it should not be written off as a lost cause. Despite its history of environmental problems, the Harbor continues to serve as a valuable economic, ecological, and recreational resource for the region. The NY/NJ Harbor Estuary currently supports many competing uses. “It is trout stream and estuary, water supply and sewer, ship channel and shad river, playground and chamber pot. It is abused, revered, and almost always misunderstood” (Boyle 1969).
The Harbor Estuary provides habitat for a number of fish and shellfish species. It is located along the Atlantic flyway, providing feeding and resting areas for both migratory and local bird species (Adams 1998). This diverse ecological habitat also serves as one of the most heavily utilized shipping ports on the east coast of the United States. The NY/NJ Harbor watershed is located in the most densely populated region of the nation, supporting a population of over 20 million people (NY/NJ HEP 1996).
Restoring the degraded habitat of NY/NJ Harbor is important to ensure that the harbor can continue to be used as an economic, recreational, and ecological resource. The NY/NJ Harbor Estuary Program (HEP) has been working with government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the public since 1996 to protect and restore habitat (Mandarano 2004). This paper discusses the measures presently being taken by the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program to restore habitat in the harbor and explores a method to improve the scientific rigor of current restoration site selection efforts using a geographic information system (GIS).
Concern has been expressed by representatives of agencies that fund and undertake habitat restoration efforts in the harbor, that restoration site selection by the HEP is not scientifically grounded (Mandarano 2004). Incorporation of a GIS into the site selection process would serve to address this issue. Moreover, the exploration of an alternate approach to habitat restoration site selection provides the opportunity to analyze and assess the current methods.
Harbor Estuary Program Page on Report
Harbor Estuary Program Habitat Workgroup