Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Conserving our Coasts and Waterfronts: The New York - New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program

As part of the CMRC's Harbor Bight Policy Initiative, we will be exploring the programs and people involved of the conservation and restoration our coasts and waterfronts and updating their latest activities. The list of the “keepers” of our shores includes a wide array of entities such as government agencies, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, community-based organizations, businesses and even individuals. The eventual goal of this effort is to create an interactive catalog of activities, updated on an annual basis, that highlights the entities that are involved with minding our shores. The first installation of this effort explores one of our regions major conservation programs, the New York - New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program. JB

Stretching from the Tappan Zee Bridge to the Mouth of the Atlantic Ocean, the New York - Jersey Harbor Estuary is a highly valuable coastal ecosystem located in one of the most populated places on earth. The Harbor Estuary includes waterways such as the Lower and Upper New York Harbor, Raritan Bay, the Arthur and Kill van Kulls, portions of the Long Island Sound and Hudson River, and the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers in New Jersey.

An estuary is an area where salt and fresh water mix, and within the Harbor Estuary salinities (a measure of saltiness) vary as one moves closer to, or further from, the Atlantic Ocean. This in turn creates a multitude of habitats that have historically attracted numerous animal and fish species, and subsequently humans, to its shores. The amount of coastline in the Harbor Estuary is truly amazing, as the region includes hundreds of miles of natural shoreline, but unfortunately much of the ecosystem has been significantly impacted by human development. Home to miles of urban waterfront, the Harbor Estuary is constantly facing the pressures of development and pollution.

In 1987, the National Estuary Program, a Federal Program established by Congress to protect and restore our nation’s estuarine ecosystems, was created. The Program quickly identified the New York - New Jersey Harbor Estuary as an "Estuary of National Significance" the following year. Thus the Harbor Estuary Program, or HEP as it is often referred to, was born. Over the next decade the program created with the assistance of its many partners its Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP). Completed in 1997, the CCMP outlined the environmental challenges in the ecosystem and created an implementation plan for solving those issues.

In 2004, HEP created a list of Targets and Goals, inspired by the Chesapeake Bay Program, that outlined focus areas for the next decade of the program. The following Goals were identified as important to the long-term health of the ecosystem:

Goal 1 - Fishing and Swimming: All of the Harbor waters will meet the Fishable/Swimmable goal of the Clean Water Act.

Goal 2 - Habitat and Ecological Health: Preserve, manage, and enhance the Estuary’s vital habitat, ecological function, and biodiversity so that the Harbor is a system of diverse natural communities.

Goal 3 - Public Access: Ensure that all residents in the core area of the Harbor have a public waterfront access site within thirty minutes of their home for boating, fishing, swimming and/or waterfront leisure (e.g. walking, bird watching, and picnicking), without harming important habitat areas.

Goal 4 - Clean Sediment and Navigation: The Port of New York and New Jersey will be an integral and complementary part of the world-class NY-NJ Harbor Estuary, that is environmentally sustainable, economically efficient, and safe for commercial and recreational navigation.

Goal 5 - Stewardship: Everyone who lives or works in the Estuary watershed acts a steward for the ecosystem.

Another major component to the Targets and Goals was the creation of very specific targets to achieve the five goals mentioned above. A series of well developed targets very clearly outline the steps that are needed to improve ecosystem health and community access and involvement.

In order to implement the CCMP, Targets and Goals, and other efforts, HEP works through a collaborative process of workgroups and committees. The Policy and Management Committees are key decision-makers in the Program and each is composed of several agency representatives as well as members of the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) and Science and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC). Several other more "focused" workgroups and committees works on specific issues that include Habitat, Nutrients, Toxics, Sediment/Navigation, and Pathogens. The Citizens Advisory Committee is the final piece of the puzzle and is the link between community-based organizations and individuals to the program.

To date, HEP has been able to make major strides in the conservation and restoration of the ecosystem. Hundreds of acres of coastal habitat have been either
acquired or restored through the Habitat Workgroup while water quality has improved due to the hard work of several partners of the Program. However, the limited budget of the Program, as well as the time constraints of partners involved in the effort, have limited the potential impact HEP is capable of. As a result, several non-profit organizations, such as the CMRC and Hudson River Foundation, have set out to find additional resources for the implementation of HEP’s Targets and Goals. Only with adequate resource will the amazing natural resources of the Harbor Estuary thrive and be enjoyed by all of its residents.

The best way to get involved with the Harbor Estuary Program is to attend a CAC or Habitat Workgroup meeting. Please view their respective webpages (listed below) and signup for their list-servs that constantly update recipients of the latest news and events in the Harbor Estuary. If you have additional questions, please email the CMRC at

For More Information:

The New York - New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program

Google Map of the New York - New Jersey Harbor Estuary

HEP Citizens Advisory Committee

HEP Habitat Workgroup

HEP Targets and Goals

Estuary Related Links

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