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News: Marsh restoration has wildlife’s ‘seal’ of approval

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Yellow Bar Hassock marsh island JoAnne Castagna

A photo of Panorama of Yellow Bar Hassock marsh.

NEW YORK — As construction workers maneuver bulldozers and spread sand to restore the degrading marsh island, Yellow Bar Hassock in Jamaica Bay, N.Y., their work is being closely observed by an area resident.

“For the past few months we’ve seen him on the site. He just keeps doing his thing,” said Melissa Alvarez, a Senior Project Biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District.

The resident Alvarez is referring to is a Harbor Seal who has been seen lying on the dredge pipeline that is delivering the sand and sunning himself as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers performs its work. “I find it so amazing every time we construct one of these island projects how quickly wildlife will use this area.”

This has been the case with the prior marsh islands the Army corps has restored in Jamaica Bay and is showing to be the case with Yellow Bar Hassock that was completed by this summer.

Yellow Bar Hassock is part of a marsh island complex located within the 26-square mile Jamaica Bay Park and Wildlife Refuge that was the country’s first national urban park and one of the Gateway National Recreation Areas.

The refuge is located in an urban area that includes portions of Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau Counties, N.Y. The area’s shorelines are boarded by heavily developed lands including John F. Kennedy International Airport, the Belt Parkway and several landfills.

For over the past century, the Jamaica Bay marsh islands have been disappearing at a rapid rate. Since 1924 nearly 80 percent of the islands have disappeared. They are disappearing at a rate of approximately 44 acres per year and more in the last decade.

It's believed that a great deal of this degradation is due to regional urbanization.

If something is not done to stop this loss, it’s estimated that the marsh islands could vanish by 2025, leaving wildlife homeless and threatening the bay’s shoreline.

According to Alvarez, a certified professional wetlands scientist, maintaining the health of these marsh islands is critical to the wellbeing of wildlife and the 20 million people that live and work in this urban region.

"The marsh islands are home for a variety of wildlife, including fish and shellfish which are an important food source for birds and help improve water quality by removing things like nitrogen and phosphates," said Alvarez.

She continued, “These islands also serve as flood protection and shoreline erosion control for the bay’s surrounding homes and businesses. They dissipate wave energy, minimize storm surge and provide flood risk reduction benefits.”

For the public, this means less erosion to personal property, more species available for recreational fisheries, better water quality, and preservation of the Gateway National Recreation Area that is visited by millions of people each year.

For the past decade, the Army corps in partnership with other agencies has restored 180-acres of marsh in Jamaica Bay, including Elders East and Elders West marsh islands and Gerritsen Creek.

The Army corps is working with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, National Park Service (Gateway), New York City Department of Environmental Protection, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, National Resources Conservation Service, and the New York/New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program.

To restore Yellow Bar Hassock marsh island, 375,000 cubic yards of dredged sand was pumped on the island and shaped to simulate the proper elevations of a marsh island. This work added an additional 42 acres to the degraded island, restoring it to a 156-acre habitat.

The sand placed on the island was dredged and beneficially used from the Ambrose Channel, part of the Army corps’ New York/New Jersey Harbor Deepening Project. In the past, this sand would have been dumped into the ocean, so this program is a win-win for the environment and taxpayers.

They then planted seed on nearly 30 acres of marsh. The team collected the seed from within Jamaica Bay.

The low marsh areas were seeded with smooth cordgrass. This plant is a natural anchor for the marsh sediment and can tolerate salt and low tides. In the high elevations of the marsh they planted over 100,000 2-inch plugs of saltmarsh meadow grass and spikegrass. These plants are less tolerant of salt, but endure the salt water during the moon high tides. These plants were also collected within Jamaica Bay.

Before the sand was placed, the team removed 11,000 hummocks from the marsh island’s low lying areas. Hummocks are mounds of terrain and vegetation above ground that are often made from decaying plants. In this case, they’re made up of native smooth cordgrass.

The team stored the hummocks in fenced off areas on the project site and after the sand was placed on the island they transplanted them onto the new areas of higher elevation.

Hummocks are a natural anchor for the marsh sediment because they are part of the historic marsh which are already matured and will fill in to stabilize the island.

Lisa Baron, Project Manager, U.S. Army corps of Engineers, New York District added, “The other marsh islands we restored look incredibly vibrant and healthy. One could only hope that’s the way the other marsh islands will end up, including Black Wall and Rulers Bar Hassock marsh islands that the Army corps is going to begin working on in August.”

Yellow Bar Hassock is already beginning to look good. Alvarez says that she’s spotted Horseshoe crabs laying eggs on the island. Horseshoe crabs haven’t been seen in the area and just a year ago this island wasn’t suitable for them because it was a barren mudflat. Alvarez said, “The old adage of ‘Build it and they will come’ suits Jamaica Bay’s islands and specifically Yellow Bar Hassock very well.”

Connected Media
One of the 11,000 hummocks that were transplanted into...
ImagesMelissa Alvarez,...
Project Biologist’s Alvarez inspecting the sand...
ImagesHummock removal
Project Stakeholder from the New York State Department...
ImagesSand leveling
The sand is being leveled by a bull dozer and being...
ImagesPump out barge and...
A photo of the pump out barge and pipeline. (Photo by...
Images'Resident' Harbor Seal
A photo of the ‘resident’ Harbor Seal. (Photo by...
ImagesRe-planting the hummocks
This is a Burke Environmental employee, a contractor...
ImagesRemoval of hummock plants
This machine is "plucking out" the hummock/transplant to...
ImagesYellow Bar Hassock...
A photo of Yellow Bar Hassock marsh island with the...
ImagesYellow Bar Hassock...
A photo of Panorama of Yellow Bar Hassock marsh.

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Public Domain Mark
This work, Marsh restoration has wildlife’s ‘seal’ of approval, by JoAnne Castagna, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.

Date Taken:06.21.2012

Date Posted:06.21.2012 12:28

Location:NY, US

More Like This

  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District has awarded two separate contracts to conduct restoration of Yellow Bar Hassock Marsh Island in Jamaica Bay, N.Y. As part of the Ambrose Channel 3B Harbor Deepening Contract, a $9,937,500 option was awarded to Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company to place sand at Yellow Bar, while a $7,293,547.50 contract was recently awarded to Village Dock, Inc., a small business of Port Jefferson, N.Y. for the marsh construction at Yellow Bar Hassock Marsh Island.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District awarded a $3,410,000 contract on March 23 to restore Black Wall and Rulers Bar Marsh Islands in Jamaica Bay, N.Y.
  • Today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York District and its partners received the Coastal America Spirit Award for the Salt Marsh Islands restoration project in Jamaica Bay, N.Y.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of placing more than 26 million cubic yards of sand along the coastline throughout the northeastern United States to repair and restore coastal storm risk reduction projects previously built by the Corps that were severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy. The bulk of the sand, roughly 23 million cubic yards, will be placed in New York and New Jersey, but sand will also be used to restore previously constructed projects in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.


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