Protecting and preserving Jamaica Bay has long been a priority of mine. With the month of May being National Wetlands Month, I am reminded of why. This beautiful and diverse resource is an asset to our community, and one that I will continue to safeguard.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) celebrated the first American Wetlands Month in 1991 to educate Americans about the value of wetlands and why they are critical to our country’s ecological, economic and social well-being. i
National Wetlands Month presents us with an excellent opportunity to learn about the vital role that wetlands play in our local environment and the important benefits they provide us with — improved water quality, reduced flood risk, and a natural habitat for fish, wildlife and plants.
In addition to their environmental benefits, wetlands help stimulate local economies. Wetlands are home to 75 percent of the fish and shellfish harvested in the United States and up to 90 percent of those caught recreationally. In addition to the fishing industry, wetlands are a critical component of many other businesses that depend on them to thrive. ii
We are fortunate enough to have a nationally recognized wetland right here in Queens. In 1972, the National Parks System designated Jamaica Bay as a wildlife refuge. Today, this 400-acre parcel of wetlands and shoreline is widely regarded as one of the most expansive bird sanctuaries in the northeast. It is also home to more than 60 species of butterflies and a wide variety of reptiles and fish.iii
I have taken several steps to ensure the safety and protection of Jamaica Bay. This past January, I worked with Senator Chuck Schumer to secure a grant of over $7 million to help restore Jamaica Bay’s Yellow Bar Hassock Island. The grant, which was provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will fund the restoration of approximately 50 acres of salt marsh habitat at Yellow Bar Hassock. This grant is vital to the communities surrounding the bay, including Howard Beach, Broad Channel and the Rockaways, as it will go a long way toward preserving the threatened natural habitat and beauty of Jamaica Bay.
In March, I sent a letter to the Port Authority asking it to seek alternative options to a proposal to expand the runway at JFK International Airport by filling in a significant portion of Jamaica Bay. Despite public opinion being against the destruction of the waterway, the idea remains on the table. I will continue to fight this expansion and do what I can to help reach a more environmentally friendly solution.
Most recently, I authored legislation that would prohibit hazardous dredging materials from being poured into Jamaica Bay to fill borrow pits (A.9871). This bill would prevent the use of sub-quality dredging material to fill borrow pits in the bay area. The federal government currently regulates the kinds of material that can be used to fill these pits in federal waters, but presently, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has no guidelines for state bodies of water like Jamaica Bay. This legislation would bar the DEC from issuing a permit allowing hazardous materials to be used when filling the Jamaica Bay borrow pits.
The EPA urges everyone to celebrate National Wetlands Month by taking action within their communities. Here are a few ideas on how you can help:
- Learn about Jamaica Bay
- This is a great time to gain an understanding about what wetlands are, where they are found and their importance to our area.
- Explore Jamaica Bay and other wetlands near you
- Visiting local wetlands is a fun and interactive way to learn, while spending time with your family and engaging in recreational activities like hiking, fishing, bird watching, photography and hunting.
- Take action to protect and restore wetlands
- Support and promote wetlands like Jamaica Bay by educating friends and neighbors in your community about the role they play.
National Wetlands Month reminds each of us that visiting Jamaica Bay, or any local wetland, is a great opportunity to learn while spending time with loved ones. We must educate ourselves on how to better protect these complex and beautiful natural resources, so that future generations may continue to reap their many benefits.