Jamaica Bay’s Environmental Heroes In The Spotlight

Littoral Society volunteers gather seeds to replant on marsh islands recently restored by the Army Corps (Source: Kirsten Luce / Narrative.ly)
Littoral Society volunteers gather seeds to replant on marsh islands recently restored by the Army Corps (Source: Kirsten Luce / Narrative.ly)

The marshes of Jamaica Bay are shrinking, but the fight to save them is well underway. Susan M. Lee of Narratively, provides an exhaustive and intriguing insight in the struggle for the local residents of Broad Channel to save the unique and beloved marshes that provide the distinct identity for their homes.

Detailing the long and rich history of the area, Lee guides you from the late 1800s when Broad Channel consisted of fishermen living in shacks off the marsh, to the city’s efforts to commercialize and expand the areas near the region. In an era long before any pro-active environmental awareness, the city imported contaminated materials to create land mass, and built airports that caused toxic runoff from airplanes to be leaked into the Bay.

The Bay, home to a plethora of exotic wildlife, is a hot spot for bird-seekers and nature lovers, but the continued assault on the environment caused by pollution has caused nearly half the marsh to disappear over a 65-year span, from 1924 to 2001. Currently the marshes are losing an average of 44 acres a year.

To fight the extinction of the marsh, and its wildlife, Lee charts the community wide effort spearheaded by Dan Mundy, Sr. and his son, Dan Mundy, Jr. The Mundy’s, both firefighters by trade, lead volunteers on missions to gather marsh seeds and replant them, in hopes they’ll take root and act as a protective net over recently restored islands. Their seed collection efforts, and the fight to keep mounds of mucky sediment in place, are much more dramatic than one might think.

“What you want to do is look for areas that are real dense,” Mundy, Jr. told the volunteers, myself among them. “You get a handful and grab it, and it takes a couple of shots to get it.” With a swift motion, he demonstrated how to use the instrument. “You don’t want anyone near you. Be careful, it’s sharp…And listen, no matter what you get, it’s gonna be a home run. Fill in the bags and throw them on my lawn.”
After signing a waiver, a dozen or so people set out to collect the seed heads as part of an ambitious project to restore two declining marsh islands in the bay. The lofty task entails recreating marshland by collecting the Spartina seed, growing the grass off-site, and ultimately planting it on Rulers Bar and Black Wall—two marshland sites where the Army Corps of Engineers has already laid some of the required 375,000 cubic yards of foundation sediment. In some places, the seeds will be planted directly into the marshland to see if they take root. They may not.

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