A few weeks ago, your intrepid NYER reporters laced up our hiking boots and headed to southeast Brooklyn for an outdoor event hosted by the Natural Areas Conservancy.
When we arrived at the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park, we knew we were in for a treat. A cool, salty breeze ruffled our hair, even as the hot summer sun blazed down from a cloudless sky. It felt as though we’d left the city entirely.
Steve Handel, director of the Center for Urban Restoration Ecology at Rutgers and advisory board member for the NAC, welcomed our group to the park and reminded us of the vital role nature plays in our increasingly urban world.
In addition to providing beauty and recreation, nature supplies us with ecological services: “clean air, clean ground water, pollinators,” Handel observed.
And in New York City, the place where people and nature intersect most readily is its parks.
Mitchell Silver, the City’s newest Parks Commissioner, emphasized to our group that parks serve all living creatures and maintain urban health. “In a city, open space and density go hand-in-hand,” he stated.
Marine Park surrounds the westernmost inlet of Jamaica Bay, and is a rich labyrinth of grasslands, salt marshes, inlets, and tidal pools. The NAC is conducting a detailed survey of the plants and animals found here in order to develop an “inventory” of Marine Park’s biodiversity—and provide important clues about the health of the ecosystem.
In fact, the NAC is surveying forests and wetlands in all boroughs of the city. The group says they have identified 25 “priority” salt marsh sites across the city for restoration, more than 100 acres in all.
The timing of this work is critical. Climate change threatens many of our native plants and animals—one researcher noted that New York City has lost “hundreds” of species of plants in the last fifty years—and the loss is a threat to both ecological and human sustainability.
The NAC is especially interested in working with New York City residents to become “stewards” of the ecological resources around us.
Here’s why you should visit Marine Park:
- It smells great. You know what we’re talking about: briny and organic, with just a hint of decay.
- It’s Brooklyn’s largest park. There are 800 protected acres here, comprised of coastal forest, shrubs, native grasses, and salt marsh. Five-hundred and thirty of those grassland and marsh acres are designated Forever Wild, meaning they are some of the most ecologically valuable lands within the five boroughs.
- It used to be a landfill, but you can’t really tell. Up until the 1970s, Marine Park was filled with cars, glass, and other garbage, piled as high as 60 feet in some areas. Restoration has taken nearly 40 years, but is “proof that a rare and fragile ecosystem can safely exist even when it borders a heavily urban area like Brooklyn.”
- It’s protecting us from the impacts of sea level rise and storms. The tidal wetlands that ring the coast have a more important job than just looking pretty. These areas act as sponges to absorb water and wave energy during storms and flooding.
- It’s a wildlife paradise. Get ready to see some nature! Myrtle warblers, grasshopper sparrows, cottontail rabbits, ring-necked pheasants, horseshoe crabs, and oyster toadfish are just a few of the unique species that call Marine Park home.
- There’s a great visitor’s center—for kids and adults. The Salt Marsh Nature Center should be the first stop on your trip: there are exhibits highlighting the natural diversity in the area, and educational brochures and maps to get you started. They even host kids’ activities, tours, and yoga classes.