Today’s news:

Jamaica Bay gets funds for wetlands

Scientists received nearly $600,000 in funds last week that may help them solve a mystery that has been evolving faster and faster in Jamaica Bay over recent years.

Gateway National Park was awarded a $598,000 grant from the Natural Resources Protection Program to save rapidly disappearing salt marshes in Jamaica Bay, U.S. Rep Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) announced last week.

“The Jamaica Bay wetlands and salt marshes are some of New York City’s most beautiful and important environmental resources, and they must be saved,” said Weiner. “Today marks a critical step forward in that process.”

In November 2000, the state DEC released a study showing that Jamaica Bay’s wetlands were disappearing at an alarming rate. According to the DEC, 800 acres of wetlands have been lost in Jamaica Bay in the past 18 years, including 300 acres since 1994.

The wetlands, which cover 3,400 acres and are home to a variety of rare birds, plants, and animals in the shadows of Kennedy Airport, may erode completely by 2020 if action is not taken, Weiner warned.

Jamaica Bay island marshes have disappeared much more quickly in recent years, vanishing at a rate of 40 acres to 60 acres per year recently, up from an average of 10 acres lost each year for 50 years up until 1974.

The disappearance was first discovered in 1995 by local fishermen, but thus far the rapid pace of deterioration has confounded scientists. A recent study led by Columbia University researchers showed that the rate of loss was accelerating but held out hope that restoration efforts, if begun soon, could stabilize the marshes.

The study suggested that urban development, dredging of the bay for the expansion of Kennedy Airport and global warming have all contributed to the losses, but it noted that further research is urgently needed.

The NRPP funding will help provide a start. According to Weiner, the grant will be used to implement new salt marsh restoration measures; conduct a long-term analysis of the bay’s sediment layer; map the marshes to identify areas of pronounced erosion; and develop ongoing efforts to stop further erosion.

The NRPP funding is in addition to $150,000 secured by the New York State Department of Conservation to implement research and corrective measures first suggested by a panel of scientists in April 2001.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) applauded the DEC’s decision to provide $150,000 to the U.S. National Parks Service to help get to the bottom of the Jamaica Bay mystery.

“This deterioration of Jamaica Bay marsh islands is alarming and this grant money takes on special significance in the battle to save these precious natural resources,” said Smith. “It is of the utmost importance that solutions be found to stem the loss of these salt marshes, which play such a crucial role in the delicate ecosystem of the bay region.”

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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