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Jamaica Bay gets new research center

Mayor Michael Bloomberg (front r.) is joined by staff from the Parks Department. Photo by Ellis Kaplan
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A new research institute in the Rockaways will play host to scientists focused on the restoration of Jamaica Bay, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Monday.

The Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay will serve as a research center where scientists and students alike will work to better understand how to protect and preserve urban ecosystems from development and the effects of climate change, the mayor said at a press conference overlooking the bay.

The bay is imperiled and has suffered a significant loss of wetlands in the last few decades. A specific cause for the diminishment of the wetlands has not been identified, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Bloomberg said the institute will be managed by a consortium of research institutions, including city agencies, several universities and other conservation groups. The consortium will be led by the City University of New York.

The institute will host visiting scientists, hold events and provide lab facilities for students and researchers.

Bloomberg allocated $3 million for the project in the city’s most recent budget. The partnership’s organizations are working to raise the rest of the funding.

The proposals for the institute were actually due just two days before Sandy hit in late October, officials said. The devastation left by the storm made it even more clear how necessary the research institution would be, they said.

“Lessons learned here will also help other cities around the world as they face the challenges of a changing climate,” Bloomberg said.

He was joined by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan and the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

Jewell said “green infrastructure” — the use of plants and other natural vegetation to mitigate flooding and improve water quality — in some ways offered better protection than “gray infrastructure” during Hurricane Sandy.

“I know the mayor is looking at this through a New York lens, but I am looking at this through a whole-country lens,” Jewell said. “We have so much that we can learn right here in Jamaica Bay that’s going to help us build green infrastructure to address climate change, which is upon us.”

Jewell said assets like Jamaica Bay are not often found so close to a large population center.

“Having this green space right here, around New York, is rare,” she said. “So treasure it. We’ll be your partners in making sure we take care of it, that we learn lots of lessons from this, that we teach it to young people throughout New York and New Jersey and the coastline, and that we all learn how to be part of a solution in changing climate.”

Bloomberg also announced the formal establishment of the new Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy, which will raise funds for the planning and development of Jamaica Bay’s waters and 10,000 acres of parkland.

Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at bfortis@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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