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Jamaica Bay survived storm much the same

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Superstorm Sandy was more devastating to humans than to nature.

But that is not to say nature was immune to the aftermath of the hurricane that crushed the Rockaways and pushed infinite tons of wreckage to Jamaica Bay’s shoreline.

“A lot of debris came into Jamaica Bay,” said Dan Hendrick, producer of the documentary “Jamaica Bay Lives.”

Soon after Sandy swept parts of the eastern coast, boats, refrigerators, sofas, pushed docks and other rubbish surfaced in and around the 20,000-acre wetland estuary. .

“Fortunately, some of the debris was pulled out,” Hendrick said, referring to the extensive work to repair the damage led by organizations such as the American Littoral Society, the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, the U.S. Corps of Engineers and the National Parks Services. “But a lot of it is still underwater.”

According to a report by the American Littoral Society, a coastal conservation organization, the superstorm had “no significant shift in sand placement and no damage to existing plants.”

But one of the post-Sandy major consequences at the surface of the bay was the breach at the 45-acre freshwater West Pond, a home and migratory stop for about 300 species of birds.

The American Littoral Society said 61 species are declining in numbers, including egrets, red knots, American oystercatchers and herons.

“The storm breached both the East and West Ponds of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, but these were artificial ponds and not part of the bay’s original marshes,” said Don Riepe, director of the northeast chapter of the American Littoral Society.

The ponds were inundated with saltwater. The breach transformed the West Pond into a tidal lagoon.

“One of the two ponds just turned into a lagoon,” Hendrick said. “The freshwater went away and the number of bird species was reduced.”

The bay’s landscape contains a variety of native habitats that includes a salt marsh, upland field and woods.

But Sandy didn’t changed Jamaica Bay as a whole.

“There was no significant change to the bay’s topography, other than to the West Pond,” said Hendrick, also author of the book “Jamaica Bay.”

“Outside of pushing old docks and other debris onto the marshes and shorelines, Superstorm Sandy had little effect on the Jamaica Bay ecosystem,” Riepe said.

The author and producer said Jamaica Bay has become a laboratory of ideas for climate resilience in urban sites.

“We are looking at the bay as a lab for ideas,” Hendrick said. He pointed out that one of the scenarios being discussed is the possibility of building tidal gates across the bay “which will have a phenomenal cost.”

After Sandy hit, there were calls to balance the environment with construction developments.

“Jamaica Bay can teach us lessons on how to better balance nature and developmen­ts,” Hendrick said.

Sandy basically left human desolation behind.

“The storm was more of a human tragedy as homes were lost and flooded,” said Riepe.

“Water came into the bay and went out,” Hendrick said. “But there is no question so many people and communities were affected.”

Reach reporter Juan Soto by e-mail at jsoto@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 4:30 pm, October 30, 2014
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