Visiting Jamica Bay WildLife Preserve Post-Sandy

Jim and I have enjoyed going to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Preserve in Queens for years now. We are enthusiastic (if only occasional) bird watchers, and there is a wide range of different species that go through the Preserve (which is very well known among bird watchers) on their way to their winter or summer quarters.

Besides, it’s always been a restful place, where you could be simultaneously of and outside of the city. It’s close to a major street, and in view of Manhattan and JFK Airport, but it seems apart from them as well. In fact, the only thing that interferes with the feel of a few hours of vacation is the problem of reminding unknowing visitors that they aren’t allowed off the graveled paths.

We haven’t gone lately as much as we’d like, and so we hadn’t been there since Sandy. We went on Sunday.

A breach between the bay and the West Pond cuts across the path at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Preserve.
A breach between the bay and the West Pond cuts across the path at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Preserve.

I had read somewhere that there had been breaches in the East and West Ponds (the West Pond is near the visitors center; the East Pond is across the street), but the extent of the damage hadn’t really sunk in. Yes, all the benches were gone, and a lot of the bushes and trees were obviously damaged, but that was to be expected. What we didn’t expect was the gulf that had opened up across a part of the path that formerly led around the West Pond, and the fact that the Pond, which was a man-made freshwater pond, is now simply a run-off area for the saltwater bay.

(We didn’t visit the East Pond, but from what we understand, there were several breaches that were shored up again — mainly because they affected the subway next to it — but the salinity of the water has been changed.)

We did a bit of research when we got home. According to an interview I found in the NY Times, Don Riepe, who has been the expert caretaker of Jamaica Bay for many years, is not that worried about the future of the site. In his opinion, according to the article, Jamaica Bay actually came through the storm rather well.

Dave Taft, coordinator of the unit, doesn’t seem to be as confident, at least according to the NY Times. He says there are a lot of birds and ducks who depend on freshwater organisms to feed on.

Jim at Jamaica Bay in April, 2010. He's probably standing just beyond where the current breach is.
Jim at Jamaica Bay in April, 2010. He’s probably standing just beyond where the current breach is.

There are some photos of Jamaica Bay before and after the storm that can be downloaded at this link. I’ve also included a photo that I took of the breach yesterday, and one of Jim in 2010; he is, as far as I can tell, standing just about where the opposite “shore” of the breach is.

Admittedly, there are a lot of areas where there is much worse damage — Sandy Hook in NJ was devastated. And Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is still there; besides the always-present gulls, swans and blackbirds, we saw its nesting ospreys (male & female), a snowy egret, an oystercatcher and a few unidentifiable shore birds. Still…

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