New York-New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program
The New York/New Jersey Harbor complex sits in a unique geographic as well as economic region. The natural diversity of this area is caused in part by the fact that it is nestled in the landward corner of the area known as the New York Bight. Prevailing ocean currents carry fish and other sea creatures northward from Florida and the Carolinas parallel to the coast. The shape of the New York and New Jersey coastlines "funnel" these currents into the harbor before they make a sharp eastward turn along the coast of Long Island. In addition, the harbor sits at the mouth of the Hudson River which provides a conduit for more northerly interior species to move southward toward the coast.
This position in the coastal landscape makes New York/New Jersey Harbor estuary one of the most diverse places on the eastern seaboard. All of this natural diversity is juxtaposed with one of the nations most densely populated metropolitan areas which supports a multi-billion dollar port, industrial, and transportation complex, making the human pressures on the wildlife intense. By working through the New York New/Jersey Harbor Estuary Program, DEC is helping to reverse long standing degradation of the harbor environment. Together with the State of New Jersey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the City of New York, the scientific community, and the citizens of both states, the New York State agencies, DEC and Department of State, have prepared a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) for the harbor which was finalized in 1996. More information is available on the New York/New Jersey Harbor estuary program at the EPA's Harbor Estuary Program web page.
The CCMP outlines five priority areas of concern. These are summarized below:
- Habitat Loss and Degradation
The impairments caused by habitat loss and degradation include the loss of the natural functions of coastal ecosystems like flood and erosion control, and wildlife habitat. These impairments are caused by physical alteration of the habitats through dredging and filling, development, and hardening of shorelines with seawalls. Actions to be taken to remedy this loss include identification and implementation of habitat restoration projects within the harbor, targeting critical areas for special protection (e.g. Jamaica Bay), acquiring key habitat areas, and others.
- Toxic Contamination/Dredged Material Management
The impairments caused by toxic contaminants include restrictions on human consumption of fish species from the harbor, restrictions on port dredging within the harbor, and interference with reproduction in coastal species. These impairments are caused by discharge from sewage treatment plants, combined sewer overflows, storm water inputs and historic inputs to the sediment from coastal industry. All of these impairments are the subject of a cooperative effort between government agencies and involved parties to track down and eliminate sources of toxic contamination.
- Pathogen Contamination
Pathogens are disease causing microorganisms. The impairments caused by pathogens include the closure of shellfish beds and potential closure of public bathing beaches following heavy rainfall events. Pathogen contamination in the harbor is primarily from combined sewer overflows. Corrections to the problem of combined sewer overflows are currently underway.
- Floatable Debris
Floatable debris is human produced garbage, other items which are washed down storm drains into the harbor during rainfall events or are blown off landfills into the water. The impairments caused by floatable debris are floatable-related beach closures, injury to marine species from entanglement or ingestion of debris, and navigational hazards. Actions are underway to reduce floatable debris in the harbor, including reduction of rainfall related discharges, and improved management measures at landfills and solid waste handling facilities.
- Nutrient and Organic Enrichment
Low levels of dissolved oxygen in the harbor are caused by algal blooms which are fueled by elevated nutrient levels. Low dissolved oxygen levels reduce the amount of habitat available for fish and shellfish.