Coney Island Creek Estuary… Finally Getting a Little Bit of Love
By Dr. Merryl Kafka, NYS Marine Education Association (NYSMEA.org)
High school students collecting fatal floatables
Coney Island, more well known as the Playground of the World, with roller coasters, spook houses, the world’s largest wonder wheel, shooting galleries, and even some vintage skee ball arcades, is also an ecological gem. With four miles of sandy beach, it is one of the most beautiful coastlines along the mid-Atlantic. The opposing landmasses, Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, and the Atlantic Highlands and Sandy Hook in NJ shelter the beach, rendering gentle waves upon its shores. Sometimes the water’s surface is as smooth as silk. This is in contrast to the beaches in Rockaway, and Long Island, that have unprotected exposure to the open Atlantic, creating the rough waves that make it ideal for surfers.
Behind the popular beaches, on the bay side of Coney, is Coney Island Creek. Once a neglected waterway and dumping site for derelict boats, cars, WW II minesweepers, and even a yellow submarine that is still stuck in the mud since its maiden launch in 1971, the creek continues to be a part of the iconic images of Coney.
The waterway is an urban tidal creek, 1.5 miles long, with a variety of miniature habitats such as salt marshes, mudflats, sand dunes, and woodlands. Wildlife has returned including peregrine falcons, egrets, ospreys, skimmers, swans, horseshoe crabs, mud snails, oysters, and many kinds of fish from the larger predators such as bluefish and striped bass to smaller killifish and silversides. Human consumption restrictions do exist! The waters are too polluted, due to the historic industry of coal, gas, shipbuilding, gas stations, auto salvage junk yards, and the most recent discovery of sewage seepage from a nearby housing complex. In fact, a Request For Proposal has just been issued to allocate violation funds to restore the creek, The C.I. Creek Environmental Benefit Project Fund. NYSMEA is in the process of applying for this to extend and enhance our efforts to improve the creek conditions and continue to work with schools and the community for sustaining both educational and stewardship ethics.
Despite the history of decades of dumping, the creek is resilient and improving with NYSMEA’s commitment to restoration, conservation, and community education. We just completed our 4th annual event “It’s My Estuary Day”, created by NYSMEA’s Executive Director and underwater welder, Gene Ritter, along with a collaborative team of partners and environmental organizations: C.I. History Project, C.I. Beautification Project, City Parks Foundation, Brooklyn STEM (whose president is also our NYSMEA President Lane Rosen); Coastal Classroom, and other NYSMEA Board members; myself, Lisa Breslof, Lou Siegel, and Karla Ferrero.
With over 300 student volunteers from 10 schools, more than 1.5 tons of debris was collected. In the past, hundreds of Spartina plugs were planted to mitigate erosion and rebuild a breeding ground for marine life, the nursery of the sea.
Students, teachers, and community members engaged in interactive educational stations ranging from aquatic robotics, plankton viewing, whale bone explorations with Gotham Whale, the life of an oyster with the Billion Oyster Project, networking with the Waterfront Alliance, doing a seining and fish count with the NYS DEC, and many other participating organizations. It was an amazing day and a day in which we were so proud of the youngsters willing to care and learn about our waterways. As I like to say, coastlines are our lifelines. #
Dr. Merryl Kafka is NYSMEA’s Executive Director of Education.