Honoring International Coastal Cleanup Day, Martin and I paddled our kayaks toward Jamaica Bay, an 18,000-acre wetland estuary surrounded by the Rockaway Peninsula to the South, Brooklyn to the West, and Queens to the East. The 10,000 acres of parkland (almost equal to the size of Manhattan)is managed by the National Park Service. It consists of numerous islands, a labyrinth of waterways, meadowlands, and two freshwater ponds, providing a unique environment for both wildlife preservation and urban recreation. A favorite stop for migratory waterfowl, the area is an essential part of making the larger regional ecosystem complete.
Jamaica Bay was a prime fishing and oystering center but it became so polluted by 1916 that all of those businesses ended. It took over 5 decades, but the Clean Water Act finally made dumping and polluting illegal by 1972 and the big bay has since made a comeback. Mussels (still inedible) are now embedded in the reeds along the shores. 50,000 oysters were planted in beds composed of broken porcelain, harvested from recycled toilets as part of New York City’s Water Conservation Program.
The Bay is full of islands and channels whose names have been lost in the mists of time: Point Elders Marsh, Old Swale Marsh, Nestepol Marsh, Grass Hassock, Jo Co’s Marsh, and many more known only by local mariners. Non are inhabited by humans.
We kayaked to Canarsie Pol with two extra large, clear garbage bags and the intention of making a dent in the amount of plastic washed up on the shore. All of this plastic was ocean bound trash from storm runoff, boats, the mainland and careless recreational practices while people were out enjoying what nature brings to them but not caring about what they bring to nature. A lot of this plastic becomes a structural part of the reeds and the beach.
After 4 hours, along a mere 200 yard stretch of reeds just west of this old pier, we filled 3 large bags (we found another one on the island) with plastic single use items. Mind you, this was only what was accessible to us where the reeds met the beach. The plastic we could see but could not reach went into the reeds for yards. Its anyone’s guess how much plastic is buried under the sand.
I wish I could say it felt good to be out on a beautiful fall day picking up garbage.
Plastic bags were so enmeshed in the reeds and the sand dunes that they are now a permanent part of Canarsie Pol. Weathered plastic shattered in our hands as we tried to pull it out of the sand. The amount of small pieces of styrofoam broken up over time was impossible to collect. We didn’t even bother with glass or aluminum.
The third bag had to be tied and securely left on shore for another concerned citizen to bring back to the mainland. We couldn’t securely attach it to our kayaks and we dreaded the thought of us and the other bags spilling into the bay.
I thought I could at least get a good feeling by knowing that the person who picks up our redeemables each week could make some money. He told me that all of these bottles are destined for the landfill because the barcodes which are printed on the plastic brand labels are gone.
The beverage companies must stop their practice of making the environment pay for their irresponsible profits.
We must stop giving these companies our hard earned money and our beautiful home.
NYC needs to lead the ban on single use plastic bags once and for all.
Until next time,