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Jamaica Bay

Jamaica Bay
Grassy Bay
Name origin: Lenape
Country United States
State New York
Location New York City and
Nassau County
Mouth Rockaway Inlet
Area 39 sq mi (101 km2)
Historic map of Jamaica Bay, with subway lines and major roads

Jamaica Bay is located on the southern side of Long Island, in the U.S. state of New York, near the island's western end. The bay connects with Lower New York Bay to the west through Rockaway Inlet and is the westernmost of the coastal lagoons on the south shore of Long Island. Politically, it is divided between the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens in New York City, with a small part touching Nassau County.

The bay contains numerous marshy islands. Maps of the city as late as 1910 identify the bay as Grassy Bay. Jamaica Bay is located adjacent to the confluence of the New York Bight and New York Bay, and is at the turning point of the primarily east-west oriented coastline of southern New England and Long Island and the north-south oriented coastline of the mid-Atlantic coast. The name derives from the nearby town of Jamaica, which in turn derives from "Yameco", a corruption of a word in the Lenape language spoken by the Native Americans who lived in the area at the time of first European contact. The "y" sound in English is spelled with a "j" in Dutch, the first Europeans to write about the area. This resulted in the eventual English pronunciation of "Jamaica" when read and repeated orally.


  • Ecology 1
  • Geography 2
  • Environmental conditions 3
  • Ownership and protection status 4
  • In popular culture 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


The location of Jamaica Bay combined with the rich food resources found there make it a regionally important fish, wildlife, and plant habitat complex. This geographic location acts to concentrate marine and estuarine species migrating between the New York Bight portion of the North Atlantic, and the Hudson River and Raritan River estuary. Shorebirds, raptors, waterfowl, land birds, and various migratory insects are concentrated by the coastlines in both directions. These migratory species are further concentrated by the surrounding urban development into the remaining open space and open water of Jamaica Bay. Jamaica Bay and nearby Breezy Point support seasonal or year-round populations of over 330 species of special emphasis and listed species, incorporating 48 species of fish and 120 species of birds.


Jamaica Bay from the northwest (2013)
Jamaica Bay
Jamaica Bay seen from Belt Parkway
IND Rockaway Line subway train crossing Jamaica Bay, 1973
The World Trade Center seen from Jamaica Bay

Jamaica Bay is a sewage treatment plants and runoff result in phytoplankton blooms and high suspended-solid concentrations which, in turn, result in turbid water and low bottom dissolved oxygen concentrations.

Jamaica Bay is in the southern portion of the New York metropolitan area, and the uplands around the bay, as well as much of the Rockaway barrier beach, are dominated by urban residential, commercial, and industrial development. The bay itself has been disturbed by dredging, filling, and development, including the construction of John F. Kennedy International Airport and, earlier, the historic (and now defunct) Floyd Bennett Field. About 49 square kilometres (19 sq mi) of the original 65 square kilometres (25 sq mi) of wetlands in the bay have been filled in, mostly around the perimeter of the bay. Extensive areas of the bay have been dredged for navigation channels and to provide fill for the airports and other construction projects.[1]

The center of the bay is dominated by subtidal open water and extensive low-lying islands with areas of salt marsh, intertidal flats, and uplands important for colonial nesting waterbirds. The average mean low tide exposes 350 acres (1.4 km2) of mudflat, 940 acres (3.8 km2) of low salt marsh dominated by low marsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), and 520 acres (2.1 km2) of high marsh dominated by high marsh cordgrass (Spartina patens). The extensive intertidal areas are rich in food resources, including a variety of benthic invertebrates and macroalgae dominated by sea lettuce (Ulva latuca). These rich food resources attract a variety of fish, shorebirds, and waterfowl. In addition, two freshwater impoundments were created on Rulers Bar Hassock in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge; the smaller 49 acres (0.20 km2) freshwater West Pond is kept as open water, and the larger 120 acres (0.49 km2) slightly brackish East Pond is controlled to expose mudflats. Some of the islands in the bay have upland communities, including grasslands consisting of little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempivirens); scrub-shrub containing bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), beach plum (Prunus maritima), sumac (Rhus spp.), and poison ivy (Toxidendron radicans); developing woodland consisting of hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), willow (Salix spp.), black cherry (Prunus serotina), and tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima); and beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata) dune. Species introduced in the refuge to attract wildlife include autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii), and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii).

Environmental conditions

The salt marshes of Jamaica Bay offer prime habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. Most of the waters and marshes have been protected since 1972 as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Though much improved, pollution is still a problem, and after once enjoying a worldwide reputation for oysters and supporting a vigorous fishing industry the area has been closed to shellfishing since the early 20th century as one result. The marshlands are also fast diminishing.

As of Spring 2003, marshland is being lost at the rate of approximately 40 acres (160,000 m2) per year. The reasons for this loss are still unclear, but one hypothesis is that the loss is the result of rising sea levels. To test this, in the hope of preventing further losses, the National Park Service plans to dredge a small area of the bay in order to build up the soil in about 1 acre (4,000 m2) of marsh. Opponents are concerned that the dredging may be harmful, perhaps leading to greater loss of marshland than the area saved.

Other scientists suggest that the 3,500 lb (1,600 kg) of nitrogen pouring into the bay every day, 92 percent from four sewage treatment plants ringing the bay, may be partly to blame. They hypothesize that the high levels of nitrogen may stimulate the growth of sea lettuce, smothering other plants. The excess energy may also cause smooth cordgrass to reallocate energy from its roots to its shoots, making it harder for marsh soil to hold together.[2]

In an effort to reduce the amount of nitrogen being discharged into Jamaica Bay, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection announced the installation of enhanced treatment measures that will cut nitrogen discharges by 4,000 pounds a day. An innovative technology, called the Ammonia Recovery Process, is now being designed by ThermoEnergy Corporation, which will further reduce nitrogen discharges from the bay by 3,000 pounds per day by 2014.[3][4]

Ownership and protection status

The majority of land and water within this complex is publicly owned by the United States federal government, and the city of New York. Most of Jamaica Bay proper and portions of the uplands and barrier beach are part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Administered by the National Park Service, it includes (in part) the 9,100 acres (37 km2) Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Breezy Point Tip, and Floyd Bennett Field. There are several city parks within the bay complex, including Marine Park and Edgemere Park, and numerous smaller parcels of city-owned land. Portions of the wetlands and uplands are part of John F. Kennedy International Airport, owned by the city of New York and operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Occasionally the airport becomes a route of migration of some wildlife species disrupting the traffic.[5][6] Small areas in the upland buffer around the bay and on the Rockaway Peninsula remain in private residential or commercial ownership.

Jamaica Bay has been designated and mapped as an otherwise protected beach unit pursuant to the federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act, prohibiting incompatible federal financial assistance or flood insurance within the unit. The New York State Natural Heritage Program, in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy, recognizes two Priority Sites for Biodiversity within the Jamaica Bay and Breezy Point habitat complex: Breezy Point (B2 - very high biodiversity significance) and Fountain Avenue Landfill (B3 - high biodiversity significance). Jamaica Bay and Breezy Point have been designated as Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats by the New York State Department of State, and the bay up to the high tide line was designated as a Critical Environmental Area by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Jamaica Bay was also designated as one of three special natural waterfront areas by the New York City Department of City Planning. A comprehensive watershed management plan for the bay was completed in 1993 by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection in order to better protect and restore habitats and improve water quality. Wetlands are regulated in New York under the state's Freshwater Wetlands Act of 1975 and Tidal Wetlands Act of 1977. These statutes are in addition to federal regulation under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, and various Executive Orders.

In popular culture

  • The concluding sequence of the 1961 noir thriller Blast of Silence was shot in the fishing village formerly established in the Spring Creek / Old Mill Creek section of Jamaica Bay.
  • In the X-Men comic books, a space shuttle piloted by Jean Grey crashed into Jamaica Bay in Uncanny X-Men #101. This was the first appearance of the Phoenix persona in the series. In reality, where not dredged for a channel, most of the bay is only a few feet deep even at high tide.
  • In the second season episode of the American television drama series Mad Men, "Flight 1", the fictional Andrew Campbell, the father of the character Pete Campbell, is among those lost in American Airlines Flight 1, which crashed in Jamaica Bay on March 1, 1962, killing 95 people.

See also



  1. ^ Black, Frederick R.(1981). "Jamaica Bay: A History. Gateway National Recreation Area, New York, New Jersey." Cultural Resource Management Study No. 3. (Denver, CO: National Park Service).
  2. ^ Benotti, Mark J., Michael Abbene, and Stephen A. Terracciano. "Nitrogen Loading in Jamaica Bay, Long Island, New York: Predevelopment to 2005." United States Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2007-5051.
  3. ^ New York City Department of Environmental Protection. "DEP Launches New Measures to Improve Overall Ecology of Jamaica Bay" Accessed 2010-06-30.
  4. ^ "ThermoEnergy Corporation Signs Contract with City of New York to Help Improve Overall Ecology of Jamaica Bay" (Press release). Thermoenergy. 2010-06-30. Retrieved 2010-07-01. 
  5. ^ Cohen, Zachary (2011-06-29). "Turtles Stop Traffic at New York's JFK Airport, Promptly Get a Twitter Account". Time. 
  6. ^ Newman, Andy (2011-06-29). "Delays at J.F.K.? This Time, Blame Turtles". The New York Times. 


  • Keys, C.M. (November 1910). "The Sea-Gate Of The Continent: ... The Flats Of New Jersey And Of Brooklyn The Ultimate Solution Of The Problem".   A c. 1910 plea to develop a harbor at Jamaica Bay.
  • Hartig, Ellen K. and Gornitz, Vivien (1981). "The Vanishing Marshes of Jamaica Bay: Sea Level Rise or Environmental Degradation?" (New York: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Goddard Institute for Space Studies).
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Charlestown, RI (1997). Significant Habitats and Habitat Complexes of the New York Bight Watershed: Jamaica Bay and Breezy Point." Southern New England - New York Bight Coastal Ecosystems Program.

External links

  • Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge — Visitor Information from National Parks of the New York Harbor Conservancy.
  • Official Gateway National Recreation Area website
  • Jamaica Bay Research and Management Information Network — Community-driven knowledge base of past, present, and future activities in Jamaica Bay.

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