Fish & Ships: The Hudson-Raritan (New York Harbor) Estuary in Photographs

“It is a place that can make nature-worshipers out of non-believers”

In this photo essay,Fish and Ships I hope to share my knowledge and love of the Estuary’s beautiful waterscape through photographs.  of the working waterfront, wildlife, and wetlands that border the Harbor, The photographs taken from the Baykeeper Boat over an almost twenty year period describe the ecological and human uses of this confluence of the New York and New Jersey’s largest rivers and the Bays of New York Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Hudson-Raritan Estuary marks the watery end of New York and New Jersey’s largest rivers – the Hudson, Hackensack, Passaic, Rahway, Shrewsbury, Navesink, and Raritan Rivers. The Harbor Estuary is one of the most studied and well documented in the World but few know it well.  I had the honor and privilege of serving as the Baykeeper for the Bays and tributaries to the Hudson-Raritan (NY/NJ Harbor) Estuary from 1989 to 2008.  Part of my job was to document what I saw as I patrolled the bays and rivers of the Harbor.

My other job was to tell the story of the Harbor as an ecological system, to record insults to it, and to develop strategies for its restoration.  I hope that this narrative and photographs will begin to tell that story of the working waterfront, the wetlands, waterways, and the people who work on and live nearby, that collectively are the threads of the tapestry that is the Harbor and the urban coast.

This urban wilderness is astonishing, not just for its beauty and bounty but for its diversity and tenacity.  It is a place that can make nature worshipers out of non- believers.  This extraordinary collection of rivers, harbors, bays, beaches, uplands, and primal mud is a celebration of water people, fish, commerce, and nature. It is the reason people settled here, and it is still the glue that holds the bio-region together.       

It is a living web of upland, fresh and salt water marshes, beaches, straits, and broad bays.  It is home to more than 150 species of fish, 300 bird species, and 20 million people. It feeds vast schools of migrating herring, shad, and striped bass, flocks of songbirds and raptors.  It nourishes people who eat from its bounty and seek recreation and rejuvenation in nature. It is also the world’s most urban harbor – a metropolitan mosaic of shimmering glass towers, looping highways, and gritty refineries, it is a region teeming with life and in need of ecological repair.

The Estuary — where freshwater streams mix with salty tides — cuts deeply into the coast, a 20-mile indent with 800 miles of shoreline. At the upper cusp is the western tip of Long Island. The Estuary swings counterclockwise from there and sweeps past New York City to New Jersey’s urban coast. At the southern end is the needle-thin peninsula of Sandy Hook

We live in a time of transition – movement into the Ecozoic Era, as Thomas Berry has called it. Signs are increasingly apparent: Peak oil, climate unpredictability, and ecological and economic instability. How are we to live into such a moment with intention and hope? How can we act on our commitment to life and the common good?

Local Groups like Baykeeper  are one way of getting to our future by design or default. “We can have a future we like, rather than the one we’re likely to get”.

Pilgrim Pipelines OPED

Pilgrim oil pipelines threaten N.J.’s drinking water | Opinion


By Paul Gallay and Andrew Willner

The proposed Pilgrim pipelines are a direct threat to  the waters, wetlands, and communities of the New Jersey Highlands, New York’s Hudson Valley, and the Hudson Raritan Estuary.

Communities in the path of the pipelines are standing up in protest. And as former and present bi-state waterkeepers, we can attest to the very real risk that oil pipelines present to our precious water supplies and resources.

The record is clear. New York Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos is aware that oil and water don’t mix.

We expect Seggos and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to do the right thing: Take action to protect our environment and our climate by saying no to this ill-conceived, dangerous, and unnecessary fossil fuel project that if built, will leave us with the threat of another catastrophic spill into our waterways for the next 50 years.

Related: Reflexive opposition to Pilgrim pipeline is misplaced | Editorial

In New Jersey, Pilgrim’s proposal cuts across three major drinking water rivers, numerous smaller streams and two EPA designated sole source aquifers (the Ramapo Aquifer and the Buried Valley Aquifer).

In New York, Pilgrim’s proposed pipelines would cross 232 streams and 8 aquifers, including the Hudson, Wallkill, and Ramapo rivers, and Coxsackie, Esopus, and Catskill creeks. The Catskill and Delaware aqueducts, which supply water to New York City, would also be crossed.

A major pipeline spill could contaminate the drinking water for the several million people and dozens of municipalities who rely on these key water sources.  If a pipeline spill were to contaminate the Hudson River watershed in New York or the Ramapo River or Buried Valley aquifers in New Jersey, irreplaceable water sources beneath the anticipated route of the Pilgrim pipelines, it could take decades before the water for millions of residents would be safe to consume.

This is an issue that affects much of our region, as water from the NY/NJ Highlands is used by communities as far away as Newark.

And such a spill is statistically inevitable. Federal regulators report that between 2003 and 2013, one pipeline incident occurred on average every other day.

These significant risks bring to mind the event that first brought us together: a ghastly spill from the Exxon refinery in Linden on New Year’s Day in 1990, when more than 500,000 gallons of oil leaked from a pipeline into New York Harbor’s Arthur Kill waterway.

Related: Christie must come clean in oily Exxon settlement

One month, the state claims the damage is “staggering” and “unprecedented.” Now its outrage can be paclfied for three cents on the dollar.

We met in the aftermath of that New Year’s Day spill in our respective roles as an attorney for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the newly appointed Baykeeper for the waters of New York Harbor that included the Arthur Kill.  The more than 500,000 gallons of oil leaked for many hours before the U.S. Coast Guard was even notified, and damaged hundreds of acres of wetlands, killed thousands of migratory ducks and other birds, and had incalculable destructive effects on the wildlife and communities surrounding the Arthur Kill in Staten Island and New Jersey.We worked together for more than a year to help to develop a plan that cleaned up the spilled oil (the Coast Guard estimated that less than 20 percent of the oil was recovered), what the appropriate fines were, and what natural resource damages should be assessed for the serious, and permanent environmental and societal damage caused by the spill.

In the face of Pilgrim’s proposal to build 170 miles of new fossil fuel pipeline through New York and New Jersey’s most precious waterways and resources, we agree that we never wish to repeat our 1990 experience and oversee a response to a statistically inevitable Pilgrim pipelines spill into the Hudson, one of its tributaries, the drinking water reservoirs of the NY/NJ Highlands, or the ecologically important wetlands habitats of the Hudson/Raritan Estuary.

Ironically, the pipeline’s’ proposed terminus is the same refinery in Linden, from which the 1990 Bayway spill occurred. After decades of ecological abuse and after being fined and required to pay millions of dollars in natural resource damages, the risk of releases from this facility and the pipelines that lead to it are just as great as they were in 1990.

More than just our drinking water is at stake. In New Jersey, the pipelines are proposed to cross trout reproduction streams and other Category 1 streams, as well as five or more sites containing rare and state endangered plant species. The proposed route also crosses numerous (New Jersey) Green Acres Program sites, including a number of state and county parks, reservations and reservoirs.

And communities and fragile environments do not easily, quickly or completely recover from such environmental insults. Communities along the Arthur Kill and Kill Van Kull in New York and New Jersey are still recovering from the multiple spills from the early 1990s, as are the wetlands and other habitats — some of the only natural spaces in those communities. Wetlands in Rhode Island are still leaking oil after a spill that occurred more than 40 years ago, and in Minnesota, despite efforts to clean up an oil spill that polluted an aquifer in 1979, the water still wasn’t safe to drink in 1996, 17 years later.

Can we afford to put these precious natural resources and the drinking water for millions of New York and New Jersey residents at risk?

We are among thousands of people and local elected officials who understand that despite Pilgrim’s assurances, if the pipelines are built, there will be spills, and once again the region will be faced with a decades-long cleanup.

Andrew Willner is the Baykeeper Emeritus for NY/NJ Baykeeper. He retired in 2008, served on the Baykeeper Board for seven years, and lives in Rosendale, NY. Paul Gallay, an attorney formerly with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, is president of Hudson Riverkeeper and lives in Cold Spring, N.Y.