WELCOME TO THE ROCKAWAY ARTIFICIAL REEF & BEYOND

Image courtesy of Hudson Canyon Cruise 2002

NYS COMMITS TO A LONG-TERM SUSTAINABLE MARINE ECOLOGY

New York State has ambitiously dedicated efforts, resources, and money to create a long-term sustainable marine ecology in New York waters.  This includes the ocean waters off Long Island, Far Rockaway, as well as the Hudson River.  New York’s Artificial Reef program aims to increase and repopulate many marine species that call, or have previously called, New York waters their home.  The buzz word is ‘Regeneration’.

ARTIFICIAL STRUCTURES BUILT IN THE CUOMO ADMINISTRATION

In 2015, Department of Environmental Conservation thanked the Army Corp of Engineers for strategically placing tons of rock, concrete, and steel 1.6 nautical miles south of Rockaway Beach.  Local fisherman have anxiously awaited the re-population of the fishing habitat in the 413 acre underwater area and its prospects of increasing fluke, sea bass, crabs, and lobster.  This initiative was not new as it was originally permitted in 1965.

So, earlier this year, Governor Andrew Cuomo touted his administration’s efforts during a press conference, highlighting two significant projects that absolutely benefited each other in an arranged marriage.  “The old Tappan Zee Bridge is creating enough material for the NYS Artificial Reef Program.”  Indeed, the artificial reef off Rockaway Beach made good use of forty seven tons of recycled old concrete, metal, and steel.  “It’s a good way to use an old bridge.” Cuomo said standing on the new roadway.

Engineering kudos go to the Williams Transco Rockaway Delivery Lateral project.  In 2015, a new three mile line was connected to an existing submerged interstate natural gas line that ran right through the middle of the reef zone.  The pipeline transmission company proudly complied with U.S. government ‘environmental mitigation’ as Williams coated their 26″ connectivity pipe with protective layers of concrete to satisfy local environmental organizations.

THE NEW REEF SITS ON THE SHELF

The Rockaway Artificial Reef sits on the New York Bight, that begins at the mouth of New York Harbor.  The Bight is part of the Hudson Shelf, an area that is referred to as a ‘passive Continental margin’ as there is little chance of any significant tectonic activity. The physical redesign of the region occurred during the last Ice Age.  The term is known as ‘De-glaciation morphology’.  The force of melt-water flooding created the fan-shaped Hudson Shelf only thirty to forty feet deep.

The flat underwater terrain of the New York Bight and the Long Island Platform offers new breeding grounds for coral and plant development.  It will also serve as a technological grid of submersible structures that can take advantage of the shallow ocean waters.

OTHER WORLDWIDE EFFORTS WITH ARTIFICIAL REEFS

In Thailand, recent typhoons and tsunamis have taken their toll on the delicate coral reefs that dot the islands in the Pacific.  In Koh Tao, the New Heaven Dive Resort and Yoga Center scuba divers are committed to recreating the damaged coral reefs.  I was told by a local diver in Koh Tao that it is common to assemble a metal structural array that are charged with a mild  electrical voltage to stimulate growth on top of the construction materials.

In Texas, recent hurricanes have destroyed coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico.  In 2016, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department constructed similar artificial reefs to those of New York State.

And in the Hudson waters off Nyack, NY, where the Tappen Zee Bridge has been restructured, a dedicated crew from the Billion Oyster Project have established a series of artificial oyster reefs close to the new pilings of the new Tappan Zee Bridge structure, now known as the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.  The Billion Oyster Project is yet another amazing initiative to return healthy, edible oysters to New York Harbor by 2030.

THE ARTIFICIAL REEFS WILL CREATE NEW MARINE LIFE HABITATS

A stable ecology of plankton is still a few years away; however, the reef, if managed properly, will support the food source essential to support a thriving ocean mammal population.  Cape Cod’s healthy copepod plankton have already established a fertile feeding and calving ground for baleen whales.  Rockaway Artificial Reef now has a challenge if it wants to rival that of Cape Cod.

Whales are attracted to the plankton that grows more readily on the continental shelf with the abundance of sunlight in the relative shallow waters.  The deeper canyons cannot support plankton blooms.  Conservationists are optimistic that the New York Bight will become a new feeding ground for migrating whales.

Bren Smith 3D Ocean Farming off New Haven, Connecticut in the Long Island Sound concentrates on commercial growing of Kelp.  Aquaculture in the New York Bight may be just over the horizon.  In addition, the creating a fast source of organic food, this model would help de-acidify the ocean and fight climate change right here in our own backyard.

IS KELP FARMING IN THE NEW YORK BIGHT A REALITY?

Similar to the Billion Oyster Project currently underway in New York Harbor, the Climate Foundation envisions a carbon polymer frame structure would house shellfish.  Approximately 60 to 80 feet deep on the Hudson shelf, the habitat will be sunk far enough below the surface to avoid wave activity and shipping lanes above.

 

artificial reef
Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service (www.nps.gov)

According to Brian Von Herzen, the kelp would receive essential nutrients from deeper cooler water under the sea bed that would circulate over this ‘marine permaculture’.  There would be no netting, but a kind of free-range aquaculture based on providing habitat to keep fish on location.

Naturally, there are hints that robotic, aquatic gardeners are already in development to prune and inspect the grow stations.  Robotic removal of encrusting organisms would probably also be part of the facility.  The scale of this project would have an impact on the climate by growing kelp and bringing cooler ocean water to the surface.  “Given the transformative effect that marine permaculture can have on the ocean, there is much reason for hope that permaculture arrays can play a major part in globally balancing carbon,” he says.

WHAT LIES BEYOND THE ROCKAWAY REEF?

You could say the Rockaway Reef is a stepping stone to the giant geophysical wonders of the ocean.   At a mere 413 acres, the Rockaway Reef is a pimple in comparison to the magnificent, dominant underwater canyonlands that lay approximately 200 miles offshore.  The gentle slope seaward over the Long Island Platform ten miles out will find depths of approximately one hundred feet.  Here, the Christianson Basin is characteristic of pronounced canyon walls and floors.

new york bight
Courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (www.noaa.gov)

Sadly, this region has not escaped the debilitating effects of toxic dumping that began in the 1920’s.  Two massive dumpsites used by New York City twelve nautical miles off the Long Island shore are now still classified as waste cleanup sites by the federal government.  A designated fifteen mile radius has been established to correct the original two mile wide ‘Mud Dump’.   It is thought the toxins can be ‘capped’ with new dumping of additional ‘clean’ fill.   Historic Area Remediation Site officials confirm the sad reality that living shellfish in this region does contain very high levels of PCB’s.  Closely supervised monitoring of chemical levels is part and parcel of any chance of redevelopment of this zone as a future habitat for sea life.

 

Further down the Hudson shelf, lies our closest underwater gem, the Hudson Canyon.    Serious divers frequent this canyon to find some of the natural beauty the ocean offers with established corals and habitats.
hudson canyon
Courtesy of Google Maps (www.googlemaps.com)
But the grand-daddy of them all is, although not officially a National Park, the Lydonia Canyon.  It lies approximately one hundred miles south of Cape Cod with an equal distance east from Montauk Point.  The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument of the approximate five thousand square mile underwater region, a U.S. Marine Protected Area that was one of the Obama Administration’s 2016 creations.
northeast canyons
Courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (www.noaa.gov)

The word ‘monument’ designates a ‘no-take zone’, a virgin environment intended not to be disrupted by any commercial venture above or below the surface.  This year, the region is in danger of having the Obama enactment reversed by the Trump Administration.  Director of the Interior Ryan Zincke stated plans to reopen large-scale commercial mining and fishing.   The Trump Administration’s recent Executive Order overturned the Obama Administration’s protection of all Eastern Seaboard canyons to oil, gas, and mining operations.

A CALL OUT TO FISHERMEN, DIVERS, AND VOLUNTEERS

A reliance on local Fishing Associations and the Scuba Diving Community is necessary to highten recreational utilization of artificial reef sites.  The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is banking on the growth of popularity as the engine to continue efforts to responsibly enhance the marine initiatives.

Photo:Wheelhouse of the sunken vessel Mandy Ray of the Shinnecock Artificial Reef off Hampton Bays, New York colonizes a fledgling coral reef.

Aside from the obvious increase in fishing boats populating the preserve, the future includes an influx of Dive boats as well as Party Charter boats.

Divers to the Artificial Reef sites are encouraged to fill out the online NYSDEC Volunteer Diver Logs include reasons for their dive such as photography, artifact hunting, spearfishing, or nature study as well as their recent observations from the divers of finding sponges, anemones, mussels, tube worms, or corals as well as sea bass, fluke, crab, or lobster.

A similar NYSDEC Volunteer Angler Log is available for fisherman who would like to report their catch around the artificial reefs to help collect data for NYSDEC.

Volunteer organizations and advocacy groups such as the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers have a vested interest in preserving the marine environment so wetlands will revitalize.

HOW YOU CAN HELP KEEP THE REEF ALIVE

Remember not to use sunscreen when swimming or diving.   Sunscreen is now considered a major chemical hazard to marine life.  The lotion leaches into the ocean and damages the coral.

CLIMATE CHANGE CHALLENGES TO CORAL REEFS

As Ocean waters are heating up, once healthy reefs move further away from the equator.  The sad reality is regions that were once thought to be too cold for reefs may now be prime real-estate for new coral reef development.

Climate change is a major factor in the increased water temperatures of tropical reefs is a cause of coral bleaching.  The planets’ natural reefs, such as The Great Barrier Reef, is quickly loosing its ability to maintain a thriving habitat.   Two mass coral-bleaching events resulting from elevated sea temperatures.  Increased acidity can reduce the live coral from building their skeletal habitat.

IS THE FUTURE BRIGHT FOR THE NEW YORK BIGHT?

NYS OEM is also eyeing the New York Bight for Wind Farm development.  All government efforts utilize new technology that will move New York into our next generations must require an adherence to maintaining clean water and sustainable marine habitats.

Aside from substantive NYS OEM inroads to the development of Wind Farms in this very region, a thriving artificial reef will attract a renewed population of whales and other ocean mammals.  The New York Coast is in the migratory pathways.  But, shipping lanes that overlay the underwater migration routes have been wrought with danger.

The Melville buoy has been in service for the past two years.  It’s mission is to protect marine mammals from ship strikes as well as reduce ship noise pollution.  Alerting sea captains to the presence of whales is of primary importance.

THE RETURN OF THE OCEAN MAMMAL COMMUNITY TO NEW YORK HARBOR

We can all help to support the success of our local Rockaway Reef Project in our own backyard as the larger initiative remains a national effort continues to preserve the underwater canyon lands.

For those interested in spending the day on a local sight-seeing tours by high speed boats can shuttle us out to the canyon areas.  Exploration vessels do frequent these waters where research divers presently catalog and film exotic species living in the cold, dark depths of the canyons.

There is no reason why New York City cannot foster a new maritime community of activists and enthusiasts to share and experience the waters with repopulated sea life.  We anticipate a healthy whale watching industry right here out of Sheepshead Bay.

COME JOIN US ON MAY 11TH, 2019

NYHC will be hosting a forum at the 69th Street Pier in Bay Ridge Brooklyn.  Guest speakers from prominent environmental and conservation societies as well as local science experts will be on hand to help exhibit data and answer questions.