• Sharks and skates, horseshoe crabs, river herring, sea turtles, whales, and other threatened species will be focus of program
  • More than 20 million people live locally within 10 miles of the Atlantic, which sparks more than $14.3 billion in economic activities in New York State alone
  • Conservation initiative is part of major transformation of historic aquarium

Brooklyn, N.Y., Aug. 29, 2010 – The Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium announced today the launch of the New York Seascape initiative—a conservation program designed to restore healthy populations of local marine species—many of them threatened—and to protect New York City and area waters, which are vital to wildlife and key to economic and cultural vitality.

The three components of New York Seascape are:  1. scientific research; 2. education and awareness; and 3. policy and management. The New York Seascape initiative, aimed at helping create a comprehensive conservation strategy, will be a long-term commitment of WCS and an integral part of Sea Change at the New York Aquarium, a 10-year public-private capital campaign announced last year that will transform the aquarium and help ignite the re-birth of Coney Island.

This initiative will cover the New York Bight, a 15,000-square-mile region stretching from Montauk, N.Y., to Cape May, N.J., as well as the waters of Long Island Sound. Currently, none of our offshore waters are protected. More than 20 million people live within 10-plus miles of this region of the Atlantic; and the NY-NJ Harbor is one of the busiest ports in the United States. Just in New York State, more than $14.3 billion is generated by economic activities reliant on healthy, accessible, and clean oceans, such as tourism/recreation, fisheries, and marine transport. More than a quarter of a million local jobs are dependent on stable fish populations and healthy marine habitats.

The commercial fishing industry alone landed almost 34 million pounds of fish and shellfish in 2008, worth about $57 million. Recreational fishing and other ocean-related activities are even more economically valuable: More than 291,000 anglers fished in New York’s coastal and ocean waters in 2006. But no dollar value can be placed on the ecological services and the phenomenal diversity of wildlife that call these waters home, which improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers.

The New York Bight serves as a feeding ground, nursery, and migratory corridor for more than 300 species of fish—including 26 species of sharks and 14 skates and rays—five species of sea turtles; four types of seals; more than 15 whales, dolphins, and porpoises; and an abundance of shore and sea birds. Many of the iconic animals in these waters are in trouble and not all of them are adequately protected, including important species of sharks.

The area covered in the initiative has an incredible maritime history, from the days of Henry Hudson and Giovanni da Verrazano’s explorations centuries ago, to today’s era of commercial and industrial development. Not too long ago, more than half of the U.S. hard clam catch came from Long Island bays and sturgeon were so plentiful in the Hudson that it was known as “Albany beef.” But times have changed.

It boasts extraordinary habitats whose protection is critical to the maintenance of biodiversity in these waters, such as deep sea canyons and soaring seamounts farther offshore that rival the majesty of the American West. In fact, the Hudson Canyon, an ancient extension of the Hudson River Valley, is the largest ocean canyon of the Atlantic coast and is a priority area for protection because of its diversity and importance as nursery grounds for many species.

“The New York Seascape aims to conserve this aquatic ecosystem which is vital to ocean wildlife and the economic and cultural strength of New York and surrounding communities,” said Steve Sanderson, WCS president and CEO. “Our local marine waters are a part of our history and vitality, yet too many New Yorkers live their lives with their backs to the sea. We will use this initiative to inspire New Yorkers to turn around and once again discover the wonders of these waters.”

Added Jon Forrest Dohlin, Director of WCS’s New York Aquarium: “WCS is a world leader in conservation with marine programs in 20 countries and every ocean from Papua New Guinea to Belize to Madagascar. The Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Seascape will bring this world-class expertise to our own backyard.”

Locally, the Wildlife Conservation Society has been heavily involved with recent restoration efforts of the Bronx River and the preservation of South Brother Island at the mouth of the East River.

Caleb McClennen, Director of WCS’s Global Marine Program, said, “With New York Seascape, we will help to conserve a major migratory corridor for marine wildlife, as well as the rich, diverse ecosystems upon which they depend. As we look increasingly to our oceans for energy, transport, recreation, and food supply, the wildlife within face significant threats if not properly managed, appreciated, and understood. It is important to take action and invest now to save these species and their habitats before we look back and say it is too late.”

The environmental challenges confronting these species stem from many factors, including pollution, unsustainable fishing, climate change, and, more recently, energy development. For more than three centuries, this marine habitat has suffered abuse running the gamut from the dumping of raw sewage, heavy metals, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals, to countless spills, nutrient overloads, and excessive fishing.

Some of the New York Seascape’s first conservation projects will include studies of sand tiger sharks, alewives (a species of river herring once phenomenally abundant in many coastal rivers), and horseshoe crabs.  WCS is exploring partnerships with local universities and researchers to follow the movements of sharks and other threatened species with acoustic and satellite tracking devices to better understand their migratory movements, allowing for improved management and protection.

Education and awareness aspects of the initiative will include: development of curricula in schools across the area to help children appreciate the importance of protecting marine wildlife; and establishment of new citizen-science programs to put New Yorkers in closer touch with their local seascape. These programs will include harbor seal, river herring, and horseshoe crab counts.

WCS will look to engage city, state, and federal government partners to provide technical input to improve fishery plans, protect key habitats, provide for necessary threatened species protections, and leverage additional government support.

With more than 750,000 visitors annually, the New York Aquarium provides a unique platform to showcase the ecological treasures of the New York Seascape and build a local constituency that will work to protect them. Set to break ground within the next few years, Ocean Wonders, a part of Sea Change, will be a state-of-the-art exhibit that will be home to sand tiger and other sharks, and an impressive array of fascinating animals that call the New York Bight home.

There will be additional renovations to the aquarium, including a refurbished Conservation Hall and Aquatheater. All of these features will help re-establish the New York Aquarium as one of the nation’s greatest marine tourism attractions and most popular attraction in Brooklyn, and the New York Seascape as a leader in conserving local marine wildlife and habitats.  

Sophie Bass – 817-925-8888; sbass@wcs.org
Max Pulsinelli – 718-220-5182;
Steve Fairchild – 718-220-5189; sfairchild@wcs.org

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth.

Wildlife Conservation Society's New York Aquarium opens every day of the year at 10am, and closing times vary seasonally. Admission is $13.00 for adults, $9.00 for children ages 3-12 and $10.00 for senior citizens (65 and older); children under 3 years of age are admitted free. Fridays after 3pm, admission is by suggested donation. The Aquarium is located on Surf Avenue at West 8th Street in Coney Island. For directions, information on public events and programs, and other Aquarium information, call 718-265-FISH or visit our website at www.nyaquarium.com. Now is the perfect time to visit and show support for the New York Aquarium, Brooklyn's most heavily attended attraction and a beloved part of the City of New York.

Special Note to the Media: If you would like to guide your readers or viewers to a web link where they can support these projects, please direct them to: www.wcs.org/donation.