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City plants eelgrass to save marshland

The city began a new organic operation to help save the wetlands in Jamaica Bay last Thursday that they hope will stop the deterioration of the marshlands at the heart of the problem.

Cas Halloway, commissioner for the city Department of Environmental Protection, announced the second phase of the agency’s Eelgrass Restoration Project designed to add 1,000 new plants to the ecosystem. The plants not only provide a safe habitat for birds and fish, but also help reduce the excess nitrogen in the bay’s water supply and stop the saltwater marshlands from degrading.

“Restoring eelgrass to Jamaica Bay is another important step in our efforts to improve this invaluable natural resource,” Holloway said in a statement. “This program, if successful, will mark the first time in nearly 100 years that eelgrass is able to survive in Jamaica Bay.”

The eelgrass will be planted at three locations near Jamaica Bay — Breezy Point, the Breezy Point Yacht Club and Dubos Point — and will be protected by special fencing, poles and sandbags, according to the commissioner. The DEP will hold biweekly monitoring efforts to track the progress of the plants and make notes on how it grows and thrives in the ecosystem.

Last year, the DEP conducted an initial planting of the eelgrass in the bay and used the information from the planting to better prepare this project. In the fall, 3,000 more plants will be transported to the ecosystem and a mass planting is set for next year, according to Halloway.

This is one of several projects aimed at saving the 39-square-mile watershed from extinction. For decades, the bay has lost hundreds of acres of marshland because of the excess nitrogen and experts have said it could be completely gone within a decade if nothing is done, causing a major ecological problem for the dozens of species and organisms that thrive there.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently conducting a major restoration of several of the saltwater marshes that were lost. It has been bringing sand from similar ecosystems in New Jersey and Delaware to plant new saltwater marsh seeds.

In February, the DEP announced that it would spend $115 million over the next decade to upgrade its water treatment centers so those facilities would discharge less nitrogen into the bay.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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