Balancing the Port and the environment are two components of a world class estuary – and on October 9th, 2015 an alliance of partners with the support of elected officials conveyed this important initiative to area school students during Estuary Day, an annual event held in Elizabeth, N.J.
Over 280 students from 7th through 12th grade and 25 educators from 14 different schools participated this year.
Orchestrated by Future City Inc., and sponsored by the Elizabeth River/Arthur Kill Watershed Association, the event’s success was attributed to a concerted effort and steadfast partnership with strong local support.
The event demonstrated the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and community participation in preserving the environment.
Partnering organizations included the Elizabeth River/Arthur Kill Watershed Association, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-Harbor Estuary Program, New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection, New Jersey State Commission Hispanic Affairs, New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, Infineum, NY/NJ Baykeeper, Kean University, Phillips 66, Dupont and support from the offices of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, Rep. Albio Sires, and Mayor Chris Bolwage, City of Elizabeth, N.J.
In a classroom setting, district volunteers and participating partners staffed exhibits and served as instructors. They discussed with students their individual missions as it relates to the estuary, port and harbor, including the importance of environmental stewardship.
Using a variety of visual aids, Lisa Baron, Army Corps’ New York District Project Manager and marine biologist, lectured about the New York and New Jersey Harbor Estuary and the significance of balancing the Port and the environment, ecosystem restoration activities, and ongoing environmental restoration projects and studies.
“Estuaries are national treasures -- vital ecological and community resources whose health affects our health and the vibrancy of our communities and economy,” said Baron.
Estuary Day is an event that exemplifies a strong partnership with a common goal -- to inform our future leaders about the importance of sustaining and improving the health of the estuary.
New York District has played a major role in the navigation, development and maintenance of water resource activities in the New York Harbor and estuary for more than 200 years. The Corps, in conjunction with sponsor agencies and stakeholders, such as The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the states of New York and New Jersey, are committed to making the New York and New Jersey Harbor a world class estuary.
Most of the world’s estuaries are the most heavily populated areas of the world, with about 60 percent of the world's population living along estuaries and the coast. As a result, many estuaries have suffered degradation from development, drainage and filling in of wetlands; increased sedimentation from soil erosion; overfishing; and pollution since the industrial revolution, overland runoff.
The Hudson Raritan Estuary, spans a 25-mile radius encircling the Statue of Liberty, and includes 1,000 miles of coastline, 1,600 miles of open water and 500+ species of birds and fish.
"Over the years, shoreline development and industrialization has destroyed nearly 85 percent of wetlands; oyster reefs and eelgrass beds have completely disappeared," Baron told the students. "While the Estuary has improved since the 1980s, it’s still plagued by degraded habitat, poor water quality, contaminated sediments and impediments to fish swimming upstream."
As Baron pointed to an estuary map she said, “Estuaries are a transition zone where rivers meet the sea. Salt water comes into the estuary from the ocean through tides and currents and mixes with fresh water creating a unique habitat for many organisms. This mixing provides high levels of nutrients in both the water column and sediment, making estuaries among the most productive natural habitats in the world providing habitat for a large number of organisms- fish, birds and other wildlife.”
Commitment to selfless-service is one of the Army’s core values, and volunteers from the Army Corps’ New York District exemplified this value by sharing their expertise with students, and afforded them another opportunity to better understand the history of the estuary and its environmental condition.
“We were together at the Peterstown Community Center celebrating Elizabeth Estuary Day’s 15th year. The Army Corps was an informative presence for us all in creating a 15-year environmental partnership that contributes to the health of our Harbor, Estuary and Arthur Kill- our local economic engine, said Michelle Doran-McBean, event sponsor.
"It was especially rewarding to provide pupils with information about the many environmental initiatives in the region. By sharing their knowledge, our partners imparted how important the estuary is to the region and the nation. Students were able to take with them their newfound knowledge to share with their friends and families on what they experienced and learned at this year’s Estuary Day," said McBean.