Arthur Kill Complex

List of Species of Special Emphasis



I. SITE NAME: Arthur Kill Complex


II. SITE LOCATION: The Arthur Kill complex includes the northwestern corner of Staten Island in New York City, adjacent portions of the Arthur Kill and Kill van Kull in both New York and New Jersey, and tributaries and wetlands feeding into the Arthur Kill from Union and Middlesex Counties, New Jersey.

TOWNS: Clark, Carteret, Elizabeth, Linden, Rahway, Scotch Plains, Union, Westfield, Woodbridge, NJ; Staten Island Borough, New York City, NY

COUNTIES: Middlesex, Union, NJ; Richmond, NY

STATES: New Jersey, New York

USGS 7.5 MIN QUADS: Arthur Kill, NY-NJ (40074-52), Perth Amboy, NJ-NY (40074-53), Elizabeth, NJ-NY (40074-62), Roselle, NJ (40074-63)

USGS 30 x 60 MIN QUAD: Newark, NJ-NY (40074-E1)


III. BOUNDARY DESCRIPTION AND JUSTIFICATION: The overall boundary of this complex is delineated on the accompanying map and consists of a contiguous area on the northwest corner of Staten Island, the entire length of the Arthur Kill from its junction with Newark Bay south to the Outerbridge (Route 440) bridge on the south, and several tributary corridors to the Arthur Kill in New Jersey. The contiguous Staten Island area is bounded by the Kill van Kull and Newark Bay on the north, by Fresh Kills and Isle of Meadows on the south, and by several road systems on Staten Island on the east. On the western side of the Arthur Kill the area includes, from north to south, 11.71 kilometers (7.3 miles) of the Elizabeth River, 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) of Morses Creek, 2.6 kilometers (1.6 miles) of Piles Creek, 18.6 kilometers (11.5 miles) of the Rahway River, 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) of Smith Creek, and 8.6 kilometers (5.4 miles) of Woodbridge Creek. Delineated within the general boundary are several individually significant fish, wildlife, and plant sites, in addition to extensive interspersed areas of developed lands. These sites, or sub-areas, on Staten Island are, from north to south: Shooters Island, Arlington, Bridge Creek, Goethals Bridge Pond, Old Place Creek, Graniteville Swamp, Gulfport Marsh, Staten Island Corporate Park, Sawmill Creek Marsh, Pralls Island, Neck Creek Marsh, Fresh Kills, Isle of Meadows, and Clay Pits Pond Preserve and surrounding lands; in New Jersey, from north to south: Kawameeh Park, Piles Creek, Middlesex Reservoir, Ashbrook Swamp, Rahway River Mouth, Woodbridge Creek headwaters, and Evergreen Avenue swamp.

These areas include important nesting and foraging areas for several species of herons, egrets, and ibises as well as for gulls and waterfowl. The freshwater wetland areas and forested buffers are also extremely important as some of the only remaining open space in the urban core suitable as feeding and roosting areas for waterbirds and migratory stopover habitat for songbirds and raptors (see also urban core chapter). This area also contains several plants and natural communities reaching their northeast limit, thus making them rare in New York State.


IV. OWNERSHIP/PROTECTION/RECOGNITION: Ownership of these lands, exclusive of the developed areas contained within the complex, is mixed among the city of New York (Economic Development Corporation, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Parks and Recreation, and Department of Sanitation), state of New York (Department of Environmental Conservation and Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation), state of New Jersey (Department of Environmental Protection), Union and Middlesex Counties, and privately owned lands (including the Trust for Public Land and numerous private individual and corporate landowners). The New York City Audubon Society has been very active in managing several of the wildlife lands within this complex under cooperative agreements. The New Jersey Conservation Foundation has been coordinating a communities greenway program for the Arthur Kill tributaries in New Jersey. Although much of the area is unprotected, wetlands are regulated in New York under the state's Freshwater Wetlands Act of 1975 and Tidal Wetlands Act of 1977, and in New Jersey under the Freshwater Wetland Protection Act and Wetlands Act of 1970; these statutes are in addition to federal regulation under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, Section 404 of the Clean Water Act of 1977, and various Executive Orders. The New York State Department of State, Division of Coastal Resources, recognizes five Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats in the New York portion of the complex: Fresh Kills, Pralls Island, Sawmill Creek Marshes, Goethals Bridge Pond, and Shooters Island. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the Howland Hook/Goethals Bridge, Isle of Meadows, Fresh Kills, Prall's Island/Sawmill Creek Marsh in New York and Metro Park wetlands in New Jersey as priority wetland sites under the federal Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986. The northwest corner of Staten Island is one of three special waterfront areas designated by the New York City Department of Planning.


V. GENERAL HABITAT DESCRIPTION: This habitat complex focuses on the three island heronries located in the Arthur Kill and Kill van Kull, the wetlands in and adjacent to the Arthur Kill and its tributaries, and the remaining uplands adjacent to these wetlands and tributaries.

The Arthur Kill itself is a tidal strait connecting the Kill van Kull and Newark Bay to the north with Raritan Bay and the Raritan River to the south. Tidal surges come from both ends, with an average flushing time of two weeks and an average semi-diurnal tidal range of 1.6 meters (5.3 feet). The major fresh water inputs are the major tributaries of the Arthur Kill: the Rahway River, the Elizabeth River, and the Fresh Kills, which contribute about 38% (122 cubic feet per second), with the balance of 62% (200 cubic feet/second) coming from smaller tributaries, sewage treatment plants, combined sewer overflows, and industrial discharges. The salinity of the Arthur Kill varies from 17 to 27 parts per thousand at the southern end to nearly freshwater in some of the tributary mouths. The Arthur Kill is surrounded by one of the most densely populated coastal areas in the world and suffers from many use impairments, including heavy industry and major shipping vessel traffic. The resultant poor water quality and contaminant loads are compounded by the slow flushing rates, causing levels of organic and metal contaminants to be particularly high.

Vast modifications of the physical features of the Arthur Kill were made by humans to serve the harbor area. The highly industrialized waterway is dredged to an average channel depth of 9 meters (30 feet) and much of the shoreline is bulkheaded or riprapped. However, if you consider the shoreline associated with the islands, there is a remarkable 55% of the total shoreline still available as natural mudflats and marshes. These areas are utilized by a number of species living in the intertidal zone. Many invertebrate species, including abundant fiddler crab (Uca spp.), ribbed mussels (Geukensia demissus), and marsh snails (Melampus bidentatus), live in this area and are essential components of the food chain. The intertidal mudflat community below the marsh is home to a variety of benthic animals including worms, shellfish, snails, sponges, and jellyfish. The intertidal community is complemented by a number of organisms that use the artificial surfaces, e.g., piers, bulkheads, and concrete, as their home. The abundance and distribution of benthic invertebrates are influenced by human disturbance, toxics, and natural environmental stress, and generally show a low species diversity. Highly sensitive species are absent, while high population levels of species tolerant to pollution or disturbance, such as polychaete, tubificid, and nematode worms, are not uncommon.

Most of the Arthur Kill watershed has been densely developed for industrial, commercial, and residential uses. There is a concentration of industrial uses adjacent to the Arthur Kill, especially for port facilities and petroleum and chemical industries. Communities further up in the watershed are more dominated by residential and commercial land use. The watershed in New Jersey has an average population density greater than 5,000 people per square mile, 75 times the national average. Past and present land uses resulted in filling most of the salt marshes that were once extensive in the Arthur Kill drainage and developing most of the upland and inland wetland areas. Fortunately, the counties of Union and Essex and, to a lesser extent, Middlesex, preserved substantial amounts of land as parks: over 3,238 hectares (8,000 acres) combined in the Arthur Kill watershed, much of it along the river corridors.

The Arthur Kill complex is underlain by complex geology. The northern part of the habitat complex is underlain primarily by sandstones and shales, part of the Northern Triassic Lowlands (Newark Basin) in the Piedmont physiographic province; the southern part of this complex is underlain by the gravels, sands and clays of the Raritan Formation in the Coastal Plain physiographic province. Bands of igneous traprock (Triassic diabase) form the First and Second Watchung Ridges that define the western boundary of the watershed. A narrow band of traprock and a band of serpentine pass through the northwest corner of Staten Island, forming the eastern boundary of the area. Formation of the wetlands in this complex began 8,000 to 10,000 years ago when the last glacial advance began to melt and retreat northward. The terminal moraine of the glacier created a large inland glacial lake called Glacial Lake Hackensack which persisted for several thousand years. The Arthur Kill watershed is bounded on the south and west by the terminal moraine of the last glaciation that reached its southernmost extent in the region at Perth Amboy. Most of the wetlands in the watershed occur on the sediments of the former Glacial Lake Hackensack and other glacial lakes. The soils tend to be poorly drained, with acidic to circumneutral pH. The sediments in the Arthur Kill are primarily silt with some clay and sand.

This complex consists of four major habitat groupings: colonial wading bird breeding sites or heronries; waterbird foraging areas; freshwater marshes and wooded swamps; and upland forests. The focal points of this complex are the three island heronries: Shooters Island, Pralls Island, and Isle of Meadows. Shooters Island is an uninhabited bedrock and fill island located in the Kill van Kull at the southern end of Newark Bay, partly in New Jersey and partly in New York. The island is partially wooded with species such as black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima) and Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). Small patches of salt marsh containing cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) and common reed (Phragmites australis) occur around the shoreline, along with scattered debris, rotting docks, abandoned buildings, shipwrecks, and barges. Pralls Island, located in the Arthur Kill, was originally a high marsh island over which dredged material was dumped, creating a central densely wooded upland area with tree-of-heaven, gray birch (Betula populifolia), and black cherry (Prunus serotina) ringed by low marsh dominated by salt marsh cordgrass and common reed. Isle of Meadows, located at the confluence of the Arthur Kill and Fresh Kills, is similar in origin and vegetation to Pralls Island and contains areas of low and high tidal marsh along its northern and western shores.

The main foraging areas of this complex used by nesting colonial wading birds from the three island heronries are: Arlington/Mariners Marsh, Bridge Creek, Goethals Bridge Pond, Old Place Creek, Gulfport Marsh, Sawmill Creek Marsh, Neck Creek Marsh, Fresh Kills and Richmond Creek, Piles Creek, Rahway River Mouth, Kawameeh Park, and Middlesex Reservoir. These areas represent a diversity of wetland habitat types, primarily tidal and nontidal emergent salt, brackish, and fresh marshes, mudflats, ponds, and creeks, dominated by cordgrasses (Spartina alterniflora and S. patens), spike grass (Distichlis spicata), marsh elder (Iva frutescens), common reed, and cattail (Typha latifolia). In addition to vegetated wetland areas, this complex contains extensive interspersed areas of human-made structures, including railroad yards, oil tank farms, bulkheads, docks, road systems, landfills, and numerous industrial and residential buildings, both occupied and abandoned. Other areas further removed from this complex in the Hackensack Meadowlands and Newark Bay may also be important foraging areas.

Descriptions of specific foraging areas on Staten Island follow. Arlington Marsh is a tidal flat area with a narrow band of salt marsh along the Kill van Kull shoreline close to the Shooter's Island heronry and high marsh further inland. Mariner's Marsh is a complex of former drydocks that are now freshwater wetlands including seven ponds, marshes, meadows, woods, and streams. At the corner of the Arthur Kill and Kill van Kull, Bridge Creek is a tidal creek with an island of intertidal marsh, shoals, bars, and flats and grasslands on the adjacent vacant uplands. South of this area is Howland Hook, a large container shipping port with sediments contaminated by high concentrations of dioxin. To the south and inland of these areas, Goethal's Bridge Pond is a 20-hectare (50-acre) shallow freshwater-to-brackish pond surrounded by emergent marsh dominated by common reed and a contiguous forested area. Old Place Creek is the most extensive meandering tidal creek in northern Staten Island, with a narrow strip of intertidal marsh and extensive areas of high marsh. Its headwaters include Graniteville Swamp and the Staten Island Corporate Park. Though culverted, the drainage of Old Place Creek still extends east of South Avenue. Gulfport Marsh is a large 66-hectare (162-acre) emergent marsh dominated by common reed and cattails, with pockets of open water. This is the second largest freshwater emergent marsh in New York City. Sawmill Creek Marsh is located across Prall's Creek directly opposite the Prall's Island heronry and contains salt marshes, tidal flats, and freshwater wetlands with several small ponds and a 10-hectare (25-acre) freshwater/brackish marsh with headwaters in the Staten Island Corporate Park. Neck Creek Marsh is a high marsh area separated from a freshwater marsh and pond by a dike. Fresh Kills is the largest tidal wetland system (about 405 hectares [1,000 acres] of tidal wetlands) in the Manhattan Hills ecological region. The complex includes two relatively natural wetland areas: Isle of Meadows marsh and heronry and William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge, as well as three major tributaries including Main Creek, Richmond Creek, and Springville Creek. In the middle of the Fresh Kills complex is one of the largest sanitary landfills in the world; this landfill is slated for closure in 2001.

Descriptions of specific foraging areas in New Jersey tributaries to the Arthur Kill follow. The Middlesex Reservoir on the Robinson's Branch of the Rahway River contains shallow marshy areas characterized by submergent, emergent, and floating-leaved vegetation such as pondweed (Potamogeton spp.), spatterdock (Nuphar variegatum), pickerelweed (Pontedaria cordata), and cattail. A feeder stream to the Middlesex Reservoir runs through a marsh dominated by bulrushes (Scirpus spp.), cattails, grasses, and marsh mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos); the upper reservoir is no longer used for water supply. The lower 7.2 kilometer (4.5 mile) stretch at the mouth of the Rahway River contains mudflats and 174 hectares (430 acres) of fringing salt marsh dominated by common reed and high marsh cordgrass with marsh elder (Iva frutescens) and disturbed uplands. The river and marshes are extensively disturbed by industrial and commercial facilities and landfills. Piles Creek contains the largest single tract of intact salt marsh remaining in the New Jersey Arthur Kill drainage, dominated by cordgrasses with some common reed and marsh elder. This area is surrounded by industrial facilities. Kawahmee Park in the upper Elizabeth River includes a pond, large freshwater marsh, and surrounding shrub and tree swamp. The pond and marsh are dominated by submergent, emergent, and floating leaved vegetation including common reed, cattail, spatterdock, pond weeds, and fragrant water lily (Nymphaea odorata). Shrubs and trees surrounding the marsh consist primarily of dogwoods (Cornus spp.), mulberry (Morus spp.), alder (Alnus spp.), button bush (Cephalanthis occidentalis), sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), willow (Salix spp.), red maple, and tree of heaven.

Other freshwater wetlands and forested areas are described below. Graniteville Swamp and Staten Island Corporate Park form the eastern upland edges of the wetland foraging areas on the northwest corner of Staten Island. Both contain wooded swamps dominated by sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), red maple (Acer rubrum), and swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor), as well as other wetland communities including salt marshes, cattail marshes/bogs, and small ponds. The Graniteville Swamp area also contains an area of upland forest. Clay Pits Pond is in the coastal plain in the southern part of this complex. The pond is surrounded by pitch pine, post oak, and blackjack oak vegetation reminiscent of the pine barrens of Long Island and New Jersey and is sometimes referred to as the pine barrens of Staten Island. Other tree species include American chestnut, white oak, black oak, red maple, sweetgum, and black gum. Clay Pits Pond and the Chain Ponds are small acidic ponds. Across the Arthur Kill from the Clay Pits Pond complex is Woodbridge Creek, with an upper watershed consisting of relatively undisturbed upland hardwood forest, forested wetlands, marsh, and successional fields surrounded by industrial, commercial, and residential uses. The forested wetland is dominated by mature pin oak (Quercus palustris) with red maple and various other deciduous trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous vegetation. Two headwater areas in the Rahway include Evergreen Road Swamp (Metro Park wetlands), a 32-hectare (80-acre) complex of streamside wetlands, scrubby fields, and wet woods on both sides of Evergreen Road dominated by red maple, white ash (Fraxinus americana), pin oak, and sweet gum trees with an understory of spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). This area is surrounded by residential and commercial development and a highly used park. It is considered a priority wetland under the Emergency Wetland Resources Act and contains the headwaters of the South Branch of the Rahway. Ashbrook Swamp, the headwaters of the Robinson's Branch of the Rahway is the largest remaining freshwater wetland in the Arthur Kill watershed, consisting of an extensive complex of wooded swamp dominated by red maple and white ash with an understory of spicebush, green brier and spring beauty (Claytonia virginica), and pockets of predominantly cattail and common reed marsh. The area is surrounded by industrial, commercial, and residential development including several golf courses.


VI. ECOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE/UNIQUENESS OF SITE: The Arthur Kill complex is notable for the network of remaining upland and wetland open space within a highly industrialized area. These remaining natural communities support regionally significant fish and wildlife populations, especially wading birds. The Arthur Kill complex supports seasonal or year-round populations of 178 species of special emphasis, incorporating 37 species of fish and 128 species of birds, and including the following federally and state-listed species. (Living resources and their habitats are dynamic; therefore, the ecological significance and species information presented here may not be complete or up-to-date. State and federal environmental agencies [see Appendix III for office contacts] should be consulted for additional information.)

Federally listed endangered
peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Federal species of concern(1)
northern diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys t. terrapin)
cerulean warbler (Dendroica cerulea)

1Species of special concern listed here include former Category 2 candidates.

State-listed endangered - New Jersey
Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus)
northern harrier (Circus cyaneus)
least tern (Sterna antillarum)
short-eared owl (Asio flammeus)

State-listed threatened - New Jersey
American bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus)
osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
barred owl (Strix varia)
red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)
bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorous)

State-listed endangered - New York
least tern (Sterna antillarum)
rose pink (Sabatia angularis)
Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana)
Nantucket juneberry (Amelanchier nantucketensis)

State-listed threatened - New York
eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum)
northern harrier (Circus cyaneus)
American bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus)
osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia)

State-listed special concern animals - New York
short-eared owl (Asio flammeus)
southern leopard frog (Rana sphenocephala)
common barn owl (Tyto alba)
common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor)

State-listed rare plants - New York
gray-green sedge (Carex flaccosperma var. glaucodea)
persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
Stueve's or tall bush-clover (Lespedeza stuevei)
blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica)

Of primary significance in this area is the presence of major nesting colonies and foraging areas of herons, egrets, and ibises in a complex of closely associated natural habitats occurring within a major metropolitan area. Three island colonies, or heronries, were established in the 1970s; in 1995 these heronries collectively contained nearly 1,400 nesting pairs of colonial wading birds of special regional emphasis or management concern, including, in declining order of abundance, black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), snowy egret (Egretta thula), great egret (Casmerodius albus), cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis), yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea), green-backed heron (Butorides striatus), and little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) nesting pairs. This is the largest heronry in New York State and accounts for about 25% of all the waders that breed in coastal New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. The largest number of nesting great egret, cattle egret, snowy egret, and yellow-crowned night herons in New York State occur at these colonies. In addition, over 1,000 herring gull (Larus argentatus), 30 great black-backed gull (Larus marinus), and 140 double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) pairs nested on these same sites, constituting one of the southernmost nesting areas for the Canadian sub-population of the cormorant. Adult and young herons and egrets forage extensively in the wetlands over this complex, feeding on rich concentrations of forage fish, particularly mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus) and Atlantic silverside (Menidia menidia), and invertebrates, particularly grass shrimp (Paleomonetes spp.), in the marshes, flats, and shallow waters of ponds and tidal creeks.

Nesting waterfowl include American black duck (Anas rubripes), gadwall (Anas strepera), mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), green-winged teal (Anas crecca), blue-winged teal (Anas discors), Canada goose (Branta canadensis), and wood duck (Aix sponsa), and also breeding Virginia rail (Rallus limicola), common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), least bittern (Ixobrychus exilis), American coot (Fulica americana), and pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps). Goethals Bridge Pond is an important feeding area for migratory shorebirds, particularly black-bellied plover (Pluvialis squatarola), red knot (Calidris canutus), pectoral sandpiper (Calidris melanotos), semipalmated sandpiper (Calidris pusilla), sanderling (Calidris alba), common tern (Sterna hirundo), and least tern. Wintering waterfowl of regional importance occurring in the open waters and marshes in this complex include greater and lesser scaup (Aythya marila and A. affinis), canvasback (Aythya valisineria), brant (Branta bernicla), American black duck, Canada goose, mallard, bufflehead (Bucephala albeola), and American wigeon (Anas americana). Northern harriers forage over many of the wetland marshes of this complex, particularly in winter, as did numbers of short-eared owls until the mid-1980s.

The deep water habitats of the Kill have phytoplankton and zooplankton populations that are indicative of low light penetration (because of turbidity) and pollution. The most abundant microzooplankton in the area are crustaceans, while the macrozooplankton are dominated by larval mud crabs and grass shrimp (Palaemonetes spp). Blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus) are an important part of the benthic community; juveniles and adults scour the sediment interface in search of other benthic invertebrates to consume. Ichthyoplankton surveys have collected eggs and larvae of 36 species of fish, the bulk of which are believed to spawn in the Raritan Bay or Lower New York Bay. The fish fauna of the Arthur Kill includes year-round residents mummichog and grubby sculpin (Myxocephalus aeneus); migratory species bay anchovy (Anchoa mitchilli), Atlantic silverside, and alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus); and predatory fish bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix), striped bass (Morone saxatilis), weakfish (Cynoscion regalis), and hakes (Urophycis spp). In all, there have been over 60 species of fish collected in various surveys, and an increase in species diversity over the past 20 years is attributed to increased dissolved oxygen from improved wastewater handling.

Interesting and regionally rare southern and coastal plain species and communities occurring in this area include a grove of native persimmon, blackjack oak, and sweet bay (Magnolia virginiana) and a population of southern leopard frog. The swamp and upland forests at Graniteville Swamp and Staten Island Corporate Park and the local floodplain forests of the Arthur Kill watershed in New Jersey represent some of the few remaining intact forest stands in the general metropolitan area. The red maple-sweet gum swamps found at Graniteville Swamp/Staten Island Corporate Park are a rare community type in New York, and the stand of sweet bay is the largest in New York State. The globally rare Nantucket juneberry occurs in the Graniteville Swamp area. These areas also are important from a biodiversity perspective, including their use by Neotropical migrants. Clay Pits Pond contains coastal plain communities that are rare in the urban core. Many Neotropical migrant songbirds, including warblers, are common migrants. An inventory of the Arthur Kill tributaries in New Jersey found 195 species of birds using the area; these included 26 species of warblers and 88 breeding species.


VII. THREATS AND SPECIAL PROBLEMS: This unique and regionally significant wetlands and heronry complex is within one of the most intensively industrialized and urbanized corridors in the northeastern United States, and is subject to both physical and qualitative losses of habitat due to chemical (including heavy metals, DDT, and petrochemicals) and nutrient pollution stresses, stormwater and sewage discharges, stream channelization, nonpoint source runoff, illegal filling and dumping activities, fragmentation and loss of connecting corridors, loss of upland buffers, invasive species, mammalian predators, poorly planned land and waterfront development, human-related disturbances, and dredging and other changes in channel flows, among other impacts. This area was the site of several recent oil spills and discharges, resulting in direct wildlife losses and decreased productivity. In 1990, 684 spills dumped a volume of 5.7 million liters (1.5 million gallons) of oil into the waterways and wetlands of New York harbor; 70% of this volume contaminated the Arthur Kill and Kill van Kull. In recent tests, sediments in the Arthur Kill were found to be toxic to a variety of test organisms. Drift removal may result in loss of important intertidal and shallow subtidal foraging areas for wading birds. Dams or other artificial impediments to spawning occur at several of the tributaries on both sides of the Arthur Kill, which had historical anadromous fish runs. The long residence time in the Arthur Kill, caused by the two-way tidal flushing, exacerbates water quality problems. The remaining rare upland and wetland communities on Staten Island and in the Arthur Kill watershed of New Jersey are threatened by additional development.


VIII. CONSERVATION RECOMMENDATIONS: Protection of the heronries, wetland foraging areas, and rare plants and communities of this regionally significant habitat complex should be accorded high priority and sought through a multitude of appropriate land protection mechanisms, including cooperative conservation and management agreements, zoning and land-use regulations, easements, land exchanges and, in some cases, acquisition. While many of the aquatic sites and mainland marshes are in public ownership and primarily in need of resource management rather than acquisition, several of the significant sites are privately owned and may need to be acquired or approached through land exchanges to ensure their long-term protection and viability. The area offers abundant land and resource conservation opportunities and challenges involving the cooperative efforts of federal, state, and city governments in partnership with private conservation organizations such as the New York City Audubon Society, Trust for Public Land, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, American Littoral Society, Protectors of the Pine-Oak Woods, local communities and, most importantly, private individual and corporate landowners. Protective measures should be taken, whether by regulation, zoning, planning, cooperative agreements, or restoration programs, to restore, maintain, enhance, and protect the significant aquatic, wetland, and upland habitats of this complex to ensure that these areas continue to support the regionally significant populations of waterfowl, fish, colonial breeding wading birds, and rare plants that utilize and depend upon them. The remaining rare natural communities in the Arthur Kill watershed of Staten Island should be inventoried and protected through acquisition, easements, or other means. Implementation of recommendations in the New Jersey Conservation Foundation's Greenways to the Arthur Kill, including preservation of existing habitat sites in the watershed, creation of linkages between public lands and habitat sites along tributaries in the watershed, and regulatory protection of streambank development would preserve habitat, improve water quality and flood protection, and provide for recreation. Specific strategies for each tributary are outlined in that publication. Similarly specific recommendations for the New York portion of the Arthur Kill watershed are provided in The Harbor Herons Report. In addition to protection and conservation actions along the tributaries, restoration and enhancement of wetlands and adjacent uplands is necessary in many locations. Restoration actions include removing or controlling common reed, reestablishing salt marsh areas, and enhancing and restoring riparian habitats. Any proposed drift removal projects must be planned and implemented so as to avoid impacts on the Harbor Herons nesting sites. Restoring anadromous fish runs at Richmond Creek (a tributary to the Fresh Kills system on Staten Island) through the installation of a fish bypass structure may be possible. Existing parks should be managed to maximize wildlife habitat by limiting the cutting of the shrub and understory areas. The closed landfill areas along the Fresh Kills and at other locations in the watershed should be revegetated with native plants to form communities including grasslands, woodlands, freshwater ponds, and other habitat types. Leachate from these landfills must be controlled. Given the extensive history of oil and chemical spills in this area, the state and federal agencies must work together to prepare for future oil and chemical spills by identifying and mapping resources and hazards, maintaining communication between agencies, and developing response procedures.



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New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 1996. 1995 Long Island colonial waterbird and piping plover survey. Division of Fish and Wildlife, Region 1, Stony Brook, NY.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 1990. Programmatic environmental impact statement on Staten Island freshwater wetlands preservation. Long Island City, NY.

New York State Department of State. 1992. Significant coastal fish and wildlife habitats program, a part of the New York Coastal Management Program and New York City's Approved Waterfront Revitalization Program. Fresh Kills, Pralls Island, Sawmill Creek Marshes, Goethals Bridge Pond, Shooters Island habitat narratives and maps. New York State Department of State, Division of Coastal Resources and Waterfront Revitalization, Albany, NY.

Parsons, K.C. and A.C. McColpin. 1993. Aquatic birds of New York Harbor: 1993 management report. Report submitted to New York City Audubon Society, New York, NY.

Siebenheller, N. 1981. Breeding birds of Staten Island, 1881-1981 including Shooter's Island, Prall's Island and Hoffman and Swinburne Islands. Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences, Staten Island, NY.

Trust for Public Land and New York City Audubon Society. 1990. The Harbor Herons report: a strategy for preserving a unique wildlife habitat and wetland resource in northwestern Staten Island. Trust for Public Land, New York, NY. 56 p.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1994. Natural resource damage assessment proposal for assessing exposure and potential impacts of dioxins and furans from the Diamond Alkali National Priorities List Site, Essex County, New Jersey, on anadromous fish and piscivorous birds in the Passaic River/ Newark Bay/Arthur Kill ecosystem. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Jersey Field Office, Pleasantville, NJ.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1993. Natural resource damage assessment proposal for high priority Superfund sites in the Newark Bay Watershed in northeastern New Jersey. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Jersey Field Office, Pleasantville, NJ.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1991. Northeast coastal areas study: significant coastal habitats of southern New England and portions of Long Island, New York. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southern New England - New York Bight Coastal Ecosystems Program, Charlestown, RI. 249 p.

Woodhead, Peter M. 1991. Inventory and characterization of habitat and fish resources, and assessment of information on toxic effects in the New York - New Jersey Harbor Estuary. A report to the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary Program, concerning work in tasks 3.2, 5.1, and 5.3., New York, NY.

List of Species of Special Emphasis


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