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Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers Make Tremendous Strides to Protect The Bay

The Rockaway Vollies is a special series by The Rockaway Times highlighting the amazing local nonprofit organizations and volunteers who freely give of their time and resources to help their neighbors, not just across the peninsula and Broad Channel, but beyond.

Jamaica Bay is New York City’s largest open space – larger than Central Park, Prospect Park and Van Cortlandt Park — protected by a local band of citizen scientists. What is a citizen scientist? Just ask, Dan Mundy, Sr. and his son, Dan Mundy, Jr., both lifelong Broad Channel residents, members of the FDNY, leaders of the Broad Channel Civic Association and founders of The Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers.

The Ecowatchers is an environmental organization comprised of local fishermen, kayakers, windsurfers, bird watchers, scuba divers and other Bay enthusiasts who came together to fight to preserve and enhance the great natural resources of Jamaica Bay. Though their backgrounds are varied, the members are united in their determination to see the Bay protected for future generations to come.

Mundy, Jr. says “Citizen scientists are the guys like us in Broad Channel (BC), who grew up on the Bay all our lives, swimming, diving, fishing and knowing the ins and outs of the Bay we grew up on and immensely love. We can tell you the changes in water color, temperature, and about the marine and wildlife. You don’t need a PhD for that, just a sensitivity and understanding of something we’ve grown up with all our lives.

“With the Ecowatchers, this is what I am most proud of. When we go out to meetings with scientists and experts who have doctorates, they now respect our local knowledge and sensitivity to the Bay’s needs. In the beginning it was hard to get recognition and respect, but after time, these so-called experts began to turn to us for our local knowledge, and this is why I refer to us as citizen scientists,” Mundy, Jr. said.

According to Mundy, Jr., the community’s stimulus to launch the Ecowatchers was due to the changes for the worse that lifelong BC Jamaica Bay lovers were witnessing during the mid 1990s. “Particularly there were two issues, the salt water loss with the wetlands disappearing and the water quality. We were seeing that the water was become increasingly brown and murky. So those two issues were visible factors that we saw which motivated us to start going to meetings and demand answers for what was going on.

“The National Park Service (NPS), Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and other agencies answered that nothing was going on. According to them, everything was fine, but we as a community were convinced that something was amiss. Hence, after our frustration with both the lack of awareness and inability to get answers of what was really happening to the Bay, coupled with feelings of powerlessness to make an impact, we made a decision to mobilize. It was unacceptable that this great natural resource that many of us in BC grew up enjoying and loving was obviously deteriorating quickly. So we banded together to prevent this and make positive change, and this is how the Ecowatchers was born,” Mundy said.

In 1995 the Ecowatchers became an official organization and began to document marsh loss on the Bay. Then in 1999, they became aware of the impact that the U.S. Congress’ ban on the Ocean Dumping Act in 1992 was having on the Bay after they reviewed data from DEP Water Quality reports that indicated nitrogen loading of the bay had spiked from 30,000 pounds a day to more than 57,000 pounds. Nitrogen loading is suspected as a cause for algae blooms, low dissolved oxygen content and marshland deterioration. That same year, Dan Mundy, Sr., president of the Ecowatchers (and Mundy, Jr.’s father), delivered a telling presentation to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Jamaica Bay Ecosystem Restoration Project’s public hearings of the Ecowatchers’ findings regarding water quality and marsh loss, and invited them to send representatives for a boat tour of the marshes. After the tour, the representatives were amazed at the losses they personally observed.

Then in 2000, Mundy, Sr. made another presentation at a Jamaica Bay Task Force meeting presenting the same findings. Findings were challenged by National Parks Service representatives as anecdotal and inaccurate, but that didn’t deter the Ecowatchers.

Fast forward to the present, the Ecowatchers’ work with Jamaica Bay got international attention with the documentary, Saving Jamaica Bay featuring the Mundys and other BC Ecowatchers. The documentary written by Bay enthusiast, Daniel Hendrick, directed by David Sigal and narrated by Academy Award-winning actress, Susan Sarandon, tells the compelling story of how BC and other Bay neighboring communities fought government inaction and overcame Hurricane Sandy to clean up and restore the Bay, which had become a dumping ground for garbage, sewage and even bullet-riddled mobsters. The documentary powerfully underscores the importance of citizen action and the role of urban nature in protecting cities from the effects of climate change.

In a NY1 Inside City Hall interview, the documentary’s writer, Hendrick said, “My goal with Saving Jamaica Bay was to simply illustrate the tremendous work people like the Mundys with the organization, the Ecowatchers overcame to make the Bay something beautiful just not just after Sandy, but with environmental changes. They worked really hard to come up with creative ideas to make the Bay and its marine and wildlife healthier.”

However, the Ecowatchers believe that their work is far from over. Mundy, Jr. said, “The Bay is still in great danger due to climate change. As residents, we are still concerned about hurricane resiliency, not just for us residents, but the marine and wildlife. Of course, there aren’t any easy answers, but more tough questions to solve. And as citizen scientists, the Ecowatchers will keep working towards our mission of making the Bay habitable and safe for everyone.”

For more information on the Ecowatchers and how you can get involved, visit: jamaicabayecowatchers.org  or their Facebook page.

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