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Here is a feel good wildlife story from that thriving wilderness of…New York City?

Well, actually there is some wilderness here in New York City out at Jamaica Bay (A swampy tidal estuary in the shadow of JFK airport). That is where Ariel Cordova-Rojas was riding her bike when she saw a female mute swan (Cygnus olor) which was hunched up and unable to move properly. Cordova-Rojas grabbed the injured swan (that is when she really knew it was hurting, since grabbing an uninjured swan is effectively the same as grabbing a wyvern, an angry forklift, or a live electrical wire) and called some friends to deal with her bike. Then she began a two hour odyssey with the irascible 10 kilogram (20 pound) waterfowl.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After hiking for miles and riding for ages on the corona-addled (but open-minded!) subway, the good Samaritan finally brought the beautiful dinosaur descendant to Nostrand Avenue (right by where I live). There she got a car to the Wild Bird Fund, where bird-rescue specialists diagnosed the bird as suffering from lead poisoning (swans sometimes dabble up lead pieces when they are feeding).

After emergency treatment, the lovely (albeit invasive) bird is recuperating in style at New York City’s premier wildlife rehabilitation center (where she has apparently met a convalescing cob (a male swan). If only Tchaikovsky had known the good-hearted (and strong & fearless) Cordova-Rojas then Swan Lake might have ended up being a feel-good blockbuster with a happily ever after ending!

Jamaica Bay (Photo: Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

New York City is fortunate to have a thriving wetland inside the city. Visitors who have flown in or out of JFK have seen the huge intertidal salt marsh known as Jamaica Bay which lies along the boder of Brooklyn and Queens.  Unfortunately the wetland has been eroding away into the Atlantic Ocean.  This is partly because the east coast is a receding coastline and partly because of overdevelopment: there are numerous large sewage treatment facilities around the bay.  The City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been trying to clean up the bay and prevent the loss of a uniquely beautiful wilderness.  To do so they will need allies…little gray faceless allies. 

Jamaica Bay is there at the bottom right

Jamaica Bay is still host to 120 species of bird and 48 species of fish, however one particular keystone life form has gone missing. During the last 5 decades the Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) has vanished entirely from Jamaica Bay. The mollusks used to be so plentiful as to be a hindrance to navigation, but they gradually fell victim to overfishing and the pollution caused by 8 million pushy, pushy New Yorkers. 

All of this was true until two days ago (October 5, 2010) when the city laid down huge beds of oyster shells and reseeded Jamaica bay with endearing baby oysters.  The DEP has spent hundreds of millions of dollars modernizing and improving the water treatment plants around the bay to shrink nitrogen levels and give the oysters a fighting chance.

Artist's Conception of Jamaica Bay at present

Hopefully the young oysters will thrive and again become a backbone of the recovering bay ecosystem.  There are terrible perils out there facing the stalwart bivalves.  Stressed oysters are susceptible to two horrid diseases known as “Dermo and “MSX“, both virulent pathogens with the names of German industrial bands.  If the little mollusks can establish a foothold, filter feeding oysters are an immense boon to water quality.  One large adult can clean up to 48 gallons of water in 24 hours.  I’m rooting enthusiastically for the new neighbors. 

"They never asked to be heroes."

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