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Press Releases

Monday, December 03, 2018
No. 118


New York City parks home to a variety of rare species— including Herring, Terrapin and Plovers

Tuesday, December 4 is World Wildlife Conservation Day! Did you know that New York City is home to a wide array of rare and unusual animal species that most people rarely see or know about? Under the high rises and busy streets, small populations of rare animals have existed alongside us for decades, hidden from view.

NYC Parks has successfully worked with community partners and volunteers in parks throughout the city to restore animal populations that were once at risk. These include alewife river herring in the Bronx River, diamond-backed terrapins in Jamaica Bay, and Piping Plovers on Rockaway Beach—all of which have become a more common sight in NYC in recent years.

Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog

  • Characteristics and Range: Found in expansive open-canopied wetlands, this frog can be identified by its distinct dorsal spots and unique ‘chuck’-like call that can be heard during the breeding period (late March – early April).
  • Threats: Once widespread and amongst the most common frog species in the NYC region, it’s now found in only a handful of sites in NYC--all on Staten Island. Substantial evidence to population decline points to a combination of disease and habitat loss.
  • What we are doing to help: NYC Parks will help ensure the long-term survival of the ACLF on Staten Island through monitoring and managing its natural resources, and protecting sensitive areas as Forever Wild habitat.

American Eel

  • Characteristics and Range: American Eels are born thousands of miles away in the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean. They disperse along the Atlantic Coast and travel upstream to freshwater. They live in streams and rivers for the next 20 or 30 years of their lifespan. Once they reach sexual maturity, they make the long journey back to where they hatched, where they spawn just once and then die. They are a considered “catadromous fish” because they spend most of their life in freshwater and only require saltwater for part of their life cycle.
  • Threats: Due to overfishing and habitat loss, particularly caused by barriers like dams that prevent the eels from reaching freshwater habitat, American Eel populations are dramatically reduced.
  • What we are doing to help: In partnership with the Bronx River Alliance and other partners, NYC Parks is working to restore American Eel populations in the Bronx River by creating access to freshwater habitat. An eel ladder was installed at the first dam barrier in the River in 2015. Increasing numbers of American Eels have been using it each year to get over the dam and access the habitat they need. NYC Parks is working to design and build additional eel ladders at the other upstream barriers, or to remove the barriers where possible, so that American Eels can access the rest of the Bronx River once again.

Piping Plovers

  • Characteristics and Range: These small, lightly-colored shorebirds can be found on Rockaway Beach in Queens. They generally begin arriving in New York City in mid-March to nest for the summer before migrating south in August to spend their winter months along the Gulf Coast and the southeastern seaboard of the United States.
  • Threats: Piping Plovers are considered an endangered species in New York State, and are listed as threatened at the federal level. Hunting of piping plovers for their feathers and for sport led to their near-extinction in the early 1900s. Although their populations were able to recover, they are still at risk. Their main causes of death are predation, habitat damage and destruction, and human disturbance. As of 2016, there were just 496 known breeding pairs in New York and New Jersey.
  • What we are doing to help: Since 1996, NYC Parks has been managing the Rockaway Beach Endangered Species Nesting Area in Queens. This site is used by piping plovers and other vulnerable shorebirds like American oystercatchers, black skimmers, common terns and least terns as a nesting ground. Part of managing this site involves closing approximately one mile of shoreline to the public. This restricted area provides a place where plovers can nest and incubate their eggs undisturbed while being closely monitored for productivity and possible threats.

River Herring

  • Characteristics and Range: These fish visit NYC’s freshwater rivers and streams with saltwater connections, most notably the Bronx River. In NYC, river herring can include two different, but physically almost identical, species: Alewife and Blueback Herring. They spend the majority of their lives in saltwater but only come to freshwater to spawn. Every spring, river herring from the Atlantic Ocean swim upstream to freshwater to spawn, individuals returning to the same waters where they hatched multiple times in their lifetime.
  • Threats: River herring were once so abundant that their annual migration was recognized as the start of spring. Populations have declined dramatically due to overfishing and habitat loss caused by barriers like dams that prevent river herring from reaching their spawning habitat. Neither river herring species is considered threatened or endangered on a regional level, but due to local threats to their populations, NYS DEC considers them a high priority Species of Greatest Conservation Need.
  • What we are doing to help: NYC Parks, in partnership with the Bronx River Alliance and others is actively working to restore river herring populations in the Bronx River access to freshwater habitat. A fishway was installed at the first dam barrier in the River in 2015 to help river herring over the dam and access spawning habitat. Parks also stocks the Bronx River with adult spawning Alewife each spring.

Horseshoe Crabs

  • Characteristics and Range: The Atlantic Horseshoe Crab is a species of arthropod that lives in coastal waters all along the east coast of North America. Every summer Horseshoe Crabs lay eggs on NYC’s beaches, notably in Brooklyn’s Coney Island Creek and at Staten Island’s Conference House Park. Horseshoe crabs have existed as a species since before the dinosaurs evolved, millions of year ago.
  • Threats: Horseshoe crabs are threatened by habitat loss and overharvesting. They are harvested both for use as fishing bait and by the pharmaceutical and medical industries, which use their blood to test the sterility of drugs, vaccines and equipment.
  • What we are doing to help: NYC Parks monitors horseshoe crab spawning, counting and tagging individuals every May and June on beaches at Conference House Park, Kaiser Park and Calvert Vaux Park. NYC Parks, with funding from NYS DEC, restored sandy beach habitat for horseshoe crab spawning at Calvert Vaux Park in 2013.

Parks also surveys and documents rare wildlife that use NYC Parks properties as safe corridors to access other areas in NYC, such as cemeteries, gardens, or state parks. The state-endangered mud turtle for example, passes through City parkland in Staten Island to access Greenbelt waterways. NYC Parks researchers are also investigating sightings of the eastern worm snake (not seen in NYC for over 100 years) found in Emanu-El Cemetery in Queens, which is adjacent to habitat in nearby Highland Park. This highlights how unexpected wildlife discoveries can still happen in big cities, and illustrates the need to preserve and expand Forever Wild sites in New York City.

People interested in supporting efforts to protect these vulnerable species—or just appreciating some local wildlife—can find wildlife-related events and volunteer opportunities on the City’s WildlifeNYC website.

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