Seagirt Ave Wetlands

Seagirt Avenue Wetlands

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

These wetlands thrive in the Far Rockaway section of Queens. The word “Seagirt” literally means surrounded by the sea, an allusion to Far Rockaway’s location between Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

A massive ice sheet called the Wisconsin Glacier advanced on New York City 75,000 years ago, pushing rock, soil, and boulders ahead. When the glacier melted 17,000 years ago, water flowed to the sea, creating streams and rivers that carved through rock. Large glacial fragments broke off, melted, and left depressions called kettles. When these ice fragments deposited layers of fine silt and clay on the bottom of the depressions, the kettles collected water and ponds formed. Where waters were shallow or flowed slowly, seeds and spores were able to take root and flourish. Generations of plants grew and decomposed, building peat-rich sediments. As wind and water eroded the soil, steep slopes grew gentler, slowing the passage of water. Plant communities diversified in these favorable conditions, increasing the animal populations attracted to the plants. The sophisticated food web that developed brought advanced predators to the wetlands: snapping turtles, wolves, hawks, and humans.

Wetlands form in basins that hold ground water, storm water, and rainfall, including lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. Water levels in wetlands are variable, influenced by the underlying rock and soil makeup, rainfall, season, and ground water inputs. Despite these variable conditions, freshwater wetlands teem with life. Vegetation ranges from plants that float on the water’s surface, such as duckweed (Lemna spp.) and watermeal (Wolffia spp.), to trees of the upland swamp forest, like red oak (Quercus rubra) and silver maple (Acer saccharinum).

Freshwater wetlands are a critical habitat for native wildlife, providing breeding grounds for amphibians like the spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum), which spends one or two years in the water before emerging as an adult. Wood frogs (Rana sylvatica), spring peepers (Hyla crucifer), and Fowler’s toads (Bufo woodhousei fowleri) also breed in kettle ponds, filling the woods with their courtship songs in spring. Birds, such as red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) and yellow warblers (Dendroica petechia), as well as mammals like muskrats (Ondatra zibethica), further contribute to this thriving ecosystem. In addition to housing these native species, freshwater wetlands also provide resting, breeding, and feeding grounds for hundreds of thousands of migrating birds. Many of these birds arrive in New York City only twice a year as they travel along the Atlantic flyway, a major migratory route.

New York City once contained 224,000 acres of freshwater wetland. This valuable ecosystem slows erosion, preventing flooding by storing storm waters, straining and decomposing pollutants, and slowing global warming by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen at a prodigious rate. However, the increasing demands for housing slated most of this land for construction. Only 2,000 acres of freshwater wetland remain today within the city, and many species that used to live here no longer can.

Seagirt Avenue Wetlands, located on Seagirt Avenue between Beach Third Street and Beach Fifth Street, was assigned to Parks by the Department of General Services on September 27, 1995. The land remains undeveloped in order to keep the vital ecosystem stable and thriving.

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