By Katie McFadden
Imagine living by the beach and not being able to access it? For several decades, that’s been the case for Edgemere residents, as a mile-stretch of beach has been closed since 1996 due to nesting shorebirds. On Thursday, July 6, the Edgemere Community Civic Association called together a press conference to express frustrations and to send a message that there is a way for Edgemere residents, and the birds, to live in harmony.
Sonia Moise, an Edgemere resident for 45 years, who launched the ECCA two years ago, hosted Thursday’s press conference. Joining her were New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Assemblymembers Khaleel Anderson and Stacey Pheffer Amato. And other community leaders including John Cori of the Rockaway Beach Civic Association and Paul King, president of the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association, who though live in areas with open beaches, came to show support on behalf of Rockaway residents who can’t access their beach.
The conference was held on Beach 38th Street, which begins the protection area for birds like piping plovers, oystercatchers and terns, and which ends at Beach 58th Street. The area is designated by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, under guidelines from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Due to the protection of the birds, since 1996, residents have been unable to access the beach in this area.
“This is a harsh and cruel injustice,” Moise said. “On other parts of the beach, more residents, more people who actually live in that area come out and invest and visit their community beach. We cannot do that. Further west and east, you will see more beachgoers. More beachgoers means more economic improvement in those communities. You look behind us and what do you see? Nothing. It has been too many years that we have been the forgotten community. Edgemere always gets dumped on. No one thinks of the Edgemere community and what our needs are.”
She said having access to the beaches in the area would improve the mental health of residents in the area and would improve the economic status of the community. “It’s about time we have access. Everyone is so concerned with the birds. I understand they should be protected, but what about our protection? In this small community, there are 19,000 residents and 56% of those are black residents. The other is Hispanic. You do the math,” Moise said. “I had to start this Civic because there’s too many things going on in this community and they dump everything here without even giving us a heads up and we are tired. We want the same rights as everybody else on the Rockaway peninsula. Why are we the only ones that don’t have access?”
John Cori also pointed out the unfair treatment of Edgemere, saying, “Imagine if the piping plover landed in the great lawn of Central Park? How long would it last? They’d pick up the eggs and bring them to Edgemere.”
In another example of unfair treatment in Edgemere, ECCA Treasurer Jack Emter brought up another serious issue concerning safety and security, pointing out that the Edgemere boardwalk doesn’t even have street signs designating every block between Beach 33rd and Beach 40th Street. “If you have a need for any emergency services and you’re on the beach or boardwalk between Beach 33rd and 40th, how will you let them know where to come and get you? There’s no signage. We need signage immediately. Sonia notified authorities on June 26. It’s 10 days later and we have no signs,” he said.
In regard to sharing the beach, Moise mentioned other areas of the peninsula that also have nesting shorebirds, but allow access to the beach, providing protection to the birds while allowing direct access to the shoreline. Most at the press conference agreed that compromises like this could be done to make the birds and the people happy.
In a social media post after the event, Public Advocate Williams said, “We can provide sanctuary for wildlife AND economic benefit to communities of more color. There’s a way to share the waterfront—not just between birds and people, but between the different communities that dot the Rockaways. That’s all the Edgemere Community Civic Association- ECCA is asking for.”
Assemblyman Anderson reiterated the sentiment saying, “I am personally advocating for both beach access in Edgemere AND the protection of our precious wildlife. We are all committed to finding a solution that allows us to coexist with nature while ensuring our community’s right to enjoy our local beach. Together, we can create a perfect balance through thoughtful preservation and education. “
In response to the issue, NYC Parks says they have been making efforts to make the area more accessible, including recently opening the beaches from Beach 32nd to Beach 36th and they have plans to open six more beaches from Beach 36th to Beach 38th and Beach 62nd to Beach 65th later this month. They also plan to allow access to the sand in the plover area once the new chicks are old enough to leave the beach at the end of the summer.
The ECCA has an ongoing petition circulating regarding the issue, that was started in October 2022. It can be found at: www.change.org/p/birds-over-people-edgemere-s-fight-to-gain-back-access-to-the-beach
Photos by Theresa Racine.