On August 31, seven Fellows graduated from the 2023 Jamaica Bay Wetlands Fellowship — a paid, workforce development and job training program for young adults aged 18 to 25 years. The graduation ceremony was held at the Garden by the Bay, a community garden located in Edgemere. The Fellowship program teaches value-maintenance and restoration skills for wetlands, shorelines, and upland areas to help build skills and define career paths for young adults within the diverse communities surrounding Jamaica Bay.
During the six-month program, the Fellows removed six tons of debris from shorelines and upland areas; removed invasive plants, harvested native seed, and restored two acres of habitat; and planted 70,000 plants, including wetland species, native scrubs and adolescent trees. The Fellows worked to maintain over 30 sites including newly restored wetland areas in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Sunset Cove, and Hook Creek. This diversity of sites and projects was made possible by robust partnerships with NYC, State, and the National Park Service at Gateway National Recreation Area, as well as multiple local community and civic groups.
A program highlight was replanting the West Pond Living Shoreline in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. After last winter’s storms battered the shoreline and its vegetation, the Wetland Fellows got to work replanting the site – battling tides, mosquitoes, gnats and the summer humidity to plant 62,000 plugs of native marsh cordgrass over 23 acres in 13 days. The rapid pace of planting was essential to comply with the critical nesting and spawning needs of the Diamondback Terrapin and Horseshoe Crabs.
Another significant program success was the removal of three tons of debris from Four Sparrow Marsh, between Floyd Bennett Field and Mill Basin. The Fellows crafted barges from derelict docks to float the debris out by water. This “light touch” approach was more efficient for heavy debris and avoided disturbing the salt marsh meadow, a critical nesting ground for the Saltmarsh sparrow.
Despite residing within the Jamaica Bay watershed, most of the Wetlands Fellows had never experienced the shorelines and parks that surround the Bay. “It is a wonderful way to step out of my comfort zone and explore different opportunities. By embracing new experiences, I opened myself up to personal growth, learning, and discovering exciting things I may never encounter again,” said Issa Diarra, a Wetlands Fellow from Far Rockaway.
Wetland Fellow Liam McGrath said, “What I enjoy the most about working in the wetlands is having the pleasure to see amazing wildlife every day like ospreys, terrapins and all the different kinds of migratory shorebirds. The best part is I don’t even have to leave the city!”
The Wetland Fellows came together during the program and developed a shared passion for the Bay and the desire to make a difference. Wetlands Fellow Chyna Gibbs said, “This fellowship has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding on how vulnerable and unpredictable our urban ecosystem can be especially within wetland areas. Consistent erosion and loss of vegetation not only affects the people who harbor the land but the unprotected wildlife as well which is why it’s so important that we don’t continue to neglect these natural areas.”
The Fellows learned about many topics from climate change and environmental justice to the importance of wetlands and their ability to protect communities from flooding, store carbon, and create habitat for critical marine species. They heard from scientists, restoration experts, and local leaders, discovered how to advocate for causes they care about, learned how to be effective leaders in their communities, and formed a team to support each other, find inspiration, and uncover solutions.
Several elected officials supported the program and attended the graduation to personally recognize Fellows for their impact on local parks and wetlands. Councilmembers Selvena Brooks-Powers and Mercedes Narcisse each awarded the Fellows Certificates of Achievement. Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato presented each Fellow with a Citation for their efforts and passion for caring for the Bay and its surrounding public parklands. Remarks of gratitude and inspiration were also given by Assemblymembers Jaime Williams and Khaleel Anderson, and representatives for Senator James Sanders, Jr. and the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice. The Wetlands Fellowship program is additionally supported by public funding from NYC Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, Councilmember Joann Ariola, and Senator Roxanne Persaud.
Jackie Rogers, President of the Edgemere Alliance and host of the graduation ceremony at the Garden by the Bay, said, “Thank you to this wonderful group of young people for their clean-up efforts. The Parklet would not have been usable without them. They were such an invaluable help to us throughout our event.”
“I am so proud of this first cohort of Jamaica Bay Wetlands Fellows for their incredible hard work and dedication towards restoring and maintaining Jamaica Bay, and their openness to challenging new experiences that I hope will continue to inspire their future actions,” said Terri Carta, Executive Director of Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy. “I’m also grateful for the partnership and support of our elected officials, local community groups and stakeholders, NYC Parks, NY State Parks, and the National Park Service at Gateway National Recreation Area who made this remarkable program possible.” Terri added, “I tip my hat to the skilled and thoughtful JBRPC team for mentoring our Fellows and bringing together so many partners toward a common goal, the long-term sustainability of Jamaica Bay wetland environments.”
JBRPC will expand the Jamaica Bay Wetlands Fellowship next year. To learn more or get involved, visit www.jbrpc.org/fellowship.