By Emma McCauley
This spring, Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy (JBRPC) and the New York City Parks Department (NYC Parks) partnered with local elementary students on year three of the “Share the Shore” campaign. This art and advocacy campaign gives voice to local students on behalf of vulnerable beach-nesting sea and shorebirds that travel thousands of miles to raise young in their communities. This year’s campaign included fourth and fifth graders from PS 42 R. Vernam, PS/MS 105 The Bay School, PS 197 The Ocean School in Rockaway, and PS 277 Gerritsen Beach in Marine Park.
The program begins with JBRPC educators visiting classrooms and teaching students about four species of birds that nest in the open sand of Rockaway Beach: American oystercatchers, black skimmers, common terns, and piping plovers. Although the birds nest in the same areas of the beach we enjoy, the eggs and chicks are well-camouflaged and hard to spot. On top of protecting their young from predators, extreme weather, and other natural pressures, beach-nesting birds are extremely vulnerable to human impacts. “Seeing habitat as places where wildlife and humans can coexist is especially important in our densely populated urban environment,” Terri Carta, JBRPC’s Executive Director said. “We try to take an inclusive approach to education about Jamaica Bay and Rockaway parks.”
Students learn that giving these birds the space they need to survive ensures that we can enjoy our parks while also protecting wildlife. With their knowledge about the birds, students created original artwork and eye-catching slogans to educate their neighbors and visitors to the Peninsula about how we can all share the shore with beach-nesting birds this summer. Sunny Corrao, Associate Wildlife Biologist and Public Engagement Associate with NYC Parks Wildlife Unit, explains, “Conserving species and protecting biodiversity in our urban landscape requires creative thinking. It’s been great to be able to give youth an opportunity to share their creative, artistic talents to raise awareness and protect locally threatened shorebirds.” Student artwork is printed on signage, which will be displayed along New York City Park’s Rockaway Boardwalk, and in Gateway National Recreation Area at Jacob Riis Beach.
PS 277K STEAM educator Jennifer Krol shared, “I am so proud of the hard work and dedication shown by our 5th graders during this project. Students not only learned about the importance of protecting these shorebirds, but they were also able to see themselves as advocates and agents of change.”
It is the hope of the campaign partners and the student advocates that this signage inspires beachgoers with these birds’ tough journey to nest in New York City, and make small changes to their beach routine to give their chicks the best chance of surviving to adulthood.