What’s In a Name? Dubos Point

In my final installment in this series, I venture just outside the boundaries of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge to explore the history of the name behind Dubos Point Wildlife Sanctuary and its analogous mission with the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.

Extending from the Rockaway Peninsula into the southeast of Jamaica Bay, Dubos Point is within the area referred to by its earliest recorded occupants as Lekawe, meaning “sandy place.” When colonial settlements proliferated on Long Island in the 1600s, colonizers referred to the group of Munsee Lenape who named Lekawe by the name they gave the land, rather than how that group referred to themselves. Thus, Lekawe provided the root of the exonym Rockaway.

By the twentieth century, the saltmarsh that became Dubos Point was named Conchs Hole Point. However, conch is not native to Jamaica Bay. Given Jamaica Bay’s reputation as a premier shell fishing destination, the name may be a reference to a similarly shaped mollusk in the area. In 1912, as speculative real estate development reshaped the Rockaway Peninsula, Conchs Hole Point was filled in to create more usable land to build upon. However, the real estate project failed.

In 1901, Rene Dubos was born in Saint-Brice-sous-Fouret, France. He went on to study microbiology and received his PhD from Rutgers University in 1927 before discovering bacterial resistance to anti-biotics. As an environmental philosopher, Dubos advanced the field of Human ecology and is credited with creating the slogan, “Think globally, act locally.”

In 1970, when groups like the Green Ribbon Panel opposed the extension of JFK Airport’s runway into the Bay, Dubos promoted the ongoing restoration of Jamaica Bay in opposition of the destructive project. When contemplating the state of Jamaica Bay, he offered, “I think the Jamaica Bay adventure—and it is an adventure—is probably the most complete and unexpected success story of the whole ecological movement in the United States at the present time.” And while the past fifty years have proved our adventure here is far from complete, it does celebrate the decades of hard work from ecologists and conservationists that created the foundation of the work that we do here.

After Dubos died in 1982, his wife, Jean, led the movement to establish Dubos Point. When New York City Parks took over the site in 1988, converting the underutilized space into a wildlife sanctuary, Jean Dubos stated “You have understood and acted on [my husband’s] dictum: think globally, act locally. Our planet needs its wetlands. Our urban, concreted-stifled souls need communion with the earth, water, and sky.”

In the nearly forty years since the christening of Dubos Point Wildlife Sanctuary, its biggest challenge has been litter that washes in from the Bay and illegal dumping. Despite this, Dubos Point, much like our Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, simultaneously provides visitors a space to engage with nature, while the sanctuary’s vegetation filters pollution, protects against rising sea levels and storm surges, and, all the while, provides a stop along the Atlantic Flyway for migratory birds.

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