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Northeast Coastal and Barrier Network (NCBN)

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Gateway National Recreation Area

Piping Plover exclosure at Gateway National Recreation Area
Piping Plover exclosure at Gateway National Recreation Area

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Location of Gateway National National Recreation Area in the Northeast Coastal and Barrier Network. Click for larger image.

Gateway is 10,644 hectares of coastal uplands, freshwater ponds, marshes, bays and mudflats. Established in 1972, it is divided into three geographically separate units that constitute some of the largest and most significant natural areas remaining in the metropolitan New York City area. They include the Jamaica Bay/Breezy Point Unit (Riis Park, Fort Tilden, Breezy Point Tip, Floyd Bennett Field, Plumb Beach, North shore of Jamaica Bay and the 3,662 hectare Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge); the Staten Island Unit (Great Kills Park and Miller Field) and the Sandy Hook Unit.

Jamaica Bay/Breezy Point Unit-The Jamaica Bay habitat complex is located on the southwestern tip of Long Island in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, New York City and the town of Hempstead, Nassau County. The bay connects with Lower New York Bay to the west through Rockaway Inlet and is the westernmost of the coastal lagoons on the south shore of Long Island. Breezy Point is the western tip of the Rockaway barrier beach to the south of Jamaica Bay and Rockaway Inlet. This habitat complex includes the entire Jamaica Bay estuarine lagoon, part of Rockaway Inlet, and the western part of the Rockaway barrier beach. The boundary of this area generally follows the shoreline of Jamaica Bay and includes most of the tidal creeks and undeveloped upland areas adjacent to the bay; these serve as buffers for the bay, as upland habitat, and as existing and potential restoration sites. This complex also contains the western end of the Rockaway barrier beach and the Marine Park/Plumb Beach area just to the west of the main body of Jamaica Bay to include beach and dune habitat for nesting bird and rare plant species. The bay proper and portions of Rockaway Inlet encompass important breeding and juvenile nursery habitat for fisheries as well as year-round foraging areas for waterfowl, shorebirds, and colonial nesting waterbirds. The extensive salt marsh and upland islands in the bay provide nesting habitat for gulls, terns, waterfowl, and herons; foraging and roosting habitat for shorebirds and waterbirds; upland sites for grassland bird nesting and foraging areas; and butterfly concentration areas. Despite the surrounding intensive residential, commercial, and industrial development, Jamaica Bay and Breezy Point continue to be incredibly valuable for resident and migratory fish and birds and for other wildlife and plant populations.

Jamaica Bay has been designated and mapped as an otherwise protected beach unit pursuant to the federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act, prohibiting incompatible federal financial assistance or flood insurance within the unit. The New York State Natural Heritage Program, in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy, recognizes Breezy Point as a Priority Site for Biodiversity (B2 - very high biodiversity significance). Jamaica Bay and Breezy Point have been designated as Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats by the New York State Department of State, and the bay up to the high tide line was designated as a Critical Environmental Area by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Jamaica Bay was also designated as one of three special natural waterfront areas by New York City's Department of City Planning.

Jamaica Bay is a saline to brackish, eutrophic (nutrient-rich) estuary covering about 10,118 hectares (25,000 acres), with a mean depth of 4 meters (13 feet), a semidiurnal tidal range averaging 1.5 meters (5 feet), and a residence time of about 33 days. The bay communicates with Lower New York Bay and the Atlantic Ocean via Rockaway Inlet, a high current area that is one kilometer (0.63 mile) wide at its narrowest point, with an average depth of 7 meters (23 feet). Measurements taken during recent surveys in Jamaica Bay indicate average yearly ranges for temperature of 1 to 26°C (34 to 79°F), salinity of 20.5 to 26 parts per thousand, dissolved oxygen of 3.5 to 18.5 milligrams/liter, and pH of 6.8 to 9. Loadings of nutrients and organic matter into the bay from sewage treatment plants and runoff result in phytoplankton blooms and high suspended solid concentrations which, in turn, result in turbid water and low bottom dissolved oxygen concentrations. Jamaica Bay is in the middle of the New York City metropolitan area and the uplands around the bay, as well as much of the Rockaway barrier beach, are dominated by urban, residential, commercial, and industrial development. The bay itself has been disturbed by dredging, filling, and development, including the construction of Floyd Bennett Field and John F. Kennedy Airport. About 4,856 of the original 6,475 hectares (12,000 of the original 16,000 acres) of wetlands in the bay have been filled in, mostly around the perimeter of the bay. Extensive areas of the bay have been dredged for navigation channels and to provide fill for the airports and other construction projects. The center of the bay is dominated by subtidal open water and extensive low-lying islands with areas of salt marsh, intertidal flats, and uplands important for colonial nesting waterbirds. The average mean low tide exposes 142 hectares (350 acres) of mudflat, 375 hectares (925 acres) of low salt marsh dominated by low marsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), and 213 hectares (526 acres) of high marsh dominated by high marsh cordgrass (Spartina patens). The extensive intertidal areas are rich in food resources, including a variety of benthic invertebrates and macroalgae dominated by sea lettuce (Ulva latuca). These rich food resources attract a variety of fish, shorebirds, and waterfowl. This area is largely separated from disturbance and predation occurring on the surrounding mainland, and support large numbers of nesting waterbirds and diverse migratory birds throughout the year. At least 326 species of birds have been sighted in the Refuge, including confirmed breeding by 62 species.

Breezy Point contains an approximately 81-hectare natural area at the western tip of the Rockaway Peninsula with an accreting wide ocean beach, beachgrass dunes, grassland/shrub thicket, and fringing salt marshes on the bay side. A stone jetty extends out from the tip of Breezy Point. East of this natural area, the barrier behind the beach front has been largely developed into residential, commercial, and recreational areas. Floyd Bennett Field is a 579 hectare historic civic aviation facility dominated by humanmade structures and runways but with extensive areas of open space between the runways. It includes a 57 hectare grassland area restored and maintained by the National Park Service and New York City Audubon Society as the Grassland Restoration and Management Project. There are smaller areas of shrub thicket dominated by bayberry, winged sumac (Rhus copallina), and Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) as well as developing woodland consisting of black cherry, grey birch (Betula populifolia), and cottonwood (Populus deltoides). Common reed (Phragmites australis) marsh and small areas of low marsh and mudflat along the shoreline of the bay exist as well.

The location of Jamaica Bay and Breezy Point and the rich food resources found there make it a regionally important fish, wildlife, and plant habitat complex. Jamaica Bay is located adjacent to the confluence of the New York Bight and New York Bay, and is at the turning point of the primarily east-west oriented coastline of New England and Long Island and the north-south oriented coastline of the mid-Atlantic coast. This geographic location acts to concentrate marine and estuarine species migrating between the New York Bight portion of the North Atlantic and the Hudson-Raritan Estuary. Shorebirds, raptors, waterfowl, landbirds, and various migratory insects are concentrated by the coastlines in both directions. These migratory species are further concentrated by the surrounding urban developed land into the remaining open space and open water of Jamaica Bay. Jamaica Bay and Breezy Point support seasonal or year-round populations of 214 species of special emphasis and listed species, incorporating 48 species of fish and 120 species of birds, and including the following federally listed and state-listed species.

Staten Island Unit -The Great Kills Harbor and Park include large areas of disturbed common reed marsh with grassland and shrub thicket at Crookes Point. The outer shoreline follows a narrow, sandy, groined beach. A large area of flats in Great Kills Harbor extends southwest along the Staten Island Shoreline as far as Wolfe's Pond. The significance of this complex relates to its geographic location and to the variety and quality of habitat types found here; these include shallow estuarine open waters, sandy beach, maritime forest, salt marsh, mudflats, and riparian forest. These habitats support a large number of regionally rare and important species. Due to its complex geology and glacial history, Staten Island supports an unusual diversity of habitat types and rare plant species.

Sandy Hook Unit- Sandy Hook is the only undeveloped barrier beach area on the northern end of the New Jersey coastline north of Island Beach State Park, located 55 kilometers (34 miles) to the south. Its sandy shorelines and backdunes provide germination and breeding habitats for a variety of threatened, endangered and rare species of flora and fauna. Maritime holly forests that occur at Sandy Hook occur at only a few other locations in the region and are a globally imperiled community due to their rarity. The forests are important as roosting and nesting locations for a variety of birds, and include historical nesting by great blue heron, historical nesting and present roosting by blackcrowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), and nesting by several pairs of osprey and several species of passerines. The holly is also a host plant for the regionally rare butterfly Henry's Elfin (Incisalia henrici).

Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays form the southeastern portion of the New York - New Jersey Harbor between the southern shoreline of Staten Island, Richmond County, New York, and the northern shoreline of Monmouth County, New Jersey. Raritan Bay - Sandy Hook Bay is a large embayment measuring nine by twelve miles (109 square miles) with a surface area of about 28,000 hectares (69,188 acres). The inshore portion of the bays within this habitat complex has a total area of 13,500 hectares (33,500 acres). The wetlands, uplands, and nearshore waters form a bayshore complex which is critical for migratory and resident birds and fish. Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays are divided between the states of New Jersey and New York, and receive direct inflow from the Raritan River, the Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers, and numerous smaller tributaries along the shorelines of Staten Island and New Jersey. The bay is relatively shallow, width from 24 to 427 meters (80 to 1400 feet) and are 3 to 11 meters (10 to 35 feet) in depth. The tidal range averages 1.7 meters (5.5 feet). Compared with other parts of the New York - New Jersey Harbor Estuary, the shorelines of Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays have more remaining natural shoreline and open space. The area is subject to a wide variety of fluctuations in temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen, both from natural and anthropogenic activity, especially industrial and sewage effluent and storm-water runoff.

The Sandy Hook Peninsula separates the Atlantic Ocean from the southern portion of the New York - New Jersey Harbor Estuary and serves as a dividing line between certain groups of species, with marine, estuarine, and anadromous species concentrated on the outside, shorebirds and waterfowl concentrated on the inside, and migratory landbirds (raptors and passerines) concentrated on the peninsula itself. As is true with Jamaica Bay and Breezy Point on the other side of the Harbor entrance, Sandy Hook and Sandy Hook Bay are at the turning point of the primarily east-west oriented coastline of New England and Long Island and the north-south oriented coastline of the mid-Atlantic coast. This geographic location and configuration acts to concentrate marine and estuarine species migrating between the New York Bight portion of the North Atlantic and the Hudson- Raritan Estuary. Also, shorebirds, raptors, waterfowl, landbirds, and a variety of migratory insects migrating in both directions are concentrated in the Harbor by these coastlines. These migratory species are further forced by the surrounding urban developed land into the remaining open space and open water of Raritan and Sandy Hook bays and surrounding coastlands. There are 205 species of special emphasis regularly using the waters and shorelands of Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook.

Gateway National Recreation Area natural resource management issues include:

  • Urban/Development Associated Impacts: Jamaica Bay is in the middle of the New York City metropolitan area and the uplands around the bay, as well as much of the Rockaway barrier beach, are dominated by urban, residential, commercial, and industrial development. Consequently, issues such as habitat fragmentation, increases in road kills, increased pet predation on native wildlife and increased levels of human activity/disturbance within the park must be considered.
  • Adjacent land uses that impact on aquatic systems- Loadings of nutrients and organic matter into Jamaica Bay from sewage treatment plants and runoff result in phytoplankton blooms and high suspended solid concentrations which, in turn, result in turbid water and low bottom dissolved oxygen concentrations. At Sandy Hook, the surrounding waters are subject to a wide variety of fluctuations in temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen, both from natural and anthropogenic activity, especially industrial and sewage effluent and storm-water runoff.
  • Loss of Marsh habitat/islands in Jamaica Bay-The bay has been disturbed by dredging, filling, and development, including the construction of Floyd Bennett Field and John F. Kennedy Airport. About 4,856 of the original 6,475 hectares (12,000 of the original 16,000 acres) of wetlands in the bay have been filled in, mostly around the perimeter of the bay. Extensive areas of the bay have been dredged for navigation channels and to provide fill for the airports and other construction projects. Current scientific research shows Jamaica Bay losing a significant amount of marsh habitats and islands annually. Jamaica Bay and its associated marsh habitats are noted as critical for several species of breeding birds and fish as well as for growth and development of birds, fish, diamondback terrapins and some sea turtles.
  • Wildlife Management Issues include: Aircraft collision with birds originating in GATE; Neotropical migrants use of park habitats; Other wildlife species that have the potential to impact on piping plover (federally listed species) and other beach nesting birds such as roseate tern, American oystercatcher and black skimmer (all state listed species); potential rabies vectors such as raccoons.

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Last Updated: September 22, 2017 Contact Webmaster