Heartbeats in the Muck: The History, Sea Life, and Environment of New York Harbor, Revised Edition

Heartbeats in the Muck: The History, Sea Life, and Environment of New York Harbor, Revised Edition

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Heartbeats in the Muck: The History, Sea Life, and Environment of New York Harbor, Revised Edition
    Book Description:

    An intimate look at New York Harbor's incredible arc of history, from pristine animal abundances to the suffocation of marine life, and ultimately to an ongoing but surprisingly hopeful recovery. Heartbeats in the Muck traces the incredible arc of New York Harbor's environmental history. Once a pristine estuary bristling with oysters and striped bass and visited by sharks, porpoises, and seals, the harbor has been marked by centuries of rampant industrialization and degradation of its natural environment. Garbage dumping, oil spills, sewage sludge, pesticides, heavy metals, poisonous PCBs, landfills, and dredging greatly diminished life in the harbor, in some places to nil. Now, forty years after the Clean Water Act began to resurrect New York Harbor, John Waldman delivers a new edition of his New York Society Library Award-winning book. Heartbeats in the Muck is a lively, accessible narrative of the animals, water quality, and habitats of the harbor. It includes captivating personal accounts of the author's explorations of its farthest and most noteworthy reaches, treating readers to an intimate environmental tour of a shad camp near the George Washington Bridge, the Arthur Kill (home of the resurgent heron colonies), the Hackensack Meadowlands, the darkness under a giant Manhattan pier, and the famously polluted Gowanus Canal. A new epilogue details some of the remarkable changes that have come upon New York Harbor in recent years. Waldman's prognosis is a good one: Ultimately, environmental awareness and action has allowed the harbor to begin cleaning itself. Although it will never regain its native biological glory, the return of oysters, herons, and a host of other creatures is an indication of New York Harbor's rebirth. This excellent, engaging introduction to the ecological issues surrounding New York Harbor will appeal to students and general readers alike. Heartbeats in the Muck is a must-read for anyone who likes probing the wilds, whether country or city, and natural history books such as Beautiful Swimmers and Mannahatta.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5054-7
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    New Yorkers have a dark fascination with their surrounding waters. Where else is it expected that sometime during mid-April, as the depths warm, bacterial activity will bloat the previous winter’s bounty of murders and suicides and cause them to rise to the harbor’s surface—a synchronized resurrection of the damned that captains call “Floaters’ Week.” New York Harbor is a place so mysterious that things go bump in the night in the daytime, too. The public’s cognizance of its ecological health leans more toward this black view—a harbor of utter lifelessness or a chemical stew featuring gasping flounder—than...

  5. 1 The Essential Harbor
    (pp. 5-13)

    New York Harbor has been inconsistently defined, existing as much as an abstraction as a geographic entity. I prefer to view it broadly as a sprawling estuarine complex, recognizing the interconnectedness of its many drainages. And if estuaries are places where freshwater blends with sea water, then New York Harbor is a festival of estuaries, an illustrated hierarchical array.

    The heart of the harbor is the Upper and Lower New York Bays: auricle and ventricle. The Upper Bay receives the runoff of much of New York State via the Hudson River, saline in summer almost to Poughkeepsie and tidal at...

  6. 2 Vita Marinae
    (pp. 14-51)

    On the map Newark Bay is an armpit of New York Harbor, a geographical relationship fully consistent with its popular image. My own expectations of Newark Bay are in keeping with this view as we ready the trawl net at the stern of theGloria Michelle, a research vessel operated by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. The crew is documenting the fish composition of the bay, but I’m aboard to collect specimens for a survey of toxic contamination of New York Harbor’s finfish and shellfish. A first take on Newark Bay does not bring its fishery resources to mind....

  7. 3 The Medium: Sewers, Sludge, and Other Forms of Water Torture
    (pp. 52-77)

    In 1939 Carl Carmer wrote: “The Hudson of the people’s dream is a river of clear water.” If only a dream, it must have been a recurring one, fueled by its then-nightmarish qualities. Few water bodies have received the variety and volume of noxious wastes as have the Hudson River and New York Harbor. In the early 1900s the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission of New York reported gross sewage pollution as far as fifteen miles from Manhattan; in 1906 “seas of floating garbage were described.”

    Floating baths rimmed Manhattan but were plagued by sewage; at the East Ninety-Sixth Street bath there...

  8. 4 The Vessel: Bank and Bottom, Bulldozers and Blasts
    (pp. 78-108)

    The threshold of water quality necessary to once again support a diversity of life in New York Harbor has been crossed. The real uncertainties concerning the future of the harbor surround its habitat—bank and bottom. The profile of the harbor today bears little resemblance to Henry Hudson’s or Giovanni da Verrazzano’s descriptions. In 1524 Verrazzano wrote presciently, but for the wrong reasons, that the land around the harbor “was not without some properties of value, since all the hills showed signs of minerals.” (Verrazzano’s viewing of New York Harbor may have been his high point in the New World;...

  9. 5 How Is the Harbor Doing?
    (pp. 109-116)

    Today the environment of New York Harbor stands wobbling, but it is growing stronger and steadier, like the survivor of a ghastly medical accident—a healthy victim given chemotherapy and reconstructive surgery for problems she never had. Although the harbor’s native biological glory will never be relived, the prognosis is good for recuperation to a satisfactory functional level. And as a result—or maybe as a cause—the body language of the harbor’s infrastructure has shifted around: Instead of facing inward, backs to the water, relegating the shore to industry, highways, or just plain decay, cities and towns are now...

  10. Epilogue: 2000–2012
    (pp. 117-134)

    It is now 2012, with New York Harbor having enjoyed the benefits of exactly forty years of nationwide water quality protections. Four decades since the degradation of America’s waters was so profound that in 1971 Congress passed legislation to do something about it. Back then, the harbor was only one of the numerous urban waterways of concern, with many attributing the national awakening to the shock of Ohio’s Cuyahoga River catching fire in 1969. This was nothing new for the Cuyahoga, a more damaging blaze occurred in 1952 and they’d been happening there since the 1800s (likewise in New York...

  11. Annotated Bibliography
    (pp. 135-138)
  12. Index
    (pp. 139-150)