The Hudson-Raritan Estuary is a vast and varied weave: a whole cloth
of seeming fragments: a great egret soars above a refinery tower. Baymen
haul in a bounty of clams from harbor mud. Families play among breakers
within sight of the greatest commercial city ever conjured by humanity.
Meanwhile, developers and environmentalists wrangle in stuffy rooms over
the fate of everything outdoors.
"This is a place where people have lived for a long time with
good reason," observes Andy Willner. "It is a natural port, at
the confluence of rivers. It's a place where Native Americans harvested
oysters, and where colonists farmed fertile land. If you look at the bay
from space, it's obvious why we live here: it's beautiful, compelling,
with natural and human-built glories."
Commuters, speeding from island to island, rarely see this view. They
fail to realize that the water all around us connects and feeds us
economically and spiritually. But the organic unity of the Estuary's
watery resources guides the Baykeeper's goals for the next ten years:
- The Hackensack Meadowlands will be protected as an urban National
Wildlife Refuge, remaining a prime habitat for birds and fish, and
becoming a cherished ecotourism destination.
- Priority natural habitat-key Estuary lands and waters-will be
preserved and restored for the ultimate good of wildlife and
communities. Citizen volunteers will play active leadership roles in
- Oysters will thrive from Sandy Hook to the Tappan Zee, and again
be served on New York City restaurant tables.
- Fences will come down. The Estuary will become accessible to
everyone-for walking, swimming, boating and fishing-along all of its
600 mile shoreline.
- Agencies will aggressively prosecute polluters, seeking
remuneration for damages. The resulting clean waters will nourish
fish, shellfish and bird life.
- Instead of unplanned sprawl dividing communities, great river
centered greenways will unify them.
- Urban communities will be revitalized, gaining new economic and
spiritual life from their renewed awareness of our integral place in
- An empowered people will recognize that the Hudson Valley, New
York and Jamaica Bays, Raritan River, Newark Bay, the entire Estuary
and all its tributaries are part of a single bioregion in which
there is no separation between states, counties and towns.
For this ambitious shared vision to become reality, each citizen must
take personal responsibility for the health of the human and natural
communities of the Estuary. New alliances and unusual partnerships must
be formed. A forum for agreement and trust - operating within
democratically arrived upon principles and purposes - must be
We need to see that our old institutions-government agencies,
private, academic or social service providers-are not working. The
evidence is all around us: at the apex of an economic boom people go
hungry and homeless. The wealthy seem to proceed blindly. Overt
political chicanery and blatant abuses of power are reported daily in
the papers. Agencies that should be protecting natural resources
belonging to all, cave in to special interests.
We act at cross purposes. While community volunteers along the Second
River restore one willow tree at a time, polluters dump toxins by the
ton without fear. While Baykeeper, its friends and colleagues protect
the Estuary foot by precious foot, developers try to gobble it up a
hundred acres at a shot.
We need to work together to change the regional culture. This goes
beyond saving wetlands, beyond punishing polluters. It begins with
changing perceptions. When we change our perceptions, it's just a matter
of time until we start to change institutions.
We need to give people good reasons to work cooperatively toward a
common goal. We must learn to live together, accepting the fact that we
have natural boundaries. We have to plan together so we can sustain
ourselves: so there is water to drink, food to eat, decent places for
people to live, and so that there are amenities like open space and
clean water to swim in. There must be green and blue places to play,
because our lives are diminished when we don't have these things.
We also need to develop a sense of place. We must make sure that the
bays of the harbor and the rivers that empty into them, remain the
central organizing feature of our work. That's where Baykeeper has an
integral role to play. Baykeeper wants to be the environmental advocate
for the Hudson-Raritan Estuary. "I think we've already accomplished
that," says Andy Willner. "And though we haven't achieved
everything we set out to do, we have done more than we ever imagined
possible in a shorter length of time. Now we are widening horizons to
take o n harder, bigger tasks."
"There is Eden here," Willner concludes optimistically.
"It is hidden behind fences and high-rises at the water's edge.
It's a subway ride away, a ferry trip on the harbor. It's a paddle by
kayak through the Hackensack Meadowlands. It is swimmable, fishable bays
and rivers, shared by wildlife and people. The estuary is our region's
last great wilderness. It should be a place in which human needs are
met, and the resource respected."
"When people ask us why we persist in light of
the incredible obstacles, my standard answer is that we must remain
optimistic and sure because the Hudson-Raritan is our community, our
home, a good place to stand and fight." Andy Willner
NY/NJ Baykeeper is an affiliate of the American
Littoral Society. The mission of the Baykeeper program is to protect,
preserve and restore the ecological integrity and productivity of the
Hudson/Raritan Estuary, its tributaries and watershed. As the citizen
conservation advocate for the Estuary's waterways and shores, the
Baykeeper stops polluters, champions public access, and influences land
use decisions. Baykeeper pursues opportunities for direct land
preservation and habitat restoration and helps advance the Estuary's
environmental and biological importance as well as its value as a
recreational an cultural resource.
Andrew Willner was raised in the area, and as a child, was
taught to sail on the Raritan Bay, by his uncle. He has a degree in city
planning from the University of Virginia. He has worked as an artist,
vessel captain, and boat builder. In the late 1980's, while working at
his own boat building/repair company on the Upper New York Bay, he
recognized the need for an advocate for the waters of the New York
Harbor. Andy approached the American Littoral Society with an idea for a
Keeper program, similar to the Hudson Riverkeeper Long Island
Soundkeeper programs, that would focus on the waters of the New York/New
Jersey Harbor. In 1990 the NY/NJ Baykeeper came into existence.
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