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Who is The baykeeper? The NY/NJ Baykeeper: Shaping Healthy Communities in a New Century

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 this stewardship.
  3. Oysters will thrive from Sandy Hook to the Tappan Zee, and again be served on New York City restaurant tables.
  4. Fences will come down. The Estuary will become accessible to everyone-for walking, swimming, boating and fishing-along all of its 600 mile shoreline.
  5. Agencies will aggressively prosecute polluters, seeking remuneration for damages. The resulting clean waters will nourish fish, shellfish and bird life.
  6. Instead of unplanned sprawl dividing communities, great river centered greenways will unify them.
  7. Urban communities will be revitalized, gaining new economic and spiritual life from their renewed awareness of our integral place in nature.
  8. 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 established.

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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