Losing Ground: The Rapidly-Changing Ecology of Jamaica Bay


The marsh islands of Jamaica Bay may disappear in less than 20 years. These islands filter water and create  habitat  for  numerous  species. Restoration  efforts  are underway  but  the future ecology of New York City’s Jamaica Bay is uncertain.

In response to this important environmental issue, I collaborated with local NY participants to conduct artist-led public field trips and created ecological artworks about the Bay beginning in  2000.  These activities  culminated  in a collection of installations exhibited at the Jamaica Center for Arts in Queens, NY in 2004. Each sculptural component represented a different ecological aspect of the bay. Throughout the exhibition, the metaphor of “shadows” symbolized species extinction as well  as  human   degradation to the bay.


Installations included:

Water of Life/ Water of Death a Map of the Present and The Uncertain Future of Jamaica Bay

This drawing was created by juxtaposing a nautical shipping charts with topographical maps to examine the connection between human dredged channels and deteriorating natural formations in the bay. Tidal mud flats and beaches (the dotted areas) and the surrounding Marsh Islands are rapidly sinking into the bay at a startling rate of 40-60 acres a year! At this rate most of the bay’s islands will be underwater in less than 20 years.

Wetland habitats such as these are declining globally because of sea level rise from climate change, geologic movement, alteration and loss from industrial and residential development, as well as changes in water flow from activities such as dredging and high pressure output from sewage treatment plants.


Plankton Diary

Over the course of a year, weekly samples of Bay water were surveyed for microscopic plants and animals. Samples were photographed and animated in chronological or seasonal order – creating a kind of plankton diary. The animation runs from Spring to Winter capturing the life-cycles of numerous micro-organisms. Follow the visual transition that occurs from spring with isolated shapes moving towards the highly saturated greens seen in Chlorophyll producing algae in the summer and transitioning towards a more red and earth tone palate in the fall and winter.


School of Fish

The creation of this piece involved the ‘clearing’ and ‘staining’ of several species of preserved fish through chemical alteration. The red areas are dyed calcified tissue such as bone and the blue is cartilage. Just as every being is different, each individual fish and species has it’s own unique ‘biological architecture’. The fish float in space as though swimming in a loose school yet they are placed tracing fish evolution.


An Illustrated Key to the Fishes of Jamaica Bay ca. 1974- 2024 AD

In this piece preserved fish are placed in Phylogenic or Evolutionary order beginning on the right from the most ancient primitive species moving left with more recent adaptations. Specimens in Natural History collections are preserved to last for decades perhaps even centuries. If species continue to go extinct at the current accelerated rate such specimens and DNA samples in scientific collections may be the only records of we take into the century.


Island of Life

Marsh islands like this filter water, produce oxygen, and are home to countless species of plants and animals. Environmental efforts to curb Marsh Island habit loss at Jamaica Bay is currently underway. With public support and future scientific solutions important marsh islands like this may still be protected for future generations to appreciate.


Phragmites Clone Experiment

Many species of plants and even animals naturally clone themselves as a form of reproduction. Phragmites Reed is such a plant and appears to be out competing several species of native wetland plants. At Jamaica Bay an enormous Phragmites field may contain thousands of plants yet be genetically all one plant!


A Field-Guide to the Birds of Jamaica Bay ca 1952- 2024 AD

In natural history collections dried bird specimens or ‘skins’ are kept in trays and grouped according to evolutionary relationships. Related species are grouped into Genus and further grouped into larger Families. In this piece viewers are invited to examine drawings of Jamaica Bay birds as though they are actual specimens. Trays represent Families and are stacked in Phylogenic or Evolutionary order from the most ancient species on the bottom moving up with more recent adaptations.

Bird diversity at Jamaica Bay is impressively high with over 326 species reported so far. Yet global biodiversity (different types of plants and animals) appears to be rapidly declining. According to some statistics as many as 40% of all the world’s bird species may be in threat of decline. Unless we re-examine our approach towards other species sharing this planet many of the species we see today may only be shadows in the future.