Arthur Kill Salt Marsh Restoration

Case Name:


United States of America

Restoration Types:

Habitat Creation; Habitat Enhancement


Affected DOI Resources:

Migratory Birds


Staten Island



Project Description

Salt marshes are highly productive coastal wetlands that provide a variety of ecosystem services. The marshes along the Arthur Kill in northwestern Staten Island are important foraging areas for migratory shorebirds, waterfowl, and wading birds, including the "Harbor Herons" that nest on islands in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary. Marsh vegetation also helps protect the shoreline from erosion by dissipating wave action and trapping sediments. The 1990 Exxon Bayway oil spill heavily impacted salt marshes along the Arthur Kill. No. 2 fuel oil is highly toxic to marsh vegetation and as a result, the spill caused an extensive die-off of smooth cordgrass. Other organisms that are common in the low marsh, such as ribbed mussels and fiddler crabs, also experienced high levels of mortality. To compensate for injuries to the salt marsh ecosystem, the NY/NJ Harbor Oil Spill Restoration Committee funded a multi-year restoration and monitoring program to restore the marshes that were impacted by the spill. Smooth cordgrass seed was collected from local sources and propagated in biodegradable peat pots at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation's (NYC Parks) Greenbelt Native Plant Center. Once the plants reached a height of 10 inches, they were transported to the denuded marsh edge and planted by NYC Parks' Salt Marsh Restoration Team (SMRT). Approximately 190,000 seedlings were planted with about 1,000 mature transplants from nearby marshes to restore 2.43 hectares of marsh along the shoreline at Old Place Creek, Gulfport Reach, Pralls Island, and Saw Mill Creek. In 1992, seven fertilizer regimes were tested at Saw Mill Creek, including a control using no fertilizer that produced low numbers of surviving plants, to determine the best fertilizer application to use going forward. In May and June 1993, two bioengineered products to reduce shoreline erosion were installed and tested at Saw Mill Creek. A 215 foot linear brush box wave barrier was also installed off Old Place Creek to reduce erosion, with nearly 100% success. Between 1993 and 1997, a monitoring program was established to examine the recovery of the marsh. Three years after planting, the aboveground biomass at most of the sites was comparable to the biomass at other restored salt marshes along the East Coast.

Restoration Land Ownership

County or Municipal; State

Parties Implementing Restoration

New York City Department of Parks & Recreation

DOI Project Representatives

Fish and Wildlife Service

Smooth cordgrass is the most common species of grass in salt marshes along the East Coast. It is an important food source for many species of migratory birds and provides nursery habitat for juvenile fish and crabs., Credit: Steve Luell, USFWS

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Restoration Documents

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