What's Ailing
The Bight?
Problems Affecting the New York - New Jersey
Harbor and the New York Bight

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
Region II
and the
New York Bight Restoration Plan Work Group

Problems Affecting the New
York-New Jersey Harbor
and the New York Bight
The New York-New Jersey metropolitan region is the most
densely populated in the United States Its coastal waters are
among a wealth of amenities that have attracted this great
multitude. These resources function together as an integral coastal
ecosystem. They include the Hudson-Raritan Estuary, the core
area of which is the New York-New Jersey Harbor, and the Atlantic
Ocean waters of New Jersey and Long Island out to the edge of
the Continental Shelf, known as the New York Bight
The NY-NJ Harbor has been a vital shipping port since colonial
times. It sustained abundant fisheries well into the 20ih century,
as the NY Bight continues to do today. Ocean beaches and
coastal waterways in the region offer unsurpassed recreational
opportunities to residents and visitors alike.
The mixing of salt and fresh waters in the Harbor and tributary
rivers is crucial to the nurture of many ooastal and marine species.
The NY Bight hosts many oceanic creatures, including sea turtles,
dolphins and other mammals, and it lies within the important bird
migratory pathway known as the Atlantic Flyway.
Unfortunately, this rich natural endowment has been seriously
degraded. Water contamination and waste disposal, including
ocean dumping, loss of coastal and upstream natural habitats due
to rampant development, and overharvesting and contamination
of fish and shellfish have all contributed to the degradation of the
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the two
states of New York and New Jersey have convened a Manage-
ment Conference of public inierestgroups, scientists, and govern-
ment to reverse this decline, to restore a self-sustaining and
healthy coastal ecosystem, and to develop plans for the manage-
ment of the Harbor and the Bight for both marine and human
benefit. The programs encompassed by the Management Con-
ference are:
Focus of Regional Programs
The problems just mentioned are caused by various pollution
and other human factors, identified and described below, which
are the interim focus of study. The final New York Bight Restora-
tion Plan will assemble these individual efforts into a comprehen-
sive plan that will be adopted by the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary
Program Management Conference.

New York Bight
New York - New Jersey Harbor
-T'-\ *

Trash and other floatable debris washing up on area beaches
have been a chronic problem, but exceptional episodes in 1987
and 1988 shocked the public and mobilized government to take
Since the Spring of 1989, the US EPA, US Army Corps of
Engineers, US Coast Guard, the States of NY and N J, and the City
of NY have cooperated to carry out a short-term floatables action
plan that helped contain the problem. This operation uses
helicopter and vessel surveillance to detect floatables in the
Harbor, which are then intercepted by Corps of Engineers cleanup
vessels. EPA heads a communications network to gather infor-
mation and direct the cleanup. In addition, the States of NY and
NJ and the City of NY provide support with cleanup operations on
Harbor shorelines and with debris disposal. Citizen action has
also been instrumental in this effort.
In addition to this successful short-term effort, stepped up
measures targeted to preventing floatable debris from entering
Harbor and Bight waters are included in a plan that will require
long-term commitments by the public and private sectors.

Pathogens, or disease-causing microorganisms in human
sanitary wastes, have profoundly affected area coastal waters.
Treatment of raw sewage began early in the 20th century, but it
was not until 1987 that every major Harbor discharge became
subject to some level of treatment. Problems still occur when
rainwater washes contamination from the urban landscape into
stormsewers or combined sewers, or runs off directly ^nto area
waterways. Combined sewers mix stormwater with sanitary
wastes; when the combined volume exceeds the capacity of the
treatment plant, untreated wastewater goes directly into Harbor
The prevailing conditions have resulted in the permanent clo-
sure of Harbor and many nearshore Bight waters to shellfishing,
and of many Harbor beaches to swimming. Even on some of the
ocean beaches, bathers are cautioned against swimming after
rain events due to the episodic presence of sewage-related
Despite this, there is evidence that public health conditions are
improving. Recent advancements in sewage treatment have
reduced restrictions on shellfishing and bathing in some Harbor
waters. Ending sewage sludge dumping in 1987 at an ocean site
12 nautical miles offshore has improved conditions there so that
it may soon be possible to permit shellfishing again. Phasing out
ocean sludge dumping by 1992 at the offshore 106-mile site will
have further beneficial effects. On the other hand, rapid develop-
ment in the outlying coastal portions of LI and NJ may lead to
furtheruse restrictions in those areas farther from the metropolitan
To help eliminate temporary closures of beaches and shellfish
beds, EPA, coordinating with the States of NY and NJ, has
adopted a beach/shellfish closure action plan This plan will
improve enforcement of wastewater discharge permits using
existing regulations. In addition, efforts are underway to control
combined sewer overflows (CSO's) and other wet weather dis-
charges. The City of NY has committed $1.5 billion over 10 years
to remediate CSO's, and other State and local actions are being
directed at the remaining pathogenic polution sources.

	Toxic Pollutants...
Our industrial and urban society generates products and wastes
that, when released to the general environment, can be harmful to
humans and other living things. The NY-NJ metropolitan region,
with its formerly dominant industrial base and its great population
density, also has a concentration of toxic pollution matched by few
other localities in the United States. Organic compounds like
PCB's and Dioxin, several pesticides, and some toxic metals are
found in fish tissues and coastal waters at levels that exceed
protective standards for human health and marine life. While toxic
pollution sources are coming under increasingly better control,
this problem will remain a serious one in the region for years to
Short-term efforts at toxics control will focus on existing pro-
grams, to ensure that they are being fully carried out and to
measure how well they reduce toxic pollution. Over the long term,
however, additional work is needed to understand the nature and
magnitude of the toxic pollution problem. This information will be
important to justify additional toxics control measures that may be
necessary, measures that are likely to be costly.
In the meantime, efforts are underway to reduce inputs of toxics
that have already been identified as violating water quality stan-
dards and criteria. As might be expected, the NY-NJ Harbor is the
focus of the toxic pollution problem and the Harbor Estuary
Program is taking the lead in this issue. In what is known as a
wasteload allocation, inputs of such toxic metals as mercury,
copper, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and nickel will be examined and
limits will ultimately be set on point-source discharges of those
metals found to contnbute to water quality violations.
	Nutrient Enrichment...
All life depends on an adequate supply of nutrients; however,
human point and nonpoint source discharges can add excess
nutnents, disturbing the natural balance of a waterbody. Blooms
of marine algae stimulated by excess nutnents can rob coastal
waters of life-giving oxygen when the algae die and decay. Low
oxygen levels, known as hypoxia, disrupt the life cycles of fishes
and bottom creatures when they encounter the stress of insuffi-
cient oxygen.
The most noteworthy hypoxic event in the Harbor/Bight region
was in the summer of 1976, when over 3,000 square miles of
ocean waters off NJ lost nearly all oxygen. The result was
suffocation of large populations of fishes and shellfishes. This
event was caused mainly by a rare combination of weather
factors, but the influence of human-caused nutrient inputs cannot
be discounted. Small kills of fishes and bottom fauna are a more
regular occurence in marine waters. Harbor waters also fre-
quently exhibit low oxygen levels during the warm summer months
when stress on manne life is most severe.
Inadequate information is presently available to determine the
importance of the human contribution to the hypoxia problem.
Taking steps to reduce this contribution can be very costly. For
example: nutrient reduction could be achieved by upgrading the
level of sewage treatment in the region, but at a cost totaling
billions of dollars. For this reason, mathematical modeling studies
are underway to examine the dynamics and water quality condi-
tions of the Harbor and the Bight that will help determine the need
for nutrient control and the most effective means of achieving it.

 Habitat Loss and Degradation ...
Reducing pollution in our coastal waters may improve condi-
tions for human health and marine life, but restoring good water
quality only to entice greater development and loss of natural
habitat will result in little, if any, overall environmental gain.
Accordingly, the physical needs of the ecosystem must be an
important consideration of any plan to improve or restore environ-
mental quality in the Harbor/Bight region.
An inventory of current habitat conditions in the region is in
progress to determine the adequacy of existing programs to
manage and maintain natural resources. Studies are document-
ing historical changes, mapping sensitive areas and evaluating
what actions need to be taken to ensure the long-term viability of
the Harbor/Bight ecosystem.
Everyone plays a role in protecting habitat, from Federal agen-
cies managing National Parks and Refuges to State and local
agencies charged with making land use decisions Since only a
small portion of the coastal habitat in the region is in public
ownership, decisions by individual landowners will be instrumen-
tal in determining the success of this effort.

Support the betterment of the New York-New Jersey Harbor and
the New York Bight by taking one or more of these positive
	ENTER your name on the Program mailing list to receive the
newsletter and notices of meetings and hearings.
	JOIN one of the planning committees: Citizens Advisory Com-
mittee(CAC), Science & Technical Advisory Committee (STAC),
or Local Governments Committee (LGC). These ensure that
local viewpoints are considered within the framework of the
Harbor and the Bight programs.
	ATTEND meetings of the Harbor and Bight programs to keep
abreast of progress being made, and to understand the ramifi-
cations on each member of the public of prospective pollution
control measures being considered.
	JOIN local conservation organizations and nature groups.
Become familiar with the pollution problems in your local area
and the environmental solutions to those problems.
	DO your bit to combat pollution. Consider the effects of your
lifestyle on the environment. Reduce litter; conserve water,
dispose of toxic household products properly; use fertilizers
sparingly; keep your car tuned; recycle household trash; use
products that are environmentally benign; and learn other ways
to live more in harmony with nature.
	NOTI FY elected officials of you r concern for the Harbor and the
Bight and of the need to ensure the region's environmental
quality for all generations.
For more informatjon, and to enter your name on our mailing list,
please fill out and mail in the form below
New York-New Jersey Harbor/New York Bight
I would like: 	to be put on your mailing list.
	to participate on an advisory committee.
Mail to: NY-NJ Harbor/NY Bight Public Participation
Hudson River Foundation
40 West 20 Street, 9th Floor
New York, New York 10011