Prall’s Island (left) from Saw Mill Creek. Factory in background is on the New Jersey side of the Kill Van Kull.
The West Shore of Staten Island seems a world away from the New York City most of us inhabit every day. Factories, power lines, and tug boats are the only vertical relief from the flat expansiveness of a salt marsh. It is neither the gray dusty landscape of a typical industrial zone, nor the serene green of a wilderness preserve. Here the NYC Parks Department is working to recreate optimal Harbor Heron habitat on an island just offshore in the Kill Van Kull.
Prall’s Island was created in 1930s using material dredged from the Kill Van Kull. The island’s shrubs and forest cover made for excellent nesting sites for Harbor Herons, and a large colony formed here. Then, in the 1990s, a major oil spill in the Kill Van Kull, killed many birds and decimated much of the area’s salt marshes where the birds forage. In 2007, the USDA discovered Asian Longhorned Beetle on the island, and removed over 300 trees on the island as part of a regional effort to eradicate the invasive species. Without the trees, the island no longer offered suitable nesting sites for the birds, and the lack of shade cover allowed numerous invasive plant species to colonize.
Currently the Parks Department, led by Capt. Alex Summers, is rehabilitating the north end of the island and attract Harbor Herons to nest here once again. Invasive, exotic species, such as Ailanthus and Glossy Buckthorn are being removed, and native species, such as oaks and Moonseed planted. The work is not easy and the team faces several challenges. All plant materials and tools must be brought via canoe, the only means of accessing the island. And the visiting deer, rabbits and voles threaten to undo this hard work by eating the young trees and shrubs they plant. Alex and his staff are engaged in a constant battle with these foragers, installing fences around the planting areas, stringing twine throughout the trees, and capturing the animals’ actions on a motion-activated video camera to better understand their habits.
Jessica and I recently got the opportunity to visit the island as part of a volunteer day. Check out the video Jessica made of how we spent the day!