Earth Day: Volunteer says cleanups have helped improve conditions in Jamaica Bay

Earth Day: Volunteer says cleanups have helped improve conditions in Jamaica Bay

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NEW YORK — Dozens of volunteers showed up to Jamaica Bay on Sunday for an Earth Day cleanup.

CBS2’s Leah Mishkin has more on the state of the shoreline and how these efforts help.

Don Riepe fell in love with nature as a Boy Scout. His work, home, and volunteering all revolve around Jamaica Bay. The 82-year-old has been organizing cleanups since 1986.

And pollution in the area, he says, has gotten better.

“It used to be worse 10, 20 years ago. But little by little through education and through different agencies getting more and more involved, more volunteer groups, the bay is getting a lot cleaner,” Riepe said.

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As the Jamaica Bay Guardian walked with Mishkin along the shoreline, he explained there’s still a problem with occasional raw sewage coming into the bay when it rains.

“So the city has to upgrade the treatment plants and maybe have another holding tank. It’s going to take a while and a lot of money to really bring this bay up to the fishable, swimmable ideals,” Riepe said.

“Can you eat what you catch here? Or it’s too polluted the water?” Mishkin asked.

“No you can eat it. A lot of the fish are actually migratory. So two weeks ago it might have been off of Montauk. You want to keep away from bottom feeding fish, like eel. And definitely don’t want to eat the shellfish, the clams out of here. It’s illegal,” Riepe said.

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On Sunday, volunteers from different organizations, including about 60 people from the International WeLoveU Foundation, scattered across the area to pick up trash.

“The goal of our organization is to sustain the Earth and leave it better for our future generation,” said Mike Haniszewski, Queens chapter leader.

“A lot of the debris comes in with tides and people leave stuff here,” Riepe added.

They said that leaves animals at risk of getting tangled in things like fishing lines and plastic debris.

Jamaica Bay is internationally known as a bird sanctuary. Riepe says more than 300 species of birds have visited.

“In about two weeks, all birds, a big slug of birds are going to be coming through New York City,” Riepe said. “They come all through May, they head up north, and then back in August/September, head south.”

Riepe said the biggest danger to wildlife is habitat loss. Groups are working on restoring and protecting the marshes.

But cleanups help, too.

And on Sunday, the various groups collected more than 50 bags worth of trash, weighing well over 1,150 pounds.

So the birds will be safer.

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