The Hudson-Raritan estuary, with its rich and diverse populations of birds, fish, and shellfish, is unmatched in terms of the historical abundance of its natural resources. New York City, in fact, owes its existence as a major urban center to the bounty of the estuary (Trust for Public Lands, 1990). The estuarine and coastal waters around New York City currently support significant fish and wildlife resources (Sullivan, 1991). For example, the extensive wetland systems along the Arthur Kill on northwest Staten Island, adjacent to one of the most industrialized corridors in the northeastern United States, has been colonized by several species of herons, egrets, and ibises (Trust for Public Lands, 1990). Current heron populations represent up to 25 percent of all nesting wading birds along the coast from Cape May, New Jersey, to the Rhode Island line (HEP, 1996). Today, despite mounting pressures for industrial and residential development, there is a growing awareness of the estuary's unique ecological function
and a new appreciation of its almost limitless potential as a recreational, cultural, and aesthetic resource (Trust for Public Lands, 1990).
For more than 300 years, New York Harbor and the New York metropolitan region have been a focal point of urban development, transportation, manufacturing, and commerce. New York City has been characterized by tremendous population increases and economic growth and has traditionally been a major harbor. As a large estuary with vast wetlands and marsh areas, New York Harbor offered an abundance of natural resources that supported a commercially important shellfish industry until its decline in the early 1900s. With a relatively deep protected estuary that was ideal for navigation, the harbor developed as a key shipping and transportation link for commerce and passenger traffic between the inland states and Europe.
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