Students examine a lined seahorse. Photo credit: Etienne Frossard.

Path Location: 2

Marine Life

Brooklyn Bridge Park employs design principles and horticultural management practices that endeavor to restore shoreline habitats previously dominant along the coastlines of Manhattan and Long Island. Centuries earlier, before European development, New York harbor teemed with diverse ecosystems. However, years of human and industrial use polluted the once pristine waterway and altered a waterfront that was once home to birds, fish and marine vegetation.

Working with the design team of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., Brooklyn Bridge Park created shoreline conditions that would provide viable habitats for birds and animals. The soft edges of these ecological features protect the landscape during storm events like Hurricane Sandy. The gradual and uneven surfaces of the rip rap (boulders and stones of various sizes) and salt marshes act as attenuators for wave action that could damage infrastructure. The planted areas also absorb excess flood water that could damage the park and surrounding neighborhoods.

The Salt Marshes

Salt marshes on Pier 1, Pier 5, and Pier 6 nurture biologically productive ecosystems. Planted with Smooth cordgrass, the marshes create a fantastic habitat for ducks and other waterfowl that eat and live in the grass, along with many crustaceans and bivalves. The park’s salt marshes are protected at the water’s edge by rip rap with openings that admit water with the fluctuating tides.

The Spiral Pool

The spiral pool at Pier 2 creates a gently descending, stabilized entry point that allows visitors direct access to the water. It also serves as a boat launch. Rip rap edges form a sustainable barrier between the water and parkland, guarding against storm surge and erosion. A stabilization stone keeps the pebbles in place while providing a smoother surface for wading in the water. At high tide, the river sweeps up the curving ramp and fills the pool. At low tide, the water recedes from the tidal pool, leaving behind evidence of the natural habitat living along the shoreline.

Main Street Beaches

The beach areas at Main Street are currently home to the largest diversity of species. The gentle slopes at Pebble Beach allow species to flourish within the intertidal area. Granite steps to the water allow access for visitors. The high tide line hosts algae and cyanobacteria, and the mid-level area, featuring rip rap and smaller rocks, is home to arthopods such as blue crabs, barnacles scuds, blue mussels, eastern oysters, and razor clams. The low tide area then gives way to an aquatic habitat featuring ctenophores, sponges, fish, and invertebrates.

Pier 4 Beach

The Pier 4 beach incorporates innovative tidal pool structures designed by ECOncrete, a company that creates concrete products that enhance the biological and ecological value of coastal and marine infrastructures. These structures mimic natural tidal pools typically found on rocky coasts and create a habitat that supports all kinds of marine plants and animals. A small amphitheater-like structure made of salvaged granite lets visitors sit or walk down to the waterfront.

The Park as Classroom

Students of all ages visit the park to learn about marine life. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy offers education programs that introduce over 8,000 children and adults each year to the habitats of the New York harbor and East River estuary. Marine scientists use a 20-foot seining net to catch and identify the remarkable creatures of the East River. Since the program began, participants have discovered a variety of marine life including oyster toadfish, horseshoe crabs, lined seahorses, and jellyfish.