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Toxic shock! Marine life returning to Newtown Creek - Brooklyn Paper

Toxic shock! Marine life returning to Newtown Creek

Hands-on deck: Willis Elkins and his fellow volunteers at the Newtown Creek Alliance forged a floating dock on the polluted Newtown Creek to document the remergenge of water-based wildlife in the waterway.
Photo by Louise Wateridge

Newtown Creek is back from the dead!

A group of eco-activists who built a natural aquarium on the fetid waterway in spring say it is now teeming with marine life — proof, they claim, that Brooklyn’s second most toxic body of water is slowly becoming healthier.

“A lot of people who are familiar with the creek came to see it as a dead zone where nothing is living,” said Willis Elkins of community group the Newtown Creek Alliance. “That’s not really the case.”

The neon-green-thumbs built the so-called “living dock” — a floating wooden raft with salt marsh grasses growing through the center — to observe the critters that have been re-emerging in the estuary since the city began controlling storm-water overflows and policing polluters who have long used the water as a toxic waste dump, said Elkins.

The activists say they saw fish, crabs, eels, and birds flocking back to the creek better known as a slough of petroleum, raw sewage, and dangerous metals. But there was still a dearth of healthy shoreline space for the critters to inhabit, and so they decided to create something for the marine life to cling to — a project they funded, appropriately, through funds Big Oil paid out for hitting the creek with an oil spill three times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster.

The dock now acts as a miniature reef for the revived wildlife population, Elkins said — mussels, shrimp, and other shellfish have colonized bottom of the structure, while wading birds like herons perch on top.

The alliance is now teaming up with another crew attempting to bring life back to the creek — the North Brooklyn Boat Club, which carefully paddles canoes along the federal Superfund site — to ferry visitors to the dock to see the turnaround for themselves.

“Hopefully people can see the creek is not the dead zone it once was,” said Elkins.

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.
Shell life: Mollusks and a host of other sea critters are repopulating the once-dead Newtown Creek, and local activists are bringing attention to the revival with a new floating dock that serves as a marine-life habitat.
Photo by Louise Wateridge

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