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Heartbeats in the Muck Hardcover – January 1, 2000
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The waters surrounding the islands and shores of New York City were once an ecological treasure house, full of oysters, striped bass, seals, porpoises, and other marine species. In the 19th and 20th centuries, seemingly illimitable streams of pollutants entered these arms of the Atlantic; raw sewage, industrial wastes, pesticides, exotic species, and garbage turned the once-thriving waters--rightly called "an urban wilderness"--into a graveyard.
The damage has been so extensive, writes ichthyologist John Waldman, that New York Harbor can never return to its former biological glory. But, thanks to the work of far-seeing environmental groups and government agencies, the harbor is nonetheless regaining some of its health. Through their efforts, pollutants have been reduced, and, with cleaner waters, herons and oysters are slowly returning to their former haunts. Waldman writes of the harbor, "It is growing stronger and steadier, like the survivor of a ghastly medical accident." As our knowledge of ecosystems and watersheds grows, and with it the possibilities of environmentally sustainable agriculture and waste disposal, the waters around New York offer boundless opportunities for doing the right thing. Waldman's engaging survey of the harbor's natural and human history points the way. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
You might or might not want to fish in the East River now. In 1850, though, it was a hot spot for anglers: an able dockworker once caught seven sharks in a day. "New York Harbor's vast network of moving or placid, fresh, brackish, and salt water" still holds a startling variety of marine life whose past, present and future Waldman surveys in this exemplary and compact work of popular ecology. Sometimes describing his own trips through creeks and up inlets, in the manner of John McPhee, Waldman (who edited Strippers: An Angler's Anthology) explains what sorts of marine life live in and near the Hudson, the East River and the Meadowlands, how engineering and shipping have affected them and how decreased pollution around New York has allowed various species to begin to return. Recent cleanups have made the waters around the city a magnet for wading birds, while "sea horses are common around Pier 26." Even dolphins, manatees and sea turtles have been spotted straying through area waters. Sometimes pollution has had ironic benefits. Industrial runoff in the Hudson actually helped increase its striped bass population: few people wanted to catch the PCB-laden fish, so more of them lived to breed. And the contaminants at the mouth of the Hudson helped preserve the wood of its piers, which are now under attack again from tiny animals called marine borers. Waldman also covers matters of infrastructure, concluding with looks at present and future construction around the water's edge, with an optimistic overview.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
Joseph Mitchell's classic "The Bottom of the Harbor". John
Waldman captures the mystique and dark romance known only to a few
New York bayman. Readers will become familiar with New York events
like "Floaters week", underruns, blow out tides; fishing holes
with unlikely names such as Aquatic Appalachia, Tin Can Grounds, Acid
Grounds, and Cholera Banks; flotsam that will never be found in any
dictionary like "Coney Island Whitefish" and "blop-blops";
nautical entrepreneurs like the "Belford Pirates", illegal
pinhookers, Kenney's Killer Killifish, headboats and even an urban
sports fishing guide. John Watchman takes you to backwaters and
commercial dead ends where the "Fiftteenth Ward Smelling
Committee" once searched for the source of health-giving vapors,
sludge bubbles, perfume wagon stenches; and a criminal defense lawyer
even tried to use the black, bubbly water of the bay as a possible
neurological "The river made me do it" defense.
I spent many
of my early years wandering New York Harbor and it's many tributaries
in search of stripped bass, jacking for blue claw crabs, ice boating,
racing sailboats or simply drifting down the Harlem River on a warm
summer night listening to the urban mixture of steel bands, fire
engine horns, police sirens and elevated trains. It was a treat to
hear that you can still do many of these things and the hostilities to
this great body of water are being addressed by special people like
John Watchman. We owe him a lot.
Richard Quis now lives in Southern
California where the colorful flotsam is oranges, lemons and tennis
In a way, this book is quite inspirational, in as much as that it gives the reader hope that, when confronted with an ecological crisis, local and state governments can and will intervene, even if it needs to be put under pressure. Villains abound, but so do heroes, and the anecdotes about local seafarers do more than just entertain; they make you proud of them for their determination.
Lastly, even to the most seasoned New Yorker, this little tome will provide information about his/her city's remarkably complex network of rivers, streams, "kills", and canals. Having grown up near the Gowanus Canal, I remember how awful it smelled even on good days. Now, it is so clean, it seems strange. In any event, Mr. Waldman deserves a great deal of credit for his dogged research and his sea legs.