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Heartbeats in the Muck:The History, Sea Life, and Environment of New York Harbor, Revised Edition

The History, Sea Life, and Environment of New York Harbor, Revised Edition

John Waldman

Publication Year: 2012

Heartbeats in the Muck traces the incredible arc of New York Harbor's environmental history. Once a pristine estuary bristling with oysters and striped bass and visited by sharks, porpoises, and seals, the harbor has been marked by centuries of rampant industrialization and degradation of its natural environment. Garbage dumping, oil spills, sewage sludge, pesticides, heavy metals, poisonous PCBs, landfills, and dredging greatly diminished life in the harbor, in some places to nil. Now, forty years after the Clean Water Act began to resurrect New York Harbor, John Waldman delivers a new edition of his New York Society Library Award--winning book. Heartbeats in the Muck is a lively, accessible narrative of the animals, water quality, and habitats of the harbor. It includes captivating personal accounts of the author's explorations of its farthest and most noteworthy reaches, treating readers to an intimate environmental tour of a shad camp near the George Washington Bridge, the Arthur Kill (home of the resurgent heron colonies), the Hackensack Meadowlands, the darkness under a giant Manhattan pier, and the famously polluted Gowanus Canal. A new epilogue details some of the remarkable changes that have come upon New York Harbor in recent years. Waldman's prognosis is a good one: Ultimately, environmental awareness and action has allowed the harbor to begin cleaning itself. Although it will never regain its native biological glory, the return of oysters, herons, and a host of other creatures is an indication of New York Harbor's rebirth. This excellent, engaging introduction to the ecological issues surrounding New York Harbor will appeal to students and general readers alike. Heartbeats in the Muck is a must-read for anyone who likes probing the wilds, whether country or city, and natural history books such as Beautiful Swimmers and Mannahatta.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii


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pp. ix

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pp. 1-4

New Yorkers have a dark fascination with their surrounding waters. Where else is it expected that sometime during mid-April, as the depths warm, bacterial activity will bloat the previous winter’s bounty of murders and suicides and cause them to rise to the harbor’s surface—a synchronized resurrection of the damned...

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1 The Essential Harbor

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pp. 5-13

New York Harbor has been inconsistently defi ned, existing as much as an abstraction as a geographic entity. I prefer to view it broadly as a sprawling estuarine complex, recognizing the interconnectedness of its many drainages. And if estuaries...

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2 Vita Marinae

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pp. 14-51

On the map Newark Bay is an armpit of New York Harbor, a geographical relationship fully consistent with its popular image. My own expectations of Newark Bay are in keeping with this view as we ready the trawl net at the stern of the Gloria Michelle, a research vessel operated by the U.S. National Marine...

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3 The Medium: Sewers, Sludge,and Other Forms of Water Torture

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pp. 52-77

In 1939 Carl Carmer wrote: “The Hudson of the people’s dream is a river of clear water.” If only a dream, it must have been a recurring one, fueled by its then-nightmarish qualities. Few water bodies have received the variety and volume of noxious wastes as have the Hudson River and New York Harbor. In the early...

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4 The Vessel: Bank and Bottom,Bulldozers and Blasts

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pp. 78-108

The threshold of water quality necessary to once again support a diversity of life in New York Harbor has been crossed. The real uncertainties concerning the future of the harbor surround its habitat—bank and bottom. The profi le of the harbor today bears little resemblance to Henry Hudson’s or Giovanni...

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5 How Is the Harbor Doing?

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pp. 109-116

Today the environment of New York Harbor stands wobbling, but it is growing stronger and steadier, like the survivor of a ghastly medical accident— a healthy victim given chemotherapy and reconstructive surgery for problems she never had. Although the harbor’s native biological glory will never be relived...

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Epilogue: 2000–2012

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pp. 117-134

It is now 2012, with New York Harbor having enjoyed the benefi ts of exactly forty years of nationwide water quality protections. Four decades since the degradation of America’s waters was so profound that in 1971 Congress passed legislation to do something about it. Back then, the harbor was only one of the...

Annotated Bibliography

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pp. 135-138


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pp. 139-150

E-ISBN-13: 9780823250547
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823249855
Print-ISBN-10: 0823249859

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 38 b/w
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: Text