NY/NJ Baykeeper was founded in 1989 by Andrew Willner, who had previously started a small boat building and repair yard on Staten Island. Willner’s daughter, who was 10 years old, visited the yard and it made Willner angry that she could not go swimming in the waters off Staten Island due to pollution. Willner saw firsthand the devastating effect the Exxon Bayway Oil Spill had on the Arthur Kill.
After Willner found out that there was a Riverkeeper on the Hudson River, a Soundkeeper in Long Island, and Baykeepers in Delaware and San Francisco. he began communicating with them and they helped him launch the Baykeeper program in the summer of 1989. Willner worked with NY/NJ Baykeeper for twenty years, until April 2008.
Today, we serve as the citizen advocate for the harbors, bays, streams, and shores of the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary by preserving and restoring habitat, influencing land use decisions, stopping polluters, championing public access, and educating the public.
To date NY/NJ Baykeeper has:
- Established the Safe Harbor Coalition in response to the 1990 Exxon/Arthur Kill oil spill, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in Natural Resource Damages recovery for the Estuary.
- Created the largest citizen water-quality monitoring program in the region, with more than 150 volunteers in New York City and northern New Jersey. This program built a tremendous interest in protection of the Estuary.
- Continues to be the only on-water citizen patrol presence in the Raritan Bay, with staff and more than twenty Baykeeper Auxiliary volunteers patrolling for violations.
- Advocated successfully for the establishment of the Meadowlands Conservation Trust, a public-private land trust created through NJ legislation.
- Successfully advocated for the preservation of Liberty State Park, resulting in the defeat of several golf courses and water parks, and eventually the ouster of the ineffectual for-profit management corporation at New Jersey’s most visited urban park. We established the Liberty State Park Conservancy to restore the interior of the park as forest, wetlands, and wildflower meadows.
- Worked in coalition with Newark, NJ, youth groups to restore sections of the Second River tributary to the Passaic and with local conservationists to preserve important floodplain land in the Third River tributary.
- Along with a cross-harbor coalition of grassroots organizations, including Save the Bay and NRPA of Staten Island, defeated a 2300 acre toxic mud island proposed by the Corps of Engineers for the most sensitive part of Raritan Bay.
- Created multi-language fish advisory in both New York and New Jersey brochures to be handed out at urban fishing sites , as well as distributing a video to women’s health clinics. This was in response to observations and reports of “subsistence” fishermen eating contaminated seafood from the harbor,
- An original participant in the Dredged Materials Management Work Group, and with Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and NRDC, guided efforts to limit channel deepening and establish “green port” principals. As a direct result, the Army Corps altered its Dredged Materials Management Plan recommendations.
- Along with NRDC, Coalition for the Bight, RPA and others, Baykeeper has successfully lobbied Congress and the States for millions of dollars for harbor habitat projects.
- Worked with the Port Authority to get $60 million to acquire critical habitats in New Jersey and New York City, which was based on the Harbor Estuary Program (HEP) critical habitat lists.
- Worked with the same coalition to get the Corps of Engineers to commit to a NY-NJ Harbor Estuary habitat restoration program resulting in the Comprehensive Restoration Project/HRE and a partnership of government and non-governmental organizations engaged in planning for large-scale wetlands, wet forest and habitat restoration projects.
- NY/NJ Baykeeper is a member of the Harbor Roundtable, a group of government and NGO’s currently promoting habitat restoration. Our oyster restoration project was critical in getting consensus from this group that oysters and eel grass restoration should be the first project considered.
- Along with our partners (Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense, Rutgers University Environmental Law Clinic, Hackensack Riverkeeper, and Columbia University Environmental Law Clinic) NY/NJ Baykeeper began a process to establish a NY-NJ Harbor Estuary Conservancy , the principles of which continue to guide the identification and acquisition of urban habitats which were previously not considered viable by federal, state, county, municipal, or private land trusts. Baykeeper has facilitated the transfer of critical habitat areas from private to public owners throughout the urban part of the Estuary in New Jersey.