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Restoring New York City's Waterways & Protecting Their Inhabitants


Presidential Dinner with Marit Larson and Sarah Charlop-Powers

Research and status of restoration ecology from headwater streams to the sub-tidal mudflats in the ultra-urban coastal environment

In the midst of towering skyscrapers, it is easy to forget that New York City is a cluster of islands at the mouth of one of the world’s great estuaries. Although we live in a city defined by commerce and culture, we are increasing aware of the benefits that humans derive from nature and biological diversity in an urban environment – from flood protection to emotional well-being. In the face of new challenges, including sea level rise and warmer temperatures, better understanding both our historical ecosystems and current conditions is helping guide decisions about future ecological restoration and nature conservation in our city.

The NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and its partner the Natural Areas Conservancy are working at the forefront of urban conservation. Working with research partners and designers, they are addressing threats to NYC’s aquatic resources from freshwater streams, to intertidal salt marshes, and to near-shore marine waters. Their collective efforts have contributed to the return of spawning fish to the Bronx River, the restoration of NYC’s historic salt marshes, and the innovative use of oyster reefs as a living breakwater that provides coastal protection.

The Bronx River is the largest freshwater river in New York City. This 24-mile waterway contains dams that date back to the 1600, blocking the migration of native fish including river herring (Alosa Pseudoharngus). These fish were once ubiquitous in streams up and down the Atlantic Coast, and a vital part of our regional culture and economy. They mature in the ocean and swim thousands of miles back to the freshwater tributaries, like the Bronx River, to spawn. Now, after almost 400 years, a fish ladder constructed by NYC Parks provides an upstream passageway for migrating river herring. Public access to the ladder also allows New Yorkers to witness the intersection of the urban landscape with our streams, wetlands, estuaries and marine ecosystems.

After drastic loss of coastal habitat in the last century, including 90% of the tidal wetlands that once fringed much of the New York City, improved water quality and local conservation efforts are reversing this trend. NYC Parks has led major research initiatives on remaining 4000 acres of salt marsh, including: an in-depth assessment of the condition of 25 significant salt marsh complexes. This data was used to develop a framework for recommending and prioritizing restoration actions, based on relative threats at each marsh. Another recent effort identified more than 100 potential restoration opportunities, a dataset that has already been used to leverage significant public investment in rebuilding wetlands that provide critical estuarine habitat and coastal protection.

Moving from the coast into open water, scientists are exploring the possibility of restoring Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) populations in New York Harbor. Over a century ago, vast oyster beds spanned thousands of acres off the city’s shoreline. These species not only supported a thriving industry, but served as ecological engineers, filtering water and building reef habitat for fish. Oyster restoration pilot projects, from the Bronx to Staten Island, demonstrate the potential for improving our urban marine habitat and biodiversity, as well as create hands-on experiences for students in the coastal environmental.

Marit Larson, Chief in the Division of Forestry, Horticulture and Natural Resources at NYC Parks, will present this exploration of New York City’s stream and estuarine restoration efforts. Sarah Charlop-Powers, Executive Director of the Natural Areas Conservancy, will explain how public private partnerships are helping to build tools and expand resources for engagement and science-based management of our urban natural areas.


Marit Larson is the Chief of Natural Resources for NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. She is an environmental scientist with Masters degrees in environmental engineering from the University of Washington and resources management from the University of California at Berkeley. Beginning with a Fulbright Scholarship in Germany to study stream restoration, she has worked on stream and wetland restoration and protection in urban areas for over 25 years. Ms. Larson oversees the protection, restoration, management and conservation of New York City Parks' 10,000 acres of natural spaces. She is responsible for forest and wetlands restoration, conservation research, and stormwater green infrastructure design and construction, as well as for New York City’s native plant center and its Urban Field Station – a collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service. Ms. Larson has been featured in stories about NYC natural resource restoration in the New York Times, NY1, WNYC, Deutsche Welle and elsewhere.

Sarah Charlop-Powers is the Executive Director of the Natural Areas Conservancy, a non-profit dedicated to restoring and conserving New York City’s 20,000 acres of forests and wetlands. She has a background in land use planning and economics. She has worked at Scenic Hudson, Jonathan Rose Companies, NYSERDA, NYC DOT and the Mohonk Preserve. She has an undergraduate degree in economics from Binghamton University and a masters in environmental management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies where she was a Doris Duke Conservation Fellow.

Date: Wednesday, September 27

Time: 6:00 pm Reception, 7:00 pm Dinner, 8:00 pm Presentation

Location: Club Headquarters, 46 E 70th Street, New York, NY, 10021

Member Ticket Price: $70

Guest Ticket Price: $80

Reservation Notes:

Click here to purchase tickets online

Reservations are allotted on a first-come, first-serve basis. To secure a reservation, please email us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or call us at 212.628.8383.

As this is a catered event, there are no refunds after Friday, September 22nd.

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