|When marine biologist
James Cervino took a walk along the coast of Herman MacNeil Park in College
Point Monday evening, he felt a mixture of excitement and dread.
Cervino, 41, a College Point native
who grew up playing in the park, remembered seeing algae covering the coast
with little other marine life. Today, due to the construction of the nearby
Tallman Island Sewage Treatment Plant, oysters, clams and horseshoe crabs
live in those waters.
But Cervino still worried that plans
for development in College Point could jeopardize the health of the marine
life that has returned to the area in recent years.
"My hat goes off to them. They
should be commended," Cervino said of the city and state's efforts to clean
the waters off northern Queens. "But for developers to go and destroy it now
is just ridiculous."
For the past two years, Cervino and
students at St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows have studied the coast of
College Point and Malba. Cervino said many of his findings are preliminary,
and he called for a more extensive study to determine what pathogens lie on
the coast of northeast Queens.
But Cervino said one fact is clear: the construction of condominiums on
College Point's waterfront in the last several years has hurt the health of
Cervino is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of South Carolina's Marine
Science Program. He earned his master's in marine biology at Boston
University in 1996 and has done field work in Papua, New Guinea, Malaysia
and the Bahamas among other countries. His studies often focus on the health
of coral reefs with regards to development and tourism.
His study of the College Point waterfront comes at a time when Councilman
Tony Avella (D-Bayside) is pushing the city to rezone the neighborhood,
putting a possible limit on coastal development.
In the case of new condominiums on the College Point waterfront,
development has led to the erosion of the coast line, Cervino said. Concrete
covers the habitat of marine life, leading to their death. Algae replace the
marine life, resulting in the release of ammonia and a "rotten egg smell,"
The construction of parking lots near the water also leads to chemicals
from vehicles running off into the water, Cervino said.
Cervino pointed to the waters off Edgewater Estates, College Point's
newest condominium development, as an example of the problem.
In contrast to MacNeil Park, there were few oysters at Edgewater Estates,
which is just to the south of another condominium project. Instead, a pool
of algae sits near the entrance to the development's canal that is under
Cervino said if the city is to allow such developments, officials should
at least make sure that they are not right next to each other.
"If you are going to destroy habitats, at least create a buffer zone," he
Cervino fears the waters off MacNeil Park will soon look like the waters
off Edgewater Estates. The area just to the east of the park is undeveloped,
and community leaders are worried the site will soon become more
Cervino said the city should require developers to maintain the health of
coasts, calling on them to bring in beach sand and oysters and plant sea
grass to counter erosion.
"The builders should be responsible for correcting the damage they
created," he said.
Cervino also questioned whether waterfront development in northern Queens
is a possible threat to public health. He noted the West Nile Virus was
first discovered in College Point.
"We are introducing humans to an area where mosquitoes are supposed to
live," he said.
Regardless of the whether or not waterfront development continues in
College Point, most of the coast of northeast Queens has already been
developed. Cervino said his goal is not to preserve a pristine coastline,
but to save the few areas that still have abundant marine life left.
"The insanity has to stop somewhere," he said.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or
call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.