8. There’s a Man Made Island in Marine Park
In an inlet between Gerritsen Beach and the Marine Park Golf Club is an abandoned island about 0.7 miles long that is completely man made. Like much of the south Brooklyn waterfront, the story of Mau Mau Island is rather trashy – that is, tied to garbage and landfill.
In 1917, Francis B. Pratt, son of the industrialist Charles Pratt (who founded Pratt Institute) and Alfred Tredway White, the Wall Street philanthropist behind Brooklyn Botanic Garden, donated 150 acres of land in south Brooklyn to be saved as natural marshland. White died tragically in 1921, but he would have been horrified if he knew what Robert Moses did on this land in the 1930s. With ocean dumping banned in New York City by the Supreme Court, Moses decided to take the city’s trash to fill in marshlands. Using this method, he created Marine Park.
Robert Moses also layered sand on top of the garbage, a method that “unintentionally restored the coastal grassland habitat,” writer Robert Sullivan says. The sand came from the excavation of the Belt Parkway, another Moses initiative. To prevent the sand from blowing onto the Marine Park Golf Club, opened in 1964, a layer of asphalt was added.
An environmental restoration was supposed to have started in the late 1990s. Despite a decade delay, work commenced in the last decade and in recent years, some of the grasslands and marshes have been restored to the island.
Most New Yorkers have never heard of Mau Mau Island, but it had a brief claim to fame in 2011 as the site of a mock naval battle by the art collective Swimming Cities, founded by the artist Swoon. Sea vessels made out of reclaimed materials fought in the epic Battle for Mau Mau Island. But for the most part, Mau Mau Island is quietly turning into the marshland and bird sanctuary envisioned by Alfred White and Francis Pratt.
The best way to see Mau Mau Island is by kayak or canoe on trips run by the New York City Parks Department. You can also see it on a nature trail that starts at the Marine Park Salt Marsh Nature Center.