9. Shooter’s Island Harbor Herons Reserve

Shooter IslandShooter’s Island off of Staten Island

Shooter’s Island is an abandoned island off of Staten Island between Newark Bay and the Kill Van Kull. The island began as a hunting preserve for wild geese during the Colonial era, and the island was used by George Washington as a drop-off point for messages from spies. The island was once the site of Shooter’s Island Petroleum Refining and Storage Company and the Townsend-Downey Shipbuilding Company, the latter of which built a racing yacht for Kaiser Wilhelm II, the emperor of Germany. The island became a polluted junkyard after World War I, yet as a result of the Clean Water Act of 1972, avian life began to return to the island, and nowadays The New York Audubon Society manages wildlife research there. The island is also split between New York and New Jersey; of the island’s 43 acres, Bayonne owns 7.5 acres and Elizabeth owns 1.5 acres.

The preserve is home to at least 43 species of birds, and seven species of wading birds breed on the island yearly. The island is currently closed to the public to preserve its natural habitat for these birds, yet scientists and government employees often visit the island. Birds found on the island include the glossy ibis and the black-crowned and yellow-crowned night herons. Populations of hard-shelled clams are increasing as a result of improved water quality and decreased shellfish harvesting.