New York Seascape, USA

New York Seascape Video
New York Aquarium director Jon Dohlin introduces the watery wilderness at his doorstep.
Luke Groskin ©WCS
New York Seascape Photo
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

One of the world’s most famous cities is also home to one of its great seascapes. New York’s waters are an ecological treasure trove, providing habitat for migratory whales, sea turtles, sharks, seabirds, and other threatened marine species. They also support economically valuable commercial and recreational fisheries. The amazing diversity of marine life in these waters is partly a result of extreme seasonal water-temperature fluctuations, leading to the mingling of both subtropical and more northern (e.g. boreal) species as they migrate through the mid-Atlantic. The waters also encompass an extraordinary array of habitats: highly productive estuaries, nearshore migration corridors, a sandy continental shelf, and deepsea canyons and soaring seamounts that rival the majesty of the American West.

WCS’s ambitious New York Seascape conservation program combines research, education, and policy to protect critical habitat and species within the coastal and ocean waters of the New York tri-state area. It is a joint initiative of the New York Aquarium and the WCS-Marine Program.

Fast Facts

  • The New York Seascape encompasses the New York Bight, an area of more than 15,000 square miles that stretches seaward from the coast to the edge of the continental shelf and from Montauk, NY to Cape May, NJ.

  • Submarine canyonsdrowned riverbeds that extend across the continental shelfshelter hundreds of marine species ranging from cold-water corals to sponges, anemones, and crabs to whales, sharks, tunas, and swordfish. The Hudson Canyon is the largest ocean canyon off the Atlantic Coast and a priority for protection because of its ecology as well as its sensitivity to disturbance.

  • New York waters are home to 338 species of marine fishes, including pelagic, migratory coastal, resident, estuarine, diadromous, and oceanic stray species.

  • Four species of sea turtles—green, loggerhead, leatherback, and Kemp’s ridley—are regular seasonal visitors, as are many species of coastal and oceanic sharks, including sand tiger, sandbar, mako and thresher sharks.

  • This seascape is also a hotspot for sharks and rays (nearly 40 species), including the protected sand tiger shark and depleted thorny skates, and is best known for its iconic oceanic sharks, including makos, threshers, and blue sharks, along with an occasional great white.

  • Endangered humpback, fin, and right whales, and various dolphins migrate right past the New York Aquarium as they make their way from southern breeding grounds to their feeding grounds off New England.


The waters of the New York Seascape lap one of the most urbanized shorelines in the world: More than 20 million people live within approximately 10 miles of the Atlantic and the NY-NJ Harbor is one of the busiest ports in the U.S. In New York State alone, about $5.2 billion is generated by recreational and commercial fishing and the seafood industry, which depend on healthy, accessible and clean oceans. Coastal tourism and marine transport are also major economic engines in these waters.  

Coastal waters and marine wildlife of the New York Seascape have sustained three centuries of abuse, as a dumping ground for raw sewage, heavy metals, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals. Countless oil spills and nutrient overloads have polluted the seascape, and extensive commercial and recreational fishing depleted many species.

Since the Clean Water Act was passed in 1970, we have made progress in cleaning up the Hudson River and coastal waters. But expanding and competing uses for these historic waters mean that many threats remain: Unsustainable fishing practices result in overfishing and habitat destruction; extensive vessel traffic leads to collisions with whales, dolphins, and large sharks; offshore mining, energy development, and nutrient run-off from coastal development damage ecosystems; and the impacts of climate change continue to mount. Many of New York’s iconic marine species are in trouble, despite being given some protection through federal and state endangered and/or protected species listings.

WCS Responds

WCS has been a leader in science-based conservation for nearly a century. In September 2009, together with the City of New York, we launched an ambitious ten-year Sea Change Initiative at the New York Aquarium. This plan will add an impressive array of aquatic wildlife, expand the size and number of exhibits, and broaden our educational impact. As part of this effort, the New York Seascape will drive local conservation initiatives aimed at restoring key local wildlife populations and protecting critical habitats that support them.  

With the threats of overfishing and climate change growing, the next decade may be a turning point for sea turtles, sharks, and other species that depend on healthy marine ecosystems.

Through ecosystem-based management and comprehensive regional planning, field and policy-oriented activities, and increased educational outreach, WCS’s goal is to help beleaguered marine wildlife populations recover, and to reconnect New Yorkers to the great seascape at their doorstep.

WCS Projects

Regulating Shark & Ray Fisheries

Shark fisheries have expanded in size and number around the world since the mid-1980s to meet the rapidly rising demand for shark fins, meat, and cartilage. Most of these fisheries are unregulated and undocumented. As a result, numerous shark species now face extinction. WCS is working to improve regulation of the global trade in shark products to reverse the decline of these remarkable fishes.

From the Newsroom

New York Aquarium Breaks Ground on Ocean Wonders: Sharks!January 10, 2014

The groundbreaking of the facility is part of the effort to transform WCS's New York Aquarium and continue the rebirth of Coney Island.

Let’s Not Shatter the Glass EelAugust 7, 2013

With relentless fishing, dams, habitat loss, and pollution threatening their populations, American eels need our help. Dr. Merry Camhi, director of the New York Seascape Program at WCS’s New York Aquarium, and Dr. John Waldman, Professor of Biology at Queens College, describe these mysterious fishes and a unique window of opportunity to help save them.

Smooth Dogfish Are Sharks, TooJuly 9, 2013

Dr. Merry Camhi, who directs WCS’s New York Seascape Program at the New York Aquarium, discusses challenges for sharks at large, and for one beleaguered East Coast species that is the subject of loopholes in shark-finning regulations.

WCS’s New York Aquarium Set To Reopen after SandyApril 6, 2013

Reporting on the aquarium’s comeback following Hurricane Sandy, ABC News visited Coney Island to talk with WCS Vice President and Director of the New York Aquarium, Jon Forrest Dohlin.

WCS’s New York Aquarium Slated for Partial Reopening February 26, 2013

Hurricane Sandy damaged the New York Aquarium, as well as other Coney Island landmarks. For months, the aquarium has been closed to the public while repairs are made, but WCS has just announced that the facility will partially reopen during late spring 2013.


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