Hart Island Natural Ecology

Hart Island is a saltwater, non-barrier island whose 131 acres include areas of woodland, scrub, vineland and closed forest. A saltmarsh occurs on its west side. Visitors arriving by boat at either the coal dock or the ferry dock will notice a small lagoon that is part of an expanding wetland area being naturally reclaimed. Formerly known as Spectacle Island, there were two land masses joined with a bridge of land in the middle similar in appearance to eyeglasses. Landfill added in the 1880s has been washing this fill away, recreating a lagoon. In addition to the saltmarsh, Hart Island has several wildlife habitats consisting of abandoned buildings, high bluffs, successional forests and a riprap shoreline. It is home to 28 species of wildlife and 65 plant species. The buildings and roads are deteriorating and earlier landscaped areas are succeeding to meadow. Institutional structures are being removed to provide new burial space, a process that is disruptive to the natural ecology due to the industrial scale of the graves that stay open for long periods. Erosion is a problem in areas close to the burials along the shoreline. Mitigation is expected to begin in 2019 with funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Image ©2004 Melinda Hunt courtesy The Hart Island Project