Hart Island Natural Ecology

Hart Island is a saltwater, non-barrier island whose 130 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 away, recreating a lagoon. In addition to the saltmarsh, Hart Island has several wildlife habitats consisting of high bluffs, successional forests and a riprap shoreline. According to a 1989 ecological assessment, it is home to 28 species of wildlife and 65 plant species. 

Institutional structures left vacant when Phoenix House moved away from Hart Island in 1976 have recently been removed providing new burial space and an improved visitor experience. Erosion was a problem in burial plots close to the northeast shoreline. Restoration of shoreline areas was completed in 2021 with funding from FEMA.

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