HUMAN/NATURE
In an interdisciplinary course, students focus their cameras on New York’s natural environment

The New York area, one of the most urban environments on the planet, includes a range of areas where animals and plants survive—and sometimes thrive—despite the pollution, crowding, noise, and loss of natural habitat.

Ospreys in Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, in sight of human dwellings across the bay in Queens. These raptors nest up high, free from predators, and plunge feet first into the water  to catch fish. Their numbers  have been growing since DDT and other pesticides were banned. The area is among the world’s top spots for birding, with 332 species seen there in the last 25 years. Photo by Marian Zambrano.Ospreys in Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, in sight of human dwellings across the bay in Queens. These raptors nest up high, free from predators, and plunge feet first into the water to catch fish. Their numbers have been growing since DDT and other pesticides were banned. The area is among the world’s top spots for birding, with 332 species seen there in the last 25 years. Photo by Marian Zambrano.
Unfortunately, when pet turtles get too big, people sometimes release them in parks and other areas. Many of the turtles in Central Park are abandoned pets or their descendants. The red-eared slider is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list of “100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species.” Photo by Stephanie Navarrete, Fashion Design ’18.Unfortunately, when pet turtles get too big, people sometimes release them in parks and other areas. Many of the turtles in Central Park are abandoned pets or their descendants. The red-eared slider is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list of “100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species.” Photo by Stephanie Navarrete, Fashion Design ’18.
The cycle of life goes on, even on Central Park’s Great Lawn, where this robin met its end. The park  is one of the best birding spots in the U.S., with  192 species passing through on their seasonal migrations. Photo by Josephine Crochon.The cycle of life goes on, even on Central Park’s Great Lawn, where this robin met its end. The park is one of the best birding spots in the U.S., with 192 species passing through on their seasonal migrations. Photo by Josephine Crochon.
Canada geese gather in large numbers in urban and suburban areas where there’s open land and water, including golf courses and parks, where they’re often considered pests. Where food is available all year, many no longer fly south for the winter. Photo by Marian Zambrano, Graphic Design ’16.Canada geese gather in large numbers in urban and suburban areas where there’s open land and water, including golf courses and parks, where they’re often considered pests. Where food is available all year, many no longer fly south for the winter. Photo by Marian Zambrano, Graphic Design ’16.

Two FIT professors—marine mammal ecologist and SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Dr. Arthur Kopelman, who has studied whale and seal populations off Eastern Long Island for 30 years, and acclaimed photographer Keith Ellenbogen, known for his stunning images of underwater creatures and ecosystems—developed an innovative interdisciplinary course that turns the unique local environment into a teaching tool.

“Manhattan. Sometimes, from beyond the skyscrapers, across thousands of high walls, the cry of a tugboat finds you in your insomnia in the middle of the night, and you remember that this desert of iron and cement is an island.” ―Albert Camus

The course, Ecology and Photography: Sustainable New York, requires students to understand how nature works in and around the city and to present it in a way that brings urban environmental issues to life for a broader audience.

Throughout the semester, the class visited a range of ecosystems in and around the city, closely observing both their astonishing beauty and the dangers posed by human encroachment and climate change.

Here’s a small sampling of the students’ photos.

In urban areas, plant and animal habitats rub up against manmade stresses. Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is adjacent to JFK International Airport, where planes constantly spew pollutants and noise. Still, the refuge’s 9,000 acres of open bay, salt marsh, mudflats, fields, and woods support a wide variety of species, including diamondback terrapins and other native reptiles and amphibians, water birds and raptors, horseshoe crabs, and 60 species of butterflies. Photo by Jose Valencia.In urban areas, plant and animal habitats rub up against manmade stresses. Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is adjacent to JFK International Airport, where planes constantly spew pollutants and noise. Still, the refuge’s 9,000 acres of open bay, salt marsh, mudflats, fields, and woods support a wide variety of species, including diamondback terrapins and other native reptiles and amphibians, water birds and raptors, horseshoe crabs, and 60 species of butterflies. Photo by Jose Valencia.
The prickly pear, Opuntia humifusa, is the only cactus native to the New York area. Its fruit, seeds, and stems provide food for a variety of wildlife.  Photo by Kaylee Santos.The prickly pear, Opuntia humifusa, is the only cactus native to the New York area. Its fruit, seeds, and stems provide food for a variety of wildlife. Photo by Kaylee Santos.
The sun setting on the Hudson River looks less romantic when you note the garbage strewn on the shoreline near Pier 42. Photo by Jose Valencia.The sun setting on the Hudson River looks less romantic when you note the garbage strewn on the shoreline near Pier 42. Photo by Jose Valencia.

 Featured image: Triptych by Kaylee Santos, Fashion Business Management ’17.