Just 100 miles from New York City, the Montauk Peninsula boasts an amazing range of habitats: maritime beaches and dunes; coastal and maritime forests; grasslands; shrublands; and fresh, salt, and brackish wetlands.
The Nature Conservancy identified Montauk Peninsula as a high conservation priority through an ecological assessment of the North Atlantic Coast Ecoregion, which extends from southern Maine to New Jersey.
Montauk is special because of its large, high-quality blocks of functioning ecosystems that support viable populations of six globally-rare species, five globally-rare communities, and seven high-quality common communities. At least 35 natural communities are documented on the peninsula.
The critical threats to Montauk Peninsula’s biodiversity are invasive species, fire exclusion, and incompatible recreational uses.
Invasive species such as common reed, Japanese honeysuckle, and the marine macroalga reproduce rapidly and can form stands that exclude nearly all other plants. They displace natives, alter ecosystem processes, and hybridize with native species, changing their genetic structure. Native species with a limited range or small population size are particularly vulnerable.
Fire has been a historic component of the landscape on Montauk Peninsula. However, the decreasing use of fire over the last 75 years has allowed woody succession to occur throughout the site’s rare maritime grasslands. As a result a diverse assemblage of native grassland species is being replaced by a relatively few common weedy species, and by shrubs and trees. The Nature Conservancy has collaborated with agency staff to reintroduce fire to Theodore Roosevelt County Park.
Second homeowners and visitors are drawn to Montauk Peninsula’s ocean beaches. The Hamptons, which include the Town of East Hampton, are a popular resort destination for the New York City metropolitan area. Increasing pressure for recreation (e.g., as all-terrain vehicles, hiking, and horseback riding) in public areas creates fragmentation and disturbance, which facilitate colonization and spread of invasive species.
Within the terrestrial units most of the land is publicly owned. Theodore Roosevelt County Park and Montauk Point and Hither Hills State Parks are partially developed and managed for recreation, and State Parks is considering developing a museum and public camping facilities within Camp Hero. Nearshore activities in the Marine Zone of the site include recreational uses, dredging, and shellfish harvesting.
The Nature Conservancy envisions Montauk Peninsula as a land- and seascape that can weather natural phenomena like fire, erosion, and salt spray. To accomplish this and to sustain the area's biodiversity, we are using the following strategies:
Sandplain gerardia is a small annual with delicate pink blossoms.