Geology of the New York City Region

72. Coney Island

Henry Hudson and his men of the Half Moon landed on the stretch of beach we now know as Coney Island. In their journals they wrote about the bounty of their fishing catch, and of feasting on oysters from what is now Coney Island Creek (imagine that!). Coney Island is the heavily developed ocean front of Brooklyn. The beach and adjacent Coney Island Amusement Area (featuring the famous Cyclone roller Coaster, the Wonder Wheel, and the ever popular Nathan's Famous hot dogs) are some of the greatest attractions in Brooklyn.

Coney Island has been a popular recreational spot ever since Breukelen became Brooklyn (about the time of the American Revolution). In its early days Coney Island was a privately owned hog farm. Its cedar forest was stripped away for fence and firewood by the growing community around Gravesend Bay ("pickled red cedar stumps still sometimes was up on the beach even though the forests are long gone). Other barrier islands likely existed further offshore and to the east about the time of European contact. Much of the Coney Island coast has been been artificially modified since development has taken place.

Coney Island first prospered as a resort when Ocean Parkway was completed, connecting the beach with the East River ferry docks just before the Civil War. Its sand dunes gave way to boardwalks, beginning the long history of storm damage along the water front. Its earthy attractions, cheap motels, and steady Sunday morning traffic gave it its reputation as "Sodom by the Sea." Coney Island later became a high risk experiment by New York City's Urban Development Corporation in the construction of a great densely spaced, urban high rise complex during the 1950s to 1960s. Coney Island became one of the most densely populated shore front areas in North America. Despite all of its urban problems, Coney Island persists. On the western end of the Coney Island peninsula is Sea Gate, a gated community that, like so many shore developments, draws much media attention during coastal storms.

Coney Island beach is no longer a natural feature. Its natural sand supply has been cut off by the construction of the Breezy Point jetty. To maintain the beach, sand must be pumped in occasionally from offshore sand reservoirs. The community seems to thrive with utter contempt for potential disaster. After all, the old wooden Cyclone roller coaster has operated continuously since 1927 (Figure 191).

The Cyclone Rollercoaster at Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York
Figure 191. The Cyclone at Coney Island has been terrorizing riders since the late 1920s.

The New York Aquarium is located at the intersection of West 8th Street and the Boardwalk, and is a worthy excursion. One of the most acclaimed views of the region is possible during a ride on the Wonder Wheel (an extraordinarily large Ferris wheel). It is an interesting place to ponder how Coney Island, and the rest of the metropolitan area, would survive the kind of massive hurricane that storm forecasters say could potentially target the New York Bight region.

Also, wouldn't it be something if in the future humans could again safely eat oysters raised in Coney Island Creek?

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Last modified: 3/11/2019