Overview – the Welikia Project

Ever wondered what New York looked like before it was a city?  Welcome to Welikia Hear Welikia pronounced, 1609.

After a decade of research (1999 – 2009), the Mannahatta Project at the Wildlife Conservation Society un-covered the original ecology of Manhattan, one of New York City’s five boroughs.  The Welikia Project (2010 – 2013) goes beyond Mannahatta to encompass the entire city, discover its original ecology and compare it what we have today.  Welikia (pronounced “way-LEE-kee-uh” Hear Welikia pronounced) means “my good home” in Lenape, the Native American language of the New York City region at the time of first contact with Europeans. The Welikia Project embraces the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the waters in-between, while still serving up all we have learned about Mannahatta.  Welikia provides the basis for all the people of New York to appreciate, conserve and re-invigorate the natural heritage of their city not matter which borough they live in.

What we know so far: Through the Mannahatta Project, we learned that the center of one of the world’s largest and most built-up cities was once a remarkably diverse, natural landscape of hills, valleys, forests, fields, freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, beaches, springs, ponds and streams, supporting a rich and abundant community of wildlife and sustaining people for thousands of years before Europeans arrived on the scene in 1609.  It turns out that place celebrated for its cultural diversity, was acclaimed by early settlers for its biological diversity and fertility:  home to bears, wolves, songbirds, and salamanders, with clear, clean waters jumping with fish, and porpoises and whales in the harbor.  In fact, with over 55 different ecological communities, Mannahatta’s biodiversity per acre rivaled that of national parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Great Smoky Mountains!

What we hope to learn: Although Mannahatta was extraordinary, it probably was not unique in its natural wonders:  great ecological communities, abundant wildlife species and ecological ways of living were to be found also on the adjacent mainland (in the Bronx), on western Long Island (Queens and Brooklyn), and on the south side of the harbor (Staten Island.)  Today 6.4 million people live in these boroughs, the largest parks in the city lie within their bounds, and opportunities for enhancing the nature treasures of the city wait to be discovered.  For this reason, the Welikia Project includes a focus on measuring the modern biodiversity of the city, in terms of the communities and species of 400 years ago, so that we can say what is doing well, what we lack, and where we can improve, and translating that information into websites, educational materials, and experiences that enable New Yorkers from all boroughs to discover the special ecology of their place.

What you can do to help: If this sounds like a project you would like to support, there are many ways to be involved.  You can support your borough by making a donation through the Explore page, becoming a “Landscape Ecology Insider” and thus accessing unique resources about the current and historical ecology of your borough.  You can sign up for our newsletter and tell a friend by clicking on the links on the footer of this page.  And if you have information about the historical ecology of any part of New York City, we want to hear from you:  please write us at support@welikia.org.

The Wildlife Conservation Society

The Mannahatta and Welikia Projects are projects of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).  The Wildlife Conservation Society was founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society, changing its name in 1995 to reflect its mission to save wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education, and the management of the world’s largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. We also manage the New York Aquarium and under arrangement with the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation, the Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and Queens Zoo in New York City.  Together, these activities change attitudes toward nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth. To learn more about the work of the Wildlife Conservation Society, in New York and beyond, click here.