Another Take on Water as Women’s Work


Gitanjali Rao at her home lab. Photo by Bharati Rao.

On this International Women’s Day we celebrate the girls and women who are advancing water ecology and safety. As we noted last year, women are the primary water providers for many impoverished rural families throughout South Asia, Latin America, and Africa. This requires walking miles each day, carrying water, and even then this precious resource is often fouled by pollution or disease.  Women are also the primary gatherers of shellfish and edible sea plants in many cultures, where again natural  resources are impacted by plastics, agricultural runoffs, spills, and sewage.

But women and girls are also leaders in finding solutions through science and engineering. Today we celebrate one example: Gitanjali Rao, who at 11-years old won the Discovery Education 3M Science Challenge for her invention to detect lead in water and relay results instantly to a cell phone. Gitanjali, a student at a STEM school in Colorado, was inspired when her parents (both engineers) tested for the toxin with a conventional kit. Such kits yield results in days, not seconds, because samples must be sent to a lab. She realized that in Flint, Michigan and other places affected by lead in water supplies that was unacceptably slow.

The young scientist’s system measures resistance in carbon nanotubes after uptake of lead from the water, though she’s refining the method because other materials can mimic that result. Gitanjali aims to become an epidemiologist or geneticist. No doubt Gitanjali will contribute advances to those fields too, and we hope she inspires generations of girls who follow.

HarborLAB aims to expand the inspiration and tools of science to include all youth, especially those without the monetary and educational resources that come with having engineers for parents. We need all the brains we can get on water issues, and too many NYC girls are being sidelined by sexism, poverty, and nature deficit disorder.  Whether aboard our boats or in the classroom, join HarborLAB in encouraging future scientists!

Free Kayak Lessons in a Pool!


HarborLAB is happy to offer free introductory kayaking lessons by our American Canoe Association certified instructors and kindly hosted by Variety Boys & Girls Club of Astoria. This is part of HarborLAB’s Instruction for Inclusion program to safely welcome underrepresented communities into NY Harbor’s maritime life and careers, marine biology, and to inspire STEM studies through boating adventures in nature.

We thank our volunteer instructors and coordinators, Steven Chu, Dee Dee Maucher, and Scott Wolpow, and instructor training by Prime Paddlesports.

Students must agree to participants in all four lessons. Those who are assessed as successfully mastering Level One paddling skills will be sponsored for an introductory American Canoe Association membership. To express interest, please email with the subject “Paddling at Variety Boys and Girls Club.” Include your name, age, and a statement of why you wish to begin paddling (for example, to see more nature, get exercise, overcome fear of the water, explore the city, make new friends, etc.).


Open House on March 4! Come try the boats, meet the instructors and coordinators, and learn while playing.

The first cohort session will consist of four Sundays, from March 11 through April 4, with classes for ages 8-12 running 3PM-4PM and ages 13-adult from 430PM-6PM. Each class will be followed by unstructured fun time to practice new skills independently, though instructors at their discretion can extend teaching as needed.

First Cohort (10-12 students, divided into A and B groups of 5 or 6).
March 4, 3-6PM: Open House! HarborLAB volunteers will introduce you to the boats, some paddling strokes, and how you or your kids will learn.
March 11: Dee Dee, Scott, Steven and all assistant candidates (many just observing).
Group A (5 younger students)
3PM-4PM: Lesson 1/Games
4PM-430PM: Unstructured pool time and/or volunteer training.
Group B (5 teen-adult students)
430PM-530PM: Lesson 1/Games
530-6PM: Unstructured pool time  and/or volunteer training.
March 18: Dee Dee or Steven and assistants and assistant candidates.
Group A (5 younger students)
3PM-4PM: Lesson 2/Games
4PM-430PM: Unstructured pool time and/or volunteer training.
Group B (5 teen-adult students)
430PM-530PM: Lesson 2/Games
530-6PM: Unstructured pool time  and/or volunteer training.
March 25: Scott Wolpow and assistants and assistant candidates.
Group A (5 younger students)
3PM-4PM: Special Games to Refresh and Reinforce.
4PM-430PM: Unstructured pool time and/or volunteer training.
Group B (5 teen-adult students)
430PM-530PM: Special Games to Refresh and Reinforce.
530-6PM: Unstructured pool time and/or volunteer training.
April 1: Easter and Passover Break.
April 8: Dee Dee or Steven and proven assistants.
Group A (5 younger students)
3PM-430PM: Review and Level 1 Assessment.
Group B (5 teen-adult students)
430PM-6PM: Review and Level 1 Assessment.
Hope to see you there!

HarborLAB Adds AEDs.


HarborLAB has added AEDs with waterproof casings to our event leaders’ “go bags” of emergency supplies on NY Harbor and the Neversink Reservoir. As with all emergency gear, we hope to never depend on them.

An automated external defibrillator (AED) delivers a shock that’s calibrated to reset a malfunctioning heart into its normal rhythm. There are a number of deadly myths about heart attacks. Two are that the heart simply stops beating during a typical event and that manually compressing the heart with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) will revive a victim. The reality is that the heart is usually quivering ineffectively rather than full-stopped, and that CPR buys mere minutes of brain function by extending circulation. A rule of thumb is that for each minute that passes before heart functioning can be restored a victim’s chances of reviving with nearly-normal brain function decreases by 10%. So instead of losing the person in a handful of minutes, with CPR you have at most 10 minutes to use an AED.

HarborLAB requires the presence of a volunteer at each paddling event who’s certified in adult and pediatric AED, CPR, First Aid, Basic Water Rescue, and Safety Around Water. We make note before events of AED units in park offices, nearby apartment buildings, restaurants, schools, and other places with easy access. In the chaos of an incident, however, having our own AED would allow us to act faster. We also paddle to remote beaches and islands where outside help, even from mobile first responders like the NYPD, FDNY, or US Coast Guard might not arrive in time. Remember: 10 minutes, tops.

On the positive side, contrary to popular belief one can use an AED on a wet victim. They shouldn’t be in standing pools of water but they can be pulled onto a dry surface, quickly toweled off around the chest, and treated. They needn’t be entirely dry.

It’s a bit unusual for a paddling organization as small as HarborLAB to have AEDs, chiefly because they’re expensive. Our $5000 AED budget covered the two Defibtech Lifeline AED units with extra pads, a medical oversight contract required by NY State law, durable waterproof housing, and Red Cross adult and pediatric certification for 15 volunteers  We thank the Newtown Creek Group and Exxon Mobil for grants covering these costs. These companies are identified by the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency Superfund program as “potentially responsible parties” for legacy industrial contaminants in the Newtown Creek and who’ve agreed to work with the agency in studies toward a cleanup. The companies provide grants for community environmental education and projects in parallel to the formal effort.


We’re a Certified Wildlife Habitat!


Thanks to years of planting and tending by HarborLAB volunteers, our once neglected waterfront has become a place of life and beauty. Our launch is now a Certified Wildlife Habitat recognized by the National Wildlife Federation.

We hope you can join us in maintaining and growing this green and welcoming community space. To join our gardening crew, please email with the subject, “Gardening Crew.”

Since 2012 we’ve repurposed or removed and donated 80,000-100,000 bricks, removed hundreds of pounds illegal dumping, and created thousands of pounds of fresh soil through “lasagna composting” of cocoa shells and jute bags donated by MAST Brothers and our own kitchen scraps. We’ve planted scores of wildflowers and dozens of native trees, and bushes: milkweed, goldenrood, pokeweed, shadbush (aka service berry), sugar bush, beach plum, sumac, hackberry (aka sugar tree) among them. We also have Kazakh apple, apricot, Asian pear, and other orchard fruit trees growing in containers and awaiting final placement after we install our learning lab and storage containers.

These plantings have attracted many species of butterfly, and we particularly wish to help migrating Monarch butterflies. Muskrats have swum up and raccoons leave their tracks in the snow. Birds nest and feast on our berries, especially drying poke berries as autumn deepens.  In 2018 we’ll install formal bird baths and scatter even more seed for them. We’ll build upon our earlier efforts to grow mussels and oysters and plant spartina where high tide covers the shore. Further over the horizon will be green walls and fruited vines for shade.

HarborLAB has long enjoyed working with the National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA program. We’re excited that our partners are recognizing and promoting our greening of the Newtown Creek. Next up, registration as a community garden!



Neversink Reservoir Permit Supersized!


From keel to kitchen sink, one of NYC’s beautiful water sources.

We’re grateful and happy to announce that the NYC Department of Environmental Protection has issued a five-year permit for HarborLAB’s education and stewardship programs on the Neversink Reservoir. This follows great success with earlier annual and event permits. The longer duration allows us to better plan seasons in advance and to explore enhancements in coordination with NYCDEP.

Our innovative “ReservoirLAB” project introduces city youth to their drinking water through canoeing and kayaking on the highest elevation Catskill Mountain reservoir, the Neversink. Before heading up to paddle and hike the surrounding forest, participants are prepped with classroom talks by our volunteers. We hope to engage Catskills youth, conservation groups, universities, and other partners as we grow, subject to approval by NYCDEP.

This extension is a testament to the wonderful volunteers who’ve made this program a wonderful part of hundreds of kids’ lives. Congratulations to Patricia Menje Erickson and her crew!

HarborLAB volunteers have been trained by the NYCDEP education department as “Watershed Docents” and earn Red Cross adult and pediatric certification in AED, CPR, First Aid, Basic Water Rescue, and Safety Around Water.  Your support pays for that vital training and safety equipment. Thanks!


A short hike to learn how forests protect our water.

Giving Tuesday!

Please support HarborLAB’s growing work for estuary and watershed education and stewardship — and fun boating adventures! — with a tax-deductible donation this “Giving Tuesday” and beyond. It’s easy!

Donate Online:

Please visit our 501(c)3 fiscal sponsor, the Open Space Institute.

Be sure to specify HarborLAB as illustrated below:


Mail a check:

Make your check out to Open Space Institute with HarborLAB in the memo line.

Open Space Institute
C/O Jessica Watson, Project Manager
1350 Broadway, Suite 201
NY, NY 10018



A Thanksgiving for HarborLAB’s Future Home.


Rendering of Hunters Point South parcels F + G via Gotham Organization.


HarborLAB’s volunteers, students, and community partners are especially thankful this year to Gotham Organization, RiseBoro, NYC Housing Preservation and Development, and City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer for our inclusion into the rising Hunters Point South neighborhood. The NYC Economic Development Corporation was also very helpful with guidance and information.

The City issued a request for proposals to develop two parcels where the East River and Newtown Creek meet. In their winning bid Gotham Organization and RiseBoro included HarborLAB as the boathouse and community service tenant in a waterfront tower between a coming school to the west and 2nd Street boat launch to the east.

To HarborLAB this up-to-4,000 square foot space is a cornucopia we’ll be responsible for filling with engaging educational, recreational, and environmental stewardship activities as a gift of plenty to all. Our labor, equipment, and activities are dedicated to opening our estuary to both residents and visitors. Together with partners in universities, schools, youth and elder service groups, environmental organizations, neighborhood associations, and public agencies we’ll offer fun and informative programs throughout the year!

We’re thankful that public servants worked so hard to create this community asset. Penny Lee, formerly of the NYC Department of City Planning, heard and acted upon our volunteers’ requests — being waterfront advocates even before we formed HarborLAB — for a boat launch at 2nd Street in 2003. City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Hunters Point, then championed our request that storage be provided by developers near the launch. This was incorporated into the City’s RFP criteria. The bidders hoping to develop Hunters Point South parcels F + G then interviewed community organizations about utilizing the boathouse space, and we’re grateful to each for taking this aspect of the project so seriously. A special note of great gratitude to HarborLAB’s volunteers: It’s your loving, reliable, and excellent service to diverse communities, and the strong relationships you’ve built, that gave Gotham Organization and the City confidence that we’ll put this fantastic space to the best use.

We’re appreciative that Gotham Organization has kept such a warm and friendly ongoing dialogue with us as we shape our vision. One priority for HarborLAB is to create NYC’s most wheelchair accessible boat launch and boathouse.

HarborLAB will continue to provide programming and habitat restoration gardening at our Vernon Boulevard launch, through the generosity of Schuman Properties. We owe our success in great part to this relationship. 

A community dialogue, design work, and essential formalities between ourselves, the development partners, and the City lie ahead. But today we are simply filled with thanks.

A Great Green Drinks Gathering in Flushing!


Newtown Creek Alliance historian and Green Drinks Queens steering committee member Mitch Waxman hams it up while John Choe of the Flushing Chamber of Commerce speaks. 

Green Drinks Queens came to bustling downtown Flushing last night for a fun night of networking, sharing ideas, and gathering support to help make our borough more sustainable. Huge thanks to the Flushing Chamber of Commerce for partnering to organize the event and Leaf Lounge for providing an awesome rooftop venue and drink specials!

Guardians of Flushing Bay, Transportation Alternatives, and Green Earth Urban Gardens spoke of activism needed for clean water and soil and safe bicycling. Queens historian Jack Eichenbaum was a surprise speaker who highlighted threats to street trees and Flushing’s role as home the first colonial tree nurseries in the Americas. Dan Miner of the NYC Chapter of and a Green Drinks Queens steering committee member reminded us of the bigger picture problem of climate change that our local efforts must help resolve.

Participants had a blast playing a local environmental trivia game for material and experiential prizes ranging from special theme tours to bicycle lights and local dumplings.


Sunset over Manhattan as seen from Leaf Lounge. 

Nov. 5: Canoe for Butterflies and Plants!


Black swallowtail on purple milkweed at HarborLAB. Photo by Erik Baard

Plant and butterfly survey training and optional canoe trip.

Nov. 5: 10AM-230PM.
53-21 Vernon Blvd LIC 11101

FREE. Open to all volunteers willing to teach others. This work is important to our shared goal of a greener, better understood Newtown Creek shoreline ecosystem. HarborLAB needs to develop team leaders so that we can document the creek and then remote islands of the harbor.

RSVP by Friday, Nov. 4 at 5PM to NCA:

Updated Details:

There are pollutants assaulting the Newtown Creek’s ecosystem from silt to sky, but we must never forget that this is still a living place. HarborLAB will assist Hudsonia and the Newtown Creek Alliance in a new project to survey and photo-document the plants and butterflies surrounding the creek and upload that data to iNaturalist.

This is fun and meaningful stuff, and a great opportunity for bio nerds and shutterbugs alike!

HarborLAB urgently requested that the EPA to sample plant tissue as part of its environmental study of the creek, and we were quickly supported by NCA and Riverkeeper. We plant native species and distribute seedballs throughout the creek area. Our GreenLaunch home base is rich with native grasses, bushes, trees, and wildflowers like milkweed that we’ve planted and tended to restore habitat. This Hudsonia/NCA project perfectly harmonizes with our work.

Please download the iNaturalist app. We strongly recommend that you bring an external battery to keep your phone charged or to recharge after the event.  

Schedule subject to modification by Lisa Bloodgood of NCA.

10AM-1145AM: Gather at HarborLAB (53-21 Vernon Blvd, LIC, NY 11101). Training and surveying done on site. Signed waivers required.
1145AM-1215PM: Lunch.
1215-2PM: Field work! Survey the area by foot and canoe! Put that training into practice to reinforce your learning.
230PM: All boats and gear stowed away.

Notes on canoeing: Preceded by a safety talk, orientation, gear preparation. Please be very cautious when using the dock, ladder, and stairs. We’re unable to properly install our larger dock and access because of squatting sailboat owners. Course will be directed by Lisa Bloodgood of NCA within the bounds of Second Street and Dutch Kills on the Queens side. All boats stay close together and near shore to avoid larger vessel traffic. Diana Szatkowski leads.

General notes: Please forgive the chaos of our sheds. Our organization day is Nov. 18. 

Full explanation by Lisa Bloodgood of Newtown Creek Alliance:


Hello Budding Botanists and new Project Leaders!

Welcome to NCA’s newest project with our partners at Hudsonia, the Plant, and Butterfly survey of Newtown Creek! Each of you either expressed an interest in being a leader or being involved in the project in some way. This email will provide you with your first introduction to the project and instructions for getting started with us this season.

Project overview: With our partners at Hudsonia and all of you we will spend the coming year identifying, collecting, and documenting all of the many plants within 100 meters of the Creek. We will create a field guide for the public and have a greater understanding of the diversity of plant species and their distribution along our beloved and beleaguered waterway.

At the training we will show you how to use iNaturalist, the app we will be using throughout the duration of the project. I strongly recommend downloading the app to your phones now and trying it out on a walk over the next few days. We have created a project titled “Newtown Creek” where the teams you will lead, will track and record observations of plants, butterflies and any other critter you happen upon. This is crucial to the project and will be the main data collection technology we will use. It is super cool and lends to a greater pool of biodiversity information.

We will show you some of the most common plants you will find along the Creek, how to take a good photo, how to use a dichotomous key for identification, how to collect and press plants for a herbarium, and probably a few other things. We will go over safety protocols, get you ready to manage your volunteer teams, and get you ready to work by water as well – we will be working with both HarborLAB and the North Brooklyn Boat Club for our water-bound assessment work. I am attaching an overview map of the creek – we will provide you with a more detailed map at the training – and here is a link to the Biodiversity Assessment Handbook for New York City put together by Erik Kiviat of Hudsonia and Elizabeth Johnson. You are encouraged to make yourself as familiar with all of these resources as your time allows for before we meet. If you just show up ready to learn on Saturday that’s just fine too, we’re preparing other resources for you.

Next steps: Let’s all see how we do with the training, and how favorable the weather will be into November before we make too many plans for the end of fall. We want to tackle some of the accessible land access sites to get us all comfortable with the work and knock out as much as we can in English Kills by water before we lose all our foliage to the winter. English Kills is far more pleasant in this weather than in summer.

All of us at Newtown Creek Alliance and Hudsonia are so very excited for this project and to be working with you all! Please don’t hesitate to ask me any question now or in the future and if you aren’t sure if you can commit to the entirety of this project, come and try it out, we can play it by ear going forward. We know you have something great to contribute!! You can text or call me anytime (within reason of course).

Please RSVP for this coming weekends training we need to know who is coming and who can’t make it! If you know anyone else that might be interested in working on this project please share this email!

See you soon and thank you for supporting NCA and the work we do – we couldn’t do it without you!!!

Important links:

Oct 12: Afternoon Creek Paddle!


Creek Paddle – Day in the Life of the Hudson Estuary

Oct 12, 1pm-4pm
53-21 Vernon Blvd
LIC, NY 11101

As usual, FREE. 🙂

Description of the theme from the NY DEC: “On one day each autumn, thousands of students from New York City to Troy participate in the annual “A Day in the Life of the Hudson and Harbor” event. Students collect scientific information to create snapshots of the river at dozens of locations, then share their data via the web so they can better understand how their piece of the river fits into the larger Hudson estuary ecosystem. “A Day in the Life” is sponsored by DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program and produced with assistance from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.”

To join HarborLAB’s paddle please read the details below and email with the subject line “Day in the Life Paddle.” Please tell us your age, affiliation, paddling experience, and any special needs. Thanks!

1PM: Gather at HarborLAB (53-21 Vernon Blvd, LIC, NY 11101)
130PM: Launch!

Canoe the Queens bank of the Newtown Creek. Please photograph flora, fauna, vessel traffic, environmental problems, industry and industrial relics, and other scenes you feel capture the state of the creek today.

We’ll also collect and tabulate plastic trash. We encourage students to sample water, mosses, and soil for testing.

330PM: Return. Pack away.
4PM: Done!


Side note: 7AM: Erik Baard will sample water for delivery to CUNY LaGuardia Community College for bacteria testing. Volunteers and students are welcome to join.

This water sampling is special to this event but identical to our regular NYCWTA practice. More here: