Honoring MLK, Jr. through Water.

MLK circa 1965 Courtesy of Malcolm Lauredo/Hampton House / colorized by Dayana Ibara

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” But he knew as much as any that while nature looses water, humanity binds it. We commodify it, channel it, and decide who can have access to it. A bit too much like justice.

The top two points of HarborLAB’s mission statement are:

  1. To foster estuary and NYC watershed-themed ecological and natural science education, especially for underprivileged NYC youth and underrepresented community members.
  2. To foster estuary ecological restoration and NYC watershed conservation as a justly shared legacy.

Systemic racism for generations kept African Americans away from public pools and beaches and made many private options financially unattainable. New York City is no exception. HarborLAB volunteers are working to help restore a venerable cultural legacy from which the whole world has benefited. The second oldest discovered boat in the world is the 8,500-year old Dufuna, Nigeria canoe, predated by about 2,000 years by only one dugout canoe unearthed in Pesse, Netherlands. Maritime archeologists have determined that the Dufuna canoe’s sophistication indicates a boatbuilding tradition that reaches much deeper into ancient prehistory than is likely for Europeans. The Dutch boat was preserved by hypoxic peat, which are common to Northern Europe, while very few wooden structures last very long in tropical Africa.

While HarborLAB focuses on environmental STEM education using kayaks and canoes, just the act of actively welcoming diverse communities to paddle is an action against racist structures. Being on the water quickly feels natural, and participants understand that they can return to the water with HarborLAB, on their own, or with others because the water belongs to them. This goes for the estuary and reservoir system alike at a time when disparities in sewage processing and drinking water infrastructure make for deathly headlines. Our boat choices, public programs, and “Partner Paddles” with NYCHA resident groups, public schools, organizations with community pools, and CUNY all aim to reduce barriers to entry. We’re even exploring ways to celebrate natural hair styles that make participation easier.

We welcome your suggestions as to how we might be of even greater service to all. Please email us at volunteer@harborlab.org.



2022 Public Programming!


As we hold a steady course through waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, we expect a more active public paddling season in 2022. This is thanks to vaccines, therapeutic advances, and good public health policies produced by the same philosophical method that undergirds environmental stewardship: science.

Please understand that at this early date our event schedule — based on NOAA‘s astronomical tidal current calculations — is incomplete and tentative pending permits, partners, pandemic conditions, and the usual weather and water quality concerns. We will be adding and amending events bit-by-bit over the coming months. Please keep checking our Facebook Events Page and the Calendar tab here to keep up, and email volunteer@harborlab.org to be added to our periodic outreach.

Our public paddles and educational programs are FREE and we gratefully accept donations and information about potential sponsors and donors. Events marked as “Volunteer Reward Paddle” are special invitation adventures to hone staff skills and to thank those who labor with us to provide wonderful experiences for all.

Before we even hit the water for public events, this spring we’ll be scheduling safety training, planting trees and native flower seeds, gardening at our Newtown Creek site on Vernon Boulevard, and making upcycled shelters for indigenous animals on dates to be determined in discussions with park administrators. Some volunteers may paddle year-round with cold water safety gear for stewardship work and habitat and pollution documentation.


Recurring Events

First Mondays monthly at the Neversink Reservoir for NYC Public Schools and other youth groups, often preceded by Sunday events.

Wednesdays and Fridays, July and August at Gantry Plaza State Park and/or Governors Island: Harbor Camp introductory embayment paddles for NYCHA resident youth groups referred by United Neighborhood Houses.

Thursday morning water sampling at the Hunters Point South Park kayak launch and the Gantry Plaza State Park dock for quality testing at CUNY LaGuardia Community College’s lab.

Monthly second Thursday evening Green Drinks Queens environmental happy hours organized by HarborLAB.

Friday evenings from June 24 to September 2 at Hunters Point South Park: Friday Night Chill Paddles for all who want an introduction to the estuary through a mellow skyline-viewing East River tour.

May
5/7 Newtown Creek Sweep with Riverkeeper.
5/14 White Island Cleaning and Seeding.
5/21 Community Paddle at Gantry Plaza State Park. Theme TBD.
5/28 Neversink Reservoir Season Opener. Moving and cleaning boats that are in winter storage.

June
6/4 Family Fun Day Paddling at MacNeil Park with Coastal Preservation Network.
6/5 UN World Environment Day and World Oceans Day Paddle at Gantry Plaza State Park.
6/11 Pride Paddle for brunch at Brooklyn Bridge Park, launching from Hunters Point South.
6/18 Randalls Island cleaning and seeding, launching from Hunters Point South.
6/21 Solstice Paddle at Gantry Plaza State Park.
6/25 Manhattan Resilience Circumnavigation, launching from Hunters Point South.

July
7/2 Green Energy Independence Paddle at Gantry Plaza State Park.
7/3 Volunteer Reward Paddle to the Statue of Liberty, launching from Hunters Point South.
7/4 Volunteer Reward Paddle to view fireworks, launching from Hunters Point South.
7/13 Manhattanhenge Paddle at Gantry Plaza State Park.
7/13 Cinema Paddle to Socrates Sculpture Park, launching from Hunters Point South.
7/16-17 City of Water Day Circumnavigation of Staten Island.
7/27 Cinema Paddle to Socrates Sculpture Park, launching from Hunters Point South.
7/30 Safety support for Swim Across America cancer research fundraiser.
7/30 Randalls Island Park Waterfront Festival, launching from Hunters Point South Park.
7/31 Deaf Community Manhattan Circumnavigation, launching from Hunters Point South.

August
8/6 Green STEM Student Paddle to an innovative tech incubator.
8/10 Cinema Paddle to Socrates Sculpture Park, launching from Hunters Point South.
8/13-14 Volunteer Reward “Perseids Paddle” Manhattan Night Circumnavigation, launching from Hunters Point South.
8/20 Community Paddle (theme TBD) at Gantry Plaza State Park.
8/21 Vegan Dim Sum Run tour to Chinatown for sustainable food systems awareness, launching from Hunters Point South.
8/24 Cinema Paddle to Socrates Sculpture Park, launching from Hunters Point South.

September
9/3 Power Paddle tour of the East River’s history of energy generation.
9/10 Paddle to Earth Matters and Billion Oyster Project on Governors Island, launching from Hunters Point South.
9/18 Peace Lanterns Festival and Community Paddle at Gantry Plaza State Park.
9/24 South Brother Island Cleanup, launching from Hunters Point South.

October
10/1 Wisdom Day Paddle honoring environmental elders and teachers at Gantry Plaza State Park.
10/8 Volunteer Reward Paddle to Socrates Sculpture Park, launching from Hunters Point South.
10/9 Neversink Reservoir season closer. Moving boats back to storage.
10/10 Algonquin history tour of Newtown Creek.

Photo by Jeffry Lim.

Omicron Variant Safety Notification.

Dear Volunteers, Students, Supporters, and Friends:

We updated our policies and programs earlier in 2021 to contend with the COVID-19 Delta variant (as explained here), and now we must do the same for the Omicron variant.

As of January 1, 2022 and until pandemic and endemic conditions have passed, all public-facing HarborLAB volunteers and students must evidence that they have received a COVID-19 booster shot on top of full vaccination. Our booster requirement will keep pace with any NYC Health and federal CDC recommendations for additional boosters or novel vaccines.

HarborLAB’s suspension of all in-person indoor programming will continue until further notice, but we expect to resume a busy outdoor schedule this spring with masking and distancing practices that meet or exceed NYC Health and CDC recommendations. We look forward to your company in gathering seeds, building houses for mason bees and bats and birds, gardening, cleaning shorelines, producing the Peace Lanterns Festival, and — of course — kayaking and canoeing!

New Board Members!

On October 15 the HarborLAB Board voted to add three new members. We are honored and grateful to include these outstanding people in our community!

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Jamie Ong
Environmental Protection Project Manager,
NYC Department of Parks & Recreation.

Prior to joining the board, Jamie Ong worked with HarborLAB volunteers for the benefit of the habitat of South Brother Island, a Harbor Heron Preserve.

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Ingrid Veras, PhD
Assistant Professor of Biology,
CUNY LaGuardia Community College.

Prior to joining the board, Dr. Veras came out with HarborLAB on Newtown Creek, a waterway she’s monitored for years alongside her colleagues and students.

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Ebony Young
Nonprofit leader, CSR executive. Update: Appointed Deputy Borough President of Queens.

Prior to joining the board, Ebony Young partnered with HarborLAB for Instruction for Inclusion winter pool sessions at the LIC YMCA and supported our work as a corporate executive.

World Peace Day Thoughts

The Peace Lanterns Festival at Gantry Plaza State Park.


Because of pandemic safety considerations, we agreed with NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to not host a Peace Lanterns Festival this year. Please instead accept these words of peace from our co-producers and partners. 


“On this UN International Day of Peace we HarborLAB volunteers reaffirm our  deeply held and scientifically validated guiding principle that peace relies on a healthy global environment. Unchecked climate chaos will bring water wars and refugee crises. Responsibly used science will bring water wealth, sustainable and cruelty-free food choices and energy options that lift us out of fossil fuel dependence. HarborLAB volunteers work toward peace by helping people, especially the young, to derive lessons from billions of years of evolution and to recognize that this legacy of a living world must be justly shared. 

We look forward to holding our Peace Lanterns Festival in person again at Gantry Plaza State Park as usual next year. As a STEM education organization, we note that such a return to health and normalcy will be achieved thanks to those who act with compassion and in accordance with evidence by masking and receiving vaccinations to end the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Erik Baard
Founder and Executive Director 
HarborLAB
Co-Producer of the annual Peace Lanterns Festival

“On this year’s International Peace Day, I would like to bring your attention to the Treaty on the Prohibition of the Nuclear Weapons, which has been signed by 86 countries and ratified by 55 countries, and came into effect on January 22 this year. Though nations that possess nuclear weapons have not signed it, it is time to start eliminating nuclear weapons before they greatly damage our planet. If just one of the 13,000 nuclear weapons were used, even accidentally, it could explode with more power than up to 5,000 of the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In a spiritual sense, may we nurture our mind-eyes to see the preciousness of all lives regardless of our tastes,  likes and dislikes, friends and enemies, without discrimination.  May all beings be happy, well and peaceful.”

Rev. Toshikazu Kenjitsu Nakagaki, DMin
Founder and President
Heiwa Peace and Reconciliation Foundation of New York
Co-Producer of the annual Peace Lanterns Festival

“On this International Day of Peace, the 2.4 million residents of Queens renew our hope for an end to conflict and for the successful resolution of all issues that lead to conflict, including environmental crises such as global warming and health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Our borough’s diverse communities unite with the world in calling for all nations to work together in peace to build a more sustainable future.”

The Honorable Donovan Richards
Queens Borough President

“With a singular view of the United Nations from across the East River, Gantry Plaza State Park offers tranquil repose in quiet celebration of the value of our natural world. We thank the community and all our partners for appreciation of the critical importance of the environment to our health and overall peace of mind.”

Leslie Wright
NYC Regional Director
NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Delta Variant Safety Notification.

Dear HarborLAB Youth Programming Partners,

Due to uncertainties introduced by the Delta variant of COVID-19, HarborLAB will steer a narrower safety course for the balance of 2021 while still remaining active. As before our programs will be staffed by volunteers who are fully vaccinated, but we will now require the same of those we serve. In practical terms, that means youth ages 12 (the current youngest age for vaccination) and up affiliated with trusted nonprofit and school partners. We’ll work in groups of up to 10 participants on the water at any given time, composed of 2-4 HarborLAB volunteers and up to 8 guests (youth and partnering organization chaperones).

HarborLAB can offer youth groups:

  • Introductions to paddling and the estuary throughout NYC, and in particular at Gantry Plaza State Park — 12 and up.
  • Stewardship paddles, to weed and seed and remove plastics on remote shores and islands within NYC — 16 and up.
  • Educational paddle tours (natural history, energy systems, climate chaos and resilience) — 16 and up. 
  • Remote lectures and presentations — all ages. 

We will not be offering “open paddles” to the general public because we can’t guarantee masking and/or distancing as recommended by the CDC for even outdoor events where people might not all be vaccinated.

In September we will not produce the Peace Lanterns Festival as usually conceived, but will strive to safely adapt our commemoration of NYC’s 9/11 losses and celebration of World Peace Day (9/21/21) to these new circumstances. .

This is disappointing but domestic cultural resistance to vaccination efforts and inadequate vaccination assistance globally have allowed the pandemic to persist through mutation. HarborLAB is a very small organization and must follow the data and be realistic about our ability to provide safeguards to unvaccinated youth and other vulnerable people, both potentially in our programs and in contact with people who could experience breakthrough infections.

Thank you for understanding and please let us know if your organizations or schools might benefit from small, targeted environmental STEM programs for vaccinated youth and their vaccinated chaperones.
Sincerely,

Erik Baard
Executive Director

(TENTATIVE) Free Kayaking Sunday, 7/25!

Join us in honoring City of Water Day with…

9TENTATIVE) FREE KAYAKING! 
July 25, 10am-1pm at Gantry Plaza State Park
(Heat Advisory/Storm Watch/Flash Flood Watch/Storm Watch Postponement from July 17)

We apologize but our boats are outside NYC with a volunteer who is recovering from a life-threatening blood parasite. If another volunteer is able to transport the boats on Saturday, we will move forward. Otherwise we must delay.

Learn more through these links! :

Please see note at bottom.

As part of City of Water Day, come enjoy free kayaking at the dock in Gantry Plaza State Park (50thAve and Center Blvd) from 10am to 1pm (sign-up ends at 1230pm and last boats go out at 1245pm).

This is a super mellow 15-minute introduction to kayaking and our estuary within part of a small embayment. The views are fabulous!

No registration needed. Just sign a waiver, wait on line, and follow instructions and commonsense safety practices.

What to bring:

1) Clothing and sturdy shoes you don’t mind getting wet. Quick drying nylons are great.
2) Sun protection, as you would for a day at the beach. We recommend these eco-smart choices: https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/executive-summary/ 
3) A reusable water bottle to refill from fountains and tap.
4) Snacks that eliminate or at least minimize packaging.
5) A dry pouch for electronics. Salt water is no friend of mobile phones.

Safety tips (not exhaustive):
1) No running or lingering on the dock or ramp. Head down only when directed and back up immediately after getting out of your boat.
2) Wear only flat shoes like sneakers and sandals and boat shoes, and feel free to leave them on the dock.
3) Sit down on the dock immediately upon reaching your boat. Don’t stand around, and certainly don’t step into your boat or stand on your boat.
4) Avoid rocky areas and piers. Stay in the center of the water. Don’t stray past the buoy line.
5) Stay in the center of your boat. Don’t lean, sit sideways, or engage in horseplay.
6) No drugs, including alcohol, that could impair you.
7) Life vests must be worn fully clipped and snugly on the ramp, dock, and boats at all times.
8) Follow all instructions given by volunteers.


PLEASE OBEY PANDEMIC PROTOCOLS. If your licensed medical doctor recommends vaccination, please get vaccinated. If your licensed medical doctor says that you’re medically unable to receive a vaccination, please wear a mask.

We thank the Hudson River Foundation & NY/NJ Harbor and Estuary Program and Waterfront Alliance and our regular sponsors for supporting and promoting this program, which is brought to you by HarborLAB volunteers.

https://www.hudsonriver.org/estuary-program
https://waterfrontalliance.org/

STORM AND FLASH FLOOD WATCHES
This is a direct danger to programs starting at 2PM, but even more certainly a danger to volunteers who must pack away and transport boats. We have no boats on site, so we must bring them there. We are working hard to raise funds for a mobile boathouse solution to overcome the lack of a boathouse at Gantry and other sites. At the moment we must bring boats back and forth from Poughkeepsie but expect to have our fleet inside NYC again by August.

WATER QUALITY

From the NYC Water Trail Association, a lead partner in the local citizen scientist water monitoring program: Still recovering from the parting of the skies last Thursday night. On Friday the Department of Environmental Protection issued advisories for 32 waterbodies, which might be a record. This week the Department of Health, which follows different protocols, issued its first advisories of the season for public bathing beaches. Click here to see our latest results.

Note that Gantry alone is in the yellow caution level, while all other sites in the immediate area are red. That gives us cause to suspect that the result might be an outlier. 

HEAT ADVISORY
Issued By New York City – NY, US, National Weather Service

HEAT ADVISORY REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 8 PM EDT THIS EVENING… WHAT…Heat index values in the upper 90s.
Action Recommended
Execute a pre-planned activity identified in the instructions
ADDITIONAL DETAILS…Highest temperatures and heat index values expected between 1 PM and 5 PM.
To reduce risk during outdoor work, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends scheduling frequent rest breaks in shaded or air conditioned environments. Anyone overcome by heat should be moved to a cool and shaded location. Heat stroke is an emergency! In cases of heat stroke call 9 1 1.

On the bright side, no plague of locusts (don’t make mean comments about the innocent cicadas), no frogs raining from the sky and the East River isn’t running red with blood. 

HarborLAB is coming to the realization that with more frequent extreme weather events, we will need to be more nimble. mobile, and able to provide alternative programming (like making seed balls, for example). Our volunteers will have a discussion this week about these approaches and others. Also, a physical boathouse at Hunters Point South for HarborLAB, as earlier announced by the City, would greatly ease logistics. safety concerns, and maintenance of equipment.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Water Quality Cancelation.

We’re sorry to say that for the second week we’ll have to cancel programming due to the rain forecast, which indicates inevitable and large combined sewer overflows. We expect to have lighter rains next week, and so we’ll celebrate City of Water Day on Saturday, July 17. Thanks!

Water Quality Cancelation.

(Most probable number (MPN) projections for enterococcus bacteria in NYC Water Trail Association’s 6/30/21 East River samples.)

One frustrating reality of New York Harbor life is that gorgeous sunny days for paddling can be ruined by days of rain preceding. This July 4th holiday weekend is such an occasion. But frustration can be instructive. Let’s learn why HarborLAB had to cancel programming, how we know it, and what you can do to help.

When it rains in New York City our antiquated system of combined sewer outfalls — which bring together household wastewater and stormwater from our streets — overflow with untreated effluent into the estuary. In short, when it rain, it poops. When the overflows are considerable, it can take quite some time for ultraviolet light and dilution to kill and disperse gut pathogens until it’s safer for humans and other species to be immersed. Because HarborLAB works with many novice kayakers, we have to assume some people will fall into the East River or Newtown Creek. As an environmental education organization, we also care that shellfish and other marine organisms are harmed and that this problem with worsen with the ongoing climate crisis’ sea level rise and heavy rains.

According to Riverkeeper, “More than 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted stormwater discharge out of 460 combined sewage overflows (“CSOs”) into New York Harbor alone each year.” 

What you see above are the results of last week’s lab results through the “citizen scientist” water monitoring effort of the NYC Water Trail Association and Billion Oyster Project. HarborLAB samples water each week at Gantry Plaza State Park and the Hunters Point South Park public boat launch at 2nd Street. The figures displayed above are “most probable numbers” of a sewage indicator bacterium before a day of laboratory incubation. And below are safety ranges for those bacteria counts in a 100 milliliter sample. That’s right, a health advisory is issued for counts above 104 and by Thursday morning we blew past 24,000 at the upper limit of the test! And rain followed!


To learn more about NYC’s sewer system and its future, we recommend the following links:

NYC’s New Plan Would Let Massive Sewage Overflows Continue — Natural Resources Defense Council
Open Sewer Atlas
ArcGis

A handy summary of the NYC Water Trail Association/Billion Oyster Project’s testing routine is provided by the federal Advisory Committee on Water Information, which was rendered inactive in 2019 (worth looking into now?):

Colilert/Enterolert Method
• Add media to 100 ml of water
• Pour into multi-well tray
• Seal tray
• Incubate for 18 to 24 hours
• Score samples – E. coli: yellow and glow in UV – Enterococcus: glow in UV
Training video from a parallel effort in Virginia:

For its part in 2021’s vital water quality monitoring work, HarborLAB has to thank volunteer Sanjay Shirke. A Manhattan resident, Sanjay has built water sampling into his jogging routine with a route that take him over the Williamsburg Bridge and up through Brooklyn to LIC. Sanjay, who just qualified for the New York Marathon, has had time during his runs to reflect on his contributions toward a better future for his kids and NYC as a whole. He shared his thoughts:

“We live in a time of unprecedented change. Daily headlines speak of climate change; with apparent direct effects of weather, and larger climactic trends involving wildfires; droughts; floods, emerging biologic threats.
What effect can a small environmental organization, have on these powerful global forces? Perspective. The change in perspective from moving just a few yards into the water from well-trodden harborside paths is a bit more than one expects. Moving just a few yards down from the paths, and a few yards in from the pier provide an awareness that we ARE part of an ecosystem. The movement of the waves provides a sense that one is IN the environment; away from the double-edged marvels of edifice, commerce, and architecture. 

From this small act; from this small change in perspective, from a walker of sidewalks to a paddler of rivers, one changes to a product of the environment to a participant. The possibility of affecting the river is raised. Similarly, moving from a consumer of scientific information to a citizen-scientist lights a small candle. Collecting a small water sample, watching it glow brightly in response to the bacteria therein inserts the citizen scientist into the environment. 

Why does the bacterial bioactivity change from day-to-day? How do people decide when area beaches are closed? How does the cleanliness of Manhattan’s harborscape compare with beaches in more ‘pristine’ locations — Coney Island, to the Jersey Shore, to the glittering sands of Miami and beyond?  

It turns out…we’re not on so different a waterway. The first impression of a New Yorker of the shallows and depths of city waterways is one of cleanliness despite the clichés and stereotypes with which we’re familiar. Actually measuring and demonstrating this with your own hands challenges our preconceptions, and empowers the individual citizen scientist to feel connected, in a small way, to the local environment. From there, to familiar regional beachfronts. And on to the interconnectedness of the human experience.”

If you’d like to join Sanjay’s team, or perhaps even his run, drop us a note at volunteer@harborlab.org. Or perhaps you’d like to present to schools on this topic on behalf of HarborLAB? And anyone can help by simply letting their NYC City Council representative know that water quality and safety is important. Thanks for helping to turn disappointment into education and positive action!

July 10, 11am-2pm: Free Kayaking!

Free kayaking returns to Gantry Plaza State Park!

Enjoy an amazing seal’s-eye-view of the Manhattan skyline and dynamic LIC neighborhood from with an embayment of Gantry Plaza State Park (the dock at 50th Avenue and Center Boulevard)! Our volunteers will register you, provide a life vest and paddle and brief pointers, and paddle nearby for added safety support.

There’s no need to pre-register to participate. Just be patient with lines, wear clothing you don’t mind getting wet, protect your electronics and wallet with a dry bag (or triple ziplock), bring a reusable water bottle and snacks that eliminate or minimize packaging, and protect yourself from the sun! Do not drink alcohol or consumer any recreational drugs before paddling. Please check with your healthcare provider regarding prescription drugs or other physical conditions that might affect your participation.

CLICK HERE to join the HarborLAB volunteer team providing this event.

We thank the New York-New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program (HEP) and Hudson River Foundation for helping to make this program and educational programs possible, along with our volunteers, longstanding sponsors, and new sponsors and donors: Investors Bank, C.A,C. Industries, Constance Rogers Roosevelt, and Jill Lafer.