Saturday Science Stumper!

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SATURDAY SCIENCE STUMPER from HaborLAB!

Kayakers in the summer of 2017 will love paddling under Staten Island’s grand New York Wheel, the tallest observation Ferris wheel! How cool will that be? But we Newtown Creek paddlers might be even more grateful to have something like this less-flashy wheel. What do you think it is?

ANSWER TO LAST WEEK’S SATURDAY SCIENCE STUMPER:

These beautifully and precisely engineered pieces are just about now becoming something equally amazing and more recognizable — flounder! From February through the end of May, the Army Corps of Engineers suspends dredging in channels where Winter Flounder eggs, pictured above, are laid. To learn more, visit Nature Calendar:http://naturecalendar.wordpress.com/2008/03/23/a-better-day-for-eggs-winter-flounder-that-is/

Newtown Creek Canoe Flags!

 

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The Bernie Entie flies its flag at the Newtown Creek Nature Walk steps.

 

HarborLAB now flies flags from its canoes bearing names that honor environmentalists who went before us and the species that share our estuary. We’re grateful to artist and graphic designer Caroline Walker for leading this effort and to Algonquin scholar Evan Pritchard for offering a traditional blessing of our boats and flags. Thanks also to HarborLAB Operations Manager for helping to make this all possible!

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Newtown Creek Alliance Interim Chair Dorothy Morehead holds HarborLAB’s canoes for a blessing with burning sage given by Evan Pritchard of the Center for Algonquin Culture.

 

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Paddlers holding our flag for The River Singer, which honors Pete Seeger. The art and writing were done for HarborLAB by Pete Seeger himself.

THE RIVER SINGER:  Pete Seeger pioneered the great Hudson River revival by building the Clearwater, a sloop that sails that river up and down to sing up its restoration and carry educators and scientific equipment. When HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard was working with Pete Seeger on a project to promote estuary education, he declined to have a boat named for himself. Instead, he drew a fish exclaiming, “Keep my waters clean!” Friends at the NYC Friends of Clearwater confirmed that humility should carry forward after Pete’s passing. The charming drawing has become our flag for The River Singer. named for Pete’s description of himself.

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The “oceanic egg” flag honoring Rachel Carson. By Tracy Coon, artist, and Caroline Walker, art director.

THE RACHEL CARSON: Rachel Carson sparked the modern American environmental movement with her breakthrough book, “Silent Spring.” Her work expanded our conception of environmentalism beyond conservation of wilderness to demanding corporate and governmental responsibility for pollution. She sounded the alarm about promiscuous DDT spraying that was weakening wild birds’ egg shells, causing population collapses. Many forget that she was a career marine biologist, working for the federal government. Erik Baard imagined an “oceanic egg” to represent Carson, capturing her marine biology and DDT work, and reminding viewers that today’s oceans are as fragile as eggs in comparison to pollution from plastics, fertilizer runoffs, and CO2 emissions that become carbonic acid in the sea around us. Tracy Coon made that abstract idea elegantly real.

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Flag honoring environmental filmmaker Jenni Jenkins. By Caroline Walker and Erik Baard.

THE JENNI “APPLESEED” JENKINS:  When we honor Jenni, we honor a wonderful light snuffed our too early and all of the students at her alma mater, City University of New York. Jenni loved Newtown Pippin apples (painted here by Erik Baard) and served as videographer for a fascinating day paddling on the Newtown Creek and East River with environmental leader and author Bill McKibben of 350.org and Middlebury College. On that outing were journalist and HarborLAB volunteer Davis Janowski and Erik Baard.

Please enjoy the beautiful film, “Plastic Bag,” co-written by Jenni and narrated by (believe it or not) Werner Herzog!

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Flag honoring photographer and Newtown Creek Alliance board member Bernie Ente. By Caroline Walker, inspired by an Ente photograph.

THE BERNIE ENTE:  In much the same way that Pete Seeger sang the public into awareness about the Hudson River’s urgent needs, photographer Bernie Ente documented life and struggle in the Newtown Creek. Birds, fish, flowers, and other beauties of nature eked out a living on the creek, without being seen or celebrated. Without care. We’re grateful to Bernie for helping us see the Newtown Creek as a place of life and hope. This flag by Caroline Walker was inspired by Bernie’s striking photo of a green heron and discarded balloons on the Newtown Creek. When we honor Bernie, we also honor the Newtown Creek Alliance and Working Harbor Committee.

Newtown Creek green heron by Bernie Ente.

 

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The Muskrat Love flag by Caroline Walker.

THE MUSKRAT LOVE: Caroline Walker brought playfulness to our flags with “The Muskrat Love.” HarborLAB volunteers saw a muskrat swim past our boat launch. Erik Baard’s photo was the first documentation of the species in Newtown Creek. On a later outing Newtown Creek Alliance interim Chair Dorothy Morehead spotted paw prints that Erik recognized as muskrat tracks. If HarborLAB has an unofficial Newtown Creek mascot, this is it. Fittingly, Caroline’s flag matches what might be America’s most polluted waterway with what might be America’s worst love song!

Prof. Pritchard noted, however, that the muskrat plays an heroic role in Algonquin creation beliefs. The brave little mammal swam to the bottom of the water to scoop up soil to place on the turtle’s back. It grew to form North America, but our mythical friend didn’t survive the ordeal. Let’s hope the Newtown Creek muskrats have a brighter future.

THE MOO XOOL:  This is the local Algonquin word for both the tulip tree and a dugout canoe carved from the tulip tree. Will you be the artist for it? We have ideas for a design but would love to hear from you! Email harborlab@gmail.com with the subject “moo xool” if you’d like to work on our flag!

 

 

Neversink Reservoir Fleet Arrives!

Neversink Reservoir Fleet received by Forst Valley YMCA and funded by Catskill Watershed Corporation with support from NYC Department of Environmental Protection.

Neversink Reservoir Fleet received by Frost Valley YMCA and funded by Catskill Watershed Corporation with support from NYC Department of Environmental Protection.

HarborLAB’s fleet for Neversink Reservoir program fleet of ten kayaks (Ocean Kayak Malibu 2 XL tandems) and five canoes (Old Town Saranac 160), life vests, and paddles have arrived! Many thanks to the Catskill Watershed Corporation for the grant that purchased these boats and the NYC Department of Environmental Protection for its support of the program! Many thanks to Johnson Outdoors for making this great community amenity affordable!

The Frost Valley YMCA received the boats, for which we’re also grateful. HarborLAB is working to arrange safety training and environmental educational programs with the Frost Valley YMCA.

We need volunteers and sponsors to make the most of this opportunity! Email support@harborlab.org or volunteer@harborlab.org to help, with the subject, “Neversink.” THANKS!

 

Algonquin Tour Shorts, Raw Footage

HarborLAB was privileged to host an Algonquin Tour of the Newtown Creek. Our lecturer was Prof. Evan Pritchard of Marist College, a scholar of Mi’kmaq heritage and founder of the Center for Algonquin Culture. He is the author of several books about the First Nations of North America, especially our region. We were honored to include Dorothty Morehead, Interim Chair of the Newtown Creek Alliance, Matt Malina, Founder of NYCH2O, and urban ecology blogger Patrick Coll among our participants.

This is the first Native American tour of the Newtown Creek, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-designated Superfund site because of the industrial toxins in its sediments. This video was shot by Prof. Scott Sternbach, acclaimed nature photographer, director of CUNY LaGuardia Community College’s photography and video department and Chair of HarborLAB.

These are just shorts taken from our event, and the audio will be enhanced, especially for the beginning section. Full raw footage will be made available to academics and a we’ll release a polished final cut video for the public. Prof.Pritchard offers blessings for the boats by burning sage and discusses diverse topics, including the lands and peoples of the Newtown Creek, how tulip tree canoes (moo xool) were communally shared, and evidence for extensive maritime trade within the Americas before European contact.

We are very grateful to the NYC DEP for its permission to land at the Newtown Creek Nature Walk steps.

 

Sunday, May 18: Algonquin Tour and Tree Giveaway!

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Prof. Evan Pritchard of Marist College, Founder of the Center for Algonquin Culture, blesses a newly adopted tulip tree with burning sage and a Lenape incantation. The tulip tree was the dugout canoe resource of choice.


HarborLAB launched into the new season with a celebration of the first mariners of our harbor.

Center for Algonquin Culture Founder Evan Pritchard joined HarborLAB at our launch for a participatory lecture and season opening ceremony before launching onto the creek. He also blessed the 100 trees we gave away through the MillionTreesNYC program with New York Restoration Project. We distributed redbuds, tulip trees, sassafras, and hackberries. We’ll plant a hackberry on our property and 20 sassafras around Jamaica Bay on June 1.

We also named canoes for environmental heroes and estuary life, flying artistic flags from them: The Rachel Carson, the River Singer (Pete Seeger, with his own drawn design), the Jenni “Appleseed” Jenkins, the Bernie Ente, The Muskrat, and The Tuliptree. HarborLAB Communications Manager Caroline Walker was art director for this beautifully executed project, with help from EJ Lee, Anandi Premlall, Erik Baard, Tracy Coon, and Nadine Chandy.

Professor Pritchar is known as Abachbahamedtch, or “Chipmunk,” to his fellow Micmac Algonquins. For us, this reflects how he eagerly gathers seeds of knowledge. He has lectured widely, including at the American Museum of Natural History. Erik Baard’s Village Voice cover article “Holy Waters” included an interview with Pritchard.

Pritchard played flutes beautifully and shared lore and history ashore and afloat. We rafted up to hear an overview of the First Nations settlements in the area, and how tulip tree canoes were a shared public transportation network. Because the canoes were too heavy to take out of the water, they were left in for others to use. We paddled from the HarborLAB launch to the Newtown Creek Nature Walk, where Pritchard used markers carved with Native names as touchstones for a lecture.

A wonderful surprise was when Newtown Creek Alliance Chair Dorothy Morehead spotted tracks on the Newtown Creek steps, which Baard identified as muskrat.

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Cordgrass in the Classroom

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Spartina nursery at the Greenhouse at the Greenbelt Native Plant Center on Staten Island. Photo by Erik Baard.

Our estuary is suffering great losses. In the past century, 85% of the New York and New Jersey area’s saltwater wetlands were destroyed by development and pollution. In 2012, the municipal government released its Wetlands Strategy as part of PlaNYC. The document also provides an excellent overview Independent nonprofits like the American Littoral Society, Regional Plan Association, and Riverkeeper, as well as state and federal initiatives like the Harbor-Estuary Program, have long advocated for protection and restoration through smarter growth and replanting.

HarborLAB Founder and Executive Director Erik Baard took the crisis as an opportunity for service learning across the city. He conceived “Cordgrass in the Classroom.” This distributed program, if fully realized, would affordably empower educators and students to improve our environment in a way that might integrate in standard curricula. Many thanks to the Greenbelt Native Plant Center and Murfie, a tech startup that digitizes and streams personal CD and vinyl music collections, for making this project possible. Expert consultants from Louisiana State University have also helped greatly.

A building block species for ecosystems in our bays and inlets is spartina, commonly known as cordgrass. Both names, ancient Greek and English, refer to how this marsh grass was used to make rope in olden times. Its greater value, however, is how it stabilizes shorelines with complex rhizomatic root systems. A dense area of cordgrass is called a “baffle,” and it collects silts and organic matter like an upside broom. This builds up to a rich, mucky more terrestrial habitat for invertebrates, other plants and fungi, and the shorebirds and mammals that eat them. Without cordgrass, you won’t see herons and egrets, and water erosion will strip coastal communities of storm protection.

Cordgrass in the Classroom takes inspiration from earlier successes like Trout in the Classroom, MillionTreesNYC, and the Billion Oyster Project. Erik introduced the program at the Steinway Branch branch of the Queens Library as part of Greening Queens Libraries initiative of the North Star Fund. Here’s how it went:

1) A dozen kids and six adults gathered in the library’s community room. They received New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program posters of estuary life. Each participant was asked to name a living thing depicted in the poster until one teen said, “Grass.” The exercise highlighted how we easily overlook the organism that occupies the most space in the landscape and upon which the others depend.

2) A second page depicting wetlands let us discuss what an estuary saltwater wetlands is, as opposed to a beach or a freshwater swamp. We discussed how the complex root systems hold sand and silt together while the upper grasses feed butterfly larvae, provide shelter from predators, and are home to many creatures.

3) Modifying an idea from the Community Science Workshop Network, Erik taught the kids how to make mini-greenhouses from used CD cases donated by Murfie. Another option for local supplies for those not in a rush is NYC WasteMatch. This is a great opportunity to discuss recycling, the plaque of plastics, and how evolution is a constantly-adapting technology that doesn’t become obsolete. That said, even nature can overuse a technology to its near self-destruction; consider how the lignin that made trees possible may have later also overfed  microbes that excreted wastes that nearly smothered our world hundreds of millions of years ago.

Community Science Workshop Network (http://cswnetwork.org)

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4) The Greenbelt Native Plant Center kindly supplied guidance along with sand and seeds in brine. Many thanks to HarborLAB Operations Manager Patricia Erickson for driving. At the library, the kids mixed sand, seeds (gathered from the wild), and water. They then smoothed that mixed into CD cases and shut them. When tilted toward the sun and sitting and sitting in a shallow layer of water, the seeds will germinate and blades will shoot upward. Thanks to the CD’s thinness, kids will watch the roots and shoots in a cross-section, much like an ant farm.

5) When the grass outgrows its CD case, it will be transplanted in bunches into small, biodegradable (wood fiber, peat blend) seedling pots, covering their root crowns. When the grass seedlings reach 6′-8″ high, they’ll be ready for transplantation into nature. Among possible sites are HarborLAB’s launch or Jamaica Bay. At our site, we might fill jute rice bags from Jackson Heights will sand and slash them to receive transplants. That, along with stones, might protect the new colony from being washed away by barge wakes.

A girl draws roots onto a CD case greenhouse schematic. Photo by Erik Baard.

A girl draws roots onto a CD case greenhouse schematic. Photo by Erik Baard.

For those wanting to create more ambitious CD case greenhouses, Erik built the one below in five minutes using clear tape. It can be built taller to protect more mature plants. Like the simpler form, there’s adequate ventilation.

Cubed CD case mini-greenhouse. Photo by Erik Baard.

Cubed CD case mini-greenhouse. Photo by Erik Baard.

Some have gone hog wild with CD case greenhouses. For walk-in sized greenhouses made of reused plastics, many opt for discarded bottles.

May 18: Tree Giveaway and Algonquin Talk!

Come down to the HarborLAB launch on May 18 for FREE TREES (register HERE) and a paddling event! We started with Eastern Redbud, Tulip tree, Sassafras, and Hackberry, but they’re going fast!

Our canoe tour of the Newtown Creek will feature an Algonquin lecture and blessing of our boats! Our speaker will be Evan Pritchard, founder of the Center for Algonquin Culture.

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“Jane’s Walk” to Our Reawakening Waterfront!

 

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Mitch Waxman, crouching, and MAS Jane’s Walk participants in front of the HarborLAB gate and boats. Newtown Creek Alliance board member Laura Risi Hofmann towards the left, in bright blue shirt. Photo by Erik Baard.

HarborLAB was honored to be a featured stop on the Greenpoint-to-Long Island City “DUPBO” 2014 Jane’s Walk.  Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman guided the tour, a walking conversation, sharing insights about development, preservation, sustainability, resilience, and cultural vitality. In NYC, the prestigious Municipal Art Society organizes the annual, free urban planning walks honoring Jane Jacob‘s spirit of criticism and query.

Erik Baard, who interviewed Jane Jacobs in the 9/11 aftermath, greeted the crowd that arrived at the end of Vernon Boulevard, where a bridge once spanned the Newtown Creek to Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn.

What made our site so interesting? It’s that we’re creating the greatest length of green, soft shoreline on the Newtown Creek!

Many thanks to Citizens Committee for NYC for our seed grant (more on that to come) to begin transforming our 125′ waterfront, kindly provided to us by Schumann Properties. Rather than rebuilding our crumbling bulkhead, we’ll follow New York State Department of Environmental Conservation guidelines for using salt tolerant native plantings to stabilize shorelines. We’ll also restore wetlands in the intertidal zone with spartina, mussels, oysters, and other indigenous life. Upland we’ll grow edibles in planters, including hardy kiwi and grape for shade. To maximize the service learning value of this project, we’ll invite college students to participate and follow the advice and directives of biologists Dr. Holly Porter-Morgan and Dr. Sarah Durand of LaGuardia Community College.

HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson will oversee safety stairs, platforms, the dock, and other improvements, aided by Mairo Notton and other skilled volunteers. Our space has been too crowded with bricks on pallets since occupation to do much work, but that’s scheduled to change over the next few weeks.

HarborLAB has also begun a campaign to create a bioswale and rain garden at the dead end of Vernon Boulevard. In some sense, this revives a decade-old effort that New Yorkers for Parks ushered into a design in 2006. With our launch site reworked and a green pocket park, Vernon Boulevard will end in a beautiful long stretch of green that improves Newtown Creek water quality by reducing combined sewage overflows.

The Newtown Creek Superfund designation, however, is based on carcinogenic sediments that line its bed and can sometimes rise through the water column when disturbed. Advocacy for dredging is our chief activity on that front. Our vital ally there is the Newtown Creek Alliance. We were happy that this Jane’s Walk included Newtown Creek Alliance Board Member Laura Risi Hofmann, a greenpoint health and green spaces activist, among its saunterers.

Because of the sometimes high sewage bacteria levels (common to all of western Queens’ waterfronts) and industrial pollutants (exceedingly high also in Anable Basin and Steinway Creek), HarborLAB has two blanket policies:  1) We bring boats to cleaner, safer waters in the region for children to enjoy. The Newtown Creek launch is for adults only. 2) We use canoes for venturing East of the Pulaski Bridge, and sit-on-top kayaks for paddling west, where water quality is much better.

 

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HarborLAB boats and the raw 125′ shoreline, facing East to the Pulaski Bridge. Photo by Erik Baard.

The HarborLAB "boat ladder," a launch system used by cultures around the world. Note the crumbling shoreline that we'll slope and stabilize with plantings.

The HarborLAB “boat ladder,” a launch system used by cultures around the world. Note the crumbling shoreline that we’ll slope and stabilize with plantings.

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Intertidal area that will be planted with spartina or other native species. Photo by Erik Baard.