July 4 Fireworks East River Safety


This year marks the return of July 4 fireworks to the East River, and the show promises to be fantastic! But this event draws a greater than usual glut of recreational boats to our waterway, many of which are not operated as carefully as we paddlers and rowers would like.

For your safety, please be aware of July 4, 2014 safety zones restricting vessel movements on the East River. The full US Coast Guard notification, published as a .pdf file, is here:

CGAN – Macy’s 4th of July 2014

It looks like the best, safest viewing area for paddlers and rowers from the north might be just south of the Williamsburg Bridge, on the Brooklyn side. Please note that in East River marine radio chatter (Channel 13), the “north” and “south” referred to in this safety notice from the USCG are usually replaced by “east” and “west” because the waterway terminates by bending west into the Upper Bay and east into the Long Island Sound.

Lt. Kristopher Kesting, the region’s Marine Event Branch Chief, advised HarborLAB, “We did not designate a specific kayak/canoe viewing area, however we do advise you to remain outside of zone Charlie and as close to (preferably inside of) the pier head line while viewing the fireworks. As always, we request that you remain clear of powered recreational and commercial vessel traffic (especially near the battery) and abide by safe boating practices.”

No doubt paddling and rowing organizations will abide by best practices, but this post is especially directed to individual paddlers who might wish to enjoy this exciting night afloat.

In years past when Erik Baard conducted fireworks viewing tours, paddlers waited to one side, near shore, while motorboats left the viewing area. BE CAREFUL: BOATERS OFTEN SPEED AWAY. As always, NO ALCOHOL. Also, be visible (bright colored boats, navigation lights, strobes in emergencies), stay close together, and use your marine radios. As noted NYC kayaking expert Rafael Diaz advises, “Be seen and be heard. Assume you’re not seen and not heard.”

June 28 Saturday Science Stumper!



Bad is flushing untreated sewage into our estuaries and watersheds, carrying loads of disease-causing bacteria into fragile ecosystems and into areas where human health could be endangered. What could be worse, and what solution is illustrated above?




UV light water quality test.  Photo by Bronx River Alliance Education Director Damian Griffin.


Each week members of the NYC Water Trail Association, like HarborLAB, sample water for laboratories to test for fecal bacteria indicating sewer overflows. One test involves incubating bacteria cultures and then detecting the presence of enterococcus, a genus found in human intestines, by the contaminated vials’ glow when exposed to ultraviolet light. Above you see the results from a lab operated by Bronx River Alliance. HarborLAB initiated sampling in western Queens and samples the water at Gantry Plaza State Park and Willow Lake in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Enterococcus testing is the preferred method for determining swimming beach safety in the U.S., succeeding the old standard of fecal coliform testing in 2004. If a beach shows a five week mean of 35 colony-forming units or  more per 100 milliliters of water, it’s closed. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality published a great introductory explanation of this process.

HarborLAB minimizes risks by not putting children in sit-on-tops in contaminated waters and urges other groups to do the same, especially in known trouble spots like Hallets Cove in Astoria. Canoes are a drier ride, and rowboats are also a great option. Adults are informed of risks.

June 29: Mulberry Brunch Birding Paddle!


POSTPONED to better accommodate Randall’s Island Park Alliance staff and supporters. So expect blueberries or apples growing on the island instead!  🙂

Pick mulberries by kayak, but leave some for the many species of birds we’ll spot and photograph!

Register on Facebook here and email tours@harborlab.org.

Circumnavigate New York City’s incredibly diverse island park, home of both estuary and fresh water wetlands, our largest public orchard, an educational farm, miniature golf, a sports and concert stadium, and much more! We’ll be joined by the island’s Natural Areas Manager Chris Girgenti who’ll teach us about habitat restoration efforts and welcome us ashore.

Randall’s Island Park is bounded by the Bronx Kill* and the East River, including Hell Gate. Great blue herons, night herons, egrets, and other waterfowl call the island home. We’ll also check out Mill Rock, another island rich in birds, and U Thant Island (aka Belmont), which is favored by cormorants.

This is a relatively short trip but crosses through tricky waters that are crowded with larger vessels.

Su 29 Low 4:36 AM 0.0 5:28 AM Rise 7:44 AM 2
29 High 10:40 AM 4.5 8:31 PM Set 9:49 PM
29 Low 4:35 PM 0.6
29 High 10:36 PM 5.0

* The Bronx Kill frequently has poor water quality, even in dry weather. Gut bacteria levels are high. Please consider this factor, and your own immune strength, when deciding whether to participate.



HarborLAB Intern Presentation on Water Quality


HarborLAB Environmental Science Intern Erik Yax Garcia of Keuka College made a presentation about water quality sampling and testing to the Hunters Point Community Middle School this week. He demonstrated sampling and explained the need for precise, uniform techniques. Then in the classroom he gave a PowerPoint presentation about the science used to identify water quality problems and solutions.

“For me it was a great experience to work with middle school students and it was very challenging because they would ask for details and deep explanations,” Erik said. He noted that a central question was, “what can we do to have clean water?”

Thanks to a grant from the United Nations Federal Credit Union, Erik takes weekly water samples from Willow Lake and Gantry Plaza State Park for pathogen testing at The River Project. He also picks up Bronx Kill samples taken by Randall’s Island Park Alliance. The lab’s looking for Enterococcus, a kind of bacteria that normally lives in human intestines and can therefore reveal the presence of sewage in a waterway. Rainstorms overwhelm our waste water treatment facilities because household water and street runoffs pour into the same tubes and containments. When that happens, raw sewage is released into the estuary in “combined sewer overflows” (CSOs) to prevent disease-bearing foul waters from backing up into homes and streets.

Erik’s visit melded with the students’ curriculum, said science teacher Mary Mathai. “Erik Yak’s presentation was very informative. This worked very well since in their present unit of study, we have been talking about the enterococcus bacterial levels in the water and about CSO’s,” she said.

Mathai praised how methodical Erik was in his instruction. “He introduced students to the sampling sites in his presentation. He also showed them a video on the CSO’s.  This was followed by a demonstration of how water samples are collected with importance given to preservation of the samples and avoidance of contaminating the samples.Photographs of the enterococcus bacteria were shown to students.  This was very much tied into what students were learning in the classroom, since they were involved in a project based learning activity regarding CSO’s and water quality in New York Harbor.  Students were then taken to the sampling site in Long Island City, where Erik demonstrated the water sample collection.  This was followed by a question and answer session,” she recounted.


NYC is behind schedule in fixing the CSO problem, but has spent billions of dollars toward that end in recent years. Traditional engineering solutions are termed “grey infrastructure” because they rely on concrete catch basins and new facilities. Another set of solutions gaining favor now are grouped together as “green infrastructure” because they rely on plants and are sustainable and resilient. Green roofs, bioswales, tree pits, and other planting absorb rainwater into soft earth and up through roots so that less pours into the sewer system.

We’re happy to report that water at Gantry Plaza State Park, where HatbotLAB will offer public paddling this summer, has tested as cleaner than other western Queens sites (Hallets Cove, Anable Basin, Newtown Creek) in this year’s first few weeks. This activity is part of a broader “citizen science” project coordinated by the NYC Water Trail Association, a network of paddling and rowing groups that HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard also initiated and co-founded.
The students revealed that they have a big stake in improving water quality, Erik said. “I also spoke about HarborLAB’s paddling program and many students seemed to be excited about it!”

June 14 Saturday Science Stumper!


Welcome back, Chrono Art Clock! What? It’s not the clock that befuddled Oscar Madison on “The Odd Couple” in 1973 (appearing at 12:45)? No. But it does tell you if it’s a safe time to be in the water! So what are we looking at?


Horseshoe Ctab Blood

MARK THIESSEN/National Geographic Creative


Much like the Vulcans of “Star Trek,” horseshoe crabs have blood that uses copper instead of iron to transport oxygen. It also happens that their blood is a fantastic tool for detecting bacteria that might contaminate pharmaceutical instruments and injections. Horseshoe crabs (not really crabs at all) are captured, tapped for blood to be used for this purpose, and released. For those of us who are less bloodthirsty, you can see their moon-driven, ancient mating migrations this weekend along beaches throughout NYC! More about our local horseshoe crabs at Nature Calendar.

May 25, Orchard Beach and Pelham Bay



Bioluminescent comb jelly. Photo by Alex Pavlov.

Bioluminescent comb jelly. Photo by Alex Pavlov.

HarborLAB volunteers scouted Orchard Beach Lagoon and Pelham Bay in May. We intend to bring young people and community groups on Nature Paddles in these cleaner, safer waters. Photos by Alex Pavlov.

Orchard Beach Lagoon is an amazing bit of NYC, tucked away in the western Long Island Sound. You’ll be amazed that you’re still in NYC, splashing off the Bronx shore. Kids paddling here will see night herons, egrets, turtles, shellfish, bioluminescent comb jellies, jellyfish, sea grasses, foliated metamorphic rock, and numerous fish. HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard even saw a juvenile bald eagle there with David Burg of Wild Metro. HarborLAB Operations Manager EJ Lee fishes in Pelham Bay often and was the driving spirit of the day.


June 1 Jamaica Bay Marsh Restoration!


(Aerial photo of planting site by Public Lab and Louisiana-based Dredge Research Collaborative. Expand to see rows of seedlings)


American Littoral Society, Google, Citizens Committee for NYC, and HarborLAB celebrate a great day of planting spartina to restore Jamaica Bay. Great job, HarborLAB Operations Manager EJ Lee and many thanks to our partners!

On Sunday, June 1, HarborLAB brought Citizens Committee for NYC and Google to paddle and help the American Littoral Society and Jamaica Bay EcoWatchers plant spartina marsh grass, a building block of our estuary ecosystem. We were thrilled to work beside Audubon volunteers and others, and to learn more about restoring vital saltwater marsh habitat. Many thanks to American Littoral Society Northeast President Don Riepe, who organized the full event, and Lori Lichtman, Development and Volunteer Coordinator for Citizens Committee for NYC!

Over the past century our region’s saltwater marsh grass areas have been reduced by 85% due to development, pollution, and other urban pressures. HarborLAB started “Cordgrass in the Classroom” to help students understand this problem and participate in its solution. Now we are combining planting and paddling into event days that augment the efforts of those leading the challenging work of restoration. The Google gaggle took turns planting thousands of seedlings and kayaking around areas where they could see mature plants supporting shorebirds, invertebrates, and marine life. It was fun to introduce Google employees and interns to this work, and to deepen our relationship with Citizens Committee for NYC. Thanks in great part to Citizens Committee for NYC, we will soon plant spartina and other native species at our launch site on the Newtown Creek!

This event was an achievement for HarborLAB because despite being a small and young organization, we produced two simultaneous programs on June 1, this marsh grass restoration and nature paddles by canoe on Willow Lake in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. HarborLAB Operations Manager EJ Lee was our on-site leader at Jamaica Bay and Executive Director Erik Baard made the arrangements for both events while leading on-site at Willow Lake.

All photos in the gallery are by American Littoral Society and Citizens Committee for NYC.

“Expedition to White Island”

photo 4 (2)

HarborLAB partnered with the Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art, Nature, and Dance (iLAND) on Sunday to document, and elicit a creative response to, the restoration of marsh grasses, dune grasses, and other native life to White Island in Marine Park Preserve. Videographer Charles Dennis led the wonderful ‘iLANDing Expedition to White Island” as both guide and artist.

For HarborLAB this was an invaluable opportunity to build relationships with artists who care about ecology and might share their skills with the communities we serve. It was also a scouting mission to a new area of the harbor for us, Gerritsen Inlet, where we now plan to bring partner groups for beach cleanups and birding. We saw a great egrets, skillfully diving terns, reed-perching red winged blackbirds, an oyster catcher, a mated pair of Canada geese, herring gulls, great black backed gulls, black crested night herons, double crested cormorants, and an osprey atop, and circling, its nest platform.

Osprey platform. Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring"  alerted the world about how the osprey and other species were vanishing because DDT insecticide spraying interfered with birds making strong egg shells. Now ecologists are helping helping ospreys to restore their numbers by building nesting platforms near food sources and away from harm. More here:  http://www.nhptv.org/wild/silentspring.asp  (Photo by Gil Lopez)

Osprey platform. Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” alerted the world about how the osprey and other species were vanishing because DDT insecticide spraying interfered with birds making strong egg shells. Now ecologists are helping helping ospreys to restore their numbers by building nesting platforms near food sources and away from harm. More here: http://www.nhptv.org/wild/silentspring.asp (Photo by Gil Lopez)

The intertidal zones held marshes of spartina, but we could see clumps of the grass being undercut by erosion from below. Dense stands of invasive phragmites formed a feather-topped fence just a few paces upland from the water. At the foot of the reeds were glinting and colorful assortments of sea glass, complete antique bottles and glassware, and porcelain shards. Of course there were seashells of every kind and scattered bones, bleaching in the sun. White Island itself had various plantings dotting its sands like new hair plugs. As Charles Dennis described the mammoth operation to restore the island’s ecosystem, one could picture an amphibious assault by ecologists like a green D-Day.

The inlet itself was alive with horseshoe crabs, eels, other fish, sea weeds, and jellyfish. There was a mysterious pulsing buzz underwater that was almost certainly mechanical, not organic.

HarborLAB is grateful to iLAND, NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, and volunteers Gil Lopez (a green roofing instructor and certified permaculture landscape designer), Mairo Notton, and especially Patricia Erickson for making it possible to enjoy this outing, which was coordinated on the HarborLAB end by Erik Baard.

June 7 Saturday Science Stumper!

Horseshoe Ctab Blood


What is this profoundly ancient, living and life-saving substance from the sea, bottled by science? Hint: It’s at your nearby hospital and coming ashore right now…


While the New York Wheel will be a wonder to paddle beneath, Baltimore paddlers might be more grateful for their solar-powered wheel, which removes tons of garbage from the water daily! More here:http://gizmodo.com/baltimores-solar-wheel-pulls-in-25-tons-of-harbor-garba-1578474782