July 26 Saturday Science Stumper!



How has this diamond caused scientists to radically revise their diagrams of Earth as a water world?



Nacre is the inner lining of shells that we call “Mother of Pearl.” It’s also the coating that gives pearls their luster. Mollusks secrete nacre to encase pathogens or irritants to protect their own soft tissues. But though nacre (rhymes with acre) exudes a cool, liquid iridescent light, it’s composed of many layers of plates assembled from aragonite. When light hits nacre, some is reflected right off of its surface, but much of it penetrates through the translucent layers of nacre. At each layer, some light penetrates deeper while other light is reflected. Light can even be reflected by in inner surface downward before bouncing outward again. Imagine this happening million and millions of times at any given moment through each 500 nanometer thick layer of nacre. Optical engineers might recognize that this thickness matches the wavelength of human perception, because our eye can detect wavelengths between 390nm-700nm.

Though beutiful to our attuned eyes, nacre’s aragonite is a calcium carbonate not too different from classroom chalk. If we ever found aragonite in an alien meteorite, we could be very confident that there was life out there. Aragonite is assembled by living organisms or forms in the presence of water. Because it can be eaten by organisms and dissolved in more acidic water (our oceans are increasingly acidic because of CO2 pollution), on a living world, you rarely find it older than 300 million years.

Some of the loveliest nacre in our region is that of orange and yellow jingle shells, an indigeous bivalve mollusk scientifically named Anomia simplex pictured below. HarborLAB volunteers Erik Baard and Caroline Walker gathered these from the Long Island Sound. They were inspired to formulate a HarborLAB outing with children to gather jingle shells and craft gifts for themselves and their families!

Jingle shells. Photo by Erik Baard.

Jingle shells. Photo by Erik Baard.


Citizens Committee for NYC “GreenLaunch” Grant!

HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson picking up the shoreline greening grant check from Citizens Committee for NYC!

HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson picking up the shoreline greening grant check from Citizens Committee for NYC!

Many thanks to Citizens Committee for NYC for a $3000 grant to help HarborLAB and community partners start to transform a 125′ stretch of Newtown Creek waterfront into a kayak and canoe launch set within green and thriving habitat! We call it the “GreenLaunch” project. We also give deep thanks to Schuman Properties, which permits HarborLAB to use its land. HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson will oversee much of the work, in coordination with Schuman Properties, scientific directors, and gardeners.

We continue to seek additional funds for this work.

HarborLAB seeks to renew a compacted dirt 125′ x 21′ lot alongside the Newtown Creek, an EPA-designated Superfund Site with wetlands species (especially spartina) in the intertidal zone, salt-tolerant uplands species to stabilize land, and raised bed edible vines and trees for shading. Annual crops will be grown in straw bales, which can also serve as safety perimeters, as recommended and supplied by Dorothy Morehead, Community Board 2 Environmental Chair. We’ll preserve and expand areas where monarch butterfly supporting milkweed and goldenrod is growing. About 50′ of upland space will be for active use while the rest is phased in as habitat restoration. All 125′ of shoreline will be devoted to habitat, apart from narrow strips for stairs and a boat slide.

We will also install a small field station (a simple overhanging small deck of plastic timber made from recycled plastic bags) from which we can have younger students safely do water sampling and make observations.

This Field Station platform will eventually also be home base for a “biocrete” oyster habitat (solar-
powered system to accrete minerals from seawater, pioneered locally by Coastal Preservation Network), floating photobioreactor, Newtown Creek livecam, and other innovative projects.

Our Voyage to Kids Rule Island!



Hour Children kids run loose on Kids Rule Island! Photo by Elizabeth Lopez.

On July 19, HarborLAB took Hour Children on the second of several learning adventures planned for this season. This time we paddled at Orchard Beach Lagoon in Pelham Bay Park, New York City’s largest park. We chose this location foremost because there is public swimming at Orchard Beach, so water quality in the park is more closely monitored than it is at most launches. Patricia Erickson and Erik Baard surveyed and paddled Pelham Bay Park last year with WildMetro, an urban conservation and ecological education group. HarborLAB Operations Manager EJ Lee, who frequently catch-and-release fishes in the park using barbless hooks, brought volunteers on an orientation paddle in May.

The park also offers a great variety of natural experiences for the kids. We divided the 13 kids into two groups, alternating activities. Each child paddled, hiked the Kazimiroff Nature Trail, and swam at the beach! A third draw is that the area is scientifically fascinating. The uplands include a forest within which one can see one of New York City’s oldest trees, the Grandmother Oak, and migrating raptors and songbirds. Nestled within the forest is a rare meadow that’s home to native wild orchids (which absolutely must remain untouched) and insects seldom seen in our city.

At the shore there are saltwater marshes lush with spartina, also called cordgrass. This reinforced HarborLAB’s focus on the species through Cordgrass in the Classroom and activities with the American Littoral Society. We launched the first group at low water, which was a mucky affair, but it allowed the kids to see egrets feeding on invertebrates in the mudflats that skirted the spartina and to see mussels, oysters, crabs, snails, and soil porous with tiny sand crab and bloodworm holes. These two organisms are amazingly specialized. The crabs are egg-shaped and lack claws so they can more easily slip through sand, while bloodworms actually concentrate copper in their jaws to better withstand sand and gravel erosion and perhaps catalyze a venom! Like other shore denizens, they move and aerate the sand. We had kids shout back and memorize the names of the new species they encountered on the paddle. Their favorite new birds weren’t the showy white egrets, daring diving cormorants, or furtive night herons. Red winged black birds, with their striped epaulets, won the day. “Why? Because I like beautiful birds,” said Christian, one of the Hour Children kids. He added that “people should go to jail if they hurt animals.”

But the greatest creatures encountered that morning were of the imagination. One Hour Children girl, Jada, was absolutely certain that the orange buoys dotting the lagoon for rowing races were actually the heads of menacing octopi. Her adult paddling partner, HarborLAB Relationships Manager Bob Din, a father of three, was clearly amused and did little to discourage this notion.


First wave of Hour Children’s paddlers with HarborLAB at low tide on the rocky section of the launch, which is flanked by muddy expanses and healthy spartina. Photo by Erik Baard.


First wave of Hour Children’s paddlers with HarborLAB at low tide on the rocky section of the launch, which is flanked by muddy expanses and healthy spartina. Rowers in white racing sculls in the background. HarborLAB volunteers Elizabeth Lopez and Bob Din in the foreground. It was a great help that three of the four volunteers were parents themselves. Photo by Erik Baard.

Oystercatchers were also busy feeding at the edge of rocky islets, some so small that even Canada geese ignored them. It’s those islets, however, that were one of greatest goals for the second wave of paddlers. We fibbed a bit when the kids asked us, “Where are we going?” and we responded, “We don’t know! We’re explorers!” That got the kids excited and they readily embraced their new occupation. But Patricia discreetly suggested that we head for an island she’d enjoyed visiting during the volunteers’ May trip. As we rounded the lagoon’s marshy gate, the island of smooth and seemingly flowing stone came into view. Hour Children kids Christian and Braden piped up. “Can we climb it?,” Braden cheerily asked. Christian just boldly announced that he’d climb it as soon as we landed.

We asked the kids how old the rock of the island might be. Braden answered, “Fifty years old?” When we explained that the youngest rock was perhaps 400 million years old, the kids yelled that fact to each other and paddled even faster, eager to discover an ancient remnant. The island, Hog Island, belonged to the Siwanoy, an Algonquin people. The only recorded resident, however, was squatter Marion Lang, according to an excellent Columbia Journalism School account City Island and its smattering of neighbors.

Given the light footprint of history on the island, we left it to the kids to name it anew. Brianna quickly dubbed it Kids Rule Island, and the others heartily concurred. We adults all requested permission to come ashore, except for Bob, who declared with a smile that he was a pirate. Bob proved to be more of an archaeologist, spotting what might be post footings from the Lang residence, which was abandoned upon her death in 1930.


The landing beach at Kids Rule Island. HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson looks on as Relationships Manager Bob Din helps kids discover life under the rocks. Founder and Executive Director Erik Baard brings a boat around for the return. Oystercatchers were busy on the smaller island in the background. Photo by HarborLAB volunteer Elizabeth Lopez.

The landing beach offered many chances for learning. with numerous and varied shells. Skittering around were juvenile blue claw crabs. But the stone of the island itself told the story of ancient volcanoes and the crash and drift of continents. Orchard Beach Lagoon opens onto the Long Island Sound, which is famous for giant boulders deposited by glaciers that retreated over 10,000 years ago. But these islets among the Pelham Islands are eruptions of bedrock. They are banded and swirled, or “foliated metamorphic rock,” because at one point the immense pressures and frictions of North America and Africa colliding and retreating at the very spot melted stone and folded those molten layers into each other. Any fossils from those times would have been erased. In some places Ice Age glaciers scarred the rocks by grinding and scraping them. It’s hard to imagine this quiet spot was once so violent with lava and ice, but the ancient tales are written in stone.


Hartland Gneiss at Hog Island, aka Kids Rule Island. Photo by Elizabeth Lopez.

The two most famous types of bedrock in our region are Fordham Gneiss, which is over a billion years old, and Manhattan Schist. But when we launched our kayaks into this realm of islets, we found ourselves among Hartland Gneiss. In landing on such an islet, explains a great Queens College report, “Now we have stepped off the old North American continent, onto the exotic terrain that arrived ~450 Ma ago (Figure 4C). The Hartland formation here contains a variety of rock types, including quartz-feldspar gneiss, biotite-sillimanite schist, amphibolite, and marble.” Many of the rock formations were formed on the ocean floor.

But we had only hours, not epochs, for our little voyages. We had to turn back so the kids could make it home in time after enjoying ice cream! The ice cream was paid for by a HarborLAB supporter through Patricia, earmarked for Hour Children programs.  Thanks, Pat!


Patricia Erickson and her Hour Children kid partner paddle back to the launch. Photo by Elizabeth Lopez.

July 12 is City of Water Day! Come to Governors Island!














It’s City of Water Day! Come to Governors Island today for FREE KAYAKING with HarborLAB from 10AM-1:30PM and visit our education table! Then stick around for the crazy cardboard kayak races! Enjoy many more events, entertainments, foods, and arts arranged by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, producer of City of Water Day! Directions to Governors Island here: http://cityofwaterday.squarespace.com/directions-to-gi/



NinaKayaks (1)



July 12 Saturday Science Stumper!


What does this mother lode of plates add up to?





The so-called “Lost Cities” at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean are limestone towers formed by deposits from alkaline hydrothermal vents — underwater geysers. NASA researchers propose that this might be the kind of place where life on Earth first arose and that other oceanic worlds, like Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus might have life originating from the same heat energy and chemical reactions. One building block of life plentiful around the vents is acetate, which is a vinegar-like liquid from which more complex compounds can be formed.

July 11 Gantry Plaza State Park: FREE KAYAKING TONIGHT!


Join HarborLAB’s free Gantry Plaza Community Paddle tonight! Bob in your kayak in front of the incomparable Manhattan skyline and the growing Queens waterfront! Made possible by Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance and the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, and by HarborLAB sponsors like TF Cornerstone, UN Federal Credit Union, NY Waterway/East River Ferry, Rockrose Development, Arup, Con Ed, NRG Energy, NY-NJ Harbor Estuary Program, Citizens Committee for NYC, Sims Metal Management, Green Apple Cleaners, and the general public!





More Oysters Coming To LIC!


Oyster cage from the Billion Oyster Project aboard a HarborLAB boat, to be paddled from Governors Island to LIC.



Hunters Point Community Middle School teachers receive their oysters and prepare to place them off Socrates Sculpture Park. HarborLAB later introduced the school to NYC Parks authorities to relocate them at Hunters Point Park South.

HarborLAB periodically delivers cages of oysters to schools and community groups along the East River from the Billion Oyster Project’s headquarters at The Harbor School on Governors Island. When we return from camping overnight on Governors Island for City of Water Day, we’ll bring new oyster seeds to Hunters Point Parks Conservancy and local schools, as well as growing that at our own launch site on the Newtown Crreek!

Oysters once lined the bed of our harbor and were considered the finest in the world to eat. They were famed for growing “as large as dinner plates” too. But middens (piles of shells) reveal that even before Europeans arrived, oysters were smaller because the growing regional population of First Nations were harvesting them younger to keep up with demand. That problem greatly accelerated. Then raw sewage and industrial pollution rendered oysters unsafe to eat, while toxins and dredging eradicated them.

Today the Billion Oyster Project seeks to restore oysters to our urban habitat, though they remain unsafe for people to eat. Why? Because they support other wildlife and might perform environmental services like filtering water and weakening storm waves because rough seabeds dissipate energy from below. But challenges lie ahead. Even as sewer system improvements and regulation of toxins remove pollution from the harbor, global CO2 increases in the atmosphere get absorbed by the ocean where the chemical gets converted to carbonic acid. That makes it harder for shellfish like oysters to pull together the calcium and magnesium they need to grow. The Billion Oyster Project collects monthly oyster growth data from participants to study how the species is faring in varying local conditions today.


Hunters Point Community Middle School teaching staff and Principal Sarah Goodman with HarborLAB Operations Manager EJ Lee midway through an East River your. They met with Socrates Sculpture Park.




July 5 Saturday Science Stumper!

What is this mysterious “lost city” at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and what hidden history might it reveal to intrepid scientists, or at least their probes?




Smart public kayaking programs know to avoid our estuaries at times like last night, despite the temptation of watching the fireworks. That’s because rains, especially with flash flooding, overwhelm the sewers so fully that raw feces is dumped into our waterways. But along with fecal bacteria come pharmaceuticals and chemicals, including antibiotics. About 80% of American waterways contain traces of antibiotics. An amusing thought is, “Great, maybe the two will cancel each other out!” Not quite. Instead, diluted antibiotics stoke the evolution of resistant pathogens while harming bacteria that benefit the ecosystem.

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have developed a nanofilter that mimics a pump that bacterial cells use to expel antibiotics but tweaked it to instead send those compounds into vesicles. Once stored, they can be gathered for recycling or disposal, the researchers note. Living organisms might be engineered to perform this task, and the materials captured might one day include hormones, heavy metals, and other contaminants. Very impressive and perhaps a real environmental benefit. But perhaps this line of research raises its own safety concerns about nanotechnology and genetically modified organisms being released directly into the environment or slipping out of sanitation plants.

July 6: Canoe Willow Lake in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park!

UPDATE:  Thanks to all for making it a successful day!


The little creek thrown wide at Willow Lake.

The little creek thrown wide at Willow Lake.

Dear Harbor Friends,

We certainly need your help in the coming days.
We’re especially pressed for volunteers (desk attendants, life vest fitters, and paddlers) to make canoeing at Willow Lake in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park possible on Sunday! Details below.
Please email volunteer@harborlab.org with the subject line “Willow Lake” to let organizer Patricia Erickson know you’d like to help. She’ll need one or two people for 30 minutes of help at our launch (53-21 Vernon Boulevard, LIC, NY 11101) to load canoes on the trailer. 
Share the event with friends on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/578104722258336/
More Details:
Volunteers needed to work the sign-in and environmental education table, serve as safety escorts, help launch and land boats, and fit life vests. We’d also love for naturalists to provide birding insights to participants.Explore the Willow Lake wetlands preserve aboard HarborLAB canoes for educational recreation and to photodocument its habitat restoration, resident and migratory birds, and other beautiful sights.In partnership with the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy, by permit of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.



If you get lost, go to the Triassic Playground (http://mapofplay.kaboom.org/playspaces/4714) by Meadow Lake for information and directions to our sign up table.

We encourage university students, schools, community groups, houses of worship, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and other interested parties to partner with us as volunteers and participants. We’re especially interested in water monitoring, habitat projects, and cleanups.

HarborLAB intern Erik Yax Garcia samples water for quality testing each week. Results are published here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AhvspccU_-qrdFpQRWY1cWN6d0pGdTJndk5hdE5mX0E&usp=sharing#gid=0

If bacteria counts are high (red zone), we suspend programming. We use canoes to minimize water contact as a precaution for other days, even though the red/yellow/green coding refers to swimming conditions. This week the water tested in the “green” zone and we’re assured by parks officials that no sewage pours into the lake. We opt for canoes over sit-on-top kayaks as an added caution.

FREE Events, July 11 in Hunters Point, LIC!


unnamed (4)

Photo by Scott Sternbach.


HarborLAB is honored to be the organization chosen to introduce free kayaking to Gantry Plaza State Park, and grateful to the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation and to the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance. As the pioneer of kayaking and canoeing in Western Queens, HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard has lobbied park administrators and elected officials for access since 2003. HarborLAB Environmental Science Intern Erik Yax Garcia samples water at Gantry Plaza State Park for weekly bacteria testing by The River Project as part of a public education and safety program coordinated by NYC Water Trail Association.
The following programs at Gantry Plaza State Park are made possible by the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation and the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance and by the support of HarborLAB’s generous sponsors: TF Cornerstone, United Nations Federal Credit Union, Con Edison, Rockrose Development, NY Waterway, NRG Energy, Sims Metal Management, Green Apple Cleaners, and Arup. Programs at Governors Island are thanks to Trust for Governors Island and National Parks Service.
Participation subject to safety assessment.
HarborLAB’s Gantry Community Paddle! 
July 11, 2014, 5PM-8PM
Gantry Plaza State Park, South Pier (end of 50th Ave) 
Come inaugurate paddling in Gantry Plaza State Park and celebrate City of Water Day weekend!Free kayaking with no reservations required. Just sign a waiver and enjoy a super mellow time bobbing in a small, protected area south of the piers. It’s a great way to unwind and enjoy the view while getting a feel for the boats HarborLAB uses for longer tours and environmental service. Community groups welcome!
HarborLAB’s Ice Cream Float! 
July 11, 2014, 8PM-845PM
Gantry Plaza State Park, South Pier (end of 50th Ave) 
Earn your ice cream! Paddle against a mild current for a free, one-way kayak tour to Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory in Greenpoint! We’ll depart from the dock at Gantry Plaza State Park and take in the marvelous Manhattan skyline while rounding Hunters Point. Paddlers will hop off at the end of Manhattan Avenue in Brooklyn and head in a block for ice cream! From there it’s a short walk back to LIC, or on to new adventures! Email tours@harborlab.org with the subject line “July 11 Ice Cream Float” in the subject line by July 9. Seats given by lottery before noon, July 10.