Newtown Creek GreenLaunch Update — Work Party on Sunday!

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The HarborLAB launch, and future GreenLaunch. Our signature bright green boats are visible along with our other boats along the beige wall behind the sailboats. Photo by Erik Baard.

A quick update from HarborLAB Founder and Executive Director Erik Baard:

HarborLAB is grateful to Schuman Properties for clearing much of the 125′ site HarborLAB is licensed to use for public programs. That progress and a grant from Citizens Committee for NYC has made initial work on the HarborLAB GreenLaunch possible.  Sponsors like UN Federal Credit Union, Con Ed, and TF Cornerstone have generally supported our educational endeavors, which include creating this habitat restoration. Now we’re counting on City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, other elected officials, the Hudson River Foundation, and other grant givers to support HarborLAB as we create something green, welcoming, and wonderful. 

Come help this Sunday, from 10AM-3PM at 53-21 Vernon Blvd. Please see our directions link on this website and scroll down for the work party announcement. Also, here’s our Facebook event:

My cousin happens to be working on the Newtown Creek this week for a subcontractor on Superfund studies preceding the cleanup. He’s normally an aquaculture educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension, specializing in shellfish. Some of his colleagues are also using their vacation time to work on the EPA project. His wife is also in that field, as the first marine farmer to serve as president of a Long Island farmers association.

My cousin shared a few observations, to which I’ve added some thoughts:

1) Today, August 29, the water by the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge is clearer than he, his colleagues (including divers), and his captain have ever seen it. Visibility is about 10′-12′, comparable to the East End of Long Island, he noted. The team’s diver joked this morning that my cousin, who oversees decontamination of those coming up from the creek, might even go light on the Simple Green. He was stunned, but of course clarity doesn’t equate to safety in terms of pathogens and industrial contaminants. HarborLAB will continue its policy of not putting children in boats on the Newtown Creek, opting to instead bring them to cleaner and vibrant ecosystems in the region and to build a “field station” enclosed deck for them to sample water and do other research ashore. 
2) Ribbed mussels are thriving in the Newtown Creek. He’s begun to use ribbed mussels as water-cleaning filter feeders in small, polluted waters much the same way others are using oysters. The NYS DEC doesn’t want oysters grown in the Newtown Creek because they’re categorized as edible. Ribbed mussels are edible but less tasty and tougher, so are considered less of a temptation for consumption by those unaware of the risks. Biologist Dr. Sarah Durand of LaGuardia Community College has earlier recorded thriving ribbed mussel populations and advocated for their seeding as filter feeders. I’ve written to the Billion Oyster Project requesting that ribbed mussels be included as an affiliate program in areas where the NYS DEC doesn’t want oysters:  Newtown Creek, Gowanus Canal, etc. HarborLAB will be growing them along its 125′ waterfront. 
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Dr. Sarah Durand of CUNY LaGuardia Community College surveys the HarborLAB launch for habitat restoration. Photo by Erik Baard.

3) HarborLAB is grateful to Dr. Durand and her students and colleagues for their advice and help in restoring marine and terrestrial habitat to our site. We’re also thrilled to soon host a LaGuardia Community College pedal-powered research kayak on our site, now that we have room! 
3) HarborLAB is also grateful that the Cornell Cooperative Extension professionals are reviewing our site and plans to advise us on the key aspects of the GreenLaunch realization:  ribbed mussels, spartina, beach plums (we’re getting the pits in September and have wooden pallets to start seedlings), shadbush (four in hand), American persimmon, and other greenery. We will grow edibles for wildlife and pollinators in the ground and others in raised beds, straw bales (provided by Community Board Environmental Chair Dorothy Morehead), repurposed wooden pallets (which will serve as beach plum nurseries), and planters with fresh soil for human consumption. More novel projects will include a small photobioreactor (growing algae for biofuels as an educational experiment) and growing BioRock (pioneered locally by Coastal Preservation Network) to protect of spartina and anchor mussels.
4) While we have not seen bioluminescent comb jellies this summer, the species is present. The diver has seen them in the Newtown Creek, along with many killifish and some larger species. They suspect that cooler water temperatures might be behind this summer’s disappointment, but at least we know that populations might rebound. 
We’re encouraged by the life we’ve seen there over the years, from crabs to muskrats and herons. With the experience of our volunteers and supporters as naturalists, gardeners, mariners, photographers, scientists, we’re confident that the 125′ long HarborLAB GreenLaunch will become a reality. We’ve already cleared half of the upland area and all of the intertidal zone. We’ve stabilized once collapsing soil ridges with discarded bricks that we’ll cover with sand and clay and soil, so that beach plums and other indigenous, salt-tolerant species can be grown. Our upland edge is root-stabilized by milkweed that we guard for Monarch butterflies. 
Larger structures must wait until 2015 because Schuman Properties needs access to the remaining bricks for new projects. Our philosophy, however, even after the bricks are all removed will be to make movable, mostly light structures from reused materials so that we can rearrange the site as safety and nature require. 
We hope you can join us as we recreate a waterfront! 

HarborLAB volunteers have organized several cleanups of its launch. Center, Lynne Serpe, who started and managed the greening program of Queens Library. Right, Dorothy Morehead, Chair of the Environmental Committee of Queens Community Board 2 and interim Chair of the Newtown Creek Alliance. Background, Patricia Erickson, HarborLAB Facilities Manager. Other volunteers were loading the dumpster. Photo by Erik Baard.


Events August 29-31

Stayed tuned to and our Facebook fan page because volunteers might post surprise you with additional paddles this weekend, including Friday night! 
Aug 30, Saturday, 10AM-2PM
Gantry Plaza Community Paddle!
Gantry Plaza State Park fishing pier (East River end of 50th Avenue)
Come down for a super mellow introduction to kayaking and out estuary! 
VOLUNTEERS NEEDED at the desk, fitting life vests, managing lines, mastering the dock, and on the water! Email if you can help. 
Aug 31, Sunday, 10AM-3PM
Work Party!
HarborLAB GreenLaunch (53-21 Vernon Blvd —  see website for directions)
Gardeners, environmental scientists, contractors, unskilled but friendly labor, naturalists, and other outdoorsy smarties needed to help turn HarborLAB’s launch into a welcoming green space! 

Participants will be welcomed to enjoy short paddles during their breaks. 

HarborLAB needs to make minor boat repairs, continue preparing its site for extensive plantings of marsh grasses and upland indigenous fruits (in ground for birds and in planters for us) and other improvements. We might also do some painting and hook up rain barrels. Please email if you can help! 

Food and refreshments provided. Restrooms at nearby businesses. Please be a customer! 



Wonderful Event Against Suicide: The Glow Paddle

HarborLAB organized a public paddle to circumnavigate Manhattan at night. We launched from our GreenLaunch and picked up registered participants at Gantry Plaza State Park at nightfall. We returned before 7AM. Public participants agreed to volunteer for six hours for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in exchange for this beautiful experience.

We had glassy conditions with favorable currents carrying us along. We didn’t see bioluminescence, perhaps because of this summer’s cooler waters, but there was a glow in our hearts. We saw night herons, city lights trailing across rippling blackness, neighborhood barbecues along quiet stretches of waterfront, great barges and ships, and a glorious sunrise.  

We even stopped for pizza and other snacks at 230AM on Broadway! Hey, it’s URBAN kayaking!  🙂





Aug 23-24 “Glow Paddle” Seats Still Available!

Water lovers are welcome to join this unique circumnavigation of Manhattan! NO TICKET FEE, just volunteer a few hours for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention! 


More info:

We have spaces free for HarborLAB’s overnight circumnavigation of Manhattan by kayak! We will paddle from sunset, August 23 (Saturday) until Sunday morning, August 24. 
Let’s look for bioluminescent comb jellies! 
All we ask in return is that you commit to six hours of volunteering for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention sometime before next June. One great opportunity to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention this autumn will be the “Out of the Darkness Walk” on Sunday, October 26. 
All participants can arrange for AFSP volunteering or joining the walk by emailing Gail Tuohey at
To paddle with HarborLAB please email with the subject line, “Glow Paddle.” 
Additional Facebook registration here, but you must also email us:
Steady volunteers, environmental partners, and college students have first priority, but we expect to have additional seats.
Those with their own boats are welcome to join us if approved by the trip coordinator. Please also email
6PM: Volunteers prepare boats at the HarborLAB home launch (53-21 Vernon Boulevard) and paddle the fleet over to Gantry Plaza State Park.
7PM: Public participants gather at Gantry Plaza State Park’s fishing pier at the end of 50th Avenue. 
8PM: LAUNCH! Paddle along the east channel of the East River past Roosevelt Island. Pause at Blackwell Lighthouse to cross. 
9PM or so*: Pause to drift and rest at the start of the Harlem River. 
1130PM: Leg stretch rest stop at the Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse on the Harlem River. 
130AM: Upper West Side wee hours snack run. Pull out at 79th Street Boat Basin. 45 minutes. We usually get pizza on Broadway.
430AM-530AM: Round The Battery within this tidal current window. Cross to Brooklyn. Relaxed breakfast break in DUMBO.
8AM: Return to Hunters Point, LIC! Landing at either Gantry Plaza State Park or preferably the HarborLAB home launch.
*All times for all intermediary points except tidal current window at The Battery are very roughly estimated, as is return time — we are kayakers, not the MTA!  🙂
SAFETY NOTICES:  This trip crosses through large vessel channels and greatly varying water conditions. It also requires moderate endurance in terms of fatigue and discomforts (some might blister without gloves, others might get chilled without an outer layer. We must pass active ferry and cruise docks and piers, federally designated security zones, fixed objects in strong currents (buoys, rotting piling fields, ice breakers, etc.), and we must reach critical tidal current points on schedule. 
Participants must be able to swim and have some paddling experience. 
While two days without rain will have passed before this paddle begins, please be very mindful that rains can sweep pathogens into our estuary from the streets and sewers. If you believe your immune system might be compromised, consult your doctor before such outdoor and waterborne activities. 
Participants must inform HarborLAB of any medical conditions that might become a factor. These conditions needn’t exclude you from the activity, but our knowledge of them will speed a fast and effective response by volunteers or first responders. 
Pay attention during the safety brief before launch.
Obey trip coordinator and escorts immediately. 
Remain close together so that our group travels as a unit. We keep a diamond formation with volunteers at point, sweep, and flanks. 
Bring at least three bottles of water (we strongly encourage tap water in reusable bottles, we we can refill during the trip, and not bottled water)
Bring easy to handle snacks. Minimize packaging if you can, and don’t litter. GORP is the tried and true. Pemmican if you’re ambitious and after a more authentic experience.  🙂
Bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunblock — there’s a lot of sun glare in the morning on the East River. 
If you have a submersible marine radio, bring it but defer to the trip coordinator for all Channel 13 communications. 
If you feel you might blister, get bicycling or kayaking gloves. 
Wear nylons and other quick-drying materials. Bring a dry change of clothes and a nylon outer layer. 
Put electronics and change of clothing into a proper kayaking or diving dry bag. Do not rely on zip locks and plastic bags. 
Wear water-suitable footwear. We might also scramble over some moderately rough terrain. 
Bring a waterproof flashlight if you have one. 
Attached all belongings to your boat. 
GEAR:  We highly recommend NY Kayak Company (a small, local company that’s very supportive of community water access), or environmentally-conscious major retailers like REI or EMS for your gear needs, such as gloves, dry bags, and quick-drying clothing. Other sports retailers will also likely have these common items.