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.


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