Newtown Creek Trees!


One of the most constructive actions that can be taken in the Newtown Creek community is to plant trees and other greenery. This one action reduces heat, atmospheric carbon dioxide, local air pollution, noise pollution, runoff water, and combined sewage overflows. Planting also creates habitat for birds, butterflies, and other pollinators.

Come to our May 17 tree giveaway with New York Restoration Project and MillionTreesNYC! Register for a Serviceberry (known to local mariners are shadbush), Hackberry, American Persimmon, or a Pagoda Dogwood here:

These trees are for any neighborhood in NYC, though we hope many people within the Newtown Creek drainage area are planters!

HarborLAB Founder and Executive Director Erik Baard has been appointed to serve on the three-person citizens advisory committee of City Parks Foundation’s Newtown Creek Tree Planting and Stormwater Management Project. More about that vital component of the creek’s recovery here:

City Parks Foundation is gearing up to begin work on the final project from the primary priority list for the Newtown Creek Environmental Benefit Project (EBP) Fund. This project calls for tree planting and stormwater management in Long Island City, Maspeth, and Greenpoint within the EBP area (within 1/2 mile of Newtown Creek).

HarborLAB volunteers and students have made urban greening a central part of our blue water mission. We’ve coordinated tree giveaways with New York Restoration Project and MillionTreesNYC (next one is May 17), taught seedball making to kids and educators (after learning from Seedball NYC), planted spartina under the American Littoral Society’s direction, and more. A central Newtown Creek goal is the creation of a GreenLaunch habitat restoration and community orchard and a contiguous street-end Vernon Boulevard Butterfly Bioswale (centered on swamp milkweed for Monarch Butterflies). See just a few photos of some of our greening activities in the gallery below.


Earth is Worth Studying!

411813_384974771562928_407111875_o (2)

A great way to meaningfully celebrate Earth Day is to promote an excellent, affordable environmental science program! The Environmental Science Major at LaGuardia Community College is a primary partner for HarborLAB — we can’t begin to describe the value of this relationship — and every day its professors nurture and train brilliant new minds to solve the problems of today and tomorrow! The college has the Newtown Creek Superfund for a laboratory outside its windows.

We strongly encourage students and their parents to see STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) through a “green” lens. Students can explore exciting fields like biomimicry (design inspiration from nature), phytoremediation (using plants to pull toxins from soil and water), Geographic Information System mapping (enriching maps with layers of specialized data), infrastructure for resiliency and sustainability, water quality, environmental economics (valuing services provided by nature), and more! Start by “liking” the program’s fan page on Facebook to keep up with students’ valuable work for the community! Or come assist the students through HarborLAB! Board member Holly Porter-Morgan, PhD, is director of the LaGuardia Community College Environmental Science program and very active in the field as well as lab.

12 More HarborLAB Volunteers are Red Cross Certified!


Heel of the hand on the breastbone and pumping at 100 beats per minute. HarborLAB volunteer and professional adult educator Kamala Redd practices CPR.

Selected HarborLAB volunteers received Red Cross adult and pediatric certification on Sunday for CPR, AED, First Aid, and Basic Water Rescue. Other HarborLAB volunteers, especially our medical professionals, teachers, and first responders, already have certification. Our first responsibility, even before providing experiential education in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) subjects, is to keep the students and public program participants we serve safe.

We are deeply grateful to the following for this indispensable safety training: CUNY LaGuardia Community College Aquatics, LaGuardia Community College Natural Sciences,  hosts for our training, and the Newtown Creek Superfund community outreach program of ExxonMobil, sponsor of of our training.

We’re also grateful for the continual encouragement of the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and Catskill Watershed Corporation in pursuit of this goal, and to Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman for his guidance. We also thank the Newtown Creek Group and Connective Strategies for fostering a positive partnership as our community’s residents and employers share the long and arduous undertaking of restoring our waterway to a living and clean ecosystem.

Many volunteers expressed interest but of those available Sunday we chose people with a proven record of service to HarborLAB and access to the Newtown Creek, East River, and Neversink Reservoir. We also chose people with differing schedules and program interests, rather than those who typically clustered. Our goal was to achieve a spread that will ensure we have at least one person at every program with this full suite of certifications. We’ll have additional canoe and kayak training when the weather warms.

While this training is vital for the protection of students and the public, our approach to certification holders is non-hierarchical. Volunteers with other skills, including those purely on land, are essential to our mission to promote inclusive service-learning for the environment. Also, we welcome other volunteers to create and and lead programs knowing that one of these 12 certified volunteers will participate to add another layer of safety. Those newly certified are Sally Attia, Erik Baard, Bob Din, Roy Harp, Laura Risi Hoffman, EJ Lee, Jeff Lim, Gil Lopez, Dorothy Morehead, Mairo Notton, Kamala Redd, and Ray Tan. Reflecting our commitment to Newtown Creek as well, volunteers Laura Hofmann and Dorothy Morehead serve on the board of the Newtown Creek Alliance. Dorothy is also chair of the Environmental Committee of Queens Community Board 2.


The merry HarborLAB crew after practice rescues and water skills.

We had a great time during this long, demanding day. The LaGuardia Community College Aquatics staff was kind and incredibly helpful. As a result of our training, we’ll be practicing paddle reach rescues, and purchasing more throw lines with floats. Instructor Mr. Rana had an exceedingly civil and gentle demeanor that conveyed a sincere care for others. Aquatics Coordinator Dragos Coca was warm and extremely capable. FrontLine Health delivered a friendly but thoroughly professional presentation and training that exceeded basic lifesaving skills to help us understand what we could do as an organization to deploy safety resources most effectively within legal and policy frameworks. We also learned from instructor Shane Woodall in frank and sobering terms the stark limits to CPR and First Aid, and the primacy of AED therapy in saving lives. Our group set out an action plan to map out AED availability in areas where we have public paddles and to budget for the purchase of our own waterproof AED. Minutes are critical when a heart ceases to function and paddlers are often isolated. For each minute of CPR, a victim’s chances for survival drop 10%. With no care, the victim is lost in four minutes, but even with care, the goal of CPR is merely to buy time until an AED can be deployed and help summoned by 911 can arrive.

Waterproof AED. A new budget priority for HarborLAB.

Waterproof AED. A new budget priority for HarborLAB.


HarborLAB Operations Manager EJ Lee is no dummy. Or so we thought…. 😉 She’s wearing her shirt from serving as a kayak safety to the cancer-fighting fundraiser Swim Across America. Several HarborLAB volunteers and boats are dedicated to that annual event.

Pitch Pine: Cones to Seed Balls


Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) is a hardy little tree that’s native to the eastern US and coastal from the Chesapeake Bay to Acadia National Park, Maine. They thrive in a variety of harsh conditions from poor alpine scratch to low swamps. They protect dunes, stabilize shores, and feed birds and insects. These crooked and twisted trees are rarely used for lumber, but as you can imagine, they were in great demand for pitch. The pitch preserved ships, railroad ties, and mine shaft supports. It’s also used to flavor wine, and sometimes medicinally.

These trees are very well protected against fire by their specialized bark. Even a stump can spring to life with new branches. Their cones also pop open when exposed to intense heat, so they not only endure the flames but help regenerate the ecosystem! Visit our gallery below to learn how we use this to our advantage.

In our region, you can enjoy them most fully in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, Fire Island, and Long Island’s East End. But NYC parks have them too, even just blocks away from HarborLAB at Hunters Point South Park. We’ll grow them at the HarborLAB GreenLaunch too!

See in the gallery below our easy-peasy instructions for making Pitch Pine seed balls!

We gathered cones with students and volunteers with Baruch College, New Jersey Institute of Technology, National Iranian-American Council, and Hunters Point Parks Conservancy. We learned our seed ball making technique from Seedball NYC, and how to get seeds from pine cones (by baking them) from the Greenbelt Native Plant Center of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation’s Natural Resources Group.

Pine seed. Photo and labeling by University of Miami:

Pine seed. Photo and labeling by University of Miami:

Newton Creek Algal Bloom’s Healthy Secret

Algal bloom. Photo by Willis Elkins, Newtown Creek Alliance.

HarborLAB’s founder and executive director, Erik Baard, also happens to be a journalist. This week he wrote about a surprising microbial discovery on the Newtown Creek for Gothamist. Here’s the story:


Mistaken for an algal bloom: DEP sewer trace dye. Photo by Erik Baard of HarborLAB.


Eutreptiella under magnification. Photo by Sarah Durand, PhD, LaGuardia Community College.


Eutreptiella under magnification. Photo by Sarah Durand, PhD, LaGuardia Community College.

Whole Direct Selling “Newtown Creek Black Mayonnaise”


HarborLAB’s funding efforts got some positive press:

Whole Direct introduced Newtown Creek Black Mayonnaise on Wednesday, with free street fair and flea market tastings throughout the metropolitan region. The organic, delivery truck-based foods merchant rolled out the new product to meet the growing demand for sustainable and locavore cuisines. The delicacy is gathered by free-diving Western Queens college students and a portion of proceeds benefits HarborLAB, an environmental group based on the creek.

The bed of New York Harbor as a whole, but especially that of its inlets, is covered by a deep, dark, viscous ooze of silt and anaerobic bacteria where oysters once grew in massive reefs. “Our Newtown Creek Black Mayonnaise taps the trend for eating microbes for intestinal health. This is your kombucha or Greek yogurt, but as a deliciously tangy sandwich spread,” said Daniel Redge, CEO of Whole Direct, while leaning against an idling diesel truck. “The harbor keeps giving. The American Indians had their shellfish and crustaceans, and we have something to add zing to any meal. This is even better, because oysters and lobsters aren’t kosher.”

“We view this as way beyond ‘triple bottom line’ for us,” Redge said, referring to the concept of making products that are financially, socially, and environmentally beneficial. “Those HarborLAB people, who I believe live in a van down by the creek, get some cash to do their hippy-dippy green stuff, the college kids get some honest work, and our customers get the outer boroughs’ answer to Marmite. Plus whatever doesn’t get digested goes back out into the creek to regrow whenever it rains, so this is a renewable sandwich resource.”

HarborLAB volunteers embraced the partnership and condiment.

“I like to sun dry the goo and crumble it with ricotta cheese over a nice pizza,” enthused HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson as she tied bricks to the wrists of college students to aid their dives. Operations Manager EJ Lee poured her jar of Newtown Creek Black Mayonnaise into a pot and buried it to ferment, for reasons she didn’t explain.

One sophomore emerging from the creek, whose identity couldn’t be determined because of obscuring layers of residual product, said, “It’s no deeper or more unpleasant than my student loan debts.”

HarborLAB looks forward to setting up tasting tables for Newtown Creek Black Mayonnaise next to its waiver and environmental education tables at all of its community paddles and events this summer.