Dutch Kills Dock Delivery!

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HarborLAB paddling the dock east on the main channel of Newtown Creek. Note the bright green kayaks at the HarborLAB GreenLaunch at the apparent base of the Empire State Building. Photo by Mitch Waxman.

Participants in the coming 13 Steps Around Dutch Kills tour by Mitch Waxan will find something new on this forgotten waterway, which terminates just south of the LaGuardia Community College campus of the City University of New York — a new science research dock!

As an environmental science education and service organization, HarborLAB does much more then produce recreational paddles. One of our recent projects was to build a dock for the CUNY LaGuardia Community College Environmental Science Program to use on Dutch Kills, a branch of the Newtown Creek. The college has become a center for independent research and community information on the creek, including innovative work for habitat restoration. But these important efforts, which afford students unique opportunities to address an EPA Superfund Site, were hindered without the safe water access and stable platform of a dock.

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HarborLAB paddling the dock north on the Dutch Kills branch of the Newtown Creek. Photo by Manny Steier.

HarborLAB itself needs a dock and we knew we could save the college time and money through our labors, so we set about learning to build them by rebuilding a rotted dock from the Stony Brook Yacht Club, which also kindly donated flotation billets. Mitch Waxman, official historian of the Newtown Creek Alliance and Newtown Pentacle author, photographed our human-powered dock delivery from a canoe while HarborLAB volunteer Manny Steier captured the event by biking from bridge to bridge.

We’ll complete our own dock in the coming weeks and welcome your help! In the meantime, see some of the good our hard work has produced by joining Mitch and the Newtown Creek Alliance on the 13 Steps walk!

A gallery of Mitch Waxman’s photo of the dock delivery.

A gallery of Manny Steier’s photos of the dock delivery.

Plumb Beach Planting and Paddling Fun!

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HarborLAB had an amazing time planting 20 hackberry trees, 10 serviceberry trees, and hundreds of beach plum seeds in the Plumb Beach, Brooklyn section of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Executive Director Erik Baard proposed the project and Park officials directed us to plant on the interior of the dune line, to help prevent sand from blowing into the vital salt marsh habitat (the blue snake of water you see to the right of Plumb Beach in the satellite image below).These fruiting species are all native, salt tolerant, drought resistant, and delectable to birds and humans alike.

In addition to core HarborLAB leaders and volunteers, our crew for the day included New York District Division 11 Key Club high school students and friends from the Eastern Queens Alliance, and our planting work was guided by Gil Lopez of Smiling Hogshead Ranch urban farm. We’re grateful to have also consulted with the Northeast Chapter of the American Littoral Society. The trees were supplied by New York Restoration Project and the beach plum seeds were a gift from Briermere Farms.

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After the planting was done, we launched two groups onto the water. HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Menje Erickson took those who were new to paddling or unable to join the planting work on short tours along the beach, while Erik took experienced paddlers who helped with the dune stabilization planting on a little voyage to one of NYC’s secrets: White Island. Huge thanks to our youngest volunteers, who went the extra mile and picked up plastic trash as they went. We paddled from the beach on Rockaway Inlet through Gerritsen Creek and Gerritsen Inlet into Shell Bank Creek. We saw a wonderful array of shorebirds, but the stars of the show were certainly a pair of osprey nesting on a platform within Marine Park (a NYC Park), across from White Island. This loop of Shell Bank Creek is home to a Forever Wild habitat restoration and preserve that supports over 300 bird species, a third as many fin fish species, scores of butterfly species, and a kid’s dreamscape of icky, clicky, squishy, and cool invertebrates. At this time of year, one ancient return from the sea to witness is the horseshoe crab mating migration to shore. We were lucky to see some of these living fossils.

Our only landing was by the rip rap bluff of White Island, and we never ventured over its dunes for fear or disturbing or damaging the restoration. This former dump is now planted entirely across with native grasses and flowers, and mussels have already begun to anchor its marshy fringes. The intertidal flats are spongy and riddled with crab and snail retreat holes.

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The morning crew. Over the course of the day, another dozen people joined us.

We look forward to returning to this spot with kids this summer, but launching from within Shell Bank Creek for fuller protection from wind and current.

Many thanks to all!

HarborLAB’s Hidden Heroics

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Much of the most important volunteer work at HarborLAB happens outside of public view. Our fun, valuable programs are witnessed by many and often pretty photogenic, but behind those are many hours of administrative work, trip and program planning, organizing of tools, site work, gear maintenance, and other routine but essential tasks. On Thursday, two volunteers who’d rather be rolling over waves were rolling on wheels, driving errands that will benefit all through HarborLAB.

Jeffrey Lim drove to the Bronx after his tiring work day to pick up serviceberry and Asian pear trees from Sustainable South Bronx and Friends of Van Cortlandt Park. The trees were provided by New York Restoration Project as part of MillionTreesNYC. The serviceberry trees — known locally as shadbush — will be used for HarborLAB’s habitat restoration efforts while the pear trees will be incorporated into our GreenLaunch shade orchard and distributed to gardens, College of Staten Island (via Gotham Orchards) and homes locally. At the same time, Patricia Erickson drove out East to the Stony Brook Yacht Club to pick up donated flotation billets that will be used in the construction of docks by HarborLAB volunteers to benefit LaGuardia Community College, City of Water Day, HarborLAB itself, and others.

Many thanks to our everyday hero volunteers, and to our partnering organizations!

Trees and Docks — What a Day!

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HarborLAB again brought green new life to the Hunters Point, LIC waterfront on Newtown Creek by hosting a MillionTreesNYC giveaway of 150 saplings! Many thanks to New York Restoration Project for supplying the trees and expertise to make this happen! We provided hackberry, serviceberry (shadbush locally), American persimmon, and native dogwood trees to the public, with smiles!

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NYRP provides guidance. Newtown Creek in the background.

Some pollinators chose to just hang for a bit.

The persimmons went like hotcakes, and  we’ll plant surplus berry trees in the Gateway National Recreation Area’s habitat restoration at Plumb Beach this Saturday! Paddling and planting, perfect together! HarborLAB will also plant these salt-tolerant indigenous plants at our own GreenLaunch, to support pollinator insects (they found us right away!), birds, and hungry paddlers! Our edges and slopes will be rich in beach plums, shadbush, native grasses, milkweed. goldenrod, and other beautiful and important species. Indeed, it’s already underway! Further upland we’ll have raised bed orchards for those hungry paddlers. We’ll also have innovative living structures. We’re so committed to greening because plants of all sizes reduce atmospheric CO2 (and thus reduce ocean acidification and riding sea levels), reduce combined sewer overflows, stabilize shorelines, and provide sustenance and protection to native animals.

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After all of that work was done, we got to work on building our second dock. By June both HarborLAB and CUNY LaGuardia Community College will have small environmental science research docks built by HarborLAB volunteers! We’ll keep one on the main channel of the Newtown Creek while the second will be floated into Dutch Kills to further habitat restoration studies there. Dr. Sarah Durand came this weekend to help with the dock building, and Dr. Holly Port-Morgan came last weekend to join our Riverkeeper Sweep program.