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Newtown Creek Swept! Sorta.

One of our morning crews.

One of our morning crews.

Loading up a canoe with waterborne and shoreline trash.

HarborLAB was happy to participate in the 2015 Riverkeeper Sweep! Starting at our Hunters Point, Long Island City GreenLaunch, we covered the Queens side of the Newtown Creek between Vernon Boulevard and Dutch Kills by foot and paddle. We intended to paddle a much greater distance but there was such a massive amount of plastic trash and other garbage in even just that small section that we filled 16 large black contractor bags to the brim and another 11 large clear contractor recycling bags. Our shore walkers concentrated on the dead end of Vernon Boulevard, which we aim to have turned into a pocket park that we can call the Butterfly Bioswale. The vision is a sitting park centered on swamp milkweed, which absorbs rain runoffs from our streets and support threatened Monarch Butterfly populations.

We recognize that this Sweep event was an educational exercise that highlights the problems of unsustainable industrial and consumer practices, inadequate sewer and street water system capacity, and over reliance on petrochemical plastics. Annual cleanups like this, of course, can’t make much of a dent in the tonnage of plastics dumped into our waterways, directly or flooded in from streets. We do, however, more quietly perform cleanups throughout the year, both in the Newtown Creek Superfund area and in other locations throughout our estuary. We hope the attention sparks policy changes that address the plastic trash problem upstream in design and systemic planning, at the source.

Many thanks to Lamar Outdoor Advertising and the Circus Warehouse for allowing us to add our “catch” to their trash carting loads!

No doubt most of the trash was released with combined sewer overflows on stormy days, but sadly at and near our site a considerable amount was clearly tossed by a few of the sailors tied up along the creek on the Queens side (some are very conscientious lovers of our waterways, and we see the situation improving with others) and truckers who tossed their refuse over parking lot fences at the end of their shifts. We discovered this by clambering up crumbling bulkheads and rip rap rock. One tell-tale sign: numerous plastic bottles filled with urine. The Earth will have to forgive us for leaving those bottles, but now that we’re aware, we plan to take action to ensure those drivers are strongly dissuaded from the practice.

LaGuardia Community College student Sandra helps guide younger seedball makers.

HarborLAB had several crews for the Sweep. We had morning and afternoon shore crews and canoe crews. Dr. Holly Porter-Morgan, director of the CUNY LaGuardia Community College Environmental Science program oversaw our work to prepare small fruit trees (especially indigenous berries for bird habitat) for planting on our waterfront, generously provided by Schuman Properties. We also joined the wonderful LIC Springs! street fair while continuing the greening aspect of estuary “Sweep” work. We had a seedball making table, focusing on pokeweed the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation’s Natural Resources Group said was needed in Alley Pond Park. Our pokeweed seeds were gathered right at our site, in Hunters Point. Long Island City!

The Newtown Creek itself was in a bad way on May 9, the date of the Sweep. We observed numerous dead menhaden fish — a recent returnee to the creek after decades of absence — and apparent sewage slicks. Both warrant further investigation and action.

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