Good Turf Tidings!

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HarborLAB has worked hard on its shoreline habitat restoration GreenLaunch project, clearing space, scattering milkweed seeds, protecting beneficial natives, stabilizing collapsing soil, and other important work. But one thing we avoided doing was digging or having younger students visit the site, out of concern that our Superfund zone property might pose dangers. Well, we recently got some good news!

Wanda Ayala, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Community Involvement Coordinator, wrote in an email to HarborLAB:

“EPA has reviewed the results of the five samples collected at 53-21 Vernon Blvd. The maximum detected concentrations of the five samples for each chemical were compared to the most recent EPA Regional Screening Levels (dated January 2015). Based on this comparison, receptors exposed to the contaminant concentrations detected in the soils associated with typical activities would not likely be associated with any adverse health effects.”

Not that our site is pristine by any stretch, but we can move forward with improvements with greater confidence and inclusion. “Many chemicals were detected, some in all samples, some in only one or two, but at concentrations below levels of concern,” Ayala wrote.

What does this mean for the GreenLaunch? Well, our fruit orchards will still be grown in raised beds of fresh soil with a vinyl barrier. This will come from used billboards provided by our co-tenant Lamar Outdoor Advertising, which is the same material employed in landfill-capping park developments. This is an abundance of caution given the repeatedly evidenced safety of urban orchards. With the new information from the EPA, we’ll soon plant some indigenous fruit trees and bushes, like serviceberry and beach plum, directly into our shoreline ridge as a welcoming habitat for birds.

So gardeners and wilderness revivalists, come on down! Let’s clear space and plant! To join the effort, email volunteer@harborlab.org with the subject line “GreenLaunch.” Thanks!

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Etsy. Earth Day Initiative, and HarborLAB at Work!

Etsy doing the crafting this time.

Etsy doing the crafting this time.

HarborLAB had a wonderful and productive time working on its GreenLaunch with Etsy, thanks to our nonprofit fiscal sponsor Earth Day Initiative! Two waves of volunteers made seed balls and wooden pallet planters, planted seedlings grown in eggshells, began creating our habitat restoration’s substrate soil, and moved bricks off site to free up space for greening and to make them available for donation.

More details to come after the Clearwater Festival!

Get to Know Earth Day Initiative!

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What day is it? Earth Day, of course! Earth Day is every day and everywhere across the globe, from the deep ocean to low orbit. What are you doing for it? That’s the spirit of our fiscal sponsor’s new logo and name: Earth Day Initiative. Earth Day consciousness must inspire actions — a shared spirit of initiative — each day if we’re to resolve crises facing our world. Humanity can thrive only within Earth’s universally unique biosphere.

Earth Day Initiative started as Earth Day New York in 1990, and annually stages our grandest celebrations of sustainable living. But over these 25 years, Earth Day New York grew into an organization that educates and serves well beyond the April  hoopla and the five boroughs. One of the great things it made possible is HarborLAB itself, accepting donations on our behalf as fiscal sponsor and helping us with administration until we fledge as an independent 501(C)(3) nonprofit. Earth Day Initiative also introduces HarborLAB to volunteer teams as we work to transform our waterfront!

So check out Earth Day Initiative, support the organization generously, and make use of this great, engaging environmental brain trust!

HarborLAB Goes to Camp! :)

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HarborLAB Camping Coordinators Ray Tan (l) and Jeff Lim (r).

Get to know HarborLAB’s camping coordinators, Jeff Lim and Ray Tan! You might have already met Jeff and Ray through paddle tours, safety support for events, Red Cross training, shoreline cleanups, dock launching, or their many other contributions to HarborLAB. Now their great experience and love of camping will strengthen our programs, and open new possibilities!

HarborLAB has two signature camping events each summer where we are the public paddling program providers: Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival and City of Water Day on Governors Island. These are our region’s largest annual water ecology gatherings. Our volunteers work hard at these busy events, so Jeff and Ray will help them stay fed and dry at night.

Camping will also help ensure volunteer staffing for our Neversink Reservoir paddling program with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and Catskill Watershed Corporation, so that inner city youth can visit — and learn about — the beautiful, wooded Catskill mountains source of their drinking water. We have a second fleet of 15 tandem boats at the reservoir. Within New York City, camping is permitted on the shores of Jamaica Bay, in the Gateway National Recreation Area. The bay is a prime spot for estuary and saltwater wetlands ecology education. Jeff and Ray will research and propose some other educational camping opportunities in the region for 2015, and even more in the years to come! .

Jeff and Ray can’t do it alone. We need volunteers who can help us choose equipment and gear, advise newbies, raise funds, camp cook, share expertise (birds, plants, astronomy, and who knows what else?), drive vehicles and boat trailers, and much more. Please email volunteer@harborlab.org with the subject “Camping Committee” if you’d like to help them share nature with students, community groups, and fellow HarborLAB volunteers! 

Camping and boating in the Catskills and NYC-area will excite CUNY students and inner city youth about STEM subjects and environmental science. Let’s do all we can to support Jeff and Ray!

Flowered and Fruited Superfund

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Milkweed at HarborLAB. Monarch butterflies would cease to exist without milkweed.

Who would have imagined until HarborLAB arrived that the Newtown Creek Superfund site would be home to an orchard, rich butterfly habitat, marsh grasses, a shellfish reef, and an architectural signature? Now, thanks to HarborLAB volunteers and partnering organizations and agencies, and our small funders, we are moving steadily toward the realizing that vision!

The HarborLAB GreenLaunch will be a unique NY Harbor destination. Our effort to nurture, plant, and preserve milkweed is already a resounding success. Even before our raised bed orchard is permanently situated, trees are bearing apricots, serviceberries, crabapples, and several varieties of pears. Our fig trees have rebounded after a harsh winter and young apple and hackberry trees continue to thrive. We have seeds of many shoreline species, including beach plum, to stabilize new soil when we receive it.

Many thanks to Schuman Properties, Citizens Committee for NYC, TF Cornerstone, Newtown Creek Group, Con Ed, New York Restoration Project, and our other sponsors, as well as 501(c)(3) fiscal agent Earth Day New York, for making this beautiful work possible! We have applied for greater funds to further this enterprise and hold great hopes for success.

We’ll soon unveil site plans and conceptual images for our GreenLaunch, including a beautiful, innovative boat storage facility. Stay tuned — or better yet, help make it happen! Drop us a note about hands-on service or donations at volunteer@harborlab.org or support@harborlab.org!

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Serviceberries ripening at HarborLAB’s GreenLaunch on the Newtown Creek.

LaGuardia Community College Photo Paddle

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Last week HarborLAB had the joy of bringing students from the Beginning Photography class at LaGuardia Community College out for a tour of Newtown Creek, especially Dutch Kills, the branch of the Newtown Creek that nearly reaches their campus. Dutch Kills is also where the college’s environmental science program has focused its field studies, aided by a dock built and provided by HarborLAB. The Newtown Creek is of particular interest to researchers interested in habitat restoration, remediation, and bio-accumulation of toxins because it’s an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Site.

The students, under the guidance of Prof. Scott Sternbach, were great. Scott is both the director of the photography department at LaGuardia Community College and Chair of the HarborLAB board. Look to HarborLAB’s Facebook fan page to see students’ photos in coming days. Photos in this post by Erik Baard.

The morning paddle yielded a few significant surprises. Dutch Kills was alive with a Great Egret, Mallard Duck, and nesting Canada Geese. The exceptionally low water revealed a bottom of soil, not the “black mayonnaise” we expected. That said, a layer of anaerobic ooze might lurk right below the apparent bed. We spotted more dead menhaden, but of course not in the millions as with the recent die-off at the East End of Long Island. Rotting pilings hosted mussels, and verdant banks graced the waterway, from bladderwrack seaweed to milkweed and mulberry trees. Naturally, the skyline at the Newtown Creek mouth was breathtaking for new paddlers.

Students were also smitten with the remnants of Dutch Kills’ industrial heritage. To learn more about this and the historic small bridges crossing it. we encourage you to participate in the Newtown Creek Alliance’s walking tour, “13 Steps Around Dutch Kills.” 

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