White Island Bliss


HarborLAB happily hauling trash from White Island.

HarborLAB volunteers had a mellow and fun day kayaking a circumnavigation of wee White Island, with a landing on is eastern side. We were there to do a shoreline cleanup, seed the sandy slope with seaside goldenrod flowers, photograph the island’s habitat growth, and document boat wrecks in the surrounding waters. White Island and the surrounding Brooklyn shores are part of Marine Park, adjacent to the Gerritsen Beach neighborhood.

A huge thanks to Scott Wolpow for driving the van and trailer and taking on the work of photographing and GPS tagging the wrecks,with the help of Qian Chen. They fulfilled a request from the Natural Resources Group of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, which is part of a citywide effort to remove sunken boats. These craft aren’t storied tall ships, but rather modern, fiberglass and plastic boats that were scuttled by selfish people, tossed by Hurricane Sandy, or otherwise set adrift. They leak pollution and their materials become unsightly first, and as the US Environmental Protection Agency cautions, a source of marine microplastic pollution later. On the Newtown Creek, where HarborLAB is based, sailboat accessible only by trespassing property are often gotten free or cheap and sometimes neglected, ultimately allowed to sink, or are scuttled.

Another hero was Diana Szatkowski, PhD, who piled large Styrofoam blocks high on her deck and paddled them to the Gerritsen Avenue pickup point. The rest of us hauled trash bags stuffed with all manner of plastics. Shell Bank Creek and White Island are beautiful and the trash accumulation, which we barely dented, is shameful. Tito Alvarado, vowed to return with friends, so a larger HarborLAB cleaning day will follow. As a preventive care specialist in the Navy, he looked after water quality and other environmental impacts around the Horn of Africa. Brooklynite Mambo Tse, born across Africa in Cameroon and a teacher of African dance, was dedicated to cleaning the shore but came away with even more of an appreciation for its natural beauty.

We came across great egrets, blue herons, a mute swan, plovers, gulls, geese, and more. Sadly the only osprey we saw this time was dead, on the east side of the island. We didn’t see active nest platforms. Fiddler crabs and other tiny denizens of the sand skittered about among countless snails and clam shells, with one seemingly challenging the lot of us to a duel. Fish leaped on all sides and mussels walled the sides of spartina clumps. Other plants of particular interest to us included staghorn sumac and panic grass. More here about indigenous dune species from the Greenbelt Native Plant Center. Our goldenrod seedballs, tossed with gusto by all, were made with Long Island City youth at the LIC Springs street festival, at LaGuardia Community College, and Hunters Point Community Middle School. Seedballs are just little globes of compost, clay, seeds, water, and a bit of sand. This lets us thicken the plant cover of White Island without walking much above the high water mark. The seeds will go through a cold and damp cycle, as they must (a process called stratification), and then grow in 2017.


Ariel tosses seedballs.

We were delighted to be joined by Ariel and his mother Hilma Krla, a social practice artist. Special needs kids might especially benefit from time in nature, with studies supporting therapeutic effects on kids with autism, obesity, ADHD, and depression. Deprivation of these benefits is now recognized as a manifestation of environmental inequality for lower-income children and communities of color. Adults need these things too, of course. We’re grateful to have so many certified teachers volunteering for HarborLAB, including one of the White Island voyagers, Kamala Redd.

Our goal is to partner with a school or youth group for our return to White Island for an even bigger cleanup!

As always, many thanks to Patricia Menje Erickson for the use of her van!