(TENTATIVE) Free Kayaking Sunday, 7/25!

Join us in honoring City of Water Day with…

July 25, 10am-1pm at Gantry Plaza State Park
(Heat Advisory/Storm Watch/Flash Flood Watch/Storm Watch Postponement from July 17)

We apologize but our boats are outside NYC with a volunteer who is recovering from a life-threatening blood parasite. If another volunteer is able to transport the boats on Saturday, we will move forward. Otherwise we must delay.

Learn more through these links! :

Please see note at bottom.

As part of City of Water Day, come enjoy free kayaking at the dock in Gantry Plaza State Park (50thAve and Center Blvd) from 10am to 1pm (sign-up ends at 1230pm and last boats go out at 1245pm).

This is a super mellow 15-minute introduction to kayaking and our estuary within part of a small embayment. The views are fabulous!

No registration needed. Just sign a waiver, wait on line, and follow instructions and commonsense safety practices.

What to bring:

1) Clothing and sturdy shoes you don’t mind getting wet. Quick drying nylons are great.
2) Sun protection, as you would for a day at the beach. We recommend these eco-smart choices: https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/executive-summary/ 
3) A reusable water bottle to refill from fountains and tap.
4) Snacks that eliminate or at least minimize packaging.
5) A dry pouch for electronics. Salt water is no friend of mobile phones.

Safety tips (not exhaustive):
1) No running or lingering on the dock or ramp. Head down only when directed and back up immediately after getting out of your boat.
2) Wear only flat shoes like sneakers and sandals and boat shoes, and feel free to leave them on the dock.
3) Sit down on the dock immediately upon reaching your boat. Don’t stand around, and certainly don’t step into your boat or stand on your boat.
4) Avoid rocky areas and piers. Stay in the center of the water. Don’t stray past the buoy line.
5) Stay in the center of your boat. Don’t lean, sit sideways, or engage in horseplay.
6) No drugs, including alcohol, that could impair you.
7) Life vests must be worn fully clipped and snugly on the ramp, dock, and boats at all times.
8) Follow all instructions given by volunteers.

PLEASE OBEY PANDEMIC PROTOCOLS. If your licensed medical doctor recommends vaccination, please get vaccinated. If your licensed medical doctor says that you’re medically unable to receive a vaccination, please wear a mask.

We thank the Hudson River Foundation & NY/NJ Harbor and Estuary Program and Waterfront Alliance and our regular sponsors for supporting and promoting this program, which is brought to you by HarborLAB volunteers.


This is a direct danger to programs starting at 2PM, but even more certainly a danger to volunteers who must pack away and transport boats. We have no boats on site, so we must bring them there. We are working hard to raise funds for a mobile boathouse solution to overcome the lack of a boathouse at Gantry and other sites. At the moment we must bring boats back and forth from Poughkeepsie but expect to have our fleet inside NYC again by August.


From the NYC Water Trail Association, a lead partner in the local citizen scientist water monitoring program: Still recovering from the parting of the skies last Thursday night. On Friday the Department of Environmental Protection issued advisories for 32 waterbodies, which might be a record. This week the Department of Health, which follows different protocols, issued its first advisories of the season for public bathing beaches. Click here to see our latest results.

Note that Gantry alone is in the yellow caution level, while all other sites in the immediate area are red. That gives us cause to suspect that the result might be an outlier. 

Issued By New York City – NY, US, National Weather Service

Action Recommended
Execute a pre-planned activity identified in the instructions
ADDITIONAL DETAILS…Highest temperatures and heat index values expected between 1 PM and 5 PM.
To reduce risk during outdoor work, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends scheduling frequent rest breaks in shaded or air conditioned environments. Anyone overcome by heat should be moved to a cool and shaded location. Heat stroke is an emergency! In cases of heat stroke call 9 1 1.

On the bright side, no plague of locusts (don’t make mean comments about the innocent cicadas), no frogs raining from the sky and the East River isn’t running red with blood. 

HarborLAB is coming to the realization that with more frequent extreme weather events, we will need to be more nimble. mobile, and able to provide alternative programming (like making seed balls, for example). Our volunteers will have a discussion this week about these approaches and others. Also, a physical boathouse at Hunters Point South for HarborLAB, as earlier announced by the City, would greatly ease logistics. safety concerns, and maintenance of equipment.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Water Quality Cancelation.

We’re sorry to say that for the second week we’ll have to cancel programming due to the rain forecast, which indicates inevitable and large combined sewer overflows. We expect to have lighter rains next week, and so we’ll celebrate City of Water Day on Saturday, July 17. Thanks!

Water Quality Cancelation.

(Most probable number (MPN) projections for enterococcus bacteria in NYC Water Trail Association’s 6/30/21 East River samples.)

One frustrating reality of New York Harbor life is that gorgeous sunny days for paddling can be ruined by days of rain preceding. This July 4th holiday weekend is such an occasion. But frustration can be instructive. Let’s learn why HarborLAB had to cancel programming, how we know it, and what you can do to help.

When it rains in New York City our antiquated system of combined sewer outfalls — which bring together household wastewater and stormwater from our streets — overflow with untreated effluent into the estuary. In short, when it rain, it poops. When the overflows are considerable, it can take quite some time for ultraviolet light and dilution to kill and disperse gut pathogens until it’s safer for humans and other species to be immersed. Because HarborLAB works with many novice kayakers, we have to assume some people will fall into the East River or Newtown Creek. As an environmental education organization, we also care that shellfish and other marine organisms are harmed and that this problem with worsen with the ongoing climate crisis’ sea level rise and heavy rains.

According to Riverkeeper, “More than 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted stormwater discharge out of 460 combined sewage overflows (“CSOs”) into New York Harbor alone each year.” 

What you see above are the results of last week’s lab results through the “citizen scientist” water monitoring effort of the NYC Water Trail Association and Billion Oyster Project. HarborLAB samples water each week at Gantry Plaza State Park and the Hunters Point South Park public boat launch at 2nd Street. The figures displayed above are “most probable numbers” of a sewage indicator bacterium before a day of laboratory incubation. And below are safety ranges for those bacteria counts in a 100 milliliter sample. That’s right, a health advisory is issued for counts above 104 and by Thursday morning we blew past 24,000 at the upper limit of the test! And rain followed!

To learn more about NYC’s sewer system and its future, we recommend the following links:

NYC’s New Plan Would Let Massive Sewage Overflows Continue — Natural Resources Defense Council
Open Sewer Atlas

A handy summary of the NYC Water Trail Association/Billion Oyster Project’s testing routine is provided by the federal Advisory Committee on Water Information, which was rendered inactive in 2019 (worth looking into now?):

Colilert/Enterolert Method
• Add media to 100 ml of water
• Pour into multi-well tray
• Seal tray
• Incubate for 18 to 24 hours
• Score samples – E. coli: yellow and glow in UV – Enterococcus: glow in UV
Training video from a parallel effort in Virginia:

For its part in 2021’s vital water quality monitoring work, HarborLAB has to thank volunteer Sanjay Shirke. A Manhattan resident, Sanjay has built water sampling into his jogging routine with a route that take him over the Williamsburg Bridge and up through Brooklyn to LIC. Sanjay, who just qualified for the New York Marathon, has had time during his runs to reflect on his contributions toward a better future for his kids and NYC as a whole. He shared his thoughts:

“We live in a time of unprecedented change. Daily headlines speak of climate change; with apparent direct effects of weather, and larger climactic trends involving wildfires; droughts; floods, emerging biologic threats.
What effect can a small environmental organization, have on these powerful global forces? Perspective. The change in perspective from moving just a few yards into the water from well-trodden harborside paths is a bit more than one expects. Moving just a few yards down from the paths, and a few yards in from the pier provide an awareness that we ARE part of an ecosystem. The movement of the waves provides a sense that one is IN the environment; away from the double-edged marvels of edifice, commerce, and architecture. 

From this small act; from this small change in perspective, from a walker of sidewalks to a paddler of rivers, one changes to a product of the environment to a participant. The possibility of affecting the river is raised. Similarly, moving from a consumer of scientific information to a citizen-scientist lights a small candle. Collecting a small water sample, watching it glow brightly in response to the bacteria therein inserts the citizen scientist into the environment. 

Why does the bacterial bioactivity change from day-to-day? How do people decide when area beaches are closed? How does the cleanliness of Manhattan’s harborscape compare with beaches in more ‘pristine’ locations — Coney Island, to the Jersey Shore, to the glittering sands of Miami and beyond?  

It turns out…we’re not on so different a waterway. The first impression of a New Yorker of the shallows and depths of city waterways is one of cleanliness despite the clichés and stereotypes with which we’re familiar. Actually measuring and demonstrating this with your own hands challenges our preconceptions, and empowers the individual citizen scientist to feel connected, in a small way, to the local environment. From there, to familiar regional beachfronts. And on to the interconnectedness of the human experience.”

If you’d like to join Sanjay’s team, or perhaps even his run, drop us a note at volunteer@harborlab.org. Or perhaps you’d like to present to schools on this topic on behalf of HarborLAB? And anyone can help by simply letting their NYC City Council representative know that water quality and safety is important. Thanks for helping to turn disappointment into education and positive action!