Women’s History, Women’s Futures in STEM

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s take a cue from the Smithsonian’s #IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit to highlight women who are driving progress right now, in this critical moment. Women are bringing their brains and dedication to bear against climate chaos, cancer, ignorance, and mass extinction while also pushing the boundaries of cosmic wonder and computing. Walk among them — or at least their 3D printed avatars — from March 5 to 27 in Washington, DC. Or read about their exciting paths online.

Most importantly, celebrate those girls, young women, returning students or professionals in your life who is curious and committed to using the tools of science, technology, math and engineering to build a better world.

New Boat Fleet!

HarborLAB Boathouse Project Infrastructure Manager Elsie Perez-Ingabire with her wife, leading the 2021 Pride Paddle aboard a Sea Eagle 385ft Fast Track.
HarborLAB Boathouse Project Co-Director Kamala Redd on the 2021 Candidates Paddle with now-City Council Member Julie Won aboard an Advanced Elements Strait Edge 2 Pro.

We are happy to announce HarborLAB’s new boat fleet! Thanks to the generosity of The New York – New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program (HEP)/Hudson River Foundation, NYC Ferry, Investors Bank and other supporters, HarborLAB purchased 12 new tandem kayaks! We will be adding branded sponsorships, so we welcome new supporters to be recognized on the boats themselves and in other media.

After testing the Sea Eagle 385ft Fast Track and the Advanced Elements Strait Edge 2 Pro on NYC waters in volunteer outings — even Manhattan circumnavigations! — and public programs, we are the first nonprofit boating group to make the leap to the next generation of higher tech, drop-stitch inflatable kayaks. The proven advantages over rigid plastic sit-on-top models include:

  • Higher performance with sharper bows and stern skegs.
  • Greater safety (multiple inflated chambers vs one rigid).
  • Greater comfort thanks to vastly superior seats (three for the Sea Eagle, two for AE).
  • Safer, more sustainable transportation within a dense urban environment.
  • Easier repairs (patching rather than welding).
  • Local customer support, with Sea Eagle based on Long Island.
  • Half the weight of rigid boats but more carrying capacity.
  • Compact storage (freeing up boathouse floor space for other off-season educational programs).

Our old, rigid sit-on-top tandems were getting brittle from UV exposure and other weathering, plus the wear-and-tear of thousands of users over the course of a decade. The manufacturer told us that their rotomolded plastic boats “weren’t meant to be repaired.” Given their size, storage was a challenge without a boathouse, so we also suffered theft and vandalism. Transportation was exhausting for volunteers and not safe or sustainable, requiring trucks and trailers.

We have kept those of our original kayaks that remain in safe working order. The others we are repurposing. A local company expressed interest in converting them into planters for native species on a parking lot.

We hope you come try out our new fleet, which we’ll be expanding! You’ll see them on the water, in a boathouse, in small electric vehicles, and on our backs and luggage carts on the subway!

Tandem kayaks in backpacks! That’s seating for 8 right there: 3 for each Sea Eagle and 2 for each Advanced Elements.
That’s 12 tandems, or seating for 34! 3 for each Sea Eagle and 2 for each Advanced Elements

Honoring MLK, Jr. through Water.

MLK circa 1965 Courtesy of Malcolm Lauredo/Hampton House / colorized by Dayana Ibara

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” But he knew as much as any that while nature looses water, humanity binds it. We commodify it, channel it, and decide who can have access to it. A bit too much like justice.

The top two points of HarborLAB’s mission statement are:

  1. To foster estuary and NYC watershed-themed ecological and natural science education, especially for underprivileged NYC youth and underrepresented community members.
  2. To foster estuary ecological restoration and NYC watershed conservation as a justly shared legacy.

Systemic racism for generations kept African Americans away from public pools and beaches and made many private options financially unattainable. New York City is no exception. HarborLAB volunteers are working to help restore a venerable cultural legacy from which the whole world has benefited. The second oldest discovered boat in the world is the 8,500-year old Dufuna, Nigeria canoe, predated by about 2,000 years by only one dugout canoe unearthed in Pesse, Netherlands. Maritime archeologists have determined that the Dufuna canoe’s sophistication indicates a boatbuilding tradition that reaches much deeper into ancient prehistory than is likely for Europeans. The Dutch boat was preserved by hypoxic peat, which are common to Northern Europe, while very few wooden structures last very long in tropical Africa.

While HarborLAB focuses on environmental STEM education using kayaks and canoes, just the act of actively welcoming diverse communities to paddle is an action against racist structures. Being on the water quickly feels natural, and participants understand that they can return to the water with HarborLAB, on their own, or with others because the water belongs to them. This goes for the estuary and reservoir system alike at a time when disparities in sewage processing and drinking water infrastructure make for deathly headlines. Our boat choices, public programs, and “Partner Paddles” with NYCHA resident groups, public schools, organizations with community pools, and CUNY all aim to reduce barriers to entry. We’re even exploring ways to celebrate natural hair styles that make participation easier.

We welcome your suggestions as to how we might be of even greater service to all. Please email us at volunteer@harborlab.org.



2022 Public Programming!


As we hold a steady course through waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, we expect a more active public paddling season in 2022. This is thanks to vaccines, therapeutic advances, and good public health policies produced by the same philosophical method that undergirds environmental stewardship: science.

Please understand that at this early date our event schedule — based on NOAA‘s astronomical tidal current calculations — is incomplete and tentative pending permits, partners, pandemic conditions, and the usual weather and water quality concerns. We will be adding and amending events bit-by-bit over the coming months. Please keep checking our Facebook Events Page and the Calendar tab here to keep up, and email volunteer@harborlab.org to be added to our periodic outreach.

Our public paddles and educational programs are FREE and we gratefully accept donations and information about potential sponsors and donors. Events marked as “Volunteer Reward Paddle” are special invitation adventures to hone staff skills and to thank those who labor with us to provide wonderful experiences for all.

Before we even hit the water for public events, this spring we’ll be scheduling safety training, planting trees and native flower seeds, gardening at our Newtown Creek site on Vernon Boulevard, and making upcycled shelters for indigenous animals on dates to be determined in discussions with park administrators. Some volunteers may paddle year-round with cold water safety gear for stewardship work and habitat and pollution documentation.


Recurring Events

First Mondays monthly at the Neversink Reservoir for NYC Public Schools and other youth groups, often preceded by Sunday events.

Wednesdays and Fridays, July and August at Gantry Plaza State Park and/or Governors Island: Harbor Camp introductory embayment paddles for NYCHA resident youth groups referred by United Neighborhood Houses.

Thursday morning water sampling at the Hunters Point South Park kayak launch and the Gantry Plaza State Park dock for quality testing at CUNY LaGuardia Community College’s lab.

Monthly second Thursday evening Green Drinks Queens environmental happy hours organized by HarborLAB.

Friday evenings from June 24 to September 2 at Hunters Point South Park: Friday Night Chill Paddles for all who want an introduction to the estuary through a mellow skyline-viewing East River tour.

May
5/7 Newtown Creek Sweep with Riverkeeper (WEATHER AND WATER QUALITY CANCELATION)
5/22 Newtown Creek Sweep with Riverkeeper and CUNY LaGuardia Community College.

June
6/4 Family Fun Day Paddling at MacNeil Park with Coastal Preservation Network.
6/4: Guardians of Flushing Bay tour.
6/11 Pride Paddle at Gantry Plaza State Park.
6/19 Juneteenth Paddle at Gantry Plaza State Park.

July
7/2 Green Energy Independence Paddle at Gantry Plaza State Park.
7/4 Volunteer Reward Paddle to view fireworks, launching from Hunters Point South.
7/16: Guardians of Flushing Bay tour (small group).
7/30 Randalls Island Park Waterfront Festival.
7/31 Deaf Community Manhattan Circumnavigation, launching from Hunters Point South.

August
8/6 Green STEM Student Paddle.
8/13-14 Volunteer Reward “Perseids Paddle” Manhattan Night Circumnavigation, launching from Hunters Point South. Will include a fundraiser for SUNY ESF.
8/20 Community Paddle (theme TBD) at Gantry Plaza State Park.
8/21 Vegan Dim Sum Run tour to Chinatown for sustainable food systems awareness, launching from Hunters Point South.
8/27: Guardians of Flushing Bay tour.

September
9/3 Power Paddle tour of the East River’s history of energy generation.
9/10: Guardians of Flushing Bay tour (small group).
9/18 Peace Lanterns Festival and Community Paddle at Gantry Plaza State Park.
9/24 South Brother Island Cleanup, launching from Hunters Point South.

October
10/1 Wisdom Day Paddle honoring environmental elders and teachers at Gantry Plaza State Park.
10/8 Guardians of Flushing Bay tour.
10/9 Neversink Reservoir season closer. Moving boats back to storage.
10/10 Algonquin history tour of Newtown Creek.

Photo by Jeffry Lim.

Omicron Variant Safety Notification.

Dear Volunteers, Students, Supporters, and Friends:

We updated our policies and programs earlier in 2021 to contend with the COVID-19 Delta variant (as explained here), and now we must do the same for the Omicron variant.

As of January 1, 2022 and until pandemic and endemic conditions have passed, all public-facing HarborLAB volunteers and students must evidence that they have received a COVID-19 booster shot on top of full vaccination. Our booster requirement will keep pace with any NYC Health and federal CDC recommendations for additional boosters or novel vaccines.

HarborLAB’s suspension of all in-person indoor programming will continue until further notice, but we expect to resume a busy outdoor schedule this spring with masking and distancing practices that meet or exceed NYC Health and CDC recommendations. We look forward to your company in gathering seeds, building houses for mason bees and bats and birds, gardening, cleaning shorelines, producing the Peace Lanterns Festival, and — of course — kayaking and canoeing!

New Board Members!

On October 15 the HarborLAB Board voted to add three new members. We are honored and grateful to include these outstanding people in our community!

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Jamie Ong
Environmental Protection Project Manager,
NYC Department of Parks & Recreation.

Prior to joining the board, Jamie Ong worked with HarborLAB volunteers for the benefit of the habitat of South Brother Island, a Harbor Heron Preserve.

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Ingrid Veras, PhD
Assistant Professor of Biology,
CUNY LaGuardia Community College.

Prior to joining the board, Dr. Veras came out with HarborLAB on Newtown Creek, a waterway she’s monitored for years alongside her colleagues and students.

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Ebony Young
Nonprofit leader, CSR executive. Update: Appointed Deputy Borough President of Queens.

Prior to joining the board, Ebony Young partnered with HarborLAB for Instruction for Inclusion winter pool sessions at the LIC YMCA and supported our work as a corporate executive.

World Peace Day Thoughts

The Peace Lanterns Festival at Gantry Plaza State Park.


Because of pandemic safety considerations, we agreed with NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to not host a Peace Lanterns Festival this year. Please instead accept these words of peace from our co-producers and partners. 


“On this UN International Day of Peace we HarborLAB volunteers reaffirm our  deeply held and scientifically validated guiding principle that peace relies on a healthy global environment. Unchecked climate chaos will bring water wars and refugee crises. Responsibly used science will bring water wealth, sustainable and cruelty-free food choices and energy options that lift us out of fossil fuel dependence. HarborLAB volunteers work toward peace by helping people, especially the young, to derive lessons from billions of years of evolution and to recognize that this legacy of a living world must be justly shared. 

We look forward to holding our Peace Lanterns Festival in person again at Gantry Plaza State Park as usual next year. As a STEM education organization, we note that such a return to health and normalcy will be achieved thanks to those who act with compassion and in accordance with evidence by masking and receiving vaccinations to end the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Erik Baard
Founder and Executive Director 
HarborLAB
Co-Producer of the annual Peace Lanterns Festival

“On this year’s International Peace Day, I would like to bring your attention to the Treaty on the Prohibition of the Nuclear Weapons, which has been signed by 86 countries and ratified by 55 countries, and came into effect on January 22 this year. Though nations that possess nuclear weapons have not signed it, it is time to start eliminating nuclear weapons before they greatly damage our planet. If just one of the 13,000 nuclear weapons were used, even accidentally, it could explode with more power than up to 5,000 of the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In a spiritual sense, may we nurture our mind-eyes to see the preciousness of all lives regardless of our tastes,  likes and dislikes, friends and enemies, without discrimination.  May all beings be happy, well and peaceful.”

Rev. Toshikazu Kenjitsu Nakagaki, DMin
Founder and President
Heiwa Peace and Reconciliation Foundation of New York
Co-Producer of the annual Peace Lanterns Festival

“On this International Day of Peace, the 2.4 million residents of Queens renew our hope for an end to conflict and for the successful resolution of all issues that lead to conflict, including environmental crises such as global warming and health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Our borough’s diverse communities unite with the world in calling for all nations to work together in peace to build a more sustainable future.”

The Honorable Donovan Richards
Queens Borough President

“With a singular view of the United Nations from across the East River, Gantry Plaza State Park offers tranquil repose in quiet celebration of the value of our natural world. We thank the community and all our partners for appreciation of the critical importance of the environment to our health and overall peace of mind.”

Leslie Wright
NYC Regional Director
NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Delta Variant Safety Notification.

Dear HarborLAB Youth Programming Partners,

Due to uncertainties introduced by the Delta variant of COVID-19, HarborLAB will steer a narrower safety course for the balance of 2021 while still remaining active. As before our programs will be staffed by volunteers who are fully vaccinated, but we will now require the same of those we serve. In practical terms, that means youth ages 12 (the current youngest age for vaccination) and up affiliated with trusted nonprofit and school partners. We’ll work in groups of up to 10 participants on the water at any given time, composed of 2-4 HarborLAB volunteers and up to 8 guests (youth and partnering organization chaperones).

HarborLAB can offer youth groups:

  • Introductions to paddling and the estuary throughout NYC, and in particular at Gantry Plaza State Park — 12 and up.
  • Stewardship paddles, to weed and seed and remove plastics on remote shores and islands within NYC — 16 and up.
  • Educational paddle tours (natural history, energy systems, climate chaos and resilience) — 16 and up. 
  • Remote lectures and presentations — all ages. 

We will not be offering “open paddles” to the general public because we can’t guarantee masking and/or distancing as recommended by the CDC for even outdoor events where people might not all be vaccinated.

In September we will not produce the Peace Lanterns Festival as usually conceived, but will strive to safely adapt our commemoration of NYC’s 9/11 losses and celebration of World Peace Day (9/21/21) to these new circumstances. .

This is disappointing but domestic cultural resistance to vaccination efforts and inadequate vaccination assistance globally have allowed the pandemic to persist through mutation. HarborLAB is a very small organization and must follow the data and be realistic about our ability to provide safeguards to unvaccinated youth and other vulnerable people, both potentially in our programs and in contact with people who could experience breakthrough infections.

Thank you for understanding and please let us know if your organizations or schools might benefit from small, targeted environmental STEM programs for vaccinated youth and their vaccinated chaperones.
Sincerely,

Erik Baard
Executive Director

(TENTATIVE) Free Kayaking Sunday, 7/25!

Join us in honoring City of Water Day with…

9TENTATIVE) FREE KAYAKING! 
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.

https://www.hudsonriver.org/estuary-program
https://waterfrontalliance.org/

STORM AND FLASH FLOOD WATCHES
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.

WATER QUALITY

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. 

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

HEAT ADVISORY REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 8 PM EDT THIS EVENING… WHAT…Heat index values in the upper 90s.
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.