Seedball Making at LaGuardia Community College!

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Seedballs. Photo by Maureen Regan, president and founder of Green Earth Urban Gardens.

Hurricane Sandy, pollution, and development have stripped away much of our dune and coastal meadow habitats, so HarborLAB is joining the effort to restore them! To this end, HarborLAB and other conservationists are following Permaculture farmers in adopting an ancient Japanese and North American no-till agriculture tool that mimics the natural dung distribution of seeds (called endozoochory). It’s simple: make a ball of clay, compost, and seeds and toss them over the area to be revived. The warmth and rains of spring and summer then signal the seeds to germinate. Before long we’ll green the shores of NYC by bombarding them with seed love from our armada of kayaks and canoes!  😉

HarborLAB volunteers learned the art from SeedBall NYC‘s Co-founder and President Anne Apparu in a room made available to us by Dr. Sarah Durand of the Natural Sciences department at CUNY LaGuardia Community College. We made several hundred seed balls, and will make thousands more! The trick is to get the proportions right so that the balls hold together firmly but dry out before the seeds germinate. In terms of consistency, think cookie dough.

Another great instruction resource comes from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

HarborLAB used seeds we gathered with Hunters Point Community Middle School and Dr. Stephen Grosnell‘s Baruch College conservation biology students from Gantry Plaza State Park, Hunters Point Park, and our own GreenLaunch, along with seeds provided by SeedBall NYC and Briermere Farms. Hunters Point Parks Conservancy Vice President Mark Christie kindly help guide us in our seed gathering. Species included aster, milkweed, beach plum, beach pea, goldenrod, viburnum, pine, switchgrass, pokeberry, and the humorously named panicgrass (gallery below). These salt-tolerant species support endangered monarch butterflies and other pollinators, and feed birds. They also stabilize the shoreline, allowing complex ecosystems to develop while also protecting property from surges and erosion. We also gathered beach rose from Hunters Point South Park but must be very careful about where to use them, if at all, for biological productivity without enabling invasion.

See Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman‘s great write up of one of our outings at Queens Brownstoner.

We’re also grateful to Maureen Regan, president and founder of Green Earth Urban Gardens for participating and to Gil Lopez, president and co-founder of Smiling Hogshead Ranch Urban Farm, for inviting a naturalist to join us. We also thank the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation for permission to gather seeds. An especially welcome newcomer was Philip Anthony Borbon, a sailor who moors on the Queens waterfront of the Newtown Creek.

Our next step is to go into classrooms to make seedballs with kids, and to then bring the balls with us when we paddle to areas in need of habitat restoration! If you’d like a classroom talk and seedball making activity with HarborLAB, please email us at edu@harborlab.org!

Seed Gathering Day!

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Mark Christie, HarborLAB volunteer and Vice President of Hunters Point Parks Conservancy, with bouquets of goldenrod seeds. Hunters Point Community Middle School student in the background. (Photo by Erik Baard)

HarborLAB had a fantastic winter day of gathering goldenrod and beach rose seeds with Hunters Point Community Middle School students! Many thanks to biology teacher Mary Matthai and Principle Sarah Goodman, and to the students! Thanks also to Vice President Mark Christie of the Hunters Point Parks Conservancy and to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.

Through this exercise the students learned about bioremediation, shore ecology, evolved means of seed propagation, combined sewer overflows, and genetic diversity. We asked that the school choose only five students for each round of work to avoid trampling habitats.

HarborLAB is creating a marine-to-uplands habitat restoration on the Newtown Creek. We call this project the “GreenLaunch.” Citizens Committee for NYC gave us funds for initial work, which HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson oversees. We’ve applied to the Hudson River Foundation for a larger Newtown Creek Fund grant. We hope our City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and State Assembly Representative Catherine Nolan will also partner with us as a wonderful (and only) Queens environmental group based on the creek, and support our work.

Central to the GreenLaunch, conceived by HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard, is a living shoreline stabilized using methods recommended by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. We’re applying for fresh earth from the NYC Soil Bank. Roots from native, saltwater tolerant plantings will hold soil down. We’re gathering seeds from milkweed, pokeberry, goldenrod, beach plums, and beach rose to start. We have MillionTreesNYC shadbush (service berry), hackberry, sassafras, and other native saplings to further strengthen this slope. Milkweed and goldenrod sustain endangered monarch butterflies and other pollinators. Our berry bushes and trees, and rose hips, have deep root systems and feed birds. Below this slope, in the intertidal zone, we’ll grow cordgrass and mussels.

Happy World Water Day!

 

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Raise a glass of water in a toast to water! Remember to drink local tap water, and strive to protect and improve that blessing for future generations.

We’re endowed with water riches in New York City, so please take the chance to celebrate World Water Day by supporting the UN’s efforts to help people who must struggle for the most basic necessity. “Like” the official UN World Water Day fan page Facebook to keep up with water education, resources, and fun all year.

For those wishing to more intensively study water issues, we recommend the powerful local brain trust of the Columbia Water Center.

Spring rains and snowmelt are filling the Neversink Reservoir, where HarborLAB will pioneer public paddling programs this summer! We’re very grateful to the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and Catskill Watershed Corporation for this opportunity to serve. We also give great thanks to our sponsor, the UN Federal Credit Union, for its generous sponsorship of HarborLAB!

Neversink Reservoir. Photo by the Catskill Chronicle.

 

MLK and Environmental Justice

Portrait at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, Washington, via Chris Tank/Creative Commons (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ctankcycles/4755593685/)

If Dr. Luther King, Jr. were alive today, he would be 84. That’s ten years younger than Pete Seeger, who still champions our waterways. It’s easy to imagine a 2014 with Dr. King walking among us, his eloquence, passion, and organizational genius bending “the arc of history” toward environmental justice.

We HarborLAB volunteers are honored to partner with WE ACT and the Bronx River Alliance, which carry this work forward in Harlem and the South Bronx. We ask you today to email us (harborlab@gmail.com) with additional ideas for water access and cleanups in lower-income areas, and other means of serving the community in 2014. We offer access and programs on both New York Harbor and the Neversink Reservoir. Please make this environmental justice brainstorming part of your “day of service.”

Environmental justice is the theme of several major gatherings this Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. One such host, Yale University’s Peabody Museum, explains:

“Environmental justice is based on the principle that all members of a society have the right to clean air, water, and soil, as well as a right to live in communities where they can raise their families and send their kids out to play in healthy and nurturing natural environments. Further, it embraces the notion that no one possesses the right to degrade and destroy the environment, whether the government at all levels, private industry, or individual citizens. Finally, environmental justice includes a guarantee of equal access to relief and the possibility of meaningful community participation in the decisions of government and industry.”

A fuller declaration of the principles of environmental justice is linked here.

This is a fitting extension of Dr. King’s legacy and vital to those for whom he labored and died. It might also be the engine of environmental progress. Why might campaigns for environmental justice drive the future environmental movement as a whole? They fix gimlet eyes on greenwashing. They press on even when weary because the moral urge is visceral — humans, like other animals, are wired to hunger for justice.

We have pushed the resilience of our planet’s ecosystem so far that habitat and human health are now felled by the same blows. The American ideal is that justice should be blind, but we know that for too long, and for too many aspects of life, color matters. The faces in NYC communities plagued by asthma, obesity, polluted water, and toxic soils are far more often brown than white. Environmental justice for all, however, will be blue and green. Let’s grow it and share it.

For more thoughts on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s gifts to the environmentalism, we suggest these essays:

LIveScience: “The Environmental Movement’s Debt to MLK

Grist: “Beautiful Struggle

Winter Solstice with Rachel Carson, 51 Years Ago

A beautiful winter solstice passage from the immortal correspondence between Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman.

A winter solstice passage from the immortal correspondence between Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman.

HarborLAB is amassing a small library of environmental science books to enrich students and volunteers. Our newest addition is Always, Rachel. This is the page revealed when we opened it for the first time. We’re happy to share this glimpse of the Winter Solstice fifty-one years ago. It was Rachel Carson’s penultimate Winter Solstice.

Rachel Carson is often credited with sparking the modern American environmental movement with her book, Silent Spring. Some forget that she was already an acclaimed nature writer with books and articles that grew out of her work as a federal marine biologist. One reader of The Sea Around Us, Dorothy Freeman, developed a powerful bond with Carson that would celebrate her rising recognition and endure through to her death from cancer in the spring of 1964. Both women destroyed many of their letters shortly before Carson’s death. The surviving correspondence is rich with insights into this leading 20th century communicator of environmental science. Freeman’s granddaughter rendered a great service to us all when she gathered them for this book, published in 1995.

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