“Expedition to White Island”

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HarborLAB partnered with the Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art, Nature, and Dance (iLAND) on Sunday to document, and elicit a creative response to, the restoration of marsh grasses, dune grasses, and other native life to White Island in Marine Park Preserve. Videographer Charles Dennis led the wonderful ‘iLANDing Expedition to White Island” as both guide and artist.

For HarborLAB this was an invaluable opportunity to build relationships with artists who care about ecology and might share their skills with the communities we serve. It was also a scouting mission to a new area of the harbor for us, Gerritsen Inlet, where we now plan to bring partner groups for beach cleanups and birding. We saw a great egrets, skillfully diving terns, reed-perching red winged blackbirds, an oyster catcher, a mated pair of Canada geese, herring gulls, great black backed gulls, black crested night herons, double crested cormorants, and an osprey atop, and circling, its nest platform.

Osprey platform. Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring"  alerted the world about how the osprey and other species were vanishing because DDT insecticide spraying interfered with birds making strong egg shells. Now ecologists are helping helping ospreys to restore their numbers by building nesting platforms near food sources and away from harm. More here:  http://www.nhptv.org/wild/silentspring.asp  (Photo by Gil Lopez)

Osprey platform. Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” alerted the world about how the osprey and other species were vanishing because DDT insecticide spraying interfered with birds making strong egg shells. Now ecologists are helping helping ospreys to restore their numbers by building nesting platforms near food sources and away from harm. More here: http://www.nhptv.org/wild/silentspring.asp (Photo by Gil Lopez)

The intertidal zones held marshes of spartina, but we could see clumps of the grass being undercut by erosion from below. Dense stands of invasive phragmites formed a feather-topped fence just a few paces upland from the water. At the foot of the reeds were glinting and colorful assortments of sea glass, complete antique bottles and glassware, and porcelain shards. Of course there were seashells of every kind and scattered bones, bleaching in the sun. White Island itself had various plantings dotting its sands like new hair plugs. As Charles Dennis described the mammoth operation to restore the island’s ecosystem, one could picture an amphibious assault by ecologists like a green D-Day.

The inlet itself was alive with horseshoe crabs, eels, other fish, sea weeds, and jellyfish. There was a mysterious pulsing buzz underwater that was almost certainly mechanical, not organic.

HarborLAB is grateful to iLAND, NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, and volunteers Gil Lopez (a green roofing instructor and certified permaculture landscape designer), Mairo Notton, and especially Patricia Erickson for making it possible to enjoy this outing, which was coordinated on the HarborLAB end by Erik Baard.

The Watershed Experience in Brooklyn Bridge Park

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A few media reps and DEP contracted photographers stopped by the HarborLAB booth. Photo by Manny Steier.

Our city’s drinking water reservoirs are located in regions chockablock with outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, fishing, biking, and of course paddling. The NYC Department of Environmental Protection, steward of this resource, organized called The Watershed Experience on Saturday in Brooklyn Bridge Park to promote tourism to these attraction just two hours north of NYC. HarborLAB was invited to share the good word about our coming Watershed Wonder Tours.

HarborLAB volunteers Manny Steier and Erik Baard had a great time meeting representatives from the Ashokan Center, DEP natural resources, Frost Valley YMCA, and other potential partners. Getting there and back was half the fun — Manny biked from central Queens and Erik paddled from LIC. On the way down, Erik skirted the margins of the Liberty Challenge race as outriggers rounded a buoy by the Brooklyn Bridge — underestimating the current they were bucking, one crew rubbed shoulders with the buoy!

Wes Miller, Pat Erickson, and Dorothy Morehead were critical in getting the show on the road. One terrific bonus for Manny and Erik was meeting the friendly and capable Brooklyn Bridge Boathouse crew, especially Darren (who came to the rescue with sunblock) and Charlie.

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Kids got a kick out of rolling in the grass in our boat, which is the same model as is destined for the Neversink Reservoir. We also served as referral booth for the Brooklyn Bridge Boathouse! Photo by Manny Steier.

A second treat, for Erik was feasting on Amelanchier growing in the park! (Manny doesn’t eat food he’s not authoritatively identified.) Amelanchier look like blueberries but are more closely related to cherries and peaches. The fruit is variable across the species, but the ones in Brooklyn Bridge Park (on the north side of the kayaking embayment, at the entrance to the path leading up stairs) were as sweet as fruit punch. All varieties have small seeds at the center that taste like almonds. In our region — especially the Hudson Valley — the most famous variety is known as shadbush (Amelanchier arborea), because the flowers bloom as shad (a migratory fish that’s an historically important food and still a delicacy) swim back into the estuary on their way to northern spawning grounds. The large bush is also more morbidly known in New England as serviceberry, because its bloom occurs when the ground is thawed enough for burial of the winter’s dead. If you’re from outside of the East Coast, you may have heard of their close cousins, known as Juneberry or Saskatoon on the prairies. Erik plants these small trees through his Gotham Orchards project, and they grow in many soils. Some argue that they are great for waterfronts because of their salt tolerances, but report that they aren’t particularly salt tolerant. We’ll follow the confidence of NYRP that the species is able to survive occasional saline flooding.

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Amelanchier in Brooklyn Bridge Park! Photo by Erik Baard.