Hunters Point Eco-Day Memories

Seedball making team ! Questus at Hunters Point Community Middle School with HarborLAB.

HarborLAB and friends from new sponsor Questus shared a wonderful day improving the ecology of Hunters Point and enhancing the environmental science programs of Hunters Point Community Middle School. The students made the day even sunnier, and we got so much done!

We started the day by continuing HarborLAB’s work to turn our launch on the Newtown Creek Superfund site into a green and welcoming habitat area and orchard. We planted more shadbush and tended to our orchard trees, built up fresh and composting soil cover on our sloping bank, cleaned the shore, and gathered pokeberries for our seeding program. Questus Co-Founder Jeff Rosenblum joined HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson in revamping our water access, preserving our dock and replacing — and better securing — our ladder. They did a stellar job!

The rest of us headed over to Hunters Point Community Middle School with a wheelbarrow of supplies to make seed balls! Our partners were Mary Mathai’s special needs science students and the school’s Eco Club. The students were delightful, and Ms. Mathai, other faculty members, and Principal Sarah Goodman have been amazing partners with HarborLAB since before the school even opened!

Seedballs are an efficient way to distribute seeds with a nutritive soil head start, whether for agriculture or habitat strengthening. HarborLAB got its start through lessons provided by the NYC Seedball community. We make our seedballs from powdered red clay, compost, cocoa shells, a pinch of sand, and seeds gathered from indigenous shoreline plants. Our Hunters Point Eco-Day seeds were seaside goldenrod gathered by Hunters Point Community Middle School students last year. Goldenrod is a vital part of our estuary, sustaining butterflies and other beneficial insects and sheltering the nests of black skimmers, one of our most unusual shorebirds. The HarborLAB and Questus team worked with the students in two sessions, with two or three adults to a table. The group effort produced thousands of seedballs and the kids will use up leftover material next week.

This activity and our illustrated presentation reinforce curricular lessons about the purposes of flowers, fruits, and seeds, and how seeds are distributed in nature. Seedballs replicate frugivorous endozoochory, or how animals spread seeds, packaged in dense nutrition, through their droppings after eating fruits. When students gather seeds with us, they learn how to identify plant species and about how plants support other species and stabilize shorelines. We also discuss, of course, how plants can remove CO2 from our air to reduce climate chaos and ocean acidification. All spring and summer, HarborLAB volunteers and students distribute seedballs as we paddle shore to shore, under the direction of conservation groups and park and preserve authorities.

The Questus team also enjoyed peer bonding, diving into a delicious lunch provided by COFFEED LIC Landing in Hunters Point South Park and canoeing from the HarborLAB GreenLaunch to the mouth of the Newtown Creek on the East River. In both cases they were exhilarated by Manhattan skyline views.

We’re deeply grateful to Questus’ team for their support and camaraderie, and to the students and faculty of Hunters Point Community Middle School for their spirited engagement in education to meet our world’s ecological challenges.

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Questus afloat with HarborLAB!

The Gift of Greater Safety!

ladder

HarborLAB is very happy to announce that this week we’ll be purchasing a dock ladder for Gantry Plaza State Park to make it easier, less stressful, and safer for people to climb out of the water. To our volunteers and partners, an even safer 2015 is the best holiday gift of all!

Unintended swims are a natural, if rare, part of kayaking. All participants and dock workers wear life vests, so not every dunk is an emergency. But every dunk has the potential to become an emergency should wakes, medical conditions, currents, or other factors add complications and dangers. It’s best to have a quick and safe way out of the water to where volunteers are ready to help.

HarborLAB volunteers have been advocating for public paddling programs at Gantry Plaza State Park for over a decade, even before our organization existed! We’re grateful and thrilled that through the efforts of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation and Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance that our dreams were realized. We’re also deeply grateful to the Hunters Point Point Parks Conservancy for partnering on outreach and volunteer recruitment for the public program. We pioneered public paddling and floating science programs in the park this year, to the benefit of Baruch College, Hunters Point Community Middle School, 350.org, and other environmental education partners.

The ladder we install will also be a boon to other programs at Gantry Plaza State Park, such as the recreational paddling program produced by the Long Island City Community Boathouse, which was also founded by Erik Baard, founder of HarborLAB.

HarborLAB is grateful to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation for permitting this ladder work and partnering with our skilled volunteers (contractors and mechanics) to see to the sturdiest and most user-friendly installation. We’ll look to the State to make the final determination of what ladder would be proper before we make the purchase from West Marine. We’re looking at lifting ladders and flip ladders to prevent slippery fouling of the lower rungs and damage at low tide.

And hey, if you’re wondering about water quality in Gantry Plaza State Park, we have great news! Water sampled by HarborLAB volunteers at Gantry Plaza State Park, as gauged by specific bacteria counts, routinely tests in LaGuardia Community College labs as far better than any other paddling program spot in western Queens! But though Gantry water is often swimming quality, we’re all about the boats, ’bout the boats. No treading…   😉

HarborLAB at Gantry Plaza State Park. Photo by Erik Baard.

HarborLAB at Gantry Plaza State Park. Photo by Erik Baard.

HarborLAB Intern Presentation on Water Quality

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HarborLAB Environmental Science Intern Erik Yax Garcia of Keuka College made a presentation about water quality sampling and testing to the Hunters Point Community Middle School this week. He demonstrated sampling and explained the need for precise, uniform techniques. Then in the classroom he gave a PowerPoint presentation about the science used to identify water quality problems and solutions.

“For me it was a great experience to work with middle school students and it was very challenging because they would ask for details and deep explanations,” Erik said. He noted that a central question was, “what can we do to have clean water?”

Thanks to a grant from the United Nations Federal Credit Union, Erik takes weekly water samples from Willow Lake and Gantry Plaza State Park for pathogen testing at The River Project. He also picks up Bronx Kill samples taken by Randall’s Island Park Alliance. The lab’s looking for Enterococcus, a kind of bacteria that normally lives in human intestines and can therefore reveal the presence of sewage in a waterway. Rainstorms overwhelm our waste water treatment facilities because household water and street runoffs pour into the same tubes and containments. When that happens, raw sewage is released into the estuary in “combined sewer overflows” (CSOs) to prevent disease-bearing foul waters from backing up into homes and streets.

Erik’s visit melded with the students’ curriculum, said science teacher Mary Mathai. “Erik Yak’s presentation was very informative. This worked very well since in their present unit of study, we have been talking about the enterococcus bacterial levels in the water and about CSO’s,” she said.

Mathai praised how methodical Erik was in his instruction. “He introduced students to the sampling sites in his presentation. He also showed them a video on the CSO’s.  This was followed by a demonstration of how water samples are collected with importance given to preservation of the samples and avoidance of contaminating the samples.Photographs of the enterococcus bacteria were shown to students.  This was very much tied into what students were learning in the classroom, since they were involved in a project based learning activity regarding CSO’s and water quality in New York Harbor.  Students were then taken to the sampling site in Long Island City, where Erik demonstrated the water sample collection.  This was followed by a question and answer session,” she recounted.

 

NYC is behind schedule in fixing the CSO problem, but has spent billions of dollars toward that end in recent years. Traditional engineering solutions are termed “grey infrastructure” because they rely on concrete catch basins and new facilities. Another set of solutions gaining favor now are grouped together as “green infrastructure” because they rely on plants and are sustainable and resilient. Green roofs, bioswales, tree pits, and other planting absorb rainwater into soft earth and up through roots so that less pours into the sewer system.

We’re happy to report that water at Gantry Plaza State Park, where HatbotLAB will offer public paddling this summer, has tested as cleaner than other western Queens sites (Hallets Cove, Anable Basin, Newtown Creek) in this year’s first few weeks. This activity is part of a broader “citizen science” project coordinated by the NYC Water Trail Association, a network of paddling and rowing groups that HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard also initiated and co-founded.
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The students revealed that they have a big stake in improving water quality, Erik said. “I also spoke about HarborLAB’s paddling program and many students seemed to be excited about it!”

Willow Lake Canoeing!

Interspecies fun on Willow Lake in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Starting in June we’ll offer paddling the first Sunday of each month. We offer both Partner Paddles to augment the missions of schools and community organizations, and Community Paddles for the general public to enjoy during open program hours.

Location:

https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zp5sKABHidJA.kkJL-nerYf0I

We’re deeply grateful to the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy for its advocacy for this premier green space, and for aiding HarborLAB with permits and outreach. The organization’s leadership is reflected in the naming of Pat Dolan Trail for its first president.

Our goal is to through demonstrations seed a local eco-educational, non-competitive paddling, and nature stewardship group at Willow Lake and Flushing World’s Fair Marina’s kayak launch. For those looking to paddle race or row, try these two great nearby groups: New York Dragon Boat Race Club or Row New York!

The Willow Lake habitat restoration in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was closed to the public for a long stretch while the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation restored and replenished natural areas. We’re excited by the improvements and hope to contribute to further progress through water and sediment testing, new plantings of native species, and mitigation and remediation of highway runoff waters. Paddling provides unique views of the herons, egrets, turtles, and other beauties of Willow Lake. At a later date we’ll write about the history of Willow Lake and its larger twin, Meadow Lake, and proposals for the future of the greater Flushing Creek watershed.

Through the years other groups, including Boy Scouts, John Bowne High School, Yale University, LTV Squad, New York World, and CUNY Macaulay Honors College have worked for the betterment of the park’s Forever Wild areas and to document its life and needs. We give thanks also to the NYC Urban Park Rangers, who provided the first public canoeing in Willow Lake and will certainly continue to be a leading presence! We hope that HarborLAB can partner with these organizations, bringing the added joy and access of a canoe fleet! HarborLAB also has sit-on-top kayaks, but canoes are a safer (drier) bet until we have water quality data.

 

PADDLING WILLOW LAKE

 

So what’s it like to paddle Willow Lake with HarborLAB? It’s an amazing New York City experience!

 

What are those strange people up to under the traffic? Photo by Erik Baard

What are those strange people up to under the Van Wyck Expressway traffic? Canoeing, of course!

 

We're under the Van Wyck Expressway, just north of Jewel Avenue, across from the park's Ballfield #13.

We’re under the Van Wyck Expressway (I-678), just north of Jewel Avenue, across from the park’s Ballfield #13.

 

HarborLAB's "secret launch" to Willow Lake. You start in the shade of a  Robert Moses cave that thrums and thunders with Smart Cars and 18-wheelers above. Your canoe awaits in a small canal that links Willow Lake to Meadow Lake.

HarborLAB’s “secret launch” to Willow Lake. You start in the shade of a Robert Moses cave that thrums and thunders with Smart Cars and 18-wheelers above. Your canoe awaits in a small canal that links Willow Lake to Meadow Lake.

 

The little creek thrown wide at Willow Lake.

Is it the Bayou? Nope. Our little canal gives way to a creek, which is thrown wide open at Willow Lake.

 

Paddling to Oz? The  Observatory Towers and Unisphere of the 1964 World's Fair glimmer in the background.

Paddling to Oz? The Observatory Towers, New York Pavillion, and Unisphere of the 1964 World’s Fair glimmer in the background.

The happy return.

The happy return.

 

Some of the day's crew.

Some of the day’s crew. Our friendly volunteers provide safety tips, environmental literature, activities, community notices, and more!

 

2014 Calendar Filling Up!

January isn’t quite over and already HarborLAB’s 2014 season is filling up! We’re having trouble with our Google Calendar, so please keep on top of opportunities to volunteer and paddle through our Facebook events page:

https://www.facebook.com/HarborLAB/events

Students and environmental volunteers have priority seating on our public trips, but we arrange special events too. Please let us know how and when we might help your service organization extend its mission onto the water, or let’s brainstorm together! 

On many days HarborLAB will organize “Partner Paddles,” which are special events for schools, universities, researchers and artists, environmentalists, and other service groups. For example, in 2013 we had special events for the Hunter’s Point Community Middle School, CUNY Baruch College, CUNY LaGuardia Community College, Hour Children, Billion Oyster Project, NYC DEP and its upstate watershed exhibitors, and others serving the common good. To avoid confusion, these events won’t be posted on our public calendars and event lists, but we’ll post photo galleries and trip reports afterward.

HarborLAB must also devote considerable attention to improving its waterfront space and launch, and conducting environmental science research there. Energetic volunteer recruitment and fundraising for boats and materials will increase our ability to produce simultaneous programs. Exciting times ahead!

Here are a few events to get you dreaming of summer!

 

Teachers’ Oyster Seed Paddle!

Oyster seed. Photo by Solar One, another participant in the estuary-wide seeding effort.

Oyster seed. Photo by Solar One, another participant in the estuary-wide seeding effort.

August 26.

HarborLAB will take teachers from the Hunters Point Community Middle School on a paddle from LIC to Governors Island (no landing) to pick up oyster seeds from the New York Harbor School. This is a great chance for the school to learn about NY Harbor School‘s innovative curriculum. We’ll then paddle to back to Hunters Point and beyond to Socrates Sculpture Park, where the oyster seed platform will anchor.
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Here’s our Facebook event page:
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Please also email volunteer@harborlab.org with the subject line “Oyster Paddle” if you’d like to paddle and help.
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It’s exciting for HarborLAB to play a small role in seeding great maritime education programs in western Queens!  HarborLAB and NY Harbor School are unrelated organizations with shared goals. HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard invited NY Harbor School Founder Murray Fisher to Long Island City six or seven years ago to meet with a landlord and others about encouraging the establishment of a middle school that might graduate students into the NY Harbor School. Erik also lobbied then-City Council Member Eric Gioia for an estuary-themed middle school. Flash forward some years and Hunter’s Point Community Middle School Principal Sarah Goodman independently had such visions. Ms. Goodman grew up learning about marine ecology and stewardship in New England.
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HarborLAB looks forward to being the Hunter’s Point Middle School’s on-water partner, perhaps in concert with CUNY LaGuardia Community College and other community environmental groups and agencies to which we introduced Ms. Goodman. While the nearby waters of Anable Basin, site of great contamination by Standard Oil generations ago, are likely unsuitable for children (especially in sit-on-top kayaks), HarborLAB will arrange educational field trips and will continue to advocate for paddling in Gantry Plaza State Park.  We also strongly advocate for an Anable basin cleanup, and have lobbied for this with state officials and local developers.