June 1 Jamaica Bay Marsh Restoration!

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(Aerial photo of planting site by Public Lab and Louisiana-based Dredge Research Collaborative. Expand to see rows of seedlings)

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American Littoral Society, Google, Citizens Committee for NYC, and HarborLAB celebrate a great day of planting spartina to restore Jamaica Bay. Great job, HarborLAB Operations Manager EJ Lee and many thanks to our partners!

On Sunday, June 1, HarborLAB brought Citizens Committee for NYC and Google to paddle and help the American Littoral Society and Jamaica Bay EcoWatchers plant spartina marsh grass, a building block of our estuary ecosystem. We were thrilled to work beside Audubon volunteers and others, and to learn more about restoring vital saltwater marsh habitat. Many thanks to American Littoral Society Northeast President Don Riepe, who organized the full event, and Lori Lichtman, Development and Volunteer Coordinator for Citizens Committee for NYC!

Over the past century our region’s saltwater marsh grass areas have been reduced by 85% due to development, pollution, and other urban pressures. HarborLAB started “Cordgrass in the Classroom” to help students understand this problem and participate in its solution. Now we are combining planting and paddling into event days that augment the efforts of those leading the challenging work of restoration. The Google gaggle took turns planting thousands of seedlings and kayaking around areas where they could see mature plants supporting shorebirds, invertebrates, and marine life. It was fun to introduce Google employees and interns to this work, and to deepen our relationship with Citizens Committee for NYC. Thanks in great part to Citizens Committee for NYC, we will soon plant spartina and other native species at our launch site on the Newtown Creek!

This event was an achievement for HarborLAB because despite being a small and young organization, we produced two simultaneous programs on June 1, this marsh grass restoration and nature paddles by canoe on Willow Lake in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. HarborLAB Operations Manager EJ Lee was our on-site leader at Jamaica Bay and Executive Director Erik Baard made the arrangements for both events while leading on-site at Willow Lake.

All photos in the gallery are by American Littoral Society and Citizens Committee for NYC.

June 7 Saturday Science Stumper!

Horseshoe Ctab Blood

SATURDAY SCIENCE STUMPER from HaborLAB!

What is this profoundly ancient, living and life-saving substance from the sea, bottled by science? Hint: It’s at your nearby hospital and coming ashore right now…

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ANSWER TO LAST WEEK’S SATURDAY SCIENCE STUMPER:

While the New York Wheel will be a wonder to paddle beneath, Baltimore paddlers might be more grateful for their solar-powered wheel, which removes tons of garbage from the water daily! More here:http://gizmodo.com/baltimores-solar-wheel-pulls-in-25-tons-of-harbor-garba-1578474782

Newtown Creek Canoe Flags!

 

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The Bernie Entie flies its flag at the Newtown Creek Nature Walk steps.

 

HarborLAB now flies flags from its canoes bearing names that honor environmentalists who went before us and the species that share our estuary. We’re grateful to artist and graphic designer Caroline Walker for leading this effort and to Algonquin scholar Evan Pritchard for offering a traditional blessing of our boats and flags. Thanks also to HarborLAB Operations Manager for helping to make this all possible!

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Newtown Creek Alliance Interim Chair Dorothy Morehead holds HarborLAB’s canoes for a blessing with burning sage given by Evan Pritchard of the Center for Algonquin Culture.

 

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Paddlers holding our flag for The River Singer, which honors Pete Seeger. The art and writing were done for HarborLAB by Pete Seeger himself.

THE RIVER SINGER:  Pete Seeger pioneered the great Hudson River revival by building the Clearwater, a sloop that sails that river up and down to sing up its restoration and carry educators and scientific equipment. When HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard was working with Pete Seeger on a project to promote estuary education, he declined to have a boat named for himself. Instead, he drew a fish exclaiming, “Keep my waters clean!” Friends at the NYC Friends of Clearwater confirmed that humility should carry forward after Pete’s passing. The charming drawing has become our flag for The River Singer. named for Pete’s description of himself.

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The “oceanic egg” flag honoring Rachel Carson. By Tracy Coon, artist, and Caroline Walker, art director.

THE RACHEL CARSON: Rachel Carson sparked the modern American environmental movement with her breakthrough book, “Silent Spring.” Her work expanded our conception of environmentalism beyond conservation of wilderness to demanding corporate and governmental responsibility for pollution. She sounded the alarm about promiscuous DDT spraying that was weakening wild birds’ egg shells, causing population collapses. Many forget that she was a career marine biologist, working for the federal government. Erik Baard imagined an “oceanic egg” to represent Carson, capturing her marine biology and DDT work, and reminding viewers that today’s oceans are as fragile as eggs in comparison to pollution from plastics, fertilizer runoffs, and CO2 emissions that become carbonic acid in the sea around us. Tracy Coon made that abstract idea elegantly real.

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Flag honoring environmental filmmaker Jenni Jenkins. By Caroline Walker and Erik Baard.

THE JENNI “APPLESEED” JENKINS:  When we honor Jenni, we honor a wonderful light snuffed our too early and all of the students at her alma mater, City University of New York. Jenni loved Newtown Pippin apples (painted here by Erik Baard) and served as videographer for a fascinating day paddling on the Newtown Creek and East River with environmental leader and author Bill McKibben of 350.org and Middlebury College. On that outing were journalist and HarborLAB volunteer Davis Janowski and Erik Baard.

Please enjoy the beautiful film, “Plastic Bag,” co-written by Jenni and narrated by (believe it or not) Werner Herzog!

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Flag honoring photographer and Newtown Creek Alliance board member Bernie Ente. By Caroline Walker, inspired by an Ente photograph.

THE BERNIE ENTE:  In much the same way that Pete Seeger sang the public into awareness about the Hudson River’s urgent needs, photographer Bernie Ente documented life and struggle in the Newtown Creek. Birds, fish, flowers, and other beauties of nature eked out a living on the creek, without being seen or celebrated. Without care. We’re grateful to Bernie for helping us see the Newtown Creek as a place of life and hope. This flag by Caroline Walker was inspired by Bernie’s striking photo of a green heron and discarded balloons on the Newtown Creek. When we honor Bernie, we also honor the Newtown Creek Alliance and Working Harbor Committee.

Newtown Creek green heron by Bernie Ente.

 

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The Muskrat Love flag by Caroline Walker.

THE MUSKRAT LOVE: Caroline Walker brought playfulness to our flags with “The Muskrat Love.” HarborLAB volunteers saw a muskrat swim past our boat launch. Erik Baard’s photo was the first documentation of the species in Newtown Creek. On a later outing Newtown Creek Alliance interim Chair Dorothy Morehead spotted paw prints that Erik recognized as muskrat tracks. If HarborLAB has an unofficial Newtown Creek mascot, this is it. Fittingly, Caroline’s flag matches what might be America’s most polluted waterway with what might be America’s worst love song!

Prof. Pritchard noted, however, that the muskrat plays an heroic role in Algonquin creation beliefs. The brave little mammal swam to the bottom of the water to scoop up soil to place on the turtle’s back. It grew to form North America, but our mythical friend didn’t survive the ordeal. Let’s hope the Newtown Creek muskrats have a brighter future.

THE MOO XOOL:  This is the local Algonquin word for both the tulip tree and a dugout canoe carved from the tulip tree. Will you be the artist for it? We have ideas for a design but would love to hear from you! Email harborlab@gmail.com with the subject “moo xool” if you’d like to work on our flag!

 

 

Cordgrass in the Classroom

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Spartina nursery at the Greenhouse at the Greenbelt Native Plant Center on Staten Island. Photo by Erik Baard.

Our estuary is suffering great losses. In the past century, 85% of the New York and New Jersey area’s saltwater wetlands were destroyed by development and pollution. In 2012, the municipal government released its Wetlands Strategy as part of PlaNYC. The document also provides an excellent overview Independent nonprofits like the American Littoral Society, Regional Plan Association, and Riverkeeper, as well as state and federal initiatives like the Harbor-Estuary Program, have long advocated for protection and restoration through smarter growth and replanting.

HarborLAB Founder and Executive Director Erik Baard took the crisis as an opportunity for service learning across the city. He conceived “Cordgrass in the Classroom.” This distributed program, if fully realized, would affordably empower educators and students to improve our environment in a way that might integrate in standard curricula. Many thanks to the Greenbelt Native Plant Center and Murfie, a tech startup that digitizes and streams personal CD and vinyl music collections, for making this project possible. Expert consultants from Louisiana State University have also helped greatly.

A building block species for ecosystems in our bays and inlets is spartina, commonly known as cordgrass. Both names, ancient Greek and English, refer to how this marsh grass was used to make rope in olden times. Its greater value, however, is how it stabilizes shorelines with complex rhizomatic root systems. A dense area of cordgrass is called a “baffle,” and it collects silts and organic matter like an upside broom. This builds up to a rich, mucky more terrestrial habitat for invertebrates, other plants and fungi, and the shorebirds and mammals that eat them. Without cordgrass, you won’t see herons and egrets, and water erosion will strip coastal communities of storm protection.

Cordgrass in the Classroom takes inspiration from earlier successes like Trout in the Classroom, MillionTreesNYC, and the Billion Oyster Project. Erik introduced the program at the Steinway Branch branch of the Queens Library as part of Greening Queens Libraries initiative of the North Star Fund. Here’s how it went:

1) A dozen kids and six adults gathered in the library’s community room. They received New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program posters of estuary life. Each participant was asked to name a living thing depicted in the poster until one teen said, “Grass.” The exercise highlighted how we easily overlook the organism that occupies the most space in the landscape and upon which the others depend.

2) A second page depicting wetlands let us discuss what an estuary saltwater wetlands is, as opposed to a beach or a freshwater swamp. We discussed how the complex root systems hold sand and silt together while the upper grasses feed butterfly larvae, provide shelter from predators, and are home to many creatures.

3) Modifying an idea from the Community Science Workshop Network, Erik taught the kids how to make mini-greenhouses from used CD cases donated by Murfie. Another option for local supplies for those not in a rush is NYC WasteMatch. This is a great opportunity to discuss recycling, the plaque of plastics, and how evolution is a constantly-adapting technology that doesn’t become obsolete. That said, even nature can overuse a technology to its near self-destruction; consider how the lignin that made trees possible may have later also overfed  microbes that excreted wastes that nearly smothered our world hundreds of millions of years ago.

Community Science Workshop Network (http://cswnetwork.org)

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4) The Greenbelt Native Plant Center kindly supplied guidance along with sand and seeds in brine. Many thanks to HarborLAB Operations Manager Patricia Erickson for driving. At the library, the kids mixed sand, seeds (gathered from the wild), and water. They then smoothed that mixed into CD cases and shut them. When tilted toward the sun and sitting and sitting in a shallow layer of water, the seeds will germinate and blades will shoot upward. Thanks to the CD’s thinness, kids will watch the roots and shoots in a cross-section, much like an ant farm.

5) When the grass outgrows its CD case, it will be transplanted in bunches into small, biodegradable (wood fiber, peat blend) seedling pots, covering their root crowns. When the grass seedlings reach 6′-8″ high, they’ll be ready for transplantation into nature. Among possible sites are HarborLAB’s launch or Jamaica Bay. At our site, we might fill jute rice bags from Jackson Heights will sand and slash them to receive transplants. That, along with stones, might protect the new colony from being washed away by barge wakes.

A girl draws roots onto a CD case greenhouse schematic. Photo by Erik Baard.

A girl draws roots onto a CD case greenhouse schematic. Photo by Erik Baard.

For those wanting to create more ambitious CD case greenhouses, Erik built the one below in five minutes using clear tape. It can be built taller to protect more mature plants. Like the simpler form, there’s adequate ventilation.

Cubed CD case mini-greenhouse. Photo by Erik Baard.

Cubed CD case mini-greenhouse. Photo by Erik Baard.

Some have gone hog wild with CD case greenhouses. For walk-in sized greenhouses made of reused plastics, many opt for discarded bottles.

May 18: Tree Giveaway and Algonquin Talk!

Come down to the HarborLAB launch on May 18 for FREE TREES (register HERE) and a paddling event! We started with Eastern Redbud, Tulip tree, Sassafras, and Hackberry, but they’re going fast!

Our canoe tour of the Newtown Creek will feature an Algonquin lecture and blessing of our boats! Our speaker will be Evan Pritchard, founder of the Center for Algonquin Culture.

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“Jane’s Walk” to Our Reawakening Waterfront!

 

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Mitch Waxman, crouching, and MAS Jane’s Walk participants in front of the HarborLAB gate and boats. Newtown Creek Alliance board member Laura Risi Hofmann towards the left, in bright blue shirt. Photo by Erik Baard.

HarborLAB was honored to be a featured stop on the Greenpoint-to-Long Island City “DUPBO” 2014 Jane’s Walk.  Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman guided the tour, a walking conversation, sharing insights about development, preservation, sustainability, resilience, and cultural vitality. In NYC, the prestigious Municipal Art Society organizes the annual, free urban planning walks honoring Jane Jacob‘s spirit of criticism and query.

Erik Baard, who interviewed Jane Jacobs in the 9/11 aftermath, greeted the crowd that arrived at the end of Vernon Boulevard, where a bridge once spanned the Newtown Creek to Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn.

What made our site so interesting? It’s that we’re creating the greatest length of green, soft shoreline on the Newtown Creek!

Many thanks to Citizens Committee for NYC for our seed grant (more on that to come) to begin transforming our 125′ waterfront, kindly provided to us by Schumann Properties. Rather than rebuilding our crumbling bulkhead, we’ll follow New York State Department of Environmental Conservation guidelines for using salt tolerant native plantings to stabilize shorelines. We’ll also restore wetlands in the intertidal zone with spartina, mussels, oysters, and other indigenous life. Upland we’ll grow edibles in planters, including hardy kiwi and grape for shade. To maximize the service learning value of this project, we’ll invite college students to participate and follow the advice and directives of biologists Dr. Holly Porter-Morgan and Dr. Sarah Durand of LaGuardia Community College.

HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson will oversee safety stairs, platforms, the dock, and other improvements, aided by Mairo Notton and other skilled volunteers. Our space has been too crowded with bricks on pallets since occupation to do much work, but that’s scheduled to change over the next few weeks.

HarborLAB has also begun a campaign to create a bioswale and rain garden at the dead end of Vernon Boulevard. In some sense, this revives a decade-old effort that New Yorkers for Parks ushered into a design in 2006. With our launch site reworked and a green pocket park, Vernon Boulevard will end in a beautiful long stretch of green that improves Newtown Creek water quality by reducing combined sewage overflows.

The Newtown Creek Superfund designation, however, is based on carcinogenic sediments that line its bed and can sometimes rise through the water column when disturbed. Advocacy for dredging is our chief activity on that front. Our vital ally there is the Newtown Creek Alliance. We were happy that this Jane’s Walk included Newtown Creek Alliance Board Member Laura Risi Hofmann, a greenpoint health and green spaces activist, among its saunterers.

Because of the sometimes high sewage bacteria levels (common to all of western Queens’ waterfronts) and industrial pollutants (exceedingly high also in Anable Basin and Steinway Creek), HarborLAB has two blanket policies:  1) We bring boats to cleaner, safer waters in the region for children to enjoy. The Newtown Creek launch is for adults only. 2) We use canoes for venturing East of the Pulaski Bridge, and sit-on-top kayaks for paddling west, where water quality is much better.

 

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HarborLAB boats and the raw 125′ shoreline, facing East to the Pulaski Bridge. Photo by Erik Baard.

The HarborLAB "boat ladder," a launch system used by cultures around the world. Note the crumbling shoreline that we'll slope and stabilize with plantings.

The HarborLAB “boat ladder,” a launch system used by cultures around the world. Note the crumbling shoreline that we’ll slope and stabilize with plantings.

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Intertidal area that will be planted with spartina or other native species. Photo by Erik Baard.

 

 

2014 Inaugural Paddle on the East River

Volunteer Sally Attia, Esq. and Facilities Manager Pat Erickson paddling by the Domino Sugar Factory by the Williamsburg Bridge

Volunteer Sally Attia, Esq. and Facilities Manager Pat Erickson paddling by the Domino Sugar Factory by the Williamsburg Bridge

Volunteer Sally Attia, Esq. preparing for our paddle by making sure our water bottles were packed

Volunteer Sally Attia, Esq. preparing for our paddle by making sure our water bottles were packed

On Sunday April 27, 2014, three of our HarborLAB volunteers- Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson, volunteer Sally Attia, Esq. (part of our incorporation team), and yours truly, Operations Manager EJ Lee kicked off the 2014 year with a paddle from our Newtown Creek launch to Williamsburg.

Operations Manager EJ Lee and Facilities Manager Pat Erickson in Williamsburg

Operations Manager EJ Lee and Facilities Manager Pat Erickson (and Sally Attia’s elbow) in Williamsburg, BK

The purpose of this paddle was to scout the shoreline for any changes since last year that could affect paddlers. I am happy to report that there was nothing that would disturb paddling on the East River from Long Island City to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Cormorant on an old piling by the Huxley Envelope building in Greenpoint, BK

Cormorant on an old piling by the Huxley Envelope building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

In fact, the cormorants were sunning themselves contentedly, Canada geese were floating along with their goslings, and the bladderwrack were flourishing on the rocks along the banks of the Newtown Creek and Bushwick Inlet.

Operations Manager EJ Lee watches the Canada geese fly from the Bushwick Inlet, whose banks are covered in Bladderwrack

Operations Manager EJ Lee watches the Canada geese fly from the Bushwick Inlet, whose banks are covered in Bladderwrack

HarborLAB will be offering longer open water paddling to the public in Mid-June, because of safety concerns due to exposure to cold water. The temperature of the East River on Sunday was 47ºF, and full length wetsuits are absolutely necessary.

Fellow paddlers out on the East River in their sea kayaks

Fellow paddlers out on the East River in their sea kayaks

Although we had favorable currents, there were barges and ferries on the river, and the wind was a-blowing. We learned very well that it was the first paddle of the year; our sore muscles made sure we knew the next day! As always, paddle safe and paddle smart.

Pat and Sally arming up in the car after the paddle

Pat and Sally warming up in the car after the paddle

Join the Cardboard Kayak Race!

Calling all educators, campers, and community groups to join us and the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance on July 12 for the 2014 Cardboard Kayak Race! Everyone comes by boat to Governors Island for City of Water Day, but only the most creative and humorous mariners make their own zany boats right at the festival. Let your team of kids be among them!

HarborLAB will be providing public paddling programs at City of Water Day and safety support for the cardboard kayak race, as we did last year. We would be happy to help teams of junior high, high school, and college students practice their paddling in the weeks before competing in this unique design-build-paddle event! We and the MWA can also connect you with swim instruction organizations.

For information and registration, please click HERE. To partner with HarborLAB, email edu@harborlab.org.

 

 

 

SATURDAY SCIENCE STUMPER!

Intrigued by these images? Then head over to our Facebook Fan Page (https://www.facebook.com/HarborLAB) to enjoy the challenge of our Saturday Science Stumper! Each week we present an image that relates to our estuary and watershed ecosystems, plus a hint to help you identify it. The following week, we provide the caption.

HarborLAB is an environmental service learning organization, not a club, so we’ll shamelessly geek out on the wonders of science around us. Join the fun!

 

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Support MWA’s Waterfront Action Agenda!

Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance’s “Waterfront Action Agenda.” HarborLAB enthusiastically supports these integrated goals for a flourishing estuarine archipelago city.

The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance is our region’s most dynamic and effective advocate for reviving the economic and ecological potential of our waterways. This inclusive network promotes waterborne transportation for commuters and cargo, while also supporting habitat restoration and sustainable recreation, like paddling. The MWA’s Waterfront Action Agenda synthesizes this comprehensive vision and outlines achievable goals. This five-point program grew out of work by the MWA’s urban planning staff and from ideas that bubbled up from the hundreds of harbor stakeholders that the MWA brings together.

If you want your organization to be part of this community, sign up here to join the MWA and benefit from conferences, events, seminars, community meetings, workshops, calls to action, and Waterwire newsletter.

Please let your elected officials know you support the Waterfront Action Agenda. Not sure who represents you? The League of Women Voters’ online district locator will guide you. No need to know your nearest buoy, just punch in your zip code!