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!

Jamaica Bay Restoration with Hour Children and American Littoral Society!

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HarborLAB planted thousands upon thousands of saltwater marsh grass seedlings in Jamaica Bay this summer, under the direction of the American Littoral Society. These outings instructed us in how to grow spartina at Newtown Creek, the intertidal zone of the HarborLAB GreenLaunch now in development. We also spread the word, and grow seedlings, through our “Cordgrass in the Classroom” project.

Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) is a building block of our estuary ecosystem. It shelters invertebrates upon which shorebirds feed. It might also shelter our city from the Anthropocene‘s angrier seas. HarborLAB has given school and library demonstrations and lectures about this important contributor to habitat and resilience.

HarborLAB partnered with Google for our first planting, and then returned with GLG and Hour Children, an organization serving children who were born in prison or whose mothers have been incarcerated. Hour Children has also become a neighborhood anchor in the massive public housing row of western Queens. We paired adults with kids to paddle out to sandy island where Don Riepe of the American Littoral Society directed us, with help from the Resiliency Corps and Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, in planting rows and rows of spartina plugs.

Our group of 20 Hour Children participants also enjoyed a Gateway Wildlife Refuge orientation and nature walk with the ALS before planting began.

“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.

Howard Hemmings Joins the Board!

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Howard Hemming, left, with HarborLAB volunteer Gil Lopez at :the Smiling Hog’s Head Ranch urban farm in LIC. The HarborLAB launch will be stabilized and beautified with plantings (many of them edible) under Lopez’s landscape design direction and in consultation with the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation. Photo by Erik Baard.

HarborLAB welcomes a new board member, Howard Hemmings! Mr. Hemmings is a Community Coordinator with the Department of Resident Engagement at the NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA). His leadership further ensures that HarborLAB will always, and with emphasis, serve the youth who most need science educational inspiration and healthy, outdoor recreation. We look forward to including free HarborLAB activities in NYCHA community calendars and newsletters, to growing with NYCHA resident volunteers and future leaders, and to helping NYCHA residents start their own environmental and paddling programs.

This is our current Board of Directors:

  • Erik Baard, Founder.
  • Lisa Belfast, Manager After School Programs, Hour Children.
  • Howard Hemmings, Community Coordinator, Department of Resident Engagement, NYCHA.
  • Joel Kupferman, Esq. Founder of the NY Environmental Law and Justice Project.
  • Holly Porter-Morgan, Ph.D. Director CUNY LaGuardia Community College Environmental Science Program.
  • Scott Sternbach, CUNY LaGuardia Community College Photography Program Director.

Mr. Hemmings is a graduate of Colgate University. He serves as a delegate of the Social Service Employees Union Local 371. For the past fifteen years he has served as a  Garden Coordinator for the New York City Housing Authority where he strives to provide environmental education opportunities for youth and seniors. NYCHA’s Garden and Greening program is the largest and oldest such program in the U.S.

Mr. Hemmings is a Bronx resident who grew up in Bushwick Brooklyn. He’s an avid bicyclist and community gardener.

We’re thrilled to be enlightened by Mr. Hemmings’ wisdom born of studies and experiences with this vital population. Thank you, Mr. Hemmings!