Green for Grass: Thank You!

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Three generous couples have fulfilled HarborLAB’s vital marsh grass seedling budget for 2016! We give great thanks to Katherine Bradford and Gregory Leopold, Maura Kehoe Collins and David Collins, and Dylan Geil and Thomas Dieter for sponsoring 1,000 spartina (or cordgrass) seedling plugs that HarborLAB will plant along its Newtown Creek shore and in Jamaica Bay. These seedlings were grown by the Greenbelt Native Plant Center on Staten Island. This greenhouse and seedbank is part of the Natural Resources Group that cares for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation’s wild preserves.

You can help us plant even more native species by donating in HarborLAB’s name to the Natural Areas Conservancy.

Please make your donation online or by check here:

Natural Areas Conservancy
http://naturalareasnyc.org/donate/

Be sure to put “HarborLAB” in the comment section online or in the memo line of your check! 

We’ll also continue to grow spartina from seed through our Cordgrass in the Classroom program as supplies become available. In addition to the profound educational and emotional benefits to youth that paddling and planting days provide, there are great economic benefits to New York City. Learn more about the value of estuary marsh ecosystem services in this paper.

 

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.

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.

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.

Trip Report: Hour Children on Jamaica Bay

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After our paddling and nature walking, a final group shot. The kids felt triumphant that they’d learned so much and kayaked! Photo by Erik Baard.

On  August 22, HarborLAB took 15 kids from Hour Children, with their counselors, on an outing to the Jamaica Bay portion of the Gateway Wildlife Recreation Area. The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is a fantastic resource for conservation education, and the site provides a model for wetlands restoration. The children saw osprey, all manner of shells, a burrowing wasp, rosehips in flower and fruit, goldenrod, tent caterpillars, saltwater marshes, and other sights that they’d never witnessed. HarborLAB volunteers loved the kids’ humor, mutual support, and unflagging curiosity.

We started at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge visitor and education center, with an orientation provided by National Park Rangers and a lengthy and fun nature walk. The kids were given clipboards and activity sheets, which they completed with seriousness and enthusiasm. These exercises enriched the later paddling, as the kids watched for the animals and plants they’d learned about earlier (a great chance to also discuss the need for nutrients (vitamin C in rosehips, for example) found in nature — real foods). They more deeply understood they were paddling in a natural system, not an oversized swimming pool. Some requested that we return when the diamondback terrapin turtles are laying eggs and when horseshoe crabs come to shore in early summer.

It was a bit windy, so instead of using all eight boats we trailered to the site, we used only two for the kids, plus on guide boat. The kids and staff shared boats staffed by HarborLAB volunteers in the stern. We stayed along the shorelines in an area that enjoyed wind and current shelter, thanks to the old seaplane ramp at Floyd Bennett Field, and remained in water shallow enough to stand (you can see bottom in photos and from the boats). The kids, however, still found it to be an amazing adventure.

HarborLAB now has a trailer, so we’re able to bring kids on field trips with partners who arrange for their transportation. HarborLAB, in consultation with experts in government and academia and in response to tests, has determined that water in western Queens isn’t suitable for children’s programs — Hallets Cove has a steadily high population of sewage bacteria according to tests by The River Project (part of a NYC Water Trail program), indicating an infrastructure problem; Anable Basin is the site of lingering industrial pollution from its former use as a barge slip for an oil refinery, paint factory, and other notorious toxic spillers that forced huge soil remediation efforts; Steinway Creek is similarly blighted by pollution; and the Newtown Creek is an EPA Superfund site with a pollution problem especially east of the Pulaski Bridge. We prefer Pelham Bay Park, which is swimmable at Orchard Beach, and Jamaica Bay, and parts of the Hudson River, Long Island and New Jersey.

Hour Children helps children who were born in prison or whose mothers are incarcerated or rebuilding their lives after incarceration and the errors that brought them into the prison system.

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Ranger Will teaches the kids about osprey nests and hunting methods. Photo by Erik Baard.

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An Hour Children staff person discovers the cutest grasslands critter. Photo by Erik Baard.

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Ranger Will lines the kids of for osprey nest viewings. We also saw them in flight as we walked the nature path. Photo by Erik Baard.

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The kids were given clipboards and assignments for observation, which they undertook with enthusiasm and keen insights. Here they are scanning the canopy. Photo by Erik Baard.

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Goldenrod, a staple of migrating monarch butterflies and also for moths. Photo by Erik Baard.

Goldenrod and rosehips in fruit and bloom.  and rosehip in fruit and bloom. We discussed how all the nutrients we need, like vitamin C, come from nature. It was a great chance to remind kids about the important of real foods. Photo by Erik Baard.

Goldenrod and rosehips in fruit and bloom. and rosehip in fruit and bloom. We discussed how all the nutrients we need, like vitamin C, come from nature. It was a great chance to remind kids about the important of real foods. Photo by Erik Baard.

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The synchronistically vibrating tent caterpillars were a hit with the kids. Maybe a nice preview of Halloween too? Photo by Erik Baard.

Burrowing wasp. The kids were fascinated. Photo by Erik Baard.

Burrowing wasp. The kids were fascinated. Photo by Erik Baard.

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At the far end of our nature walk. One girl took the binoculars and pointed back to the education and visitor center of the Wildlife Refuge and said, “I”m lookiing at my sandwich!” Hint taken. 🙂 Photo by Erik Baard.

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HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson paddles as perimeter keeper and safety escort while Erik Baard and EJ Lee bring the kids paddling in shallow water. Photo by Wesley Miller.

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HarborLAB Operations Manager EJ Lee with her seafaring friends. Photo by HarborLAB Board Member Lisa Belfast, After School and Summer Camp Program Manager for Hour Children.

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EJ Lee and Hour Children kids. Photo by Wesley Miller.

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HarborLAB Founder, Executive Director Erik Baard with Hour Children kids. Photo by Wesley Miller.

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Wesley Miller launches and lands the kayaks. Photo by Lisa Belfast.

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Frolicking in the sand. Photo by Erik Baard.

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Connecting with the water and sand. Photo by Erik Baard.

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge!

Glossy ibis flock in Jamaica Bay. Photo by Don Riepe, American Littoral Society.

Glossy ibis flock in Jamaica Bay. Photo by Don Riepe, American Littoral Society.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 22!

This is a wonderful chance to share a day of fun and learning with Hour Children, a nonprofit dedicated to help families get on a positive, healthy, and productive track after a mother’s incarceration. Many of the kids were born in prison, or are being mentored while their mothers are incarcerated. Hour Children also provide neighborhood services, like summer and after school programs, a food pantry, educational aid, job search and training, and thrift shops. Hour Children’s LIC neighborhood includes three large NYCHA residences.

Here are photos from the last time our volunteers took the kids paddling.

Here’s our Facebook event page for this outing.

8AM: We’ll meet outside My Mother’s House, Hour Children’s supportive housing program (3630 12th St, Long Island City, NY).

830AM: Drive to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.

930AM: Arrive at the Mill Basin Launch:

http://nyharborparks.org/0pdfs/tour_kayak.pdf

10AM: LAUNCH!

Paddle to explore the bay with mature teens and enjoy walk-up paddles for the younger kids.

1PM: Lunch.

130PM: Go to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center (http://www.nyharborparks.org/visit/flbe.html). Jamaica Bay is Grand Central for birds migrating through our city, and home to diamondback terrapin turtles, horseshoe crabs, all manner of fish, and more! You’ll be giving the kids a great experience and maybe scoring some amazing nature photos to boot! Banner photo by Don Riepe of the American Littoral Society.

Thanks to a new sponsor we expect to soon announce, and with whom we plan to visit Jamaica Bay, we purchased a boat trailer to get our fleet to the site! We’re also grateful to Jersey Paddler for the considerable discount it is offering on our trailer.

For Orchard Beach Lagoon fans, no worries — we’ll go there soon too!

Jamaica Bay. Photo by Don Riepe, American Littoral Society.

Jamaica Bay. Photo by Don Riepe, American Littoral Society.