Seedball Making at LIC Springs!

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HarborLAB at LIC Springs! Seedball making station. This group of seedballers was perhaps the most fierce of the day.    🙂

 

HarborLAB volunteers had a wonderful time at the LIC Springs street festival, teaching kids and adults how to make seedballs. This means of planting native species helps restore habitat and stabilize shorelines. We focused on seaside goldenrod, which sustains migrating monarch butterflies and other beneficial insects in the autumn and shelters the eggs of black skimmer shorebirds. Our seeds were gathered by HarborLAB volunteers and students from Hunters Point Community Middle School in coordination with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and Hunters Point Parks Conservancy.

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HarborLAB at LIC Springs! Seedball making station. Some were super serious seedballers. 🙂

We’re very grateful to Long Island City Partnership, our local business improvement district, for organizing this annual event, which is much more than a block party. Our lead volunteers for the day were Dylan Geil, Patricia Menje Erickson, David Borgioli, Scott Wolpow, and Erik Baard, with Thomas Dieter helping us get shipped out from the site. Thanks to David Kistner of sponsor Green Apple Cleaners as well, who did the leg work of picking up and delivering the 50 lbs bag of red clay powder needed for our seedballs.

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We’re also grateful to our Seedball friends (http://http://seedball.us/) for teaching us this ancient propogation technique, which mimics the critical ecosystem process of endozoochaory (spreading seeds by animal droppings). We simply mix natural red clay powder, a pinch of sand, seeds, compost (cocoa husks), and a bit of water until the ingredients reach a cookie dough-like consistency. Then the “dough” is rolled into penny diameter balls. These are air dried for a few days and then bottled. Then HarborLAB distributes the seedballs along shorelines to stabilize them and provide habitat and sustenance for pollinators and birds. In cooperation with conservancies and governmental park agencies, we’ve seeded shorelines from Queens to Coney Island and Staten Island!

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Catskills Boating with ReservoirLAB!

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The view from the ReservoirLAB launch Chandler’s Cove on the Neversink Reservoir in the Catskill Mountains.

HarborLAB warmly invites NYC public schools and community organizations to paddle with us for FREE on our Neversink Reservoir kayak and canoe fleet to learn about the natural and engineering wonders that make our city’s water wealth possible!

Here are our initial program dates:

June 10 and 11
July 8 and 9
August 5 and 6
Sept 10 and 11
Sept 17 and 18
Oct 8 and 10
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We’ll add dates as volunteer staffing and public demand both grow.
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To participate please email edu@harborlab.org with the subject line “Neversink Reservoir.” To volunteer for this program, please email volunteer@harborlab.org with the subject line “Neversink Reservoir.”

All adult participants must have free access permits from the NYCDEP. Apply here:  http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/recreation/access.shtml

No permit is required of children under the age of 16 if accompanied by a valid permit holder over the age of 18, as will always be the case with our programs. Anyone 16 years old or older must apply for a permit.

Bus transportation grants are available from the Watershed Agricultural Council for groups incorporating forestry education into their visits to the Neversink Reservoir. ReservoirLAB will take participants on forest walks and using NYCDEP materials we’ll teach how forests protect and clean our drinking water. Classroom visits by NYCDEP professional educators also cover this topic. Apply for grants here:  http://www.nycwatershed.org/forestry/education-training/urbanrural-school-based-education-initiative/bus-tours/ 

We’re grateful to HarborLAB Camping Co-Manager Ray Tan for exploring alternative affordable busing options.

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HarborLAB educator Kamala Redd and camping co-manager Ray Tan exult in the knowledge that ReservoirLAB will soon launch!

 

The ReservoirLAB program is provided by HarborLAB volunteers and was made possible by a Catskill Watershed Corporation grant and its kind donation of boat racks; the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, which taught our volunteers to be “watershed docents” and provides reservoir access (NYCDEP also provided funds to the CWC for the grant); and ExxonMobil’s community outreach program for the Greenpoint Remediation Project, which financed a dozen volunteers’ Red Cross certification in CPR, AED, and First Aid (all for juveniles and adults) and basic water rescue for all of our programs from the Newtown Creek to the Neversink Reservoir. HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson is kindly allowing HarborLAB to use her mobile home as a camping base (for volunteers serving multiple days) and equipment storage site near the Neversink River and reservoir. Frost Valley YMCA has stored our five canoes and ten tandem kayaks, and our paddles and live vests, while we completed training and permits.

Below is a gallery of photos from a recent site coordination meeting of HarborLAB volunteers with NYCDEP and CWC officials at the Neversink Reservoir. Note nearby campgrounds, posters about invasive species and other environmental matters, a hiking path, Chandler’s Cove, and the boat racks donated to us by the CWC.

Sweet Sweep of the Creek!

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HarborLAB’s Newtown Creek Sweep, part of the Riverkeeper Sweep event at sites from NYC to Albany.

HarborLAB volunteers, environmental science students from CUNY LaGuardia Community College, and a mix of visitors from other schools and walks of life had a fantastic time tending to the Newtown Creek on Saturday! Our work was part of the annual Riverkeeper Sweep of Hudson River and estuary sites from New York City to Albany. Our Newtown Creek home base is a waterway so blighted with pollution that it qualifies for the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup program.

HarborLAB’s Newtown Creek Sweep had two basic components, cleaning and gardening. We offered a variety of activities so that people of all ages and abilities could participate. More than 30 people helped over the course of the day. We were especially grateful to have educators among us to add learning to the labor. Holly Porter-Morgan, Diana Szatkowski, Harald Parzer, and Thomas Dieter brought knowledge and encouragement to our students and volunteers.

The core of the program was removing plastics from our shoreline and the creek itself. Volunteers wend their way through broken bulkheads and boat lines to pick trash from the shores while our canoes went out in two waves to scoop up litter, mostly plastic bottles and bags. These smaller items filled seven large trash bags. Larger hauls included a lawn mower, two chairs, a 55-gallon steel drum, a bird feeder, and antiquated electronic sound systems.

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We’re under no delusion that our cleanups will remove the tonnage necessary for an ecosystem rebound, but the exercise educates people about the severity of the plastics problem. So what works if picking up plastics is a measure that’s too little, too late? Recycling is also an inadequate solution by itself because it requires a great amount of energy (often from carbon-releasing fossil sources) and sustained administrative focus. With petroleum and other commodity prices low, private carters in New York City are recycling even less material than usual despite New York City’s public commitment to eliminating waste. While a reduction in unthinking, rampant consumerism is laudable, instilling new virtues across the culture will be a slow process. Real penalties and enforcement for littering will help a bit, but not enough. That leaves voters and activists to demand a reduction in wasteful packaging at the design and production stage. We must also push to eliminate combined sewer overflows, which gulch marine debris as well as pathogens and other pollutants.

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Gardening was also a big part of the day, and is a huge part of HarborLAB’s work. Volunteers — especially a group from New Hyde Park High School — made thousands of native pokeweed seed balls that we’ll distribute as we land at rest stops on our harbor journeys across to stabilize shorelines, buffer storm surges and waves, feed birds, and sustain pollinators. Those up for heavier lifting helped restore our shoreline by layering cocoa husks from MAST Brothers Chocolate with burlap sacks, kitchen scraps, and soil in a system called “lasagna composting.” This fresh soil covers a broken brick substrate that mimics the glacially transported rocks of our region. The resulting slop will be planted with staghorn sumac, pokeweed, goldenrod, milkweed, and other indigenous species, and footed by smooth cordgrass and shellfish. Some of these species are already making headway. We were delighted to see that our dozens of shadbush saplings were fruiting copiously and our hackberry and American persimmon are also thriving. Our raised bed and container-grown dessert cultivars are doing great too, including apricots, apples, pears, and figs.

We’re tremendously grateful to all who came and helped, and to Riverkeeper for creating this unifying event and helping direct volunteers to sites.

 

 

 

Saturday Science Stumper!

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SATURDAY SCIENCE STUMPER from HaborLAB!

Kayakers in the summer of 2017 will love paddling under Staten Island’s grand New York Wheel, the tallest observation Ferris wheel! How cool will that be? But we Newtown Creek paddlers might be even more grateful to have something like this less-flashy wheel. What do you think it is?

ANSWER TO LAST WEEK’S SATURDAY SCIENCE STUMPER:

These beautifully and precisely engineered pieces are just about now becoming something equally amazing and more recognizable — flounder! From February through the end of May, the Army Corps of Engineers suspends dredging in channels where Winter Flounder eggs, pictured above, are laid. To learn more, visit Nature Calendar:http://naturecalendar.wordpress.com/2008/03/23/a-better-day-for-eggs-winter-flounder-that-is/

Clearwater Festival and City of Water Day!

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Wonderful news! Thanks to our volunteers’ fantastic service last year, the two largest annual water ecology festivals in the metropolitan area have asked HarborLAB back to provide their public programs in 2014! Join us in Croton Point State Park in the Hudson River Valley for the Clearwater Festival on June 21 and June 22 and on Governors Island in the center of our harbor for City of Water Day on July 12!

2014 Paddlesport Show!

HarborLAB attended Jersey Paddler‘s 2014 Paddlesport Show, the East Coast’s largest annual canoe, kayak, and stand-up paddle board expo. Erik Baard and EJ Lee represented HarborLAB to safe boating educators with the US Coast Guard Auxiliary (Vessel Examination – Paddlecraft) and American Canoe Association, as well as a host of environmental educators and manufacturers (Folbot, Hobie, and Johnson Outdoors had especially strong showings). It was a great gathering. We purchased nautical charts, waterproof illustrative guides to estuary fauna, a safety horn, scupper hole plugs, reusable tie-downs, and other useful gear. We also received free waterproof cell phone dry bags. A huge bonus was that HarborLAB won a free whitewater rafting trip for two from Jim Thorpe River Adventures that we’ll use as a raffle or auction prize at a future fundraiser!

 

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HarborLAB Operations Manager EJ Lee charms the warm and friendly US Coast Guard Auxiliary crew.

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Great knot-tying practice and quiz board at the Delaware River chapter of the American Canoe Association.

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HarborLAB Operations Manager EJ Lee meets a new American Canoe Association certified instructor.

 

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Winter Solstice with Rachel Carson, 51 Years Ago

A beautiful winter solstice passage from the immortal correspondence between Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman.

A winter solstice passage from the immortal correspondence between Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman.

HarborLAB is amassing a small library of environmental science books to enrich students and volunteers. Our newest addition is Always, Rachel. This is the page revealed when we opened it for the first time. We’re happy to share this glimpse of the Winter Solstice fifty-one years ago. It was Rachel Carson’s penultimate Winter Solstice.

Rachel Carson is often credited with sparking the modern American environmental movement with her book, Silent Spring. Some forget that she was already an acclaimed nature writer with books and articles that grew out of her work as a federal marine biologist. One reader of The Sea Around Us, Dorothy Freeman, developed a powerful bond with Carson that would celebrate her rising recognition and endure through to her death from cancer in the spring of 1964. Both women destroyed many of their letters shortly before Carson’s death. The surviving correspondence is rich with insights into this leading 20th century communicator of environmental science. Freeman’s granddaughter rendered a great service to us all when she gathered them for this book, published in 1995.

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“Muskrat Love” on the Newtown Creek…

Muskrat  swimming against the tide and toward the white late afternoon sun trail, past the HarborLAB launch.  Photo by Erik Baard.

Muskrat swimming against the tide and toward the white late afternoon sun trail, past the HarborLAB launch. Photo by Erik Baard.

After a long day of producing a public paddle event at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, HarborLAB volunteers were treated to the sight of a new (or at least newly sighted) neighbor at our Newtown Creek launch. A muskrat!

We believe this creature hasn’t been verifiably reported in the Newtown Creek in living memory. The Newtown Creek’s chief chronicler and photographer, Mitch Waxman, says there have been murmurs about it for over a year. 

For urbanites like us, a muskrat conjures images of fur trappers and musk collectors from centuries past. This indigenous, semi-aquatic burrowing rodent is ubiquitous over much of North America. Indeed, Algonquin and other Native American creation stories credit the muskrat with swimming to the primordial ocean floor to scoop up the mud that formed the lands of the world. This animal is also depicted as the mother of humanity in some tales, and often as an auspicious symbol promising wealth. Perhaps HarborLAB has found a mascot?

Surprised to see this critter in the Newtown Creek? We were too, but perhaps we shouldn’t have been; muskrats survive in sulfurous streams polluted by coal plants, where frogs and fish have been wiped out. These herbivores (they’ll only occasionally eat small amphibians, invertebrates, and shellfish) thrive in wetlands, but have found niches in more challenging areas disrupted by development. One benefit of muskrats is that they eat invasive phragmites reeds, which choke out native plants in fresh and brackish waters. The fate of muskrats (locally breeding or arriving) factored into a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study on the possible scope of industrial damage to the Newtown Creek’s natural resources. No doubt many muskrats once inhabited this waterway, but not in living memory. A study for the Environmental Protection Agency done by HarborLAB sponsor AECOM posited that muskrats might use the creek:

“Birds are likely to be the principal aquatic-dependent wildlife species that occur in and around the Study Area, although some mammals such as muskrats may use the area. Members of various avian feeding guilds may, at one time or another, also be present in the Study Area.” — Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study  Work Plan  Newtown Creek (AECOM Environment)

This muskrat might be living in a burrow dug into the soft slope where the bulkhead has disintegrated on the Queens side of the Newtown Creek. Muskrats are usually nocturnal or crepuscular, so they’re not easy to spot. We have few muskrat predators here, though these rodents (especially their young) might still find themselves on the menu for cats, raptors, some large fish, and turtles.

Muskrats prefer slow-moving waterways, but can transit on swifter courses like the East River. They aren’t likely to drown in strong currents because they can hold their breath for up to 17 minutes!

We’re not sure what this neighbor was up to. It swam against a mild but burgeoning flood tidal current, using its distinctive vertically-flat tail as a flagellum to propel it toward the white sun trail of late afternoon. Its partially webbed hind feet are a secondary means of swimming. What we do know is that it looked so serious about its agenda, which made it look even more painfully cute.

“It’s serious stuff, being an urban muskrat,” remarked Waxman. 

It may have been seeking new territory, for mating advantage or because it belonged to a population that had consumed its food sources. Muskrat populations often boom and bust with available edible plants. Sadly, most muskrats don’t live more than a year.

Where we are, toward the Newtown Creek mouth, water quality is better than inland reaches. This is because ocean water flowing through the East River strait swirls into the creek west of the Pulaski Bridge. Dissolved oxygen levels are higher than the creek average, allowing for more fish and invertebrates and therefore a heartier ecosystem. Also, we’ve had a dry spell, so pipes combining storm water with household sewage haven’t overflowed into the creek recently. That said, however, the sediment pollutants that warrant U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund designation remain a carcinogenic hazard for mammals feeding in the creek or having repeated exposure. Muskrats have been shown to concentrate, or bioaccumulate, metals in their tissues.

As for protecting the human mammal, HarborLAB uses canoes on the creek to reduce water contact greatly. Our sit-on-top kayaks are exclusively for harbor voyages. We never have children paddle from the Newtown Creek site or contaminated nearby sites like Anable Basin and Hallets Cove. We make the effort to host children’s paddling in cleaner regional waters, while advocating for local cleanups.

HarborLAB hopes this little guy finds a healthier habitat to call home soon. But for one afternoon, we enjoyed “Muskrat Love.”

HarborLAB Helps Tree Giveaways!

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Forest Hills tree giveaway. Photo by Erik Baard. Tulip tree saplings in the foreground.

Seven HarborLAB volunteers helped make the Forest Hills Tree GIveaway organized by Michael Perlman at the Forest Hills Jewish Center and MacDonald Park on October 13 a great success. Help get more trees planted in western Queens with the Queens Public Library! Both events were coordinated with campaign leaders New York Restoration Project and MillionTreesNYC.

If you’d like to join our team in supporting the western Queens tree giveaway, please email volunteer@harborlab.org with the subject line “Broadway LIbrary Trees.” It also helps to join through our Facebook event. Please indicate if you’d like to work the entire event, or the first shift (noon-2PM) or the second shift (2PM-4PM). The program runs from 1PM-3PM.

This is a MillionTreesNYC event coordinated by New York Restoration Project and its local partner, Queens Library at BroadwayGreening Queens Library. HarborLAB volunteers will follow their directions. Our help was requested by Greening Queens Library.

Here’s the link to register for your tree, or to register a tree for the HarborLAB launch site:  http://treegiveaways.com/qnlib. Here’s a general page for NYRP-coordinated tree giveaways in all five boroughs.

Trees and other plants reduce combined sewage overflows, which raise pathogen levels in local waterways. Let’s do all we can as advocates and greeners to make Hallets Cove and other NYC inlets safer, especially for kids. The ability of these trees to absorb CO2 also reduces ocean acidification, perhaps the world’s greatest looming threat to food supplies and ecosystems.

HarborLAB enjoyed great success helping the Forest Hills tree giveaway. Let’s do it again! This is also a great opportunity for HarborLAB to earn salt-tolerant fruiting trees for our launch! We have shadbush (aka service berry) trees for our launch now, and will add persimmon. Maybe some tulip trees, which were the trunks of choice for the first canoes of this harbor?

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The Forest Hills tree giveaway’s cutest volunteers (Harpo the pooch puts it over the top). Photo by Erik Baard.

South Brother Island Cleanup! 9/28

South Brother Island in foreground

This is a unique opportunity. Landing on South Brother Island is normally forbidden. Even NYC Parks staff rarely visits.

The event:

The Natural Resources Group of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation has kindly given us the opportunity to continue our volunteers’ tradition of removing plastic debris from South Brother Island as part of the American Littoral Society’s annual New York Beach Cleanup. We’re also grateful to our estuary stewardship and education sponsors, the United Nations Federal Credit Union, Con Ed, and the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary Program (stemming from City of Water Day).

Our primary partner will be CUNY, to bring students on a roughly 1:1 ratio with volunteers. Our capacity is limited. We would welcome Rocking the Boat and Bronx River Alliance to participate if Parks approves and we can keep numbers small and manageable and stay to the same schedule.

Public paddlers will be invited to participate as new volunteers through our outreach (like here and Facebook), but must be screened, selected, and confirmed by HarborLAB — no general “walk ups” may come to the island or be waitlisted. HarborLAB participants must be over 18 years old, approved by HarborLAB (via professors, in the case of CUNY students), and bring waivers signed and dated, with the bottom note, “SBI.” Here’s our waiver: https://harborlab.org/waivers/

Participants must RSVP to edu@harborlab.org for this event. Subject line: South Brother Island. List your skills (we have needs far beyond paddling) and interests if you’re a prospective volunteer. Professors must provide student lists by Friday morning at 10:00 AM. Waitlisted guests can come to Barretto Point Park and have a great picnic if our boats are filled to capacity. We strongly encourage people on the waitlist to come, rather than have empty boats. If volunteers are willing and not exhausted, there’s a chance of a brief pleasure paddle along the Bronx coast for waitlisted people after the event.

Applicants for this event will be notified on Friday if they’re on the trip or waitlisted. Participants will receive more details via email. 

BACKGROUND:

South Brother Island is located between the Bronx mainland (and belongs to that borough) and Queens, twinned with the more famed North Brother Island. Also nearby are Rikers Island Prison and Randalls Island. It’s one of NYC’s most important Harbor Heron refuges and near the western extreme of the project boundary of the Long Island Sound Study. The nearest convenient park is Barretto Point Park, our launch site for the day.

Here are photos from one of the previous cleanups:

https://picasaweb.google.com/103694355762672710514/SouthBrotherIslandCleanup2009?noredirect=1

And photos of some aspects of the island’s natural beauty:

https://picasaweb.google.com/103694355762672710514/SouthBrotherIslandBeauty?noredirect=1

And a brief video of the Monarch butterfly migration sustained by the island’s goldenrod:

This cleanup began at our public initiative, it’s one of HarborLAB’s top service highlights, and we’re very grateful to NRG for making this unique educational opportunity possible. We make no pretense of removing most (or even much) of the plastic debris tossed by waves, wind, and wakes onto this beautiful little island. But we hope our outing will provide students of biology, environmental science, and photojournalism with experiential learning through service. Perhaps our work will also draw positive attention to the island, and thereby resources from foundations and donors.

We visit after the herons have migrated out and land our boats below the high water mark, but must remain extremely sensitive to the island’s ecosystem. NRG’s representative will provide direction or a veto in all matters regarding conservation and protection — where we land, clean, gather filled trash bags, etc.