Readying for Winter…and Spring! :)


Diana, Miyeon, and EJ at work on the second shed.

HarborLAB volunteers had an amazingly productive Sunday, and had lots of fun in the process! Our goals were to winterize our Newtown Creek waterfront site and prepare it for transformation into the GreenLaunch in the spring. It sure felt like spring already!

We assembled a second shed and platform, repaired “The Jenni” tandem Folbot kayak for use by Baruch College environmental science classes (named for our late friend and CUNY alumna, Jenni Jenkins), set up planters and protected fruit trees from root freeze with vinyl and bags of cocoa shells, gathered seeds (especially pokeberry, goldenrod, and milkweed) for habitat and shoreline stabilization, and protected public boats from UV degradation with tarps. We donated many bricks to Build it Green, delivering them by van. Our bricks, which are molded with holes, are being built sideways into walls in South Africa to allow air circulation.

Many thanks to Patricia Erickson, who directed the day’s work as HarborLAB’s facilities manager and chair of the GreenLaunch committee. A special acknowledgment to Shawn and Miyeon Cornell, who were married just this month and shared this special time with us as stellar volunteers. They are CUNY students, as is Diana Arias, another fantastic volunteer who threw herself into the work (we met her through the great Baruch College ECO Club). Rounding out the crew were Irene McLoughlin, Alessandro Byther (daring Alpinist of bricks and plastic heights), Jenna Nugent, Davis Janowski, Erik Baard, and EJ Lee (HarborLAB operations manager and a CUNY alumna).

Great thanks also to Schuman Properties for our launch and to Citizens Committee for NYC for the initial GreenLaunch project grant.  Much gratitude also to Folbot, Lamar Outdoors, Dorothy Morehead for our supplies.

June 14 Saturday Science Stumper!


Welcome back, Chrono Art Clock! What? It’s not the clock that befuddled Oscar Madison on “The Odd Couple” in 1973 (appearing at 12:45)? No. But it does tell you if it’s a safe time to be in the water! So what are we looking at?


Horseshoe Ctab Blood

MARK THIESSEN/National Geographic Creative


Much like the Vulcans of “Star Trek,” horseshoe crabs have blood that uses copper instead of iron to transport oxygen. It also happens that their blood is a fantastic tool for detecting bacteria that might contaminate pharmaceutical instruments and injections. Horseshoe crabs (not really crabs at all) are captured, tapped for blood to be used for this purpose, and released. For those of us who are less bloodthirsty, you can see their moon-driven, ancient mating migrations this weekend along beaches throughout NYC! More about our local horseshoe crabs at Nature Calendar.

Saturday Science Stumper!



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?


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:

Newtown Creek Canoe Flags!



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!


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.



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.


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 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!


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.



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 with the subject “moo xool” if you’d like to work on our flag!



Labor and Liberty Paddle!

Liberty, Ellis, and the harbor. National Parks Service.


FLOAT PLAN CHANGE: Storm possibility, so we will likely alter our plans to launch from the Hudson River, to avoid a cross-harbor paddle with such uncertainty.)

Our culture has long wrestled with deep philosophical questions about the relationship between labor and liberty, none of which will be answered by this paddle tour. But we hope you end the day with wonderful memories and a greater appreciation for harbor history, estuary tidal forces, and urban planning ideas.

We’d be grateful for donations or a sponsor for this paddle, to support our growing  and needed educational and youth programs. Email if you’d like to join us, with the subject line “Labor and Liberty.” Also join our Facebook event for this paddle.

We’ll launch from LIC (Hunters Point South), land at Governors Island for a tidal break, cross the harbor at near slack to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (respecting security zones), and land at the Porte Liberte canal village in Jersey City for lunch. Then we’ll paddle straight back to LIC, perhaps resting in DUMBO.

What development lessons does Porte Liberte hold, in terms of “dos and don’ts,” for NYC inlets, creeks, and canals?

This is a very demanding paddle and crosses larger vessel traffic and waters with a long, exposed fetch. Please be very mindful of this and take safety instructions, to be sent to participants, to heart.

We use the traditional tidal current benchmark of The Battery for our planning. This is for a holistic view of water movement throughout the harbor.

Tides for New York (The Battery) starting with September 1, 2013.

Day        High      Tide  Height   Sunrise    Moon  Time      % Moon
           /Low      Time    Feet    Sunset                    Visible

Su   1      Low  12:09 AM     0.8   6:23 AM    Rise  2:42 AM      19
     1     High   6:12 AM     4.3   7:28 PM     Set  5:04 PM
     1      Low  12:09 PM     0.9
     1     High   6:28 PM     4.8

10am: Gather at Natural Frontier Market (12-01 Jackson Ave , LIC, NY 11101).

1130am: Launch from LIC.

1PM: Land at Governors Island (we’re likely to land earlier).

1:30pm: Launch from Governors Island.

3PMpm: Land at Porte Liberte.

430PM: Launch from Porte Liberte

7pm: Land in LIC.

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Porte Liberte. Google satellite image.

Cardboard Kayak Race!

The fierce First Heat. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

The fierce First Heat. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

Contestants awaiting the start signal. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

Contestants awaiting the start signal. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

This year the City of Water Day gathering on Governors Island featured the inaugural cardboard kayak race — a bit of lunacy that drew an enormous flood of spectators to the Pier 101 basin. HarborLAB provided paddles and life vests to the contestants and safety kayaks should anyone have needed rescuing.

Kayak blogger Chris Schiffner captured the fun on video from the viewing area, as did HarborLAB volunteer and CUNY LaGuardia Community College photo student Daniel Callaway. HarborLAB board member Scott Sternbach (CUNY LaGuardia Community College photo director) snapped away from his kayak and HarborLAB volunteer Daisy Hope Benjamin (an ER nurse who added safety to the day) took photos from the dock.

The cardboard bodyboard. HarborLAB volunteer Omar Barrios dubbed this team, "the best bromance ever." Photo by Daisy Hope Benjamin.

The cardboard bodyboard. HarborLAB volunteer Omar Barrios dubbed this team, “the best bromance ever.” Photo by Daisy Hope Benjamin.

The competition was organized into several rounds — or, appropriately for the scorching day, “heats” — past a buoy across the embayment, culminating in a mad dash for the medal. Designs ranged from efficient to fanciful. One North Brooklyn Boat Club entry looked like a Balangay, while another was ready to join the New York Water Taxi fleet. A few sank, though the prize for tenacity had to go to North Brooklyn Boat Club for recovering from a keel-over collision in Heat 2 to complete its buoy circuit. Erik Baard pulled the soggy canopy from their boat and carried it on a HarborLAB safety Ocean Kayak Malibu 2 XL for the duration of the heats. 

In the end, triumph went to Stevens Institute of Technology engineering students whose sleek and sturdy boat reflected weeks of planning. It seemed they could have paddled back to New Jersey in that thing!


Disorderly fun. Photo by Daniel Callaway.

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An early favorite starts to dissolve. Photo by Daisy Hope Benjamin.

All hail the taxi! Photo by Daisy Hope Benjamin.

All hail the taxi! Photo by Scott Sternbach.

A team from Stuyvesant Cove ran a strong second before sinking. They sportingly swam their craft in. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

A team from Stuyvesant Cove ran a strong second before sinking. They sportingly swam their craft in. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

The go-go Greenpointers of the North Brooklyn Boat Club who impressed us all with determination and filled us with envy that they got to take a swim. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

The go-go Greenpointers of the North Brooklyn Boat Club who impressed us all with determination and filled us with envy that they got to take a swim. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

To the victors go the As. Steven's Institute of Technology students with their winning cardboard kayak.

To the victors go the As. Stevens Institute of Technology students with their winning cardboard kayak. Photo by Scott Sternbach.