The EPA Must Test the Plants of Newtown Creek.

HarborLAB caused quite a stir recently by drawing attention to the fact that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency isn’t testing plant tissues in the Newtown Creek. This great research gap had not been addressed before. We raised the point at the October meeting of the Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group with the EPA about Superfund progress.

Our concern is informed by our periodic biota surveys. We thank the United Nations Federal Credit Union and Con Ed for their support of our environmental work.

The EPA noted in its presentation that it tests the tissues of some fish species, especially those most likely to be eaten by people, but admitted in response to HarborLAB’s questioning that no plant tests were conducted or scheduled to be conducted. The EPA also asserted that because the creek was so thoroughly bulkheaded, there wasn’t a plant population to test. HarborLAB has conducted bioblitzes of the creek and strongly disagreed, suggesting that nonprofits and universities could begin plant tissue tests even if the EPA wouldn’t. Representatives from Riverkeeper, North Brooklyn Boat Club, and LaGuardia Community College quickly seconded HarborLAB’s concerns.

HarborLAB’s launch already boasts indigenous, salt-tolerant goldenrod, pokeberry, milkweed, and other species that support birds and pollinators. We’re working to add cordgrass, beach plum, and more as part of our GreenLaunch project. Marsh grasses, reeds, and other plants fringe the creek where there are no bulkheads or where bulkheads have crumbled. Above the bulkheads but still within occasional flood zones are a number of plant species, whether native, invasive, or cultivated. There are even fruit trees, including fig, apple, pear, and mulberry. Within the creek, HarborLAB has observed sea lettuce, bladderwrack, mosses, and more.

At the request of LaGuardia Community College biologist Sarah Durand, PhD, HarborLAB has been photographing shoreline and aquatic plants. Dr. Durand and her students have begun growing marsh grass in buckets and planters as experiments in anticipation of installing habitat restoration platforms. We will soon join the Newtown Creek CAG, which counts Dr. Durand as a steering committee member, in formally urging the EPA to reconsider its assessment and add plant tissue testing.

It’s absolutely necessary that the EPA expand testing to include plants and smaller animal organisms, like invertebrates and killifish who spend their entire lives in the creek. These are the complex organism building blocks this blighted corner of the estuary. As Newtown Creek Alliance Mitch Waxman remarked to HarborLAB after the meeting on the narrowness of the EPA’s work: “What the EPA is doing is a human health impact study, not an environmental impact study.”

Gallery of Newtown Creek plants by Thomas Zellers and Erik Baard.

Videos by Roy Harp showing moss and algae.

Video by Roy Harp showing spartina installations.

HarborLAB Distributes 100 Fruit Trees!

tree2

HarborLAB distributed 100 apricot, pear, and fig trees in partnership with MillionTreesNYC, New York Restoration Project, Queens Library, and Triple R Events. Our sidewalk fruit forest of baby trees was spoiled by a morning of gentle rains and an afternoon of cooing adoration from adoptive gardeners. Huge thanks to organizer Lynne Serpe of both HarborLAB and Triple R Events. Volunteers from HarborLAB included Liz Lopez and son Danny, Mairo Notton and son Tormi, Irene McLoughlin, Patricia Erickson, Roy Harp and sister Viola Anderson, Erik Baard, and Bob Din.

Trees absorb storm water that would otherwise contribute to combined sewer overflows (street water and bathroom flushes go into the same pipes) that damage our estuary. Fruit trees also sustain pollinators.

HarborLAB is restoring a section of crumbling waterfront bulkheads as a welcoming, green, and beautiful shoreline for education and passive recreation, in addition to boating. Thanks to today’s work we’ll have a new apricot and fig tree for human consumption in the edible uplands section of the GreenLaunch. The rest of the site will be devoted to indigenous species. Our intertidal area will be lush with spartina marsh grass, topping bladderwrack seaweed and mussels.  Our slopes will be resplendent with shadbush, inkberry, beach plum, and other natives. We’ll also have a hackberry tree and a tulip tree. Our upland with be edged by even more butterfly-sustaining goldenrod and milkweed than we had this year. We’re seed gathering now!

tree3

tree1

Sunday: Newtown Creek Photo BioBlitz!

Come photograph the life of Newtown Creek, starting Sunday morning at 9AM!

Details here:  https://www.facebook.com/events/571214066339086/

Email tours@harborlab.org with the subject line “Photo BioBlitz” to participate.

We’ve seen beautiful and fascinating fauna, including a muskrat, kingfisher, egrets, swallows, cormorants, herons, mussels, oysters, crabs, shrimp, and more! The flora is no less exciting. Goldenrod, an apple tree, mulberry trees, blackberries, and a pear tree. Here’s a short video of a crabs and oodles of shrimp by Sunday’s trip coordinator, Roy Harp.

Aboard with HarborLAB Oct 4 – Oct 11! (Tours, Events, Volunteer Opportunities)

thomas zellers,Though the public paddling season is drawing to a close, we still have fun paddles and volunteer opportunities! We’ll also have autumn and winter activities — as you’ve seen, HarborLAB is not merely a recreational paddling club, but a community organization dedicated to social good and environmental science service learning.

Here are a few events for the coming days.

Oct 5: GreenLaunch Work Day!  (POSTPONED FOR RAIN DAY)

9AM-2PM
 
53-21 Vernon Blvd, LIC, 11101 (directions: https://harborlab.org/location-and-directions/)
Email volunteer@harborlab.org with the subject line, “GreenLaunch Work Day” to participate.
Help HarborLAB create the GreenLaunch! We’ll remove bricks in the morning to donate to Build it Green. In the afternoon we’ll gather wildflower seeds, improve safety, and build planters and raised beds from wooden pallets (and other used wood) and used vinyl billboard posters. Students and artists will also make a Newtown Creek map on vinyl to permanently hang at our site, and decoratively paint the planters!
You needn’t be a big brute to help with the bricks. We’ll be hand carrying therm to two vans at the gate in small batches — don’t overdo it! And you needn’t be a Marie Cassatt to help with the painting either!
After 3PM volunteers are welcome to canoe the creek with volunteers or go for a brief skyline kayak tour!
Oct 5: Newtown Creek Photo BioBlitz!

https://www.facebook.com/events/571214066339086/
53-21 Vernon Blvd, LIC, 11101 (directions: https://harborlab.org/location-and-directions/)
Email tours@harborlab.org with the subject line, “Photo BioBlitz” to participate.
Come canoeing with HarborLAB to photograph the plants (especially spartina. milkweed, goldenrod), animals (especially ribbed mussels), and fungi that are cleaning the Newtown Creek and its shores!
HarborLAB volunteer Roy Harp will coordinate the tour, partnering with GrowNYC Environmental Educator Thomas Zellers. Sadly, because the Newtown Creek is a very polluted waterway, participating is by adult, informed consent. No minors.
We’re doing this in support of the Fall Mud Ball (https://www.facebook.com/events/1469669146637761/) bioremediation event, a fête thrown by Masters of Succession Collective at Smiling Hogshead Ranch urban farm.

To participate click “join” and email tours@harborlab.org with the subject line “Photo BioBlitz.” Roy Harp is the coordinator for this program.

We’ll map our finds bother electronically and on a community billboard at the farm that might be reused at the HarborLAB GreenLaunch.Those who arrive early can help gather milkweed seeds (this is Monarch Butterfly larvae’s sole food — http://www.monarchwatch.org/milkweed/).

You’ll also see surprising areas of life, the city’s little-noted infrastructure, recycling plants. derelict old rail passes and bridges, egrets, herons, and other sights to delight an urban archeologist or naturalist alike. This trip requires some climbing.

HarborLAB is reviving a 125′ shoreline with Newtown Creek’s first true habitat restoration. Our “GreenLaunch” will have a reef of ribbed mussels at its base. We are consulting with experts at CUNY LaGuardia College and Cornel Cooperative Extension to understand how to best seed and nurture the mussels. The first step is to document where ribbed mussels are already living below the high water mark, and whether they’re thriving or struggling.

We’ll map our finds bother electronically and on a community billboard at the farm that might be reused at the HarborLAB GreenLaunch.Those who arrive early can help gather milkweed seeds (this is Monarch Butterfly larvae’s sole food — http://www.monarchwatch.org/milkweed/).
You’ll also see surprising areas of life, the city’s little-noted infrastructure, recycling plants. derelict old rail passes and bridges, egrets, herons, and other sights to delight an urban archeologist or naturalist alike. This trip requires some climbing.
HarborLAB is reviving a 125′ shoreline with Newtown Creek’s first true habitat restoration. Our “GreenLaunch” will have a reef of ribbed mussels at its base. We are consulting with experts at CUNY LaGuardia College and Cornel Cooperative Extension to understand how to best seed and nurture the mussels. The first step is to document where ribbed mussels are already living below the high water mark, and whether they’re thriving or struggling.
Oct 5: SUBMERGE! NYC Marine Science Festival 
Email volunteer@harborlab.org with the subject line, “SUBMERGE” to participate.
HarborLAB needs volunteer ambassadors to participate in this exciting gathering of groups active in teaching and researching our estuary. This is a great fit for students. Share HarborLAB’s work, distribute postcards, network with educators, have fun, and be inspired!
Oct 11: Tree Giveaway! 
40-20 Broadway, LIC/Astoria (east of Steinway)
Email volunteer@harborlab.org with the subject line, “Tree Giveaway” to participate as a volunteer, or register through this link:  http://treegiveaways.com/qnlib
Trees drink up runoff waters that would otherwise overflow sewers into the estuary. They also breathe in CO2 that might otherwise be absorbed by oceans, making them more acidic. We need more trees!
HarborLAB is happy to again distribute 100 trees in partnership with The New Yorker Restoration Project, Triple R Events, and Queens Library at Broadway (4020 Broadway, Long Island City, NY 11103 — just east of Steinway) as part of MillionTreesNYC! Many thanks to New York Restoration Project and Triple R Events for being our partners in this event.
Volunteers set up at 11AM and some meet the tree shipment on Friday.
Giveaway starts Sunday at 1PM, first for those who registered online and then for those who’ve arrived without registering. All recipients must have permission to plant the trees on private property within the five boroughs of NYC.