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.

Willow Lake Canoeing!

Interspecies fun on Willow Lake in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Starting in June we’ll offer paddling the first Sunday of each month. We offer both Partner Paddles to augment the missions of schools and community organizations, and Community Paddles for the general public to enjoy during open program hours.

Location:

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We’re deeply grateful to the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy for its advocacy for this premier green space, and for aiding HarborLAB with permits and outreach. The organization’s leadership is reflected in the naming of Pat Dolan Trail for its first president.

Our goal is to through demonstrations seed a local eco-educational, non-competitive paddling, and nature stewardship group at Willow Lake and Flushing World’s Fair Marina’s kayak launch. For those looking to paddle race or row, try these two great nearby groups: New York Dragon Boat Race Club or Row New York!

The Willow Lake habitat restoration in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was closed to the public for a long stretch while the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation restored and replenished natural areas. We’re excited by the improvements and hope to contribute to further progress through water and sediment testing, new plantings of native species, and mitigation and remediation of highway runoff waters. Paddling provides unique views of the herons, egrets, turtles, and other beauties of Willow Lake. At a later date we’ll write about the history of Willow Lake and its larger twin, Meadow Lake, and proposals for the future of the greater Flushing Creek watershed.

Through the years other groups, including Boy Scouts, John Bowne High School, Yale University, LTV Squad, New York World, and CUNY Macaulay Honors College have worked for the betterment of the park’s Forever Wild areas and to document its life and needs. We give thanks also to the NYC Urban Park Rangers, who provided the first public canoeing in Willow Lake and will certainly continue to be a leading presence! We hope that HarborLAB can partner with these organizations, bringing the added joy and access of a canoe fleet! HarborLAB also has sit-on-top kayaks, but canoes are a safer (drier) bet until we have water quality data.

 

PADDLING WILLOW LAKE

 

So what’s it like to paddle Willow Lake with HarborLAB? It’s an amazing New York City experience!

 

What are those strange people up to under the traffic? Photo by Erik Baard

What are those strange people up to under the Van Wyck Expressway traffic? Canoeing, of course!

 

We're under the Van Wyck Expressway, just north of Jewel Avenue, across from the park's Ballfield #13.

We’re under the Van Wyck Expressway (I-678), just north of Jewel Avenue, across from the park’s Ballfield #13.

 

HarborLAB's "secret launch" to Willow Lake. You start in the shade of a  Robert Moses cave that thrums and thunders with Smart Cars and 18-wheelers above. Your canoe awaits in a small canal that links Willow Lake to Meadow Lake.

HarborLAB’s “secret launch” to Willow Lake. You start in the shade of a Robert Moses cave that thrums and thunders with Smart Cars and 18-wheelers above. Your canoe awaits in a small canal that links Willow Lake to Meadow Lake.

 

The little creek thrown wide at Willow Lake.

Is it the Bayou? Nope. Our little canal gives way to a creek, which is thrown wide open at Willow Lake.

 

Paddling to Oz? The  Observatory Towers and Unisphere of the 1964 World's Fair glimmer in the background.

Paddling to Oz? The Observatory Towers, New York Pavillion, and Unisphere of the 1964 World’s Fair glimmer in the background.

The happy return.

The happy return.

 

Some of the day's crew.

Some of the day’s crew. Our friendly volunteers provide safety tips, environmental literature, activities, community notices, and more!

 

Happy World Water Day!

 

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Raise a glass of water in a toast to water! Remember to drink local tap water, and strive to protect and improve that blessing for future generations.

We’re endowed with water riches in New York City, so please take the chance to celebrate World Water Day by supporting the UN’s efforts to help people who must struggle for the most basic necessity. “Like” the official UN World Water Day fan page Facebook to keep up with water education, resources, and fun all year.

For those wishing to more intensively study water issues, we recommend the powerful local brain trust of the Columbia Water Center.

Spring rains and snowmelt are filling the Neversink Reservoir, where HarborLAB will pioneer public paddling programs this summer! We’re very grateful to the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and Catskill Watershed Corporation for this opportunity to serve. We also give great thanks to our sponsor, the UN Federal Credit Union, for its generous sponsorship of HarborLAB!

Neversink Reservoir. Photo by the Catskill Chronicle.

 

City of Water Day Memories

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Volunteer Co-Manager Caroline Walker takes two kids out in the embayment while the rest of their family shared another boat. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

HarborLAB was honored to serve at the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance‘s request as the public kayaking program at the Governors Island center of City of Water Day, the largest annual harbor festival in our region. We enjoyably and safely shared a very busy little dock with New York Outrigger and East River C.R.E.W. (Community Education and Recreation on the Water) rowers. We set 146 members of the public afloat within the protected Pier 101 embayment between 11am and 4pm, despite the happy interruptions of arriving groups of kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders, and canoeists, and a wildly popular and zany cardboard kayak race.

We couldn’t have achieved these good things for the community without the support of our sponsors and allies. At this event we were proud to fly sustainably produced banners that included both our logo  and those of TF Cornerstone, Con Ed, and the United Nations Federal Credit Union.

HarborLAB was represented by two dozen volunteers, students, and supporters. CUNY students, especially LaGuardia Community College, were especially helpful in our estuary and watershed education tent. They also documented the day’s attractions. Our dock was staffed throughout by Daisy Hope Benjamin, an emergency room nurse with child and adult life saving certifications, as an added level of safety. She was also just great company on the dock! The day’s on-water safety and event production, under which we served, was directed for MWA by Ray Fusco, whose professionalism and kindness made this hard work for public benefit a pleasure.

Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance officials described our program variously as “brilliant,” “great,” and “amazing.” Our success follows similar raves at the Clearwater Festival. Though this is our first season, our core volunteers have years of service on the harbor under their belts, or life vests. Founder Erik Baard has a special tie to City of Water Day — he started the Five Borough Harbor Ramble (the first event through which paddlers and rowers touched all boroughs), which MWA aided greatly (special thanks to Carter Craft!). When the MWA asked to adopt the Ramble as its fully-owned signature annual event, Erik joyfully agreed. Since then the MWA has rebranded the event using the title of its excellent documentary, and profoundly grown City of Water Day as no other organization could.

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Volunteer Co-Manager Danushi Fernando stepped down from the desk to communicate a message to the dock crew while new volunteer (met that day) and teacher Kamala Redd hams it up with her niece. 🙂

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The day started in Sunnyside, Queens, where our boats are temporarily stored at the private office of Community Board 2 Environmental Chair Dorothy Morehead. Our great innovation of the morning was to heat seal sustainably printed decals to our boats using a blowdryer. Thanks to a Harbor Estuary Program grant for City of Water Day, we rented a box truck to carry boats — we URGENTLY need a trailer (sponsor our purchase of this 16-boat trailer!) and often shuttle boats bit by bit in a HarborLAB Facilities Manager Pat Erickson’s van, but our volunteers had enough work ahead of them. A huge help came from NY Waterway, which sent a special East River Ferry to Hunters Point for HarborLAB to get boats, gear, and volunteers to Governors Island ahead of the crowds.

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Operation Manager EJ Lee on decal duty.

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ER Nurse Daisy Benjamin brings fantastic precision to her work.

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Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson with six of our ten Ocean Kayak Malibu 2 XL tandem sit-on-top kayaks.

HarborLAB’s morning crew of volunteers and supporters. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

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On the island, gear was transported to Pier 101 by Ray Fusco’s van. Volunteer Emanuel “Manny” Steier had a creative solution for moving the boats!

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Volunteer Zamira Kamal takes a quick, well-deserved break. Photo by Ana Espinal.

HarborLAB volunteers operated two tents, one of which we brought to the island aboard the ferry. The first held waivers and great safety and stewardship information from  the American Canoe Association (HarborLAB is a Paddle America Club). The second, red canopy was our estuary and watershed education desk. At that table we highlighted CUNY LaGuardia Community College research and provided literature from the Harbor Estuary Program, NY State DEC, NYC DEP, ACA, and other great environmental groups and agencies.

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Volunteer Co-Manager Danushi Fernando and Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson staff the HarborLAB waiver and American Canoe Association information table. Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Operations Manager EJ Lee at the education table. Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Teacher David Perrin flanked by EJ Lee and Vernon ShengWuey Ong at the education table.

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HarborLAB’s education table. Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Down on the ramp, dock, and water our volunteers had a blast despite the pressures of managing crowds and coordinating safe sharing of the embayment. It helped that NY Outrigger and East River C.R.E.W. are both friendly, community-spirited, and highly competent groups. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with them was a privilege.

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A beautiful East River C.R.E.W. boat captained by Mary Nell Hawk.

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Volunteers Omar Barrios, Daisy Benjamin, and Danushi Fernando sharing a laugh on the dock.

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Steve Sanford on safety patrol in the MetroBoat, HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard’s mass transit and estuary “brain child” with Folbot (http://folbot.wordpress.com/tag/metroboat/).

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HarborLAB Board Member Scott Sternbach, CUNY LaGuardia Community College photo director, on safety patrol in his own boat. Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Erik Baard managed kayak group arrivals during program hours to keep the dock from getting dangerously crowded. Here he holds HarborLAB boats out on the water while LIC Community Boathouse (also founded by Erik Baard), Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club, and Sebago Canoe Club boats arrived in one flotilla.

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“Boat Hill” fills in as paddling groups arrive.

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CUNY students and HarborLAB volunteers George Blandino-Ripley and Ana Espinal.

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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.

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Part of the afternoon HarborLAB crew. Yes, a bunch of us pulled double shifts!

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Even a hose shower was a blessing.

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Students and volunteers enjoyed exploring the island, which is rich in art. Photo by Daniel Cassady.

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At least half of us camped over on the island.

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Sunrise over Brooklyn. Time to go home.

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Daniel Cassady and the rest of the crew carried boats down for an early launch.

UNFCU Sponsors Estuary Education Gear!

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HarborLAB is thrilled to announce on 2013 World Environment Day, and just in time for World Oceans Day, that the United Nations Federal Credit Union has sponsored our purchase of estuary learning gear! HarborLAB will enhance its paddling programs with handheld and stationary video microscopes, waterproof cameras, waders, seines and traps, organism models, educational guides, and other materials thanks to the United Nations Federal Credit Union. (UNFCU).. City University of New York faculty, who sit on HarborLAB’s Board, will select these purchases along with advisers and Executive Director Erik Baard, who was the UNFCU 2012 World Environment Day keynote speaker.

Celestron handheld video microscope.

Celestron handheld video microscope. An example of the type of gear we will use.

HarborLAB will debut some of this learning gear at the Clearwater Festival, where it will be the sole provider of “walk-up” paddling programs. HarborLAB will make the UNFCU-sponsored items available to the Environmental Science program of CUNY LaGuardia Community College to maximize their educational value throughout the year, and so that CUNY students are best trained to serve with us as estuary and watershed ecology docents and rising leaders.

Long Island City, NY-headquartered UNFCU is a member-owned, not-for-profit cooperative institution that serves the financial needs of the United Nations staff, UN Specialized Agencies, former international civil servants, and their families globally. It has members located in more than 200 countries and territories, and summarizes its mission as “Serving the People Who Serve the World.” Both HarborLAB and UNFCU are members of LIC Partnership.

HarborLAB is deeply grateful that UNFCU’s sponsorship is allowing us to ignite a love of environmental science in the young people we serve. For a glimpse of this kind of gear in action, here’s Erik Baard’s brief video of the New York Restoration Project‘s environmental education program seining in the Harlem River:

UNFCU joins Con Ed and TF Cornerstone as top tier financial sponsors of HarborLAB. Tax deductible donations are made through HarborLAB’s 501(c)(3) fiscal agent, Earth Day New York, to which we’re grateful for this service. HarborLAB is currently seeking a $5,000 sponsor for a Trailex UT-1200-16-04 boat trailer and related insurance to better enable its programs for youth throughout the NYC metropolitan region. Please email support@harborlab.org with your interest.