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Posts Tagged ‘american littoral society’

Mallard struggling with plastic trash in Oakland Lake, Queens. Photo by Cathy St. Pierre.

Environmentalists are now aware of Earth’s oceanic gyres of garbage, most famously the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Locally, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection has warned us through subway ad campaigns that trash we toss on the street will wait for us at the beach. But for many people the ways in which plastics cause suffering and ecological damage (including wreaking havoc with hormones in many species) remain abstract.

Queens resident Cathy St. Pierre recently photographed this afflicted mallard in Oakland Lake. Being so encumbered endangers the bird, physically hurts it, interferes with mating and feeding, and leaves it more vulnerable to dangers by inhibiting escape. Cathy told the Bayside, NY Patch (unrelated to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) that she couldn’t get near enough to the shy bird to free it. One of the most energetic Queens blogs subsequently picked the story up, so perhaps there will be more sitings and, we hope, a possible rescue.

Animals who aren’t able to free themselves can often be killed or maimed by plastic trash.

If you find wildlife in trouble, please contact your local Wildlife Rehabilitator in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut.

If you’d like to help remove plastic trash from habitats with beach and trail cleanups, please volunteer with the American Littoral Society or the American Hiking Society.

Of course, the best approach is prevention. Use much less plastic, reuse or recycle what you must (or opt for biodegradable plastics when that’s not greenwashing), demand that your favorite manufacturers use less plastic, lobby elected officials and government agencies to restrict plastic use, and have the courage to confront litterbugs (or the charity to clean up after them).  It’s also vital that New York City and other municipalities upgrade sewer systems to handle storm runoffs (also kn0wn in New York City as “combined sewage overflows“) so that street litter, let alone untreated waste, isn’t washed into our waterways.

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Mayor\'s Volunteer Center. 

 

 

by Erik Baard

 

Maybe almost right on the City Hall steps

 

Improving our city’s quality of life, education, infrastructure, and physical and mental health all hinge on our ability to break through the concrete and restore wildlife habitat. Mayor Bloomberg’s much-touted PlaNYC aims to do that, but he knows the limits of government. Volunteerism is the only way to meet that challenge within budget and across the vicissitudes of succeeding administrations.

 

The Mayor’s Volunteer Center together with United Way of New York City maintains a user-created database of opportunities to pitch in with nonprofits in outdoor recreation and environmentalism at http://www.volunteernyc.org/

 

“Our main environmental initiative is Million Trees NYC. We absolutely love promoting it,” said Amanda Rey, Deputy Director of the Mayor’s Volunteer Center, which is part of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit. “It’s an amazing thing to do for the city and the world as a whole.”

 

 

The Million Trees NYC push to reforest the city is core to PlaNYC. Trees famously clean the air, but other services are increasingly critical: they absorb noise pollution, cool patches of asphalt, and reduce rainfall runoffs that can result in combined sewer overflows.

 

About 60% of the trees will be planted in parks, streets, and other public spaces. The balance will be planted on private land, both homes and corporate lots.

 

The Mayor’s Volunteer Center is reaching for green (and blue) in other directions as well. Rocking the Boat teaches young people to build classic Whitehall rowboats, and provides community rowing for free. “They get kids outdoors while teaching teamwork. We love Rocking the Boat,” Rey enthused.

 

Is it too sweet a deal to earn good karma while biking, paddling, doing bioblitzes, cleaning the shoreline, gardening, and planting trees? As one volunteer with a paddling group recently told me, “Too many people don’t think environmentalism is putting kids from the projects on the water. They think it’s signing a petition.”

 

If you want to exceed a hobbyist level of volunteerism, some groups provide outstanding resources for diversifying your green skills. The Lower East Side Ecology Center, Rey pointed out, “is always offering cutting-edge workshops.” Partnerships for Parks and Citizens Committee for NYC both counsel new and neighborhood-based nonprofits through their growing pains, and provide technical assistance and targeted grants.

 

As important as a diversity of activities and resources is to a green movement, Rey knows that it’s also critical to accommodate all levels of commitment. If you can volunteer only sporadically, or for one-shot day events, don’t get intimated by follow-through obligations, Rey advises. That tree you planted won’t wither a few weeks later without you, if you link with strong and stable groups. “There are these eco-friendly pockets like New York Restoration Project and Central Park Conservancy. They’re the ones you want to check in with,” she said.

 

Smaller groups need to focus on giving volunteers clear directions and a sense of immediate accomplishment, she said. “Always be prepared and have a goal for the day and the end goal of your group in mind. Stick by that and you’ll be golden.”

 

And we’ll all be green.

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Horseshoe crabs at Plumb Beach. Photo by Klaus Schoenwiese. 

 

by Erik Baard

Horseshoe crabs having been laying and fertilizing eggs along our beaches, and the beaches of the continents as they were once assembled, for at least 350 million years and through several global mass extinctions. Somehow they’ve done all this mating without the help of MP3 players stocked with Barry White. A couple of years ago I was impelled to visit Plumb Beach, Brooklyn to investigate. I was lucky enough to have my extraordinarily talented photographer friend, Klaus Schoenwiese, with me. I hope you take the chance this Sunday, with the American Littoral Society. Check our WildWire, below, for details.

It was a magical night, set to the subtler music of crickets and lapping small waves. A yellow squash-colored full moon rose over eastern Rockaway Inlet, Jupiter shone brightly further south, and Ursa Major reeled across the northern sky. And Klaus observed another beautiful sight often glared out by the riotously incandescent city: bioluminescence. A tiny spot of sand glowed blue-green when nudged. Perhaps it was a juvenile jelly fish, since it was a tight source, not the mind of nebulous expanse one would expect from a patch of dinoflagellates saturating the sand.

 

Horseshoe crab mating train. Photo by Klaus Schoenwiese.

In Klaus’ photo of horseshoe crabs under the moon you’ll note the slipper shells and barnacles that are among the many species that make their homes on all surfaces these long-lived creatures (sometimes over 30 years, though they cast shells in youthful molting). Contrary to mythology, the pointed tail isn’t a stinger, but rather an ultraviolet light-sensitive periscope of sorts and a tool to right horseshoe crab when waves flip it on shore, leaving it vulnerable (despite a nifty ability to regrow limbs). Gleefully interfering with nature, we lifted and returned distressed specimens to the water.

 

Horseshoe crab flipped. Photo by Klaus Schoenwiese.

Every May and June you can spot horseshoe crabs swimming and crawling ashore in prime places like Jamaica Bay, Staten Island, and Plumb Beach. At the last location, the pattern was disrupted for a few years in the ’90s when sterile sand was dumped over the rich mud flats, depriving birds and horseshoe crabs of small snails and such to eat.

The females are significantly larger than the males, who desperately cling to their would-be mates (needy is the new black?). The female will haul herself to the intertidal zone’s highpoint and then partially bury herself into the wet sand to lay thousands of tiny, greenish eggs. At least one male will be in tow, and often several will descend upon her when she’s tucked in.

The males’ approach might be a terrible case study in the art of seduction, but it’s an efficient means of winning in what biologists call “sperm competition.” Besides, give the horseshoe crabs credit for one romantic touch, which human voyeurs can appreciate: they prefer to do it under a full moon.

The advantage of a full moon is that by laying eggs in the highest tidal point, subsequent high tides won’t wash away the eggs before they’re hatched and juveniles are ready to take their places in the deep bays or continental shelves a few weeks later. It will be ten years before you see them again, matured for reproduction. The lunar cycle and strictly defined mating ritual is so central to the horseshoe crab’s life that it has ten eyes (yes, TEN!) on its body. Additionally, there’s a row of optic sensors on its spike-like tail. The eyes and sensors are geared for measuring ambient ultraviolet light levels and for spotting mates. Mind you, this didn’t stop three of four amorous males from trying to mate with Klaus’ feet!

Horseshoecrabs. Photo by Klaus Schoenwiese.

As alien as their mating habits might be (or creepily familiar), horseshoe crabs are more a part of your daily life than you might expect. Each time you see pretty shorebirds and migrating birds in these areas, soaring over a strand, think of the humble horseshoe crab. This creature’s eggs are a critical food stock for the birds you’re admiring — so much so that they time their own annual cycles to it. You might also owe thanks to horseshoe crabs for your very ability to see: chitin from its shell and exoskeleton are a key ingredient in many contact lenses (as well hairspray and skin cream), and horseshoe crabs compound eyes and simple optic nerves have been a mainstay of medical optical studies for decades. Indeed, horseshoe crabs, which are not crabs at all, were the center of research that earned the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1967.

Another aspect of horseshoe crab physiology for humans is their blue-green blood (they use copper to carry oxygen, not iron), which sells for about $15,000 a quart. It’s chief value is a compound called Limulus Amebocyte Lysate (LAL). LAL is a fast, reliable indicator of bacterial toxins in medicines (so good that the Food and Drug Administration requires use of it) and in the human body. That’s right: there’s a chance you’ve been injected with horsehoe crab blood and didn’t even know it. A hot field of medical and evolutionary research is the commonality of human and horseshoe crab complementary immune responses.

But as you can imagine, the more uses humans find for this slow-maturing species, the fewer remain in the waters. Populations have markedly declined in recent years. Bird advocates like the Audubon Society have taken up the cause of horseshoe crab protection. If the spirit moves you, get involved in the important work of protecting this ancient cousin.

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Eastern gray squirrel in the Bronx. Photo by Steve Nanz. 

 

 

 

WildWire May 17-21

 

We’re LOADED with FREE outdoor activities this weekend and next week!

 

But first an important reminder: Bee Watchers 2008 needs volunteers. Scroll down a few days for more details, but here’s the skinny:

 

Orientation Locations
Alley Pond Environmental Center: May 19 6:00 PM
Central Park-North Meadow Recreation Center: May 21 6:00 PM
Greenbelt Nature Center: May 20 6:00 PM
Prospect Park Audubon Center: May 21 6:00 PM
Fordham University: May 22 6:00 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

WALK to learn about trees, squirrels, or horseshoe crabs!

 

BIKE to learn about NYC’s green movement and arts (with a loaner program on Sunday)!

 

PLANT trees given for free to homeowners and gardeners!

 

HIKE through northern Manhattan!

 

FISH the East River!

 

 

 

 

 

SATURDAY, MAY 17:

FISHING – QUEENS

Come to Rainey Park between 1PM and 5PM to celebrate and shape the future of parks on the western Queens waterfront with Green Shores NYC, a community group that has been fostered by Partnerships for Parks. This rain or shine event includes catch-and-release fishing with I Fish NY, and live music and informative displays.

 

 

GARDENING – BRONX, MANHATTAN, QUEENS

Free trees from New York Restoration Project!

Clean the air, make the birds happy, and beautify your property with a free tree, thanks to the New York Restoration Project! Homeowners can swing by the green markets of Sunnyside, Queens and Inwood, Manhattan for their trees.

Bronxites can hop over to the YM-YWHA’s Environmental Fair (5625 Arlington Avenue at 256th Street) to adopt their trees.

Species include Red Bud, Dogwood, Cherry, Crabapple, Service Berry, Linden, Sweetgum, Oak, Tulip Poplar and Buckeye trees, ready for planting. First come, first served, so hurry!

 

 

 

 

HIKING – MANHATTAN

Join a NYC Hiking Meetup Group exploration of Upper Manhattan parks!

The NYC Hiking meetup group is hoofing it through northern Manhattan’s city and states parks. Meet at the 1 Train at 215th. Street and Broadway at 10AM. You’ll see old growth forests, marsh grasses, a meeting of the Harlem River (really a strait) and Hudson River (really and estuary at this latitude). You’ll be glad you joined this active group!

 

ROWING – BRONX

Row with Rocking the Boat!

Explore the vibrant Bronx River in a beautifully handcrafted rowboat with Rocking the Boat. Community rowing hours are 1PM-5PM at the Jose E Serrano Riverside Campus for Arts and The Environment.

 

 

 

 

SUNDAY, MAY 18

WALKS – BROOKLYN

 

Learn about New York City’s “other rodent” at the “Nuts about Squirrels” lecture at the Fort Greene Park Visitor Center (Myrtle Avenue and Washington Park) at 12PM.

 

Learn Your Trees!

 

Don’t leaf (couldn’t resist) Fort Greene Park Visitor Center right after the squirrel talk. Stay for a tree walk to learn about our local trees.  Starting at 1PM, you’ll stroll beneath the verdant spring canopy leaning to identify trees by bark, buds, and blossoms.

More Information: 718  722 3218

 

PADDLING – QUEENS

Kayak and Canoe with the LIC Community Boathouse!

Come to Socrates Sculpture Park’s beach at Hallets Cove in Astoria for free paddling with the LIC Community Boathouse between 1PM and 5PM.

BIKING – MANHATTAN

 

Lower East, Higher Green!

 

Bike through what should be the future of New York City with the Green Apple Tour. Explore gardens, greenways and riversides. Learn about composting, solar power, green buildings and more. The tour covers the Garden District and Lower East Side and is based on the fabulous Green Map System. This is an easy, two-hour ride, and all ages are welcome.

 

Meet at the Temperance Monument in Tompkins Square Park (Ave. A & East 9th St.) at 11AM.

 

BIKING – QUEENS

 

Bike ride with your kids – bikes and helmets provided!

 

 

Get to know Long Island City, famous for its waterfront and arts scene, while learning basic bike mechanics and riding safety skills. This trip focuses on youth aged 10-15 years old, and parents and teachers are welcome. Recycle-a-Bicycle provides instruction, bikes, and helmets for those without, but make sure you register ASAP (rideclub@recycleabicycle.org).

 

Meet at 46th Ave. and 5th St., down the block from the charming LIC Bar at 10AM. Wrap up the ride at 330PM.

 

 

WALK – BRONX

 

Join author and naturalist Betsy McCully, author of City at Water’s Edge, at Wave Hill for a slide-illustrated talk and nature walk as she discusses the geological and ecological forces that have shaped this region and the human forces that impact them.  Her book is available in the Wave Hill Shop.

 

 

 

WALK – BROOKLYN (Jamaica Bay)

Scoot down to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge at 7PM for an evening with one of our city’s most ancient resident species, the horseshoe crab. Don Riepe of the American Littoral Society leads the way. For more information or to register call 718 318-9344 or e-mail driepe@nyc.rr.com.

 

TUESDAY, MAY 20 

Tuesday, May 20, 2008 – 10-11 am.
Roll the carriage or toddle the toddler to Fort Greene Park for Babies, Books and Blooms. Brooklyn Public Library & Urban Park Rangers present story time and nature crafts. At Fort Greene Park Visitor’s Center.

 

 

 

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Plumb Beach, Brooklyn cleanup 

 

continued…

 

by Erik Baard

 

Yet despite this powerful, primordial drive, we turn away from life at our feet when with some labor, it could be replenished. Why?

 

Majora Carter has made the Herculean task of turning a truck-choked section of NYC into a greener, healthier place for families her daily job and mission. She founded and directs Sustainable South Bronx, which started a local green roof movement, trains residents for “green collar” jobs, created a waterfront park, and is swinging resources behind a greenway. She became a MacArthur Fellow in 2005 for her pioneering achievements.

 

As a South Bronx native, Carter knows how completely people can be severed from their landscape.

 

“They don’t see it as an environment, period. That’s why they go to Jones Beach,” said Carter.

 

But aren’t we always aware, at some level, that we are in nature? A bird flying overhead, a sprout shooting up through a crack in the pavement, and periods of rain and sun remind us. Our streets aren’t the sterile clean rooms of a microengineering lab. Biodecathection recognizes that we suffer from something more nuanced than depravation. Subconsciously we are lowered into a grinding state of constant mourning. And we worsen our lot in the long run by submitting to the immediate impulse to turn away from the source of that grief.

 

I don’t want to overstate the power of biodecathection in relation to biophilia. The latter is such a fundamental part of our makeup that it can’t be countervailed. There is no equal and opposite force. Even executives of the worst polluting companies enjoy lunch in the park, or vacations to idyllic spots. In that sense, maybe biophilia’s place in our psyche is akin to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition of the Creator: while there are destructive urges, creation is more potent. Dualism is an illusion. I believe that biodecathection is merely the greatest of the lesser forces arrayed against biophilia (and a small outgrowth of it).

 

Another drain is biophillic misdirection. Parents, educators, and environmentalists often lament that kids today prefer to stay indoors immersed in videogames, television, and other multimedia. The industry of animation derives its name from anima, Latin for “living” and the older Sanskrit aniti, “he breathes.” Let’s recall that the first definition of biophilia given by Wilson was the “innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes” (my italics). In short, modern entertainment companies are parasites profitably siphoning energy from biophilia’s wiring.

 

David Orr proposed a phenomenon of biophobia, an aversion to environments outside human control. While the urge to have dominion over Earth certainly could grow out of specific phobias exaggerated well beyond their reasonable origins – snakes and spiders can deliver venomous bites, extremely open or closed spaces leave us vulnerable – I have a hard time buying that our species has turned neurotic in such a wholesale fashion. And an aversion to contamination, a disgust response, is learned early. But those studies focused on specific objects that were easily replaced, not the ecosystems upon which we depend.

 

Another negative force is less abstract. There are people with a vested interest in keeping voters and neighborhoods disconnected from their environment. A conscious realization of environmental degradation, with the full emotional infusion that would entail, would undermine a momentarily profitable false faith in Nature’s endless bounty and regeneration. And people who are eco-emotionally depressed to the point of resignation, to sad slumber, are ideal neighbors for toxic industries. Awakening brings pain. Pain engenders anger. Anger demands change.

 

It starts with cathecting, a word that derives from the Greek kathexis, “to hold.” Carter recalls in the documentary “City of Water” that her community needed something to “smell, touch, taste” to believe in its power to resurrect Hunts Point, its environs, and the Bronx River. 

 

The American Littoral Society leads volunteer shoreline cleanups that have gathered up hundreds of tons of floatable trash from the shorelines of New York State alone (pictured above is a recent cleanup of Plumb Beach, Brooklyn by volunteers in partnership with ALS, the NYC DEP, and National Parks Service). Grassroots neighborhood groups link up with Partnerships for Parks to replenish and plant. The New York Restoration Project’s staff and neighborhood volunteers have turned hypodermic needle-strewn lots into gardens and revivified parks once thought to be hopeless cases.

 

I don’t know how much the visceral experience of biophilia can transfer to a global consciousness. I don’t believe biophilia encompasses systems so large that they become abstract; evolution would have no basis for selecting for that attribute. But perhaps some of the epiphanies of the environmental movement are nudging us in that direction – the iconic Apollo 17 photo, the Gaia hypothesis’ pop personification of the global ecosystem (even if that’s not what James Lovelock intended).

 

What I do know is this: Each neighborhood is an ecosystem and we need to cathect. We something we can champion, something we can heal. Something we can hold and that will persuade us that it’s worth the risk of feeling again. We need Bernie Ente’s green heron as much as it needs us.

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