Environmental activist Christoper Swain raised some major awareness this Earth Day by swimming in the toxic waters of the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. He calls for an accelerated cleanup of the waterway, currently labeled a superfund site. Hundreds of people came out to see this stunt and anxiously awaited Swain, who is thought to be the first person in history to swim the entire length of the canal. Despite health officials’ recommendations and EPA advisories against coming into contact with the canal water, Swain donned his high-visibility drysuit, boots, gloves, and goggles and jumped in. The NYPD SCUBA Team was on standby, escorting him as he swam down the canal, under bridges lined with camera crews, photographers, and supporters cheering him on. He planned to swim the entire length of the canal, but approaching thunderstorms forced him to climb out early. He still made it some 8,000 feet and gave a press conference, dripping wet, in a Whole Foods parking lot.
Swirls of microplastics are undulating through five major ocean gyres — and the ‘Race For Water‘ plans to sail its MOD70 through each one of these.
These aren’t huge islands of trash. You don’t see bottles, fishing nets, and six-pack rings all bunched up and going for a ride around the Pacific. There’s not a big patch that turns up on satellite images, and you’re not likely to run into a lone mound of discarded tupperware on your Atlantic crossing, according to NOAA.
But there certainly are clumps of microplastics — tiny particles that are the breakdown product, through UV light and other environmental processes, of larger plastics — that get caught up in the inner circle of major ocean currents.
“Regardless of the exact size, mass, and location of these areas of concentration, man-made litter and debris do not belong in our oceans or waterways,” according to NOAA.
Race for Water says it will attempt to survey the island beaches caught up in the middle of these bands of pollution. These islands include Bermuda, Easter Island, Hawaii, and Tristan de Cunha — along with other remote islands that aren’t caught up in the trash-laden currents.
Drones are the main means of data collection. The images of island beaches they yield will be handed over to researchers at Duke University and Oregon State University for analysis.
There should also be plenty of observational data, too, as the six-member crew — all of them sailors, not scientists — will sail the 70-foot trimaran through the five major gyres on a year-long journey from Bordeaux and back.
Here are some photos of their New York stopover. The vessel is currently docked at Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City.
Former President Bill Clinton visited the New York Harbor School on Governors Island to get a closer look at the school’s oyster hatchery.
Each year the Billion Oyster Project grows over 10 million bivalves in the brackish waters around Manhattan, teaching students to collect scientific data, hands-on restoration, and stewardship. The project was founded by the New York Harbor School and is a Clinton Global Initiative commitment to action.
Clinton was greeted by the students and Captain Aaron Singh while boarding the school’s ‘Privateer’ vessel docked at Pier25 in Tribeca.
The NYPD Harbor Unit provided security as the ‘Privateer’ ferried the 42nd President of the United States past One World Trade Center and around The Battery to Governors Island.
Several days of below-freezing temperatures have brought the construction around the Tappan Zee Bridge to a standstill. No ferries are running, either — an odd sight for residents of Nyack and Tarrytown, the two towns connected by the bridge.
This morning, a colleague who lives in Nyack sent around a screenshot from a webcam that keeps watch on the construction of the New NY Bridge (it’s set to replace the 58-year-old Tappan Zee). She said the river isn’t frozen shore to shore and that there are breaks in the ice, but there’s no boat traffic at all.
MarineTraffic.com shows the 140-foot Coast Guard icebreaker Sturgeon Bay currently 21 nautical miles upriver, heading south at 10 knots. Check the web-cam around 2:45pm and you may catch them passing by.
My colleague also found this gem in a book from the Historical Society of the Nyacks. An old Ford Model T crosses the Hudson at this same location, between Nyack and Tarrytown, on a fully frozen river in 1920.
After four consecutive days of temperatures topping out in the low 20’s (-6C), ice started forming quickly in many areas of New York Harbor.
The outgoing tides swept ice floes downriver, making navigating the Hudson and East River a bit of a challenge:
Lots happening on the Hudson during this incredible extended summer — including stunning, contrasting examples of power.
On a recent photo excursion, we spotted the tail section of a submarine, possibly on its way to the NAVY shipyard in Groton, Connecticut. Will it be a ballistic missile sub, or an attack sub? Check out this piece from Undersea Warfare on how they put one of these together.
A little less intimidating — but no less exciting — was a visit from the BayCycle Project. Founder Judah Schiller straps two pontoons to his bike, which powers a propeller and pushes him across the water. In late September, he became the first person to bike across the San Francisco Bay, and last week, the first to pedal across the Hudson — without the help of a bridge, of course.
Nearly all U.S. submarines are nuclear powered. Schiller runs on elbow (knee?) grease. Quite the contrast of high-tech versus low-tech power.
NEW YORK, June 18, 2013 — I got to sail a portion of the Gulf Stream aboard VO70 ‘Maserati’ from Charleston, SC to New York last winter. We took advantage of it’s 5 mile per hour northward flow and mild temperatures. Entering the stream, foulies and boots were quickly exchanged for t-shirts and flip flops.
The Gulf Stream gyres in the North Atlantic, transporting warm nutrient rich water from the tropics along the East Coast of the U.S. towards Europe. Eventually the water cools, becomes denser, sinks and starts flowing south as part of the North Atlantic Deep Water before resurfacing off Florida.
Some speculate that without the warm influence of the Gulf Stream North America and Europe would look more like Alaska – snowy tundras and vast ice fields.
Scientist from the University of Geneva are now taking a closer look at this 60 mile wide current that extends as far as 4000ft deep.
Climatologist Martin Beniston leads the DEEPWATER EXPEDITION joining the crew of the swiss catamaran ‘MS Turanor Planet Solar’ — the largest solar powered ship in the world — on her voyage from Miami to Bergen, Norway with stops in New York, Boston, St-John’s and Reykjavik.
Beniston deems the 82ft long vessel a suitable platform for scientific sampling. No gasoline or diesel are used for propulsion and voyages are made with zero CO2 emission, eliminating potential factors of data pollution. He and his team are studying the chemical and physical composition of water masses and aerosols.
New York Media Boat spoke with Deepwater Expedition team member Dr. Bastiaan Ibelings, a professor in microbial ecology at the University of Geneva who explains the importance of phytoplankton for our oceans and climate.
The 82 foot long ‘MS Turanor PlanetSolar’ is part of a Swiss initiative to demonstrate how innovative technology can harvest renewable energy and allow clean travel. 5,500 square feet of photovoltaic cells supply power for the twin 60kW electric motors moving her averaging 5 knots.
Five World Records have been established by ‘MS Turanro PlanetSolar’ including ‘first earth circumnavigation by solar-powered boat’ and ‘fastest transatlantic crossing completely under solar power’ in 26 days. Note: French sailer Francis Joyon crossed the North Atlantic in just over 5 days powered by wind earlier this week.
Be sure to stop by the boat currently docked at North Cove Marina before she leaves on Thursday for Boston.
UPDATE 6/20/13 — PHOTO GALLERY: ‘MS Turanor PlanetSolar’ departs NY, sailing past Lower Manhattan, The Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge
At 07:36am building #877 was imploded on Governors Island to clear space for a new public park. We took New York Media Boat right up to the 1000ft USCG security perimeter for front row seats to the show. Besides us and Eric on the ‘Genesis‘, surprisingly few other boats were out to witness the implosion. ‘Adventure Sightseeing’ at it’s best!!
A few days ago we showed you one of the world’s most decked-out private yachts —the $1.5 billion Eclipse.
Today, on the other side of the spectrum but just a few miles south on the Hudson, floats the world’s most primitive seagoing raft — the Tangaroa.
From a distance, it appears to be Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki built by the Norwegian explorer to show that people from South America could have settled Polynesia from the east, contrary to popular belief. They constructed Kon-Tiki from balsa wood and hemp rope — the same materials available before Columbus’ time. Heyerdahl and his crew navigated by the stars and ocean currents, and put down some respectable 4,300 nautical miles before wrecking Kon-Tiki on a reef in theTuamotu Islands after 101 days at sea. Heyerdahl’s 1947 expedition across the Pacific was a huge success: it made him Norway’s most famous person, his book became an international best seller, and their documentary won an Academy Award in 1951.
The raft currently docked at North Cove Marina is a replica and did not sail from Norway to New York, but was delivered by container ship instead. It’s here as a promotional stunt to highlight the newly released 2012 action movie ‘Kon-Tiki,’ nominated for a 2013 ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ Oscar.
Tangaroa however was not built to promote the movie, but rather float the Humbold Current as well. In 2006 a Norwegian team led by Olav Heyerdahl, grandson of Thor Heyerdahl, constructed the replica-raft in an attempt to duplicate the original Kon-Tikivoyage. They too crossed the Pacific, made landfall in the Polynesian Islands, anddocumented their voyage.
If you want to climb aboard Tangaroa, swing by North Cove Marina in Battery Park City. I’m told the raft is open to the public and will be there until April 22nd.
Just wanted to share this amazing video from our ‘sister ship’ on the west coast, theBelafonte.
Ole and Sarah were riding back to Santa Barbara after a weekend in the Channel Islands when a humpback whale and her calf surfaced next to the Belafonte, their 17-foot RIB.
The whales were really curious, spouting and splashing right next to the boat. At one point, a huge flipper nearly smacks the outboard right before those characteristic ridges of the humpback underbelly bob out of the water. Note the change in tone of Sarah’s great narration at that point!
Ole said the whales still followed them as they motored off, so they stopped a few more times to let them check out Belafonte. But he and Sarah didn’t hang around too long — not when mama’s fluke was about as wide as the boat was long.
It’s the middle of January — the phrases ‘Small Craft Advisory’ and ‘Gale Warning’ are part of today’s NOAA forecast. Looking out past the Statue of Liberty, I see whitecaps blowing off the wave’s crests and New York Harbor appears to boil. I’ve been wanting to put the foul weather gear through its paces so we gear up to face the choppy water. The kits consist of Henri Lloyd TP2 pants, Tretorn Skerry boots, Musto HPX jackets, Mustang PDFs with FastFind PLB & Icom VHF plus Gill offshore gloves and FOX motocross goggles. After turning on the GoPro I set course for The Narrows running at 20 knots and 30 degrees to the wind and waves. Good amounts of water are flying across the deck and the boat’s handling is unaffected by the conditions due to its deep V-hull.
The ‘Heavy Weather Operations Reference Manual’ reads: ‘Wind itself up to 70 mph has little dangerous effect on the RIB (unless airborne)’. After forty-five adventurous minutes, we’re still dry and warm and return to the dock with a new level of respect for choppy harbor waves.
After successfully relaunching ‘Aperture’ at Liberty Harbor, we got right back to business.
CNN put a TV crew on board to get exclusive footage of the devastation Hurricane Sandy caused to Coney Island, the Rockaways and Staten Island. Maneuvering through the floating debris was challenging despite having stationed a spotter at the bow, dodging telephone poles, trees, logs, even partial docks that were making their way down the Hudson. Norton Point was hit hard. The ocean literally came into peoples living rooms and many houses were simply gone. The Rockaways were still smoldering from the extensive fires; Old Orchard Lighthouse knocked down, and many half-sunken boats adrift in the Lower Bay, and washed ashore at Staten Island and Sandy Hook.
Atlantic Highlands Marina didn’t fare well. We observed dive teams from as far away as Texas working around the clock raising sunken vessels with lift bags, and clearing paths for the commuter ferries to resume service. USCG cutters and NAVY ships were stationed just offshore, providing security and other support functions to the hard-hit communities. The port condition was set at YANKEE – restricting all recreational boats and only permitting commercial vessels to transit.
Great Kills Harbor was a sad sight as well. It seemed like a total loss of the marina. While some boats turtled and sunk at their moorings, most were piled on top of each other at the western side of the basin — many impaled by pilings as the water from the 13.8 foot storm surge receded. Other TV crews and still photographers also came aboard that week following Sandy’s landfall and we were able to document the destruction before NYPD stationed a patrol boat at the entrance closing the marina.
We put down hundreds of nautical miles surveying the shorelines, and whenever we came across floating debris dangerous to navigation we reported it’s position to the Coast Guard’s VTS.
This sure was an epic storm.
This part of Union Beach wasn’t a summer community. You could tell by the Christmas decorations, the middle school calendars, the ice skates, the vinyl records dusted with silt and scattered among wooden beams that had been snapped like matchsticks by the force of the water.
Some of the homes on Brook Ave had been lifted off their foundations and pushed yards away, leaving behind cement staircases leading to nowhere. First floors were swept out from underneath roofs that were now pitched like tents in a refugee camp.
Homeowners still moved about the ruins, though many had already been back to salvage the essentials. They posed religious statues and animal figurines that had no place in temporary shelters as guards along cinder-block foundations, as if they could keep the waters from rising up once more.
Governor Chris Christie made it clear that folks along the barrier islands needed to “get the hell off.” But was there a similar charge for the people who lived along south Raritan Bay? We’d heard stories from other passersby of residents waiting on their roofs for a boat rescue when the waters rose with a speed that no one had anticipated.
Union Beach was New Jersey’s Ninth Ward.
The sooty vinyls caught my attention. Was this a grandfather’s collection? How many generations had lived in these homes? I scanned them for an artist or album title I would recognize – anything that would make this tragedy mine. I was trying to understand why some of these residents were so hostile to visitors, taking the time to post signs like “No Camera Zombies” and “Did You Get Enough Pics?”
We had heard the whispers in Seabright, too. Its 10-foot sea wall couldn’t keep the ocean from meeting the bay, dumping five feet of sand in its streets and pouring five feet of water into some first floors. The sea punched right through beachfront wedding venues and knocked cabanas back against the sea wall, like exhausted boxers clinging to the ropes.
“Sightseers,” I heard someone mutter as we walked down Center Street. If only they’d known that Bjoern lived here 10 years ago. Perhaps they retracted their acrimony once they saw us talking with his former landlord, their neighbor.
I wanted to tell them, I get it. I wouldn’t want my home to be your tourist attraction either. Throughout our survey, I would look away if the seas had ripped out a front door or a bay window, exposing a living room or dining room. I hadn’t been invited into those spaces.
But the Jersey Shore belongs to everyone who lives in the state. We cried for your loss and we bear the burden of rebuilding, too. We are your volunteers, your donors. Don’t shut us out.
With Hurricane Sandy approaching and the NY Harbor storm surge prediction at 9-12ft above normal plus a full moon, we made the decision to pull ‘Aperture’ out of the water and move her about 20 miles inland. We’ll re-launch as soon as conditions permit to start documenting the damage of this epic storm.
Most people are horrified by the thought of three millions of gallons of raw sewage spewing into the Hudson River.
Not Captain John Lipscomb of Hudson Riverkeeper.
“Accidents like this come and go,” he told me Friday on the phone from his boat docked on the Hudson in Ossining, N.Y., though he would have been out sampling had it not been raining. “But the chronic releases are happening all the time.”
The spill at a Westchester water treatment plant threatened to cancel Saturday’s Ironman triathlon, and environmental advocates seized the opportunity to shine a light on the regular dumping of raw sewage into New York City waterways.
“The issue for the triathletes isn’t what’s happened in Westchester, but what’s happening in the harbor,” given heavy rains on Friday, says Lipscomb, who has been Captain of Riverkeeper’s research vessel for 12 years. “From our data, we can see that chronic releases are much more significant than accidents.”
Fourteen wastewater treatment plants in New York City, and a handful in northern New Jersey, collect and filter the excess from sinks and streets alike. Much of the metropolitan area is on a combined sewer system, where the pipes that carry refuse from toilets eventually meet with those funneling away rainwater. All of it is scrubbed before being discharged back into local waterways.
Normally, the system works fine, Lipscomb says, and major accidents like the Westchester spill are rare – although an accident at a plant in Harlem poured hundreds of millions of gallons of untreated sewage into the Hudson last summer.
But after a decent rain, the combined sewer system can get overwhelmed, opening valves that send a mix of sewer and rain runoff sloshing into natural waterways.
Engineers say it’s the more palatable alternative to having raw sewage bubble up in residents’ toilets.
Every year, about 28 billion gallons of this “grey” water flow from 460 outfall sites around the city, with an additional 23 billion gallons from more than 200 sites in New Jersey, according to estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Not all of that is concentrated sewage. Since it’s diluted by rainwater, about 20% of the mix comes from household drains, Lipscomb says. Still, that amounts to hundreds of millions of gallons of straight sewage leaking into local waters during each of the the Hudson River area’s average 50 storm events per year.
Riverkeeper has been detecting these discharges during monthly sampling. Below deck in their research vessel is an oven-sized incubator that reveals within 24 hours the level of Enterococcus in water samples.
Few in this bacteria genus are harmful; they’re present in the guts of most species, including humans. But abnormally high levels indicate that untreated sewage has found its way into the water.
Lipscomb’s complaint is that residents have no idea when levels exceed those considered safe for recreation.
But that’s changing. On Thursday, the same day as the Westchester spill, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act, which will require public notification of all raw sewage spills, even those permitted during normal rainfall events.
“It’s almost like a setup,” Lipscomb says. “I was out collecting samples during the event and got an email saying the governor had signed the legislation.”
He says the city has taken other steps to alleviating the problem, like building additional rain gardens and diminishing the amount of impervious surfaces to lessen the volume of water hitting the sewers. It’s less costly than revamping the wastewater treatment infrastructure, which would run a multi-billion-dollar tab.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection says it, too, has been trying to find a reasonable solution to its combined sewer outfall issues. DEP spokesperson Larry Ragonese told me the agency has added more control measures, such as filters, to 83% of its outfalls, and another 13% are under construction.
Over the past decade, about a quarter of combined sewers in the state have also been tied into other systems that don’t mix sewage and rainfall, Ragonese said.
And some municipalities have been taken to task by the EPA to upgrade, including Jersey City and Perth Amboy, which will spend $52 million and $5.4 million, respectively, on updating their systems as a result of settlements with the agency.
Ragonese says the DEP expects to release an updated plan for its combined sewer permitting process within the year – something Debbie Mans, executive director of NY/NJ Baykeeper, says is a long time coming. Her group, along with the Hackensack Riverkeeper, filed suit last year against the DEP over its slow progress.
As intimidating as regular sewage spills sound, their actual health impact is much harder to pin down. Though health officials have established safe exposure limits, swimming in places exceeding those thresholds doesn’t guarantee an infection.
Nor is there any sure-fire way to trace an illness – with water-borne disease, it can be anything from an ear infection to dysentery — to a specific exposure.
“If you swim in contaminated water and get sick 24 hours later, you don’t know if it’s from your salad, the food at the deli, or your dog,” Lipscomb said. “It’s hard to source it.”
The lack of hard evidence doesn’t mean he’d take his chances. When asked if the Ironman challenge should have gone on, as it did on Saturday, Lipscomb said it probably wasn’t the best idea – but not because of the Westchester discharge.
It was Friday’s rains, he said, that would have kept him on dry land.
We cast off at 7:30 a.m. with a promising NOAA marine forecast. Two foot seas and less than ten knots of wind – pretty much ideal conditions to hit a wreck further out.
I decided to shoot for the Lizzie D, a prohibition rum runner that sank in 1922 laden with crates of illegal whisky. Sitting upright in the sand at about 80 feet, she’d make a good first Northeast wreck dive for Joe’s student Alison.
The twenty-two nautical mile boat ride from Manhattan took just over an hour and a set of good numbers put us directly on top of the wreck. The sonar signature confirmed the location and we dropped a mushroom anchor with 100 feet of line and a buoy to mark the position.
Dive-master Joel splashed and descended the anchor line. He gave three good tugs to signal a successful tie-in and we moored the boat to the buoy and activated the drift alarm on the chart plotter.
The visibility looked promising and after a dive-site briefing Joe, Alison and Gary geared up and back-rolled over the gunnel. They planned to do an orientation dive on the wreck and go through some deep water drills.
I kept anchor watch, traced bubbles, and spotted a shark cruising by on the surface. After forty minutes Joel came up the line with an almost intact rum bottle in hand. Fifteen minutes later the rest of the crew surfaced – all stoked by visibility and condition of the wreck.
During their ninety minute surface interval I jumped in and cleaned the bottom of the boat. The weather seemed to be holding out nicely so the divers swapped tanks and Gary studied the 2012 fishing guidelines aka ‘dinner menu’ while prepping his spear gun.
This time Joe, Alison and Gary descended first while Joel and I went over the un-tie procedure. He then splashed twenty minutes into their dive.
Alison surfaced with two half bottles – not bad for her first time diving this wreck, Gary with two fish, and Joe happy to have certified two more students in specialty courses.
Once they were aboard I started the engine and we cast off the mooring line to give it slack. Joel untied from the wreck and sent the anchor to the surface with a lift-bag, starting a floating decompression under his surface marker.
By now the wind had picked up, the seas were building and white caps started showing. A sign to get underway and head back to port. As we got within cell phone range I checked the radar and saw some rain over New York Harbor. Only green colors – no yellow or red. That changed by the time we were off the Staten Island coast. Rain set in and soon turned into hail dropping visibility to a mere twenty feet. Running around the weather system wasn’t an option, as we were bound by the Brooklyn shore to our east and New Jersey to the west. The sky looked threatening and though we were only five minutes away from safe harbor I did not want to run the boat through this storm cell so I turned about and headed back towards the Verrazano Bridge – to not be the tallest object on the water.
The next fifteen minutes were truly spectacular! A lightning show better than the Macy’s fireworks. Fog horns from freighters sounded through the punishing rain and our gear got a thorough fresh water wash-down.
As quickly as the sky turned dark, it became light again and we crossed New York Harbor making it back to the dock within fifteen minutes.
It was a great day of diving and a reminder of how fast these thunderstorms can pop up. I’m looking forward to going back out to dive the U.S.S. Turner later this month, as well as to investigate some new sonar targets.