Archives for category: Climate Change

On May 19 6:30-8PM, our Living Things in an Urban Ecosystem series ended on a high note with Beyond the Honeybee: Exploring Critical Pollinators where we explored the role pollinators play in urban ecosystems and the ways in which individuals and community groups can support their habitats.

Ecologist Howard Ginsberg, Ph.D. from United States Geological Survey first presented a brief survey of native and non-native bee species typically found in NYC.  He found that our city has approximately 50 different species of bumble bees, compared to 100 found in more natural environments which is great news for our urban ecosystem. One fun fact is that bees tend to pollinate on specific seasons because they favor flowers in bloom during that time.  One example is Halictus ligatus, a communal or non-territorial summer bumblebee whose nests are typically found in holes in the ground and their workers are daughters of the queen, unlike honeybees whose workers are typically male.

Summer bee

Halictus ligatus – Summer bee

Our second panelist Tina Harrison, Ph.D. candidate from Rutger’s University Department of Ecology, presented some key ways to support our pollinators here in NYC.

Pesticides used in gardens

Chlorantranilliprole kills less worker bumble bees in a 2013 study

Gardeners and horticulturists should be mindful of the primary chemical used in the pesticide. For example, a study by Larson, Redmond and Potter showed that pesticides containing chlorantraniliprole kills only a small amount of worker bees, especially compared to clothianidin. So be sure to read those labels!

Effects of pesticides on bumble bee populations

Effects of pesticides on bumble bee populations

And finally, biologist Sam Droege, also from USGS, focused his presentation on the challenges of studying bumble bee populations.  He not only highlighted his work on cataloguing bee species (view the beautiful photography here), he spoke on the challenges scientists face when studying bees. One fascinating example was the attempt to study the Bombus bimaculatus, a bee species that, in natural settings, kicks out and takes over nests built by chickadee birds.  After scientists recreated these nests to attract this bee species, they were unable to replicate this occurrence in a controlled setting. Clearly there is more to be studied on attractive bee habitats, which, once successful, would lead to more effective methods of attracting and keeping them within our city.


We then segued into the panel discussion, moderated by landscape architect Hans Hesselein, where we were truly able to unpack the issue of bee colony collapse (which actually does not effect bumblebees), action steps we can take to support their survival, and the potential for future on bee habitats studies .  Listen here for the entire discussion.

We at the Gowanus Canal Conservancy send our heartfelt thanks to our venue sponsor Threes Brewing for generously offering their event space, our panelists, volunteer coordinators and most of all our audience for being part of such a vibrant season.  Stay tuned for the fall schedule!

Join us on our next Clean & Green July 18 11AM-3PM by signing up at where volunteers will participate in the Tree Census and other stewardship activities.

Follow us on Twitter at @GowanusGreen and on Instagram @gowanuscanalconservancy for GCC news, volunteer events and trivia.


On March 24 6:30PM we kicked off the second lecture of our 4-part Urban Ecology Lecture Series series where we continue to unpack the theme Living Things in an Urban Environment, with our first panel discussion, Oysters: Limits and Possibilities.

Our panelists included, Chester Zarnoch, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at Baruch College presented his current research on the potential effects of oyster reef restoration on nitrogen cycling, an overabundant nutrient that impacts water quality, and its implications on our waterway systems.

Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at Baruch College, C.U.N.Y.

Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at Baruch College, C.U.N.Y.

Marit Larson, Director of Wetland and Riparian Restoration of NYC Parks, spoke on salt marsh and shoreline restoration projects where she highlighted, the Oyster Reef Restoration Program , a partnership with NY-NJ Baykeepers to install oyster reefs and stocks as an oyster larvae attachment source.

Director of Wetland and Riparian Restoration at NYC Parks

Director of Wetland and Riparian Restoration at NYC Parks

Pete Malinowski, Director of the Billion Oyster Project, presented the mission of Billion Oyster Project, their partnership with the New York Harbor School, and the impact made not only on water quality but on the hundreds of thousands of student volunteers who otherwise would not have been exposed to our waterways, potential career opportunities and most of all the ecology of New York Harbor.

Director of Billion Oyster Project

Director of Billion Oyster Project

The panel discussion, moderated by Gena Wirth, our very own GCC Volunteer Coordinator and landscape designer, urban planner and horticulturalist at SCAPE Landscape Architecture.

Landscape architect, horticulturist and volunteer coordinator of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy

Moderator for the Oyster: Limits and Possibilities panel discussion

By opening the discussion on how the history of oysters in NYC influenced the panelists, each touched on the pride of being a native or transplant New Yorker, the desire to reach its ecological potential and the need to create healthier spaces for our community, a theme carried throughout the entire evening. Click here to listen.

It was a dynamic, thought-provoking evening, beers and all and we could not have done it without our venue sponsor Threes Brewing who generously provides their event space for our lectures.

If you are now all fired up about all things ecology and want to put your passion into action, here is a list of resources to help you get started as a volunteer:

Continue the conversation and join us on:

April 28, 6:30-8PM for Native and Not: NYC’s Dynamic Flora, a conversation moderated by Leila Mougoui Bakhtiari of NYC Parks. We will unravel native and invasive urban plants, stewardship practices, and their ecological implications.

May 18, 6:30-8PM for Beyond the Honeybee: Exploring Critical Pollinators, a conversation moderated by Hans Hesselein of Apiary Studio.  We will discover the critical role insects play in urban ecology and the ways we can support their survival.

Follow us on Twitter at @GowanusGreen and on Instagram @gowanuscanalconservancy for GCC news, volunteer events and trivia.

Steven Handel, Ph.D. and Director of the Center for Urban Restoration Ecology at Rutgers University gave a dynamic presentation on urban landscape restoration to a packed house at Threes Brewing. Proving case studies of Fresh Kills Park, Jamaica Bay and Brooklyn Bridge Park, Handel highlighted the challenges unique to urban environments such as soil erosion and contamination from pollutants, large amounts of litter, invasive plants that discourage biodiversity and human stressors such as vehicles and nearby commercial businesses.

Jamaica Bay

Jamaica Bay estuary highlighting restoration sites




Brooklyn Bridge Promenade

Promenade at Brooklyn Bridge Park rendering of its restoration that has since been completed










Probing questions were asked by both Handel and the audience such as, would restoring it to its original landscape 100 years ago make sense in today’s climate? What are the key ingredients to a successful restoration? And is there such a thing as over-restoration?  These answers were not simple, given budgetary constraints, environmental stressors and the growing need to address climate change effects.  As shown by Handel’s case studies, partnerships between scientists, city government agencies, landscape designers, environmental nonprofit organizations, and most of all, the local community, can make effective changes for New York City urban spaces and the community members within them.

land stewardship

For more information on restoration ecology, follow Steven Handel on Twitter @snhandel and click the link below to read his article:

Handel – Ecological Restoration Foundations to Designing Habitats in Urban Areas

Click on Eventbrite to come to our next Urban Ecology Lecture on Tuesday, March 24 6:30-8PM where we will explore a hot topic in restoration, Oysters: Limits and Possibilities.  This panel discussion will dive into the role oysters can and do play in marine and coastal shoreline restoration, the challenges and, perhaps most importantly, if they truly live up to their reputation as marine system restorers.

Steven Handel with Gowanus Canal Conservancy staff @ThreesBrewing

Steven Handel with Gowanus Canal Conservancy staff @ThreesBrewing

Follow us on Twitter @GowanusGreen and on Instagram @gowanuscanalconservancy #UELS2015 for more Conservancy news, fun facts, and upcoming events.

At the September 11 Clean & Green Event, the Rockefeller Foundation employees volunteered for the GCC as part of their Day of Service to the community.  They arrived in the morning at the Salt Lot and after a brief orientation, split up to perform a variety of stewardship activities including composting and garden stewardship.

One group focused on turning over compost piles from bottom to top to help speed up the creation of beautiful nutritious compost.  They also used the sifter to separate larger pieces of wood chips from healthy compost by hand which will be reused for newer compost piles.  This created a wonderful opportunity to share everyones experiences of personal stewardship and how something as simple as composting gives nutrients back to the land.

Turning over compost to increase air circulation and eliminate odors

Turning over compost to increase air circulation


Volunteers separating compost from wood chips using the sifter

Volunteers hard at work separating compost from wood chips using the sifter
















Another set of volunteers focused on garden stewardship by removing trash, weeding and watering the native plants in the bioswales to allow them to flourish for both street beautification and stormwater absorption.  This generated interest in learning about the various ways  local communities are able to actively create vibrant green spaces while reducing the negative effects of water and sewershed on the Canal.

Volunteers picking up trash and uprooting weeds in one of GCCs bioswales

Volunteers removing trash and uprooting weeds in one of GCCs bioswales

One of the volunteers watering native plants

One of the volunteers watering native plants

















After a great day of stewardship the Rockefeller Foundation was treated to a cookout of delicious hot dogs, hamburgers, veggie burgers and refreshments including beer generously provided by our sponsors  Whole Foods Market on 3rd Street and Brooklyn Brewery.  To top off the afternoon they all posed for a group photo, happy and proud to have helped Gowanus become a little greener.  Rockefeller Foundation volunteers, thank you all for your service and hope you all had a wonderful experience!

Group photo to end a great day with the Rockefeller Foundation

Group photo to end a great day with the Rockefeller Foundation


On a beautiful 50-degree day in early January, Board Member and environmental consultant Richard Kampf and The Conservancy’s Director of Special Projects, Hans Hesselein, led local planners, scientists, and members of the community  on a tour of the Canal to explore the potential effects of climate change on the neighborhood. We were joined by Dr. Klaus Jacob, a professor at Columbia University, and Paul Reale, a presenter from Al Gore’s The Climate Reality Project. This is one of eight world-wide Expeditions being coordinated by Climate Reality.

During the tour we discussed the local threats associated with the potential for sea level rise and more severe storms. We also examined the ways in which that the community and the City may work together to adapt to a changing climate as part of the ongoing planning and remediation initiatives that are presently underway. We are confident that with proper planning and communication we may ensure that Gowanus remains resilient.

We began the tour at the Union Street Bridge where we discussed how severe weather impacts the canal.We could hear the hoo-ing of an owl located somewhere under the bridge and were reminded that the canal is home to a unique ecosystem even today.

To donate to the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, please follow this link. Your donations will help support our green infrastructure, composting, and community art and education programs.

At 10:30 a.m., we gathered on the Union Street Bridge (Stop 1).

Living on Thin Ice Expedition Map

The expedition started on the Union Street Bridge (Photo by Richard Kampf)

(L to R) Katia Kelly, Hans Hesselein, Ryan Kovonowski, Brooke Bohnet, Annika Arnold, Richard Kampf (Photo by Benjamin Aufill)

The local threats that are posed by climate change include the potential for increased frequency and severity of storms, which could result in an increase in the frequency and duration of CSO events and urban flash flooding. On top of that, scientists expect a rise in sea level of up to four feet over the next century, which would flood parts of the New York metro and be compounded by coastal storm surges during storm events.

(L to R) Klaus Jacob, Richard Kampf, Paul Reale

Flooding on 4th Avenue at Carroll St

Dr. Jacob, a geophysicist by training and a local climate adaptation expert , is frequently called upon to assess the impacts of climate change on New York State  and has participated in the New York City Panel on Climate Change.

Dr. Jacob pointed out there are significant limitations in the maps that FEMA prepares to project the impacts of severe flooding. Current flood maps do not take into account the infrastructure limitations that result in urban flash flooding outside of the 100- and 500-year flood zones that are depicted in FEMA maps. Also, later this century, one-in-100 year storm events are likely to take place once every 10 to 25 years as a result of climate change.  The graphic below shows how the 100 year flood zone may affect the community in the future based on sea level rise predictions that assume rapid glacial ice melt.

In this video, Dr. Jacob talks more about the impacts of sea level rise:

To donate to the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, please follow this link.

We proceeded south to the historic Carroll Street Bridge (Stop 2),  built in 1888-89. The bridges and bulkhead of the Gowanus Canal are key components of the infrastructure that may be affected by sea level rise. As part of a pilot study, the city plans to install to High Level Storm Sewers to capture 50% of the rainfall before it enters the sewer pipes, and instead divert it directly into the Canal to reduce CSOs and street flooding.

The Union Street Bridge Looking North (Photo by Richard Kampf)

The Combined Sewer Outfall at Carroll Street (Photo by Richard Kampf)

The Conservancy encourages students from local primary and secondary schools and colleges to use the canal as a laboratory for studying the natural environment. Here, at the end of Second Street (Stop 3), the Gowanus Dredgers Boat Launch provides the community with the recreational resources to directly experience the ecosystem of the canal.

The Living on Thin Ice Expedition at Second Street (photo by Benjamin Aufill)

At the Third Street Bridge (Stop 4) we discussed a proposed waterfront development within the 100-year flood zone and note the variety of concrete, wooden, and sheet pile bulkheads that are common along the Canal. Ecologists, landscape architects and engineers envision opportunities for creating softer shorelines and constructed wetlands in an effort to provide public access, improve water quality, and adapt to sea level rise.

Canal Edge Possibilities

The Conservancy is working to implement a waterfront “SpongePark”™ that will help the City achieve its goals for increasing public access, improving water quality, restoring ecological habitats, and promoting climate resilience and adaptability.

Next, we entered the 6th Street Corridor (Stop 5). As part of its Green Infrastructure Plan, the city is overseeing the installation of permeable pavement, tree pits, rain gardens, and green roofs rather than costly pipes and tanks, in an effort to reduce runoff, urban street flooding and CSOs. As part of the Conservancy’s 6th Street Corridor Pilot Study, we are installing a series of rain gardens that will line the sidewalks and reduce the number of CSO events at the Second Avenue outfall.

Bioswales will be constructed along the 6th Street Green Corridor

We concluded our tour at 1 p.m. at the Second Avenue Salt Lot (Stop 6), the Conservancy’s staging area for community engagement, where we observed a street-end rain garden created during one of our “clean & green” volunteer events. From here, the Conservancy coordinates its watershed stewardship activities, which include raising awareness to help ensure that ongoing and future planning initiatives consider the potential effects of climate change. This is also the location of our growing composting and urban agriculture program.

Hans Hesselein of the Conservancy discussing the Second Street Rain Garden (photo by Benjamin Aufill)

The Conservancy believes that a community-based watershed planning perspective will be a key to proper long-term stewardship. We are promoting integrated decision-making to support incremental, flexible, and robust solutions that do not preclude adaptability, and we are working to establish the link between the watershed, CSOs, and climate change through long-term data collection, management, and analysis that is needed to properly plan for the future.

To donate to the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, please follow this link.