Thanks to Newtown Creek Alliance and North Brooklyn Boat Club for organizing this fun canoe trip on the Newtown Creek. While nature in the way of lush forests and crystal clear running streams is far from the scenery along this industrial waterway, “nature has returned to the creek,” our guides explained, which is a good sign.
Among the many birds we spotted were cormorants, swallows, cardinals, a great egret, an entire flocks of cormorants, a catbird and a few geese who were demonstrating a curious behavior of swimming along the creek’s edge with their necks down low on the water.
We were very excited to also see blue crabs, oysters, small fish and jelly fish!
I won’t say it didn’t smell, in some parts worse than others. Mostly they were industrial gas and crude oil smells. There was a lot of garbage floating, capri sun containers, potato chips bags, tampons, and I won’t say that I didn’t cringe every time even the most minuscule drop splashed on my arm or even worse right near my lips.
When I asked Jens of NBBC what would be the protocol if someone fell in and swallowed a mouthful of water, he said he would recommend getting a Hepatitis test since the biggest pollutant on the creek nowadays is human excrement.
The most striking feature of the tour was when we canoed up to a partition between the creek and a combined sewage overflow, CSO area. That is where rainwater mixed with sewage from the treatment plant overflows after heavy rain. The water on our side of the partition was very clear, protected from – wait for it – “floatables.” On the other side, where an unknowing egret was hunting, was thick putrid sludge leading from the huge overflow pipe.
When we returned to the boat club dock I was never so excited to wash my hands, especially the spot of water that turned brown on my arm.
Canoeing up the creek is something that everyone should experience, at least once. If not for the birds – for the reality check. Modern conveniences like toilets and sanitation make us forget the impact we have on our own environment. While the creek is on its way to becoming a less vile place, it’s still the toilet of NYC, and we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to it, especially since it is becoming a viable place for our own native fauna.
Bonus: Laura Hoffman, locally famous environmental hero for Greenpoint, who was a plaintiff in a 2004 lawsuit against ExxonMobil for contamination of Greenpoint and the Newtown Creek that won $19million for an environmental projects fund, was on the same canoe trip! I was honored to finally meet her.