By Phil Corso
For a beautiful Saturday morning, it made sense for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution marine scientist James M. Cervino and 20 of his Columbia University students to take to the beach.
But this group was not in the sun for fun — they were working to repair the shoreline through experimentation and hands-on education.
Cervino joined with students and volunteers to trudge through a battered waterfront at MacNeil Park in College Point with hopes of strengthening and regrowing the beach by cleaning up its water and bringing oysters back to the area.
“We could save the city millions if we keep up the fight to prevent against erosion,” Cervino said. “Progress has been great.”
To combat contaminants contributing to what Cervino called an eroding water line at the location — many other waterfronts throughout the city — he and his students hoped to refurbish the shoreline through different methods. One experiment included using a low-voltage electrical current to regrow coral by growing limestone in salt water to sink pollutants.
Grad student Mollie Thurman approached her professor with a grin on her face, happy to report some good news as the class traveled along the shoreline: They had found some living organisms.
“It is great to see things happily living here because it shows progress,” Thurman said. “You don’t see too many ecosystems like this in New York City.”
City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) was right alongside the group and provided a guest lecture on the importance of maintaining ecosystems for both the environmental and political motivations. The goal, Halloran said, is to prevent erosion and to allow nutrients to bring oyster beds back to life.
“This project is environmental, but is far more important for many reasons,” Halloran said. “We are cleaning our local ecosystem and purifying water. Government should be looking at this because of its economic benefits by stabilizing infrastructure.”
After his detailed outline of the benefits and the science of what brought the group to the waterfront, Cervino joked as he graded the councilman with an A- on his report.
In March 2011, Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) to unveil the city’s comprehensive waterfront plan, Vision 2020. The 10-year vision for the city’s 520 miles of shoreline included a similar goal: to increase public access to the waterfront and provide economic opportunities to the city.
While projects like Cervino’s received miniscule funding through discretionary spending, the Community Board 7 member and College Point resident said his biggest concern involved the illegal dumpers who contribute to pollution that lead to dirty waterfronts just like the one he was working on.
“We want enforcement. We need to bust these illegal dumpers,” Cervino said. “We are trying to establish a habitat and we will go after anyone who gets in the way of that.”
Electronics engineer Rand Weeks worked nearby on a solar panel being used to help regrow estuaries for the shorefront, which he said would help clean the water, control erosion and attract shellfish to filter the water. The solar panels, he said, provided energy for an experiment to grow spartina, or cordgrass, through a harmless and low-voltage electrical current to help purify the water and rebuild the beach.
“We want to have a clean beach here that we may be able to one day go swimming in again,” Weeks said. “Basically, we are setting up a whole ecosystem here.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.