By Joe Anuta
Families and residents gathered in Rockaway Park Saturday to celebrate a belated Earth Day, though this year the event took on special significance.
Crowds of people watched the rescue of a ceramic dolphin from the churning surf, picked clean the carcass of a fiberglass whale and waited in a long line for tacos while enjoying music and gleaning information from various eco-organizations.
The event, sponsored by the city Parks Department and the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, is now in its seventh year, and typically meets weeks after Earth Day in April so more groups can attend.
“Normally we always do it on the boardwalk,” said Jeanne DuPont, director of the alliance.
She was speaking at Cross Bay Boulevard and Shorefront Parkway, where construction fences encompassed crews slowly reassembling the iconic walkway, which was toppled by Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge.
To be fair, the boardwalk, where DuPont typically holds the event, is intact farther east, but organizers decided to host it instead behind a large, white geodesic dome set up by the Museum of Modern Art’s satellite PS1 in Long Island City to highlight the ongoing recovery efforts.
Inside, people found videos and information about the damages the storm caused along with information about some of the natural wonders that remain intact in the surrounding area.
But despite a different landscape, the mood at the event was largely the same as in years past, DuPont said.
About 30 organizations set up shop to offer information on the environment, sporting activities and arts and crafts for youngsters.
One of those organizations, the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, is the only authorized entity to remove stranded mammals and sea turtles that wash up on the shores of New York state.
Members of the team showed their skills Saturday by dispatching an 8-foot fiberglass dolphin into the waves and bringing it safely back to shore, according to DuPont.
Another fake mammal, this one made of fiberglass, once welcomed visitors to the boardwalk and beach. The mosaic-tiled sculpture named Whalemina went the way of the boardwalk during the storm.
But Rockaway artist Geoff Rawling recovered pieces of the beloved creature and brought one out Saturday.
A cardboard sign instructed anyone curious to pluck a mosaic tile off Whalemina’s fiberglass skin since Rawling plans to rebuild her bigger and better.
Some of the families at the event still do not have a permanent place to live following the storm. Chantilly Joachim spoke about the recovery efforts as her 2-year-old daughter, Justina Austin, carefully slathered a clamshell with different colors of paint at a crafts table.
The two have been out of a home for six months now and have run out of money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, she said.
The governmental response has left something to be desired, according to Joachim, but the response of individual people has been tremendous.
“We never had such unity and support,” she said. “It was fabulous.”
Many of the businesses were still struggling six months after the storm, but as the volunteers broke down their booths toward the end of the day, the line at nearby Rockaway Taco began to grow.
The beloved taco stand was damaged by Sandy, but recently reopened its doors.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.