By Bill Parry

Hundreds of visitors to Gantry Plaza State Park and Hunters Point South Park in Long Island City witnessed the first-ever EcoBon Floating Lantern Festival at sundown Sunday. Dozens of volunteers gathered at the shoreline of the East River to release more than 100 lanterns modeled after an ancient Japanese summer rite of remembrance.

HarborLab, a LIC-based non-profit organization that emphasizes environmental science, staged the event to promote ecological awareness. More than 50 resident advisors from Fairleigh Dickinson University prepared the lanterns from reused materials and decorated them with messages based on reflections on a healthy and peaceful planet.

While some of the lanterns were made of traditional rice paper, many were made from plastics that would have gone to a landfill or required energy to recycle. The “glimmers of hope” drifted towards the United Nations across the East River.

“Japanese families seek reconciliation with their ancestors in the Obon season and give an accounting of their lives to the spirits they believe have returned,” HarborLab Founder Erik Baard said. “HarborLab has a purely secular focus on science, but we respect that spiritual traditions bind together and ethically inform many of the communities we serve. Engaging faith congregations in environmental action will be vital to future efforts, from habitat protection to C02 reduction.”

Since the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Obon festivals have become a call for peace. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Interfaith Center of New York and the Buddhist Council of New York used Obon in its yearly observance on the waters of the Hudson River.

HarborLab adapted the tradition, recognizing that peace and environmental healing are intertwined. Baard is planning to produce the ceremony every summer with more youth involvement, decorating the lanterns at community centers months in advance instead of the day of the event. HarborLab will also invite special event sponsors and partner with Japanese and artistic foundations and groups.

“As EcoBon grows, we’ll invite scientists and clerics through research labs and the Interfaith Center of New York to speak about how we can account for our lives on this planet,” Baard said.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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