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DEP transforms NYC water with ‘Harbor Protectors’

Transformative environmental effort kicked off in Coney Island

April 23, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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The Department of Environmental Protection’s new Harbor Protectors initiative kicked off on Thursday morning with an Earth Day Cleanup in Coney Island, as student volunteers and others cleaned catch basins, stenciled informational messages on nearby sidewalks, picked up trash at rain gardens and more.

Also present at the event on Mermaid Avenue were elected officials, community leaders, DEP staffers and others. At a time when water quality in New York Harbor is cleaner than at any time in recorded history, maintaining the shoreline still takes a lot of work.

“When you nonchalantly throw your potato chip bags, your cookie wrappers, your drink container, etc. on the street, they directly end up in our waters. Think before we toss, down the catch basin into the waters and onto the beaches,” said Pamela Pettyjohn, president of the Coney Island Beautification Project.

“I grew up in Coney Island, and it is still my home,” said Assemblymember Mathylde Frontius, who represents the area. “Seeing the efforts this new initiative come together with a longstanding community organization like the Coney Island Beautification Project gives me great joy and hope as we work to protect the community from pollution.”

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Student volunteers put trash into a large plastic bag at Thursday’s Harbor Protectors kickoff in Coney Island. Photo courtesy of DEP

Harbor Protectors are DEP volunteers who sign up to do stewardship activities in their neighborhoods.  These activities help keep communities clean and help keep pollution out of waterways. Participants sign up for one or more of four activities that support stormwater management:


  • Clean Catch Basins: New York City has over 144,000 catch basins!  Catch basins collect rainwater that flows down streets and sidewalks.  Harbor Protectors remove litter and leaves that can cover catch basins causing flooding and pollution in nearby waterways. 


  • Stencil Catch Basins: Sometimes people pour oils or dump garbage down catch basins.  Those oils and debris can end up as pollution in nearby waterways.  Harbor Protectors stencil an educational message on the sidewalk near a catch basin to remind their neighbors not to dump anything there.


  • Care for Rain Gardens: Rain Gardens are built in city sidewalks and are designed to collect rainwater before it gets to the catch basin.  Harbor Protectors care for rain gardens by removing litter and debris, clearing inlets and outlets, and helping our maintenance staff care for plants. 


  • Participate in Shoreline Cleanups: The City of New York has more than 520 miles of shoreline.  Litter and debris can wash up on the shoreline causing issues for the local ecology.  Harbor Protectors partner with DEP on shoreline clean-up events to remove trash. 


“I’m thankful to Pamela Pettyjohn and the Coney Island Beautification Project, DEP Commissioner Sapienza, P.S. 329, P.S. 188, P.S. 288, Liberation HS, community leaders, and friends for gathering this morning on Earth Day to keep our community clean and to take greater care of our planet,” said Councilmember Mark Treyger, who also represents the area.

Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus (D-Coney Island-Sea Gate-Dyker Heights-Bay Ridge) is enthused about the new Harbor Protectors program. Photo courtesy of DEP

The rivers, creeks, canals, bays, and beaches across the five boroughs are vital to the harbor and the city’s ecosystem, according to the DEP.  Water quality testing shows that New York Harbor is cleaner today than it has been at any time since the Civil War.  The increasingly common sightings of whales, dolphins and seals demonstrates these ongoing improvements.  

The program also features a new Harbor Protectors website that includes training and informational videos, the new program logo and creative assets (including stencil designs for the aforementioned sidewalk messages), an online registration form and a calendar of 2021 events.

The Coney Island Beautification Project is a civic organization that was formed to encourage community involvement and education in the enhancement of the environment and the resiliency of post-Superstorm Sandy, Coney Island and surrounding areas.  Community activities are conducted through projects that augment neighborhood greening, gardening or the development/enhancement of parks, street tree beds or other public green spaces.

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