Bringing mussels back to the Gowanus Bay

Infinite Mussel Party launches Floating Reef project

May 11, 2022 Mary Frost
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You may have heard of the Billion Oyster Project, which is working to bring oysters back to New York Harbor. Now meet the Infinite Mussel Project, launched last week by the RETI Center at the GBX~Gowanus Bay Terminal, not far from IKEA.

Mussels (like oysters and other bivalves) clean their habitats by sucking in dirty water and filtering debris, algae, chemicals and even microplastics into their gill chambers. Once plentiful in New York Harbor, the mussel population has shrunk dramatically.  

RETI (which stands for Resilience, Education, Training and Innovation) hopes to bring mussels back to the harbor. To do so, the group is building a prototype “Floating Reef” out of low-carbon, biophilic (“life-friendly”) concrete. Mussels will be seeded onto ropes suspended below the floating platform. A solar-powered greenhouse will provide year-round plants for adjacent floating gardens, which will provide a habitat for a variety of sea life. 

The Infinite Mussel Party took place on the RETI Center’s floating eco-lab docked at the GBX~Gowanus Bay Terminal. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

‘Party Like a Bivalve’

RETI knows how to have fun while doing good. The Infinite Mussel Project launched last Wednesday with — what else? — an Infinite Mussel Party on board the group’s floating eco-lab, built on a barge docked at the tail end of Columbia Street.

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The warm spring night was the perfect backdrop to mellow music by Control the Sound, steamed mussels (an almost infinite number) and a killer seafood boil, prepared by Matt Rubendall, classical guitar maker and knife-crafter.

“Our Infinite Mussel Project is a bit like the Billion Oyster Project — they’re our good friends, and of course we have to one-up them, going to infinite,” laughed RETI Executive Director Tim Gilman-Sevcik. 

RETI is part of the C3 team (Climate Center Consortium), one of the finalists for the new Climate Center on Governors Island. RETI’s role on the team will be to build a large floating Climate Change Lab — “a multi-story building on a floating concrete base that will create its own biome around it in the water,” Gilman-Sevcik said. 

Andrea Parker, executive director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, at the Infinite Mussel Party examines a display showing materials involved in constructing the planned Floating Reef. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

RETI was founded to develop Red Hook’s resiliency after Superstorm Sandy devastated the neighborhood in 2012. Architect Gita Nandan, co-founder and board chair, told the Brooklyn Eagle, “Today is all about bivalves and how bivalves are critical for our environment.”

In the long run, “RETI Center’s focus is on the blue-green economy and understanding how industrialization and nature-based solutions can actually go hand in hand to create a better, more sustainable, climate-friendly future,” she said. “Training and job creation are not just relegated to the land, but are really about our coastal edges.”

Related Article: BlueCity: A floating eco-lab planned for the waters off Red Hook

The floating lab docked off Columbia Street is the first element of a much larger vision: BlueCity, an off-grid, floating industrial eco-lab and community space. 

“We want the barge and programs like the Infinite Mussel Project to attract people to the waterfront — not just alongside the waterfront, but in this particular project, it’s literally on the water,” said John Quadrozzi, Jr., president of the GBX~Gowanus Bay Terminal, sponsor of the Infinite Mussel Party and host/provider of the RETI Center & barge. 

Quadrozzi said the that the Gowanus Bay (unlike the infamous Gowanus Canal) is actually a tidal salt marsh, “which people are less familiar. So these vessels will be used to not only promote environmental restoration of this waterfront, but for education. RETI is working with public schools to bring students down to and on to the water and add that element of education at the elementary, middle and high school level, like P.S. 676, Harbor School and many others.”

Brad Vogel is working with the schooner Apollonia, which will soon resume its cargo runs to Red Hook carrying Hudson Valley products. Vogel is captain of the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Project is ‘awesome’

Red Hook resident Meghan Berry, who teaches in Coney Island, said the mussel project is “awesome.” 

“I talked to an education coordinator so I’m thinking about ways I can have my fifth-grade class interact with this organization. I want the kids to think about ways they can connect more with the marine environment that they live right beside,” she said.

Emily Dickinson, a Windsor Terrace resident and sustainability manager for Madison Square Park Conservancy, said, “We have a sustainability campaign that looks at what we do operationally and how we can do better, and a community-based program, so what can we share with the neighborhood. It’s great to see what someone else is doing.”

“I always go birdwatching here on this pier, so I was glad to see what’s going on,” said Red Hook resident and author Richard Fleming. Fleming said he is ‘totally interested in ecology and recycling. I’m an avid composter.” 

He added, “I’m always interested in what Gita is doing with architecture and trying to — for want of a better term — ‘green’ architecture as a discipline.”

The Infinite Mussel Party party featured an almost infinite number of mussels and a killer seafood boil, prepared by Matt Rubendall. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Fleming’s wife Katie Dixon, Director of Special Projects at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), said she came to the event “to support this fantastic Red Hook endeavor led by my dear friend Gita Nandan. I’m excited to be out on the water raising funds for this excellent youth education program.”

Related Article: Sailing vessel, horse-drawn wagon deliver cargo to industrial Red Hook

Shanaz Kahn — a Fulbright scholar from Pakistan studying historic preservation at Pratt and horse trainer at Quadrozzi’s related Brooklyn equine/Prospect Park Stable — said she would bring what she learned back to Pakistan. “In terms of climate change and how our world is changing, this project is important because it’s a pioneer towards the future and how we envision living in the cities we are currently in, and how climate change will affect that.”

Delicious steamed mussels and a killer seafood boil were prepared by Matt Rubendall, a classical guitar maker and knife-crafter by trade. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

“I live not too far from here but I’ve never been on this particular street and now my eyes are kind of opened to the area,” said Suzanne Menghraj. “I’m concerned with the environment and I think this is a cool intervention. I teach at NYU and I was just thinking, are there ways for me to bring my students here, are there connections I can make?”

Related Article: Sail freighter Apollonia returns to Red Hook, hauling shiitake logs and Hudson Valley artisanal goods

“There are so few organizations in New York that do work actually on the water,” said N.D. Austin. “I run the Tideland Institute out of Newtown Creek, doing cultural events on the water all the time. A lot of people do work about the water. This is an organization that’s actually doing work on the water. And I absolutely want to support that. It’s critical.“

John Quadrozzi, Jr., president of the GBX~Gowanus Bay Terminal and host/provider of the RETI Center and barge. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Sail-freight port of call

The RETI barge has become a port of call for the Hudson River’s growing sail-freight industry. 

The schooner Apollonia’s landings — carrying Hudson Valley products including honey, maple syrup, hot sauce and wine — are festive events, with last mile deliveries made by human and horse-powered bikes and wagons.  

“The Schooner Apollonia is a sustainable sail-freight vessel, and it hauls cargo from the Hudson Valley to New York City and back,” said Brad Vogel, executive director of the New York Preservation Archive Project and captain of the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club. 

RETI Executive Director Tim Gilman-Sevcik stands next to the floating lab’s first enclosed structure, the Sun Room, built from recycled materials. The room is powered by solar panels and heated by a solar thermal system which runs hot water through tubing in the floor. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

“It docks right here on the edge of this barge and we’re excited because season two is coming up. People can order boat boxes for sail-freight delivery sustainably, without the use of very much fossil fuel at all using wind power, and using solar for the last mile with the solar-powered bikes.” 

“We hope people come down to Sail-Freight Fridays at the RETI Center in May, June, August, September and October of 2022,” Vogel said.

(Right) Gita Nandan, RETI’s co-founder and board chair, chats with party-goers. Eagle photo by Mary Frost


The scene aboard the RETI Center’s floating eco-lab during the Infinite Mussel Party. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
RETI Center’s to-do board is the backdrop to a selection of beverages and silent auction prizes. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
The band Control the Sound provided music for the evening. From left: Elijah Frechtman on guitar; Carter Nyhan on drums; and Dean Guida on keyboard. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

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