Waterway inspectors scour Queens shorelines

Different types of trash collect near the water in Little Neck Bay, where volunteer Frieda Christofides keeps watch. Photo courtesy Frieda Christofides
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Keeping watch on the city’s shoreline could come with a new twist after Superstorm Sandy left debris strewn in areas like northeast Queens.

Robert Gans grew up frequenting the shores near Little Neck Bay and has been working with a crew of volunteers for more than a decade patrolling the city’s waterfronts for floatables, or floating garbage.

But this year presents a new challenge for the Volunteer Beach Floatable Program, Gans said, at a time when their watchful eyes are needed most.

Hurricane Sandy left much of the borough’s waterfront property with the after-effects of fallen trees, broken buffers and more, while also displacing many of Gans’ volunteers themselves. The city Department of Environmental Protection manager said he hoped to garner support from a new wave of shoreline vigilantes to fight the floatables that might have washed ashore after the storm.

“There’s a lot of devastation all over the place that we still don’t really know the extent of since the storm,” Gans said. “Our monitoring would definitely be a good first step to making sure we know what our shorelines look like.”

Gans currently has about 100 volunteers overseeing 52 different spots throughout the city with nothing but a camera, pen and paper.

Each volunteer takes a look at a 200-foot section of a shoreline and marks any findings on a chart that Gans provides. The group routinely surveys areas such as the Bayside Marina, Alley Creek and beyond, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, finding anything from plastic bags and clothing to discarded firearms.

The results are processed through the DEP so it can assess which parts of the shoreline are in the worst shape.

Frieda Christofides has been taking notes on the litter around Little Neck Bay for years — so much so that she said it is time for her to throw in the towel. After so many years of getting the dirt on the bay’s floating garbage, Christofides said she has grown disheartened by all the trash, including a .38-caliber revolver she found years ago.

“It is a shame the area is so dirty and it would be great to get more people to help and draw attention to this,” she said. “My dream would be to get it cleaned up. I used to swim there as a kid and I never remembered it being that dirty.”

This year, Gans said he hoped to hear from volunteers interested in surveying areas in Douglaston, College Point and Newtown Creek.

Last year, the National Resources Defense Council released a report ranking Douglas Manor the worst in water quality health standard violations, exceeding the state’s daily maximum bacterial standards.

The report, “Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches,” found the number of closures and safety advisories from contamination increased drastically in 2011 and ranked New York 24th out of 30 states sampled for poor beach water quality overall.

“People always like to know what they can do to help,” Gans said. “This is a great opportunity to do that. We need to get the word out for the sake of our shorelines.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Posted 12:36 am, April 12, 2013
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Reader feedback

cHRIS from gREENPOINT says:
Hi -

Could you provide a way to contact Mr. Gans? I am interested in volunteering along Newtown Creek.
April 12, 2013, 9:17 am

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