Seals spotted in waters off Bay Ridge

In recent years, harbor seals have been spotted south of the usual cold northern waters they lurk in. The cleaner waters and better fishing grounds in Lower New York Bay may be why the seals show up here. They hang out on Hoffman Island, and you can spot them with a good pair of binoculars from Denyse Wharf, nestled in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge. In April, when the water starts getting warmer, the seals make their way back north.Local environmental group Friends of Denyse Wharf chartered a boat called the American Princess, which leaves off of Rockaway Point, to get a closer look at the seals. In March, 48 seals were counted basking in the sun and swimming in the waters.“Last time we went out, the captain said he never saw as many seals on that day than any previous day,” said local activist and teacher Thomas Greene, coordinator of Friends of Denyse Wharf.The harbor seals have been “adopted” by their namesake, the Harbor Seals swim team that practices at the Fort Hamilton High School pool. In May, dozens of team members will continue a long-standing tradition of cleaning up the beach at Denyse Wharf.Last year, Kingsborough Community College members of the Harbor Seal Swim Team, Fort Hamilton High School students and their parents joined Greene and the Friends of Denyse Wharf in the bi-annual beach clean up.“We’ve been doing beach cleanups for a number of years,” said Greene. “Last several years, we decided to add something to the cleanup [which was] water quality testing.”The wharf is, in Greene’s view, a jewel along the Brooklyn shoreline. Owned by the U.S. Army, which has offered to lease it for $1 a year to the city’s Department of Education, Denyse Wharf, Greene has contended for years, would make an ideal location for a much needed regional Marine Environmental Science laboratory.“We’d like to have it there because it’s a magnet for school kids,” said Greene. “It’s an ideal location to study science. We’ve submitted a proposal to the DOE to put up a modest environmental science lab, where kids can come down on Saturdays, learn science for the environment.” This regional lab would be targeted at students in kindergarten through 12th grade schools, who would be able to get up close and personal with science through hands-on activities in water pollution studies, aquaculture and projects involving alternative energy. The lab would also be open to the general public.But, so far, it has remained only a proposal.After a brief stretch of time more than a decade ago, when it looked like the DOE might move forward on the project, it has sat on the back burner, only kept in the public’s eye through Greene’s persistence, despite the fact that the School Construction Authority, at one point, had declared the project feasible, and despite the fact that the two-decades-old proposal has broad support from teachers, parents, students, elected officials, the Metropolitan Waterfront Authority, and the Fort Hamilton Army Garrison.But, that hasn’t stopped Greene from pushing. Most recently, he stood up during a hearing on Community Board 10’s capital priorities for the next fiscal year and convinced board members to move the lab back onto its priority list because, he believes, it is an essential facility in a time when U.S. students are lagging behind their peers around the world in science education, and when, as he points out, nearly 60 percent of the city’s public elementary schools lack a science lab.As part of its original feasibility study, SCA had “recommended a two-story 10,000 square foot structure to be located on a floating barge that will be connected to the existing pier with a ramp.” In 2005, it was estimated to cost $18 to $20 million to construct.

Additional reporting contributed by Helen Klein

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