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The East River Project of the ECO-CLUB of UNIS, New York

By Elke Bergholz

Type of Entry:

  • project

Type of Activity:

  • hands-on activity
  • inquiry lab

Target Audience:

  • Life Science
  • Biology
  • Environmental studies


To identify water quality of the East and Hudson River and the conflicts between essential biological improvements in the rivers and urban development in Manhattan, we must search for what the concrete of this vast city and the land beyond drains into the rivers. In order to do so, it is important to leave the concrete and to establish a laboratory on and of the river. This undertaking focuses on:

  • the identification of piling erosion
  • the local action of the East River Laboratory
  • the global identification of river problems

As an urban school located in Manhattan directly on the East River, UNIS is facing the problem of piling erosion under the school's building. Identification of the cause of this local concern and the need for an ecological program at UNIS was used to est ablish an East River Project. By the nature of the work to identify water surrounding the pilings, the East River Project has fostered a hands-on approach to natural science learning emphasizing the need for clean rivers and consequences for shore devel opments. The East River issue puts before students something concrete, offering opportunities to apply text book explanations to "real world" problems. At the same time, this project encourages the exploration of urban water ways as a method of expanding knowledge of ecology, river monitoring, and urban development. It encourages local actions as well as use of the computer information superhighway to enhance global environmental thinking.


Most students volunteer their time to participate on different levels of this East River Project. It is an ongoing project throughout the year. The sample collection requires a minimum of 60 minutes per sampling. In addition, samples need to be analyzed i n the laboratory which requires an additional 2 - 3 class periods (45 min. each). The same activities will be done with students during actual class time when river ecology is being studied. More time would be needed if the sampling location is further a way from the school. Students are required also to work on special projects in order to participate in a special ECO-SUMMIT meeting. The time needed for such projects like designing a brochure is unpredictable. Students use their free time to complete such projects.

It is an advantage if several teachers are involved in order to support the different assignments. As the project evolves, it is expected that students take over part of the leadership role ( suggesting projects, preparing presentations, advertising for n ew program members). An outline of sampling techniques can be made available upon request. Existing monitoring programs of states or cities are often willing to provide material.


The East River is one of the waterways surrounding Manhattan, New York City. It is the connection between the Harlem and Hudson River. All water ways are heavily used for ships trafficking. The United Nations International School is located near East 25th Street, Manhattan, directly on the East River and on the highway "FDR Drive". Though visible through class room windows, the East River is not directly accessible by way of a natural shore. Most of the water front is developed. Sampling is done using piers of the adjacent marina. This project provides students with m ultidisciplinary opportunities to study the East and Hudson Rivers.

In order for high school students -living in one of the largest urban setting of the world- to understand the value of the East River to their lives, it is crucial to present a connection to something that is concrete and observable. Our "real world" prob lem is the decomposition of the school's and that of adjacent waterfront buildings' foundations positioned directly in the water of the East River. We are facing a dilemma when we consider the needs of urban development, environmental protection and impro vement of our river, and the potential outcomes. Most of the project is hands on, taking the students out of the class room and using extra curricular time. The ultimate objective of the East River Project is to establish high school participation in the resolution of the East and Hudson Rivers pollution and development problem. It is through the piling decomposition of our school that the students will be en couraged to seriously consider the confusing problem of water quality improvement, marine species abundance, and waterfront damage.

  1. Activities of the project:

    • Establishment of a baseline for an annual water quality monitoring program and generate year to year water quality data of the East River.

    • Identification of the cause for the erosion of the East River piling under the school building. Identification of industrial tributaries leading into the East River.

    • Extension of data collection and water quality control to the Hudson River.

    • Annual sail on the Hudson aboard the vessel "Clearwater".

    • Generation of a map containing water quality data of the East and Hudson Rivers which will be integrated into the New York Geographic Information System.

    • Creation of brochures describing the natural history of the East and Hudson River.

    • Cooperation with the environmental and multi media group Earth Savers of UNIS and combine efforts for advertisement of local environmental issues.

    • Establishment of a "home page" on the Internet and mutually beneficial links with local, national, and international schools, to exchange information and project ideas.

    • Annual preparations of presentations for the ECO-SUMMIT meeting in Pennsylvania, organized by the Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center.

  2. Positive effects of the project:

    • establishment of interdisciplinary activities involving the science, math, computer, geography, and multi media

    • introduction to hands-on-activities outside the class room

    • leadership development for students

    • introduction to local environmental issues of the New York city's water shed system

    • use of technology to analyze water monitoring data

    • use of technology to enhance global views and local actions: national and international communication with other schools to compare different watershed problems

    • allowance for student's initiative to establish additional activities such as publications, contacts of environmental groups, poster development

    • connection with environmental groups of different states.

  3. Next steps of the program and possible changes and suggestions:

    • Continue to work on our projects.

    • The project needs financial support to continue the water sample analysis. Fund raising has to be established by the students and teachers.

    • Since it is difficult to coordinate the activities with students from different classes, an environmental class as a leadership group could be introduced to the school.

    • The home page needs to be completed.

    • Establish connections with New York city's " Bay Keepers", the official monitoring group of the city.

    • Design Global Information System maps.

    • Involve the Middle School in the sampling procedure.

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