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Below the Hudson

New York’s Hudson River is notorious for being a veritable soup of trash, sludge, and ship debris. But two divers decided to have a deeper, closer look at exactly was down in New York’s most famous river. YUK. Story here nymag.com/news/features/56609.

The steady transformation of New York’s waterfront from wasteland to playground means more of us are spending time along the city’s edge. That can lead a person to wonder: What, exactly, is down there? Until recently, we had patchy knowledge of what lies beneath the surface of one of the world’s busiest harbors

…Two kinds of hungry pests gnaw away at the pilings that hold up structures like the FDR Drive, the U.N. school on East 25th Street, and the Con Ed plant at 14th. Teredos, which start life looking like tiny clams, grow up to be worms “as big around as your thumb, and nearly four feet long, with little triangular teeth,” says commercial diver Lenny Speregen. Like underwater termites, they devour wood. And Limnoria tripunctata, a.k.a. “gribbles,” are bugs about the size of a pencil dot that look like tiny armadillos, and eat not only wood but also concrete. Speregen says he’s seen fifteen-inch-diameter columns that have been gnawed down, hourglass style, to three inches. The city has tried jacketing pilings in heavy plastic to keep the critters out, but it hasn’t worked well: Floating ice tears up the jackets in winter. “I never said this wasn’t a war,” says Speregen.

…The harbor’s water is brownish, but not chiefly because of pollution. It’s brown because the Hudson carries an average of 2,200 tons of sediment per day from upstate (more in the autumn and spring, much less in the summer). For divers, all that silt obscures almost everything. “I always say, gimme a foot of viz”—visibility—“and that’s a great day,” says the NYPD’s John Drzal. “Even with a light, you can see just enough to gauge how much air you have left.” It’s a lot like going into a fire, adds Frederick Ill III, a diver from the FDNY’s Rescue Company No. 1. “Except that when you’re on the bottom, and you’ve gotta get out, you’re on your own.”

I’ve always had an interest in shipwrecks and ocean discovery/oceanography. I’ve seen all the old Shipwreck shows, watched Jacques Cousteau as a kid, and devoured the book Shadow Divers. That book has renewed my interest in what lurks in the depths of the ocean here off the Northeastern coastline. (Shadow Divers is all about a team of divers who discovered an unidentified German U-Boat, 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey). From what I have heard, there’s a motion picture coming out this year based on the book.

Certainly the Hudson is like the pasta fazool of soups– a little bit of everything. Through the Hudson, just about everything in Upstate flows, since most of our rivers find their way to the Hudson and therefore to the Atlantic. So when divers say they’ve found everything including the kitchen sink, I believe them!

About the Author

I've been traveling throughout New York State since I got the travel bug after touring the Herkimer Home on a school field trip as a youngster. We've been blogging about our travels since 2006 and have visited over half of New York's 62 counties so far.

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