Blogs > Ecology > Why I Sweep: Dragon boaters give back with Jennifer’s Annual Flushing Bay Cleanup

Why I Sweep: Dragon boaters give back with Jennifer’s Annual Flushing Bay Cleanup


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This is one in a series of guest blogs about Riverkeeper Sweep, our annual day of service for the Hudson, involving more than 100 shoreline cleanups and planting projects on a single day in May. Please visit to sign up for a project happening near you on Saturday, May 4.


The Empire Dragons NYC, New York City’s premier all cancer survivor dragon boat team, has been a part of Riverkeeper Sweep for the last seven years. Our shoreline cleanup of Flushing Bay is dedicated to of one of our founders, Jennifer Merendino, who spearheaded efforts to restore the waterway.

Empire’s partner, Guardians of Flushing Bay, developed from those early efforts and is now a dynamic coalition of of human-powered boaters, environmental enthusiasts and community members – advocating for a clean and healthy Flushing Bay and community access to the waterfront.

The Sweep is an awesome experience – close to 200 people join us along the Flushing Bay shoreline – and we collect over a 100 large garbage bags filled with trash in addition to large items like tires, wood and pieces of abandoned vessels, among other things.

The “before” and “after” are very dramatic, and it’s gratifying for all the volunteers to see the difference they have made. It’s a really educational experience – we see and count the items we’re picking up, like plastic straws, plastic bags, styrofoam plates and cups.

Many of our volunteers have become active in campaigns to ban these items and are gratified by their success. Our partner, the Billion Oyster Project, is always a great draw with their information table on the amazing filter qualities of oysters.

Queens is such a diverse borough, and it’s wonderful to see such a mixture of communities, cultures and ages at the Sweep. We welcome the Scouts proudly earning their badges and students who are doing services hours with us! We are happy to be able to offer rides in dragon boats for those over 12 years old as part of the Sweep. Getting into a boat and paddling is always a highlight!

Hillary “Scout” Exter is a member of Empire Dragon Boat Team and on the Guardians of Flushing Bay‘s Board of Directors.

Learn more about this Sweep project May 4 and sign up to volunteer: Jennifer’s Annual Flushing Bay Shoreline Cleanup (Queens)

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