Monday, October 24, 2016

Bringing the Bay to You

By Spencer Gossy, Communications Intern

Meet our quirky aquarist and education specialist, Adam Kovarsky, a Charlestown native and Save The Bay team member since 2007. With a wildlife conservation degree and a passion for education, you could say that Adam is 100% Narragansett Bay, with a goal in life to “find the best way possible to benefit conservation efforts."

What are your main responsibilities at the Exploration Center?
I manage our interns and dozens of volunteers, without whom we wouldn’t be able to work. I also manage animal husbandry duties, all of the life support systems at the exhibit, curation of our collection, and I’m able to teach classes here, as well. 

What are some fun facts about the Exploration Center and Aquarium? 
We have hundreds of animals on exhibit, 40-60 species at any given time. We treat about 4,000 gallons of water here, all on a centralized filter. A shipment of 2,400 pounds of salt lasts us about four months. We try to feed our animals right from the Bay; just last week we had a fisherman bring us a huge bucket full of locally caught herring. 

Where do you get your critters?
Our education vessels are amazing floating classrooms and our students will bring specimens to us from their fish trawls. My interns and I do shoreline collections and snorkel for critters. Other science facilities or organizations bring us animals. Beyond that, local fishermen will often bring us unusual specimens, like our rare lobsters.

What is particularly unique about the aquarium?
One of the best things is that we focus solely on local wildlife that come from the Narragansett Bay and its surrounding waters. That’s great because we can move animals in and out as often as we see fit without having the added risk of introducing a virus, disease, invasive species or something that wouldn’t be able to survive. So, our collection changes constantly.

What are the most satisfying aspects of your work?
Save The Bay gives me a lot of freedom to pursue projects I find important to our mission. I’ve been able to add new, cool exhibits and find new and interesting ways to teach about the environment. I enjoy initiating habitat restoration projects, such as the rebuilding of sand dunes at Easton’s Beach. I've communicated with tens of thousands of people about conservation issues facing our planet and, specifically, Narragansett Bay. Being able to help people recognize their personal impact on their local environment has to be the most fulfilling part of my job by far. 

Do you have a favorite exhibit?
A really cool thing right now is that several of our adult little skates have been successfully reproducing and laying eggs, and now we’re getting about three to six babies hatching every week. We’ve been raising these juveniles in our touch tank. One is about a year-and-a-half old, which is about the age when they are less vulnerable and more likely to survive in the wild. We’d like to raise these little skates and then start releasing them into the wild.

Do you have a favorite story about working at the Exploration Center?
Last summer, a school group was out on one of our boats doing a fish trawl. They snagged an abandoned fishing line that still had a striped bass hooked on the end of the line. The students brought him to me after freeing him, and I treated him for a dislocated jaw and swim bladder infection. Now, about eight months later, he's back to full strength, growing, and we’re thinking he’s almost ready to be released into the wild.

What do you hope your guests take with them after a visit to the aquarium?
Our goal is to show people the amazing, wonderful life that lives right here in Narragansett Bay. I want people to leave the Exploration Center feeling empowered in their lives to make small changes that directly benefit the environment. Save The Bay’s number one priority is to protect and improve Narragansett Bay, and through our aquarium, we can really connect our community to the Bay in a hands-on way. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Top 5 Questions About Save The Bay's Seal Watch Tours

By Eric Pfirrmann, Lead Captain at Save The Bay

It’s October and Seal Watch season is underway! As Save The Bay and I begin our sixteenth season, I thought I would share the top 5 questions about our trips.

Q: What kind of Seals will we see?

A: Harbor Seals. 99% of the seals we see are Harbor Seals. It makes sense. They are the most common marine mammal in New England, and they are cool. Roughly human sized: say 4-6 feet, 125 -250 lbs. They are cute, sometimes playful, sometimes lazy and always entertaining.

Toward the end of Cape Cod and on Nantucket there is a large, year round colony of Grey Seals and we do see a couple of these big seals every year, but it is not a common occurrence. More exotic ice seals like Harps, and even juvenile Hooded Seals, are also occasional visitors to RI, but I cannot confirm that I have ever seen either on a seal watch.

Q: Why don’t you run Seal Watch Cruises in the summer time?

A: My answer is: I’d Love to! But a Seal Watch Cruise without seals is just a nice day on the Bay. If we want to see seals, we need to head out when they are here, and for Rhode Island, that’s the cooler months.

Our Harbor Seals are migratory. They depart our area by the first week of May and head anywhere from the Maine/New Hampshire border on up through Maritime Canada. The females leave first to have their pups along the rocky shores. They will be with them for just 4-6 weeks or sometimes around the beginning of July. The Adult males follow a couple of weeks later. They set up, and fight over territories near where the females are tending their pups, because mating will occur as soon as the females leave their pups for good. The juveniles leave the Bay last. I‘m convinced they look up one day and wonder where everyone else went.

Harbor Seals spend the rest of the summer feeding on stocks of herring, mackerel, and menhaden (or pogy as it is called up there.) As the summer fades, these fish begin their annual migration south. And slowly but surely, the seals follow. We often think of the migration game as animals in search of warmer weather, but most times it is simply following the food. Even the fish are following their food. Plankton feeders like menhaden and herring ultimately depend on the sun and the presence of enough phytoplankton and Zooplankton. There aren’t many hours of sun in those northern latitudes, so they head south.

Luckily for us it’s Fall and seal season is starting back up. Reports of Harbor Seal sightings usually begin in sometime in September with numbers gradually increasing throughout October, November and December. In Narragansett Bay the numbers peak in late February or early March. Soon after that it will be April again. The Sun will rise higher and longer, the fish will move and the seals will follow. By the first week of May they will all be gone and once again we will hear, “So why don’t you run Seal Watch Cruises in the summer time?”

Q: Where are our Trips?

A: We run out of three locations, Newport, Westerly and Fall River. Newport trips depart from Bowen’s Ferry Landing at the end of Market Square. These are one-hour trips out to the area just south of the Newport Bridge near Rose Island. Sights include Newport Harbor, Rose Island Lighthouse, Clingstone and the beautiful lower Bay. This area is one of the best seal haulout sites in Narragansett Bay. These trips run Saturdays, Sundays and school vacation days from mid-November through April. These trips are tide dependent, seals like low tide for hauling out, so departure times vary.

Westerly trips depart from Viking Marina on Margin St. These are 90-minute trips down the stunning Pawcatuck River and into Little Narragansett Bay. Fantastic fall foliage, majestic homes and idyllic marshes line the shores. If you haven’t been down the Pawcatuck before, you need to. It really is a Rhode Island must do. These trips run from October 15th through December 31st on Saturdays and over the December school vacation. They depart at 11 am. Also, check out our trips with special guest speakers from Mystic Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Stranding Team!

Fall River is our third location, running Saturdays March 18th through April 8th 2017 from Borden Light Marina. These are 75-minute trips spotting seals at Spar Island in Mt Hope Bay. We also check out the lower Taunton river and get up close and personal with the historic ships in Battleship Cove!

Q: Seals are great but what other wildlife can we see? Will we see Whales?

A: Seal are great, but there is a ton more going on for us to see on our trips, birds especially. Wintering Sea Ducks like Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, Eider, Mergansers and Loons are always possible. More rare sightings include Snowy Owls and Bald Eagles. In April, we can see nesting birds like American Oystercatchers, Egrets and Heron.

Will we see a Whale?  I used to say no but after last year’s mid-winter visit to Narragansett Bay by a Humpback, I’ll never say never!

Q: Will we get Cold?

A: Our trips are definitely an outdoor activity, but we don’t freeze anyone! Each of our boats have a roof with curtains so we are well protected from the wind, but appropriate gear like hats, gloves and warm footwear are suggested for mid-winter cruises. We go out most days, but in real inclement weather we will cancel. Your safety and comfort are our biggest concern!

See you out there!

Book your Seal Cruise at 

Monday, October 17, 2016

With Friends Like These: A Circle of Friends in the Warwick School District

Bridget Kubis Prescott, Director of Education

Save The Bay long ago recognized that if we are to fulfill our mission to protect and improve Narragansett Bay, we’d have to reach deep into a new community of supporters—the hearts and minds of young people, school children, who would one day become keepers of our beautiful Bay. Our education program has since evolved from isolated classroom presentations into rich integrated experiences with entire grades, schools and school districts. The success of these programs is rooted in strong partnerships that begin with relationships with individual teachers and grow over time. 

A Circle of Friends in the Warwick School District 
The generous support of the Defenders of Greenwich Bay and The Rocky Point Foundation laid the groundwork for a long-term partnership with the Warwick School District. In 2009, we began working with the entire student body at Robertson Elementary School, and, in 2011, with the fourth grade at Warwick Neck Elementary School. Our education staff worked with teachers at both schools to tailor programs that would integrate seamlessly into their science curriculum and provide hands-on, field based programs. 

Although the two initial Warwick programs were not formally connected, the enthusiasm and excitement they generated were. Parents were thrilled to learn about the presence of Save The Bay in their child’s classroom. Recognizing the value of the partnership to students, the Warwick School District this year expanded the program from two schools to include all fourth-grade students in the district. “These hands-on activities enrich the life science lessons received in science class. By using similar vocabulary, questioning, and inquiry, students have had multiple opportunities to expand their learning. Save The Bay staff has brought the Bay to life in the classrooms,” said Ryan Mullen, math and science coordinator at Warwick Public Schools. 

Our educational partnerships do not happen overnight, but require time, personal attention, flexibility and openness that we are happy to put into them. True to the early visions for a Save The Bay education program in the 1980’s, we feel we’ve been able to develop amazing opportunities for students and foster the growth of future stewards of Narragansett Bay. Our team truly values the school relationships we’ve built over the years; we look forward to building new ones in the years to come.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

BayKeeper Blog: Harmful Algal Bloom Present Bay-wide

By Tom Kutcher, Narragansett BayKeeper

You may have heard about a “harmful algal bloom” (HAB) that has taken hold in Narragansett Bay starting last week. This bloom, or overabundant growth of phytoplankton (microscopic plants), is now confirmed throughout the Bay, including East and West Passages, Mount Hope Bay, the Sakonnet River, and all sub-estuaries (coves and smaller bays) and tributaries. The HAB has not been found in RI salt ponds at this point.

The HAB is responsible for releasing a toxin that can cause stomach problems and long and short-term amnesia, according to The R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM). It concentrates in the guts and tissues of shellfish as they filter-feed on the algae. Eating the shellfish may expose you to dangerous levels of the toxin. DEM has therefore closed all Bay waters to shellfishing until further notice. This includes both commercial and recreational shellfishing.

DEM does not know what triggered the HAB. It is known that this is a species that is generally present in the Bay at low levels and produces the harmful toxin at very high levels.

The HAB is concerning for a number of reasons:

  1. This closure differs from common bacteria-related closures in that the toxin produced by the HAB is not a living organism and therefore is not eliminated when you cook the shellfish. 
  2. The algae comprising the HAB are a cool-water species, so there is no known timeframe for the persistence of the bloom.
  3. Shell fishermen will therefore be out of work indefinitely until the bloom subsides.
  4. It is unknown at this point how long it takes for the shellfish to purge the toxin once the bloom stops.
  5. Rhode Islanders like me who regularly eat local shellfish are out of luck until the situation passes.
  6. It is unknown whether swimming in the Bay is safe at this point.

DEM and the R.I. Department of Health are working with the State of Maine to try to find answers to all the unknowns. Maine is also currently experiencing their first occurrence of this specific HAB along a significant stretch of their coastline. I will post another blog as I find out more. But, for now, don’t go clamming or eat any local shellfish until you hear that it is safe from our State agencies.

Link this to DEM first mention: