Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sea Squirts: Invasive but important

By Evelyn Siler, Save The Bay intern

Of the thousands of marine animals in Narragansett Bay and nearby coastal waters, perhaps the most overlooked is the sea squirt. Sea squirts, or ascidians, are marine invertebrate filter feeders. They attach to rocks, marinas, and even other organisms during early development and remain there for the duration of their lives. They may even be under your local dock!

Many members of the ascidiacea commonly found in Narragansett Bay are actually invasive species and are not native to Rhode Island. They have similar feeding habits to local blue mussels and inhabit similar environments, which causes them to compete with the blue mussels for space and food sources. Sea squirts and mussels both use pumping mechanisms to take the algae out of the water, digest it, and squirt out waste.

Although many sea squirts are invasive, they are actually very useful to scientists across Rhode Island who collect them for genetics research, cell culture, and other experiments. In fact, on the evolutionary tree, the sea squirt diverged from vertebrates more recently than any other invertebrate! They are an excellent choice for biologists interested in the genomes of a variety of organisms due to the fact that sea squirts share many similar genes with vertebrates, including humans. Studying the genes of these model organisms can increase our understanding of various pathways and mechanisms as they apply to humans and eventually lead to advancements in medicine and pharmaceuticals.

So, even though the simple sea squirt may be invasive to Narragansett Bay, it serves a valuable purpose to scientists across Rhode Island and indirectly, to all who benefit from advances made as a result of sea squirt research!

Evelyn Siler is a Cell and Molecular Biology Major at the University of Rhode Island and interns with Save The Bay at the South Coast Center in Westerly.

Monday, March 20, 2017

How's the Climate? Inspiring Climate-Savvy, Creative Solutions Among Future Generation


BY KATI MAGINEL, EDUCATION SPECIALIST

Across countries and cultures, for all of humanity, the default conversation piece is “How’s the weather?” And could there be a more interesting time to be alive to ask and answer this question? Every person can add an essential piece to the weather question: “How’s our climate, and how do my actions and the actions of my community affect it?”

Students test water quality 
aboard M/V Alletta Morris.
Climate Interpretation 101

At Save The Bay, we are in the unique position of touching the lives of some 15,000 K-12 students every year. As we introduce them to Narragansett Bay and the life it supports, we try to instill a keen sense of understanding of our ecological surroundings — starting with “how’s the weather” and continuing deeper in how and why our climate is changing.

The truth is, despite being one of the most politicized and overwhelming environmental topics humanity has ever faced, basic climate science is only now, and very gradually, reaching the American public. Save The Bay is changing that trend, one student at a time, by translating essential scientific concepts in a meaningful and engaging way.

Our work in climate change education is guided by the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change and the world-renowned Frameworks Institute. These organizations offer our staff cutting-edge interpretation techniques that have shaped our hands-on, multi-disciplinary climate change curriculum and inspire students to take action. Take a peek at these tested and proven techniques in the field:

Use of Metaphors

The mechanism of climate change can be taught in less than one minute with this simple metaphor:

“When humans burn fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and gasoline for transportation and electricity, we release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This excess carbon dioxide works like a heat-trapping blanket, holding too much of the sun’s heat in our atmosphere and warming our planet.” As a result, water and air temperatures have risen an average of 4°F and 2°F, respectively, since the 1930s, and precipitation trends in this region are becoming heavier and more frequent. In fact, rainfall rates in R.I. increased by 12” since 1905, with a 104% increase in heavy downpours.

Save The Bay’s education staff integrates such metaphors into our programs. On a series of boat trips for Westerly Middle School students on the Pawcatuck River, we review with students the climate change metaphor before doing water quality testing, and then probe further: “We heard that burning of fossil fuels can cause a rise in water temperatures. Did you know that warmer waters hold less oxygen? Let’s test this water to find out how warm and how oxygenated it is. Can we find a trend between surface and bottom samples?”

Students also draw connections between the release of carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuels and ocean acidification. “Did you know that rampant carbon dioxide from transportation and generation of electricity can also influence the acidity of the water? How can we test for acidity in our water? Let’s review our pH scale and see what the pH of the Pawcatuck River is.”

Exploration Center and Aquarium interns and staff 
talk with guests about climate change causes, 
effects and solutions whenever possible, 
drawing connections to the marine life in the aquarium.
Shared Values

At Save The Bay, we realize our students and audiences come to us with varying philosophies that guide their perception of climate change. We attempt to transcend these viewpoints by focusing on shared values. We rely on the natural resources around us, so it is up to us to protect these resources from the harm caused by a changing climate. We can responsibly manage this problem by coming together with our schools, towns, and communities to reduce our use of fossil fuels. In doing so, we give Narragansett Bay and all of its incredible assets a fighting chance to be healthy for future generations.

This technique has been successful at our Aquarium and Exploration Center as a means for meeting a deeper engagement level with guests. When we meet our constituency around common values, they are more curious and willing to engage about real problems and real solutions.

Community-Scale Solutions

Climate change is overwhelming; it is up to us to communicate and mobilize our audiences around options for resiliency and success. Community-based solutions meet the scale and scope of the problem and motivate and inspire. Individual solutions such as “ride your bike,” and “turn off the lights” tend to convey blame onto “you” or “me” and are proven to be much less effective than community-focused solutions. By saying “WE can work together to address this problem,” educators turn the conversations toward step-by-step solutions and ask the audience to join ongoing efforts to mitigate climate change, such as home energy auditing and solar installations.

Fourth-grade students at Save The Bay often play an interactive game called “carbon travels” where they learn about how carbon molecules move through different forms on our planet. After this explorative activity, students participate in a Greenhouse Gas Tag, an active game that allows students to model the cause of climate change. They travel through the “atmosphere” and into the “earth” as a “light ray. If they make it to “earth,” they get re-emitted as a “heat ray.” If they are tagged by a “carbon dioxide molecule” they must become part of the “heat trapping blanket.” In order to escape the “blanket,” they must cite an activity that could reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Student-driven community-scale ideas have included: plant a tree in our school yard, start idle-free zones at schools and churches, join a walking school bus, advocate for bike safety/bike paths in their communities, put reminders in our school to turn off lights and computers and get friends to play outside instead of with video games. All great stuff!

Our educators integrate information about Save The Bay’s 
work around climate change into our teaching, inviting 
students to suggest activities that could 
reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Mission: Possible

All in all, Save The Bay’s work around climate change solutions and action is a process of learning and growth for all of us. Weaning ourselves off fossil fuels is going to take a tremendous cultural shift and require the concern and commitment of everyone. We’re just at the beginning, but we’re already seeing signs of success:

As part of our Project Narragansett program, local fourth-grade teachers complete our professional development program, “Kid Friendly and Fun Climate Interpretation Techniques and Curriculum Building,” and then bring their students to Save The Bay for several environmental sciences experiences throughout the school year. Seeing the value in learning about climate change solutions as a means of protecting our waters, more and more teachers are choosing our “Carbon Cycle and Climate Change” curriculum for their students’ field trips with us.

We occasionally survey our guests, using NNOCI tools, following a seal tour or visit to our Exploration Center and Aquarium. More than two-thirds of these folks say they have a better understanding of the causes and impacts of climate change, as well as a sense of obligation to do something about it.

Save The Bay’s mission is to protect and improve Narragansett Bay, and it’s been our belief since our beginnings that we can better achieve our mission with the help of future generations of Bay stewards who will continue our work far into the future. That what we are doing for climate change education is so well received, and the majority of audiences we work with leave our program with an increased sense of stewardship and empowerment to protect it from harm, tells us the future of Narragansett Bay is in good hands.

Become a climate interpreter! Visit frameworksacademy.org and sign up for Changing the Conversation on Climate and Ocean Change.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Matter of Millimeters: Helping Our Salt Marshes Survive Sea Level Rise


BY WENLEY FERGUSON, DIRECTOR OF HABITAT RESTORATION
  

Some seven years ago, Save The Bay began to notice signs of deterioration of Narragansett Bay’s salt marshes. That’s not surprising, since the rate of sea level rise in Rhode Island has nearly doubled since 1999, from 2.78 to 5.22 millimeters per year, and the rate in the northeast is considerably higher than the global average. To document these changing conditions, Save The Bay and partners from the Narragansett Bay Research Reserve conducted a rapid salt marsh assessment of 44 marshes throughout Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, recording widespread marsh degradation in the form of stunted or dead marsh plants, stagnant ponded water and unstable marsh soil.

At Round Marsh in Jamestown, areas of dead salt marsh 
grasses show where salt water gets trapped on the marsh 
and eventually causes the plants to become stressed and die off. 
Even though marsh plants can tolerate the twice daily high tides, they can’t grow in standing water. As sea levels rise, water remains trapped on the marsh even during low tides, and the excess water causes marsh plants to drown in place and die off. Without plants to trap sediment and roots to bind the marsh soil, the surface of the marsh begins to sink and converts to open water. Then, these new shallow-water areas become perfectly suited for mosquito breeding, because they no longer support small fish that feed on mosquito larvae.

Historically, salt marshes were able to keep pace with sea level rise, increasing their elevation a few millimeters each year.

Marsh plants trap sediment suspended in the water, and when they decay, they add organic material to the marsh soil. But now, with sea level rise accelerating, many salt marshes are approaching a tipping point and are not able to keep up.

Save The Bay has shifted our focus from restoring marshes affected by past human activities to helping marshes adapt to accelerated sea level rise. Four years ago, from Westerly and the Narrow River to Potowomut and Warren, our restoration team began trying new techniques to help marshes survive rising sea levels—digging narrow, shallow creeks within the marsh to allow impounded water to drain so that plants can recolonize the marsh. Along with volunteers, we dig the creeks either by hand, if the marsh soil is very unstable, or with the use of the R.I. Department of Environmental Management Mosquito Abatement Program’s specially designed excavator. The excavated soil is used to fill old ditches acting as mosquito breeding habitat or to raise the marsh elevation where it has subsided. Our monitoring thus far shows that plants are able to recolonize areas once flooded and that mosquito production is reduced.

The most radical adaptation approach to date is to raise marsh elevation by placing sand on the marsh so that marsh grasses can survive the rising water levels.
Top of Page: At Sachuest salt marsh in Middletown, 
sand is placed on the marsh to raise its elevation, helping 
it keep pace with sea level rise. Above: Volunteers, Danielle Perry 
and Alicyn Murphy, plant Spartina alterniflora on the newly elevated 
Sachuest salt marsh. 
Last winter, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and Save The Bay, adopted this approach at Sachuest Marsh in Middletown, where the small, elusive saltmarsh sparrow is losing habitat as marsh grasses die off. The saltmarsh sparrow only nests at higher elevations in the marsh that flood during moon tides. To ensure that the elevations are suitable for sparrow nesting, contractors used GPS-equipped bulldozers to carefully place sand. More than 100 volunteers and students helped us and USFWS staff plant 17,000 marsh grasses across the new marsh surface. By raising the elevation of the marsh and replanting, we hope to give both the plants and the birds a chance at survival.

This technique of raising or rebuilding the marsh is being implemented on two other marshes this fall — one on Ninigret Pond in Charlestown and one on the Narrow River in Narragansett. At both of these marshes, sand will be dredged from nearby waters and spread across the marsh to build their height.

The overarching goal of our adaptation activities is to increase the lifespan and resiliency of salt marshes as sea levels rise and coastal storms intensify due to climate change. Why go to such measures? Because salt marshes form the base of the Bay’s food web and are critical to the ecological health of Narragansett Bay. They serve as nurseries and safe havens for many fish, shellfish and bird species to breed and grow, from egrets and saltmarsh sparrows to mummichogs and blue crabs. They filter pollutants and absorb excess nutrients, and during storm events, they can lessen coastal erosion by reducing wave energy.

The reality is that many of our existing marshes will transition to open water in the coming decades as sea level continues to rise, but for other marshes and the species that depend on them, adaptation may buy some time — to move inland, that is. In certain low lying areas around the Bay, where development isn’t right up to water’s edge, we see that marsh grasses are growing under mature trees and that such coastal plants as bayberry bushes and cedar trees are dying off as tides creep further inland.

In areas with space, we’re working with partners to identify ways to prepare inland areas for salt marsh migration. In Tiverton, a low lying field bordering Seapowet Point is one such place. Working with the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, we’ve secured funding to limit vehicular access and to convert a potato field into a natural grassland that can tolerate occasional inundation of salt water.

We cannot stop sea level rise, but we can help protect areas for our precious salt marshes to migrate inland. From Tiverton to Ninigret Pond and the Narrow River, Save The Bay and our dedicated partners will persevere in raising and restoring the salt marshes that are so critical to the Bay.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Putting up Walls: How Climate Change and Hardened Shorelines Erode Public Access

BY TOM KUTCHER, FORMER NARRAGANSETT BAYKEEPER
The Rhode Island State Constitution guarantees public lateral access along the shore.

That means everyone has the right to walk along or below the high tide zone, anywhere in the state, to fish, swim, gather seaweed, and otherwise work or recreate in the water or at the shore. It means that waterfront property owners can’t kick you off the lower part of the beach in front of their houses or impede passage across it. In theory, you should be able to walk from Providence to Point Judith, or from Pawtucket to the Mount Hope Bridge, along the edge of the Bay without getting your knees wet (save for crossing a few rivers and numerous creeks on either side). But, anyone who has spent any time along the shores of Rhode Island knows this is a theory that can’t be put into practice.

A fisherman uses the beach that persists seaward of the Mohegan Bluffs 
on Block Island. As the bluffs erode, they contribute their sediments 
to the beach; this provides miles of lateral access along the shore. 
Photo: David Prescott
A Hardened Shoreline and Rising Tides

Over the past 300 years, we have managed to harden more than half the shoreline along Narragansett Bay with bulkheads, retaining walls, piers, roads, and other permanent structures, many of which are built well into water deep enough to wet even my elevated knees. Through the years, private and public interests have impeded our right to walk along much of the shore in every Rhode Island coastal city and town. In the 1970’s, the Coastal Resources Management Council enacted regulations that either prohibit building structures into the water or limit shoreline hardening to cases where hardship is demonstrated. But pressure to harden shorelines has been ramping up lately.

That’s because climate change, along with resulting increases in coastal storms, erosion and sea levels, threatens roadways, homes, and businesses that were built close to the water. As homeowners, business owners, and municipalities react by building hardened structures, your right to pass along the shore comes into conflict with their efforts to literally fight against the tide. The surfcaster who has been fishing a stretch of beach his entire life comes into conflict with a waterfront property owner trying to save her front lawn, and the swimmer comes into conflict with the seawall erected to protect a road.

A popular surf fishing and surfing stretch of beach in Matunuck, showing 
(1) a scoured and collapsed rip-rap wall (foreground) that impedes lateral 
access to an adjoining public beach at all tides, (2) extensive erosion of 
the bluff beneath the Ocean Mist bar, which now impedes lateral access 
at high tide, and (3) a retaining wall built and maintained to protect a 
residential property, which impedes lateral access from public parking at all tides.
Preserving Both Access and Shoreline

Without shoreline hardening, most non-bedrock shorelines can maintain a beach face capable of supporting the lateral access our state constitution gives us. Even steep bluffs deposit sediments to the beach face as they erode (think Block Island Bluffs, pictured). In our efforts to preserve coastal properties with walls and other hard structure, we inadvertently cause the beach to inevitably disappear. Hardened structures do not deposit sediments to the beach. Instead, they reflect erosive energy back toward the sea, dragging sediments to deeper water. Sediments that do remain seaward of hardened structures may eventually be submerged as sea levels are predicted to rise several feet by the end of this century.

Save The Bay is dedicated to working with CRMC, municipalities, legislators, businesses, and homeowners to find solutions to these present and increasing conflicts between public access and property. Our priority is to ensure that lateral access and other functions of natural shorelines are preserved in perpetuity.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Mr. Trigger; Our Saltiest Freshwater Friend

By Rebecca Proulx, Communications intern

Our Narragansett Bay welcomes numerous travellers from distant waters, but few possess the strong personality of the triggerfish. This warm-water species, like many in our Bay, belongs to the saltwater group as well. However, different from other species, our triggerfish has a salty attitude to boot. Mr. Trigger, let’s call him, while most of the time grumpy, is still grateful for the second chance Save The Bay has given him. Out in the cold waters he wouldn’t have lasted long, so he is lucky that three years ago a fisherman found him wedged sideways in his lobster pot and brought him to the Exploration Center.

The Save The Bay Aquarium and Exploration Center is home to an array of marine life, all of which come from our local waters, although some aren’t natives. “Our triggerfish belongs to a special group of aquatic animals that normally inhabit anywhere from the Carolinas to the Bahamas, but get stranded in the Gulf Stream current. They are usually washed up as eggs, although we aren’t sure at what point of his life our triggerfish came to the area” explained Adam Kovarsky, Exploration Center Manager. Given his long distance from home, the Exploration Center has served as an ideal second one.

Mr. Trigger dines on squid, herring, and mackerel just as he would in his natural habitat. He is in the central “watching tank,” aptly named given it consistently draws in lots of visitors to crowd around and gaze at the large fish it holds. Most of the fish in this tank are released within a year thanks to the attention of our devoted staff. However, because Mr. Trigger would soon perish in our cold waters, he is comfortable always being in the watching tank and interacting with visitors as he sees fit.

While I visited his tank, Mr. Trigger was in a docile mood, so he just swam up to me and stared curiously. Most of the time, all the other fish in the tank are happy as long as Mr. Trigger is fed and in a good mood. However, not all visitors (or other fish in the tank) receive this amiable hello. When Mr. Trigger doesn’t take a liking to another fish or visitor, he pops his dorsal fin (or trigger) up. The standing trigger isn’t just a mood indicator, it’s also a defense mechanism.
When a predator tries to swallow a triggerfish, his ejected trigger makes him harder to swallow and buys him valuable time to escape. Don’t think that a triggerfish is one to swim from a fight though. Triggerfish all have sharp beaks, capable of cutting a lobster in half and they have been known to attack divers. The way in which a triggerfish ploughs through his prey often causes smaller fish to follow close behind him like buzzards to feast on whatever remains are spewed to the sides. Needless to say when the trigger is up on our fish, his neighbors in the tank scatter.

Though he may not be the friendliest of fish in the community, he plays an important role in our ecosystem. Triggerfish regulate the populations of sea urchin and other benthic invertebrate by feeding on them. Certain species such as the queen and grey triggerfish are also delicious for us humans to eat. In addition, many triggerfish are also brightly colored and serve as popular aquarium attractions. Unfortunately, their high demand in aquariums means certain species populations are being reduced at a concerning rate. Save The Bay loves to educate the public about the important services triggerfish provide so Aquarium visitors leave with a newfound awareness of the issue and appreciation for the species.

Come visit the Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium to say hello to our Mr. Trigger and other incredible species soon! Our winter season (Labor Day-Memorial Day) hours are Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. We are located at 175 Memorial Blvd, Newport, RI 02840. You can even feed our friend from 5:00-6:00 p.m. and see how he eats along with sharks, octopuses, and many more at our Feeding Frenzy event. General admission is $10 and you can call 401-324-6020 or click here to register.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Our Yellow Lobster; One in 30 Million

By Rebecca Proulx, communications intern

While many a New Englander can attest to seeing quite a few lobsters in their days, only a handful can say they have seen a yellow one. A yellow lobster is an extremely rare find—one in 30 million, in fact. But do not be discouraged, at the Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium in Newport, you can peer at one right in his face. Our lobster has called the Exploration Center home for two years now after a local fisherman caught him in his pot. This fisherman is one of many who’ve been bringing in creatures needing extra care to the Exploration Center for years, Save The Bay will give them the proper care they need and share them with community who wouldn’t otherwise get to see them.

In fact, the Exploration Center is one of Save The Bay’s ways of connecting the community to the Bay. Our interns love to tell visitors that our lobster’s yellow color spawns from a genetic mutation within its DNA, which codes for color pigmentation. Lobsters have adapted over 300 million years to perfect their exteriors against the keen eyes of their predators, so the blatant discoloration of this lobster from his environment would make our friend easy to gobble up as a next meal.

And his color isn’t the only odd thing about him. Like all of his brethren out in the wild, our lobster is extremely territorial and has an extraordinary way of marking his land-peeing from his eyes. When a lobster finds an area he wants to claim, he guards it with his life and fights other lobsters when necessary. As an act of triumph, the victor celebrates by shooting pee out of his eyes. The defeated lobster will forever recognize the smell of his superior’s pee and stay out of his way.

Silly as they seem, lobsters are first level carnivores and perform a vital function to our ecosystem by cleaning the floor of the Narragansett Bay and eating whatever lies on the bottom. Some may say, “so what? They vacuum, I only do that once in a blue moon when company comes.” However, the lobster’s job is much more essential than a little tidying up. Without lobsters mopping up the bay floor, much of the marine life that inhabits the benthic such as oysters, flounder and quahog would perish due to a loss of habitat from all that clutter.

Unfortunately all of these tasty bottom-dwellers are at risk, because our cleaning maids of the estuary are moving. “Due to climate change, our water temperature has risen four degrees Fahrenheit since 1930, so the lobsters have been forced to migrate further and further north each year to seek the cold environment they require,” Adam Kovarsky, the Exploration Center Manager explains. While a four-degree difference may not seem like much to us humans, the aquatic animals sense this change acutely. Rhode Island is the southernmost region where large lobster populations still exist, but that’s gradually changing.

Save The Bay remains dedicated to preserving this lobster population, as it is with all marine life that possess a crucial role in our ecosystem and community. Our organization is actively trying to tackle this issue in numerous ways. Save The Bay offers numerous education outreach projects such as aquarium visits and seal watches. Our hope is that these programs will instill the importance of the local species and proper water quality in the public. These efforts will also hopefully herald future generations of environmental advocates.

Adam makes an important point in saying, that all of their work in the Exploration Center is “...to show people what’s out there. One day, hopefully, if we’re able to manage the planet, as great as a resource as this is, there won’t be a need for it.” Until that day comes, Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium remains steadfast in Newport to educate visitors about the wonderful staples and rarities of species our Bay has to offer.

Come visit the Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium to say hello to our special lobster and other incredible species soon! Our winter season (Labor Day-Memorial Day) hours are Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. We are located at 175 Memorial Blvd, Newport, RI 02840. General admission is $8; $7 for military and seniors; free for children 3 years and under and Save The Bay Family Members. You can even feed our friend from 5:00-6:00 p.m. and see how he eats along with sharks, octopuses, and many more at our Feeding Frenzy event. Feeding Frenzy admission is $10 and you can call 401-324-6020 or click here to register.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Building a Base: Joan Abrams, Major Gifts Officer

BY CINDY M. SABATO, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS

Meet Joan Abrams, who joined the Save The Bay team this summer as our major gifts officer. Joan has a long history with Save The Bay, first as a committee member in the 1980s, then a board member and board chair in the 1990s, and finally a trustee in 2004. When Save The Bay made the decision to expand our footprint and pursue a permanent home at Fields Point, Joan helped lead the campaign that built our Bay Center, where thousands of schoolchildren, community members and local fishermen enjoy beautiful Bay vistas and unprecedented urban access to Narragansett Bay.

Why is Save The Bay so important to you that you’re joining us now as a staff member after having served in so many volunteer leadership roles? I consider Save The Bay to be the most important organization defending and bringing attention to the Bay. Rhode Island would be just a commuter community on a train stop if not for Narragansett Bay. And Narragansett Bay could certainly be a sewer without the work that Save The Bay has accomplished. In addition to the advocacy, restoration and education work the organization has always done, Save The Bay is one of the best run non-profit organizations I know. It has a mission I embrace, and it’s an organization I very much admire. So when I retired from teaching, it was a natural fit.

Now that you’re part of the staff, has anything surprised you about the organization? I wish everyone could have the chance to see how very effective the staff is at every level, from the executive director to the interns. The way everyone pulls together as a team has really impressed me. The thing I go home with every day is the attitude, the respect everyone has for each other as a staff, the feeling that nothing is too big to handle. You have to sit here and experience it to truly understand it.

What does the Bay mean to you? My husband Rich and I are boaters, and we live right on the Bay. I’ve tended to work outside of Rhode Island and travel the country, and Narragansett Bay has consistently been our strongest reason for staying here. Commuting has never been an issue because when I cross over Mt. Hope Bridge as I approach my house, it’s like a sense of peace comes over me.

What is your favorite Bay spot? Right in front of my house — Walker’s Cove in Bristol. It’s even more beautiful in winter than in summer, with seals and swans and all kinds of beautiful creatures. It’s truly the picture of how people enjoy the Bay — sailors, commercial fishermen, kayakers, small boaters, yachts, people swimming. Just a really interesting piece of the Bay.

Why do you think Save The Bay is so important to our community? When someone comes to visit this area, the first thing most people do is invite their guests to some vista overlooking the Bay, either the beach, to go fishing or sailing on the Bay, to do something somewhere with a view of the Bay. I think there is a very strong connection for all of us. It touches everyone.

Is that what inspires our donors to invest and remain invested in Save The Bay? Our members and donors look at Save The Bay as one of the most effective organizations they have come to know. While you can have an emotional attachment to an organization, you can also have an intellectual attachment, asking yourself… does that organization accomplish something? I believe we have both connections with our donors.

How important to Save The Bay’s mission is donor support? Because Save The Bay receives very little government support, we are dependent on our members for the work we do. If our donor base were to evaporate, the organization could shrink to one or two people who are called to action only when there was a terrible, unusual and rare threat to the Bay. But because our work is so much broader than that, we need the support of hundreds and thousands of donors. In my role here, I want to reach out to as many people as I can within the watershed — including Massachusetts and Connecticut — to help them understand just how important their own contributions are.

Looking ahead, what do you think are Save The Bay’s greatest challenges? Our biggest challenge is to provide stability and make sure Save The Bay is positioned for the next 50 years. The threats never go away. They change, but they do not disappear.

Monday, February 20, 2017

My first Seal Tour

By Andrew Gorham, communications intern

Despite living in Rhode Island for my entire life, I can probably count on one hand, or less, the number of times I’ve actually seen seals in the wild. Fortunately enough, I recently had the opportunity to go on my first-ever seal tour with Save The Bay. As a current intern at Save The Bay, of course I was going to take advantage of the chance to see some of Narragansett Bay’s winter-time visitors in their natural habitat.

For February, the day was perfect—cold but refreshing—and the sky and water were blue as can be. From Newport, our small group set sail on the M/V Alletta Morris and headed toward Citing Rock, a popular spot for lounging harbor seals. On the way to our destination, we enjoyed the great scenery of Narragansett Bay’s West Passage and the Newport Bridge and some fun seal facts from our guide, Captain Eric Pfirrmann. After a short journey, our boat closed in on Citing Rock.

As we approached, it was hard to tell if there were any seals out and about, but, sure enough, there they were. Twenty or so harbor seals were hauled out on the rocks, basking in the warm sun, flopping around and enjoying the Bay, just like we were—enjoying the Bay, that is. They were having such a great time that I was almost jealous of them! After spending some time circling the rock and getting a closer look at the group of seals through a pair of binoculars, we prepared to head back to port. The hour-long tour was surely worthwhile.

Heading back, I thought of how easily anyone could go see seals at an aquarium, but that it would never be the same as seeing them out in the Bay. There’s nothing like being out on the water and feeling the ocean’s mist on your face, all the while getting to view some pretty entertaining animals. I also had the chance to reflect upon the importance of restoring and conserving habitats, such as Narragansett Bay. We learned from Captain Eric that only a few decades ago, the seal population in the Bay was dwindling, but have since returned in strength due to conservation efforts. Being able to see firsthand the results of these efforts gave an even stronger connection to Narragansett Bay, and it is not something I will easily forget. Besides, how could you not feel an affinity for animals that are so cute?

You, too, can share a similar experience by going on your own Save The Bay seal tour. Tours depart from Newport, Rhode Island, and Fall River, Massachusetts, through the end of April and are perfect for all ages. Visit www.savebay.org/seals or call (401) 203-7325 to book a tour to see our favorite winter-time visitors before they’re gone for the summer!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Power up? Save The Bay weighs the effects of Burrillville power plant on Narragansett Bay

***Originally printed in the Fall 2016 issue of Tides Magazine***

By Topher Hamblett, director of advocacy

A proposed gas-fired power plant in the Narragansett Bay watershed has generated great public interest, with opinions ranging from strongly supportive to vehemently opposed. If approved by state and federal regulatory bodies, the plant would be built in the Clear River watershed, which is part of the Blackstone River and Narragansett Bay watersheds.

For Save The Bay, two key issues are at stake:

First, what will be the ecological impacts of the facility on the Clear River, Blackstone River and Narragansett Bay watersheds? We’re talking about such ecological issues as groundwater and wetlands systems, wildlife habitats and the water quality of the Clear River. In keeping with our mission, Save The Bay will give these issues very close scrutiny when, and if, Invenergy, the company proposing the plant, submits specific site plans and required permit applications to the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

Our second concern is about climate change and the potential levels of greenhouse gas emissions generated by the plant — an extremely complicated issue on local, regional and global levels. Save The Bay is mindful of two important facts: 1) global climate change is having profoundly harmful effects on Narragansett Bay, and, 2) under the Resilient R.I. Act of 2014, the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4) is required to submit to the Governor and General Assembly a strategy for achieving greenhouse gas reduction targets set forth in the Act. The deadline for this report is December 31, 2016.


Hikers explore the Burrillville woodlands at the site 

of the proposed power plant. 
We are urging the EC4 to consider a number of important questions in order to chart the state’s energy course carefully and thoughtfully. Is the proposed facility even needed to meet state and/ or regional energy needs? What are the benefits of investments in renewable energy generation and energy conservation on energy system supply and distribution? How do they quantify the impact of these investments — past and future — on energy system reliability, supply, and costs of transmission and power generation? What is the potential for Canadian hydroelectric power in replacing nuclear power as part of the region’s energy mix?

“These are important considerations that must be part of the EC4’s work in guiding our state toward our greenhouse gas emission goals. A decision by the Energy Facilities Siting Board on this proposed power plant before the EC4 develops its greenhouse gas reduction strategy is like the tail wagging the dog,” said Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save The Bay.

Ultimately, and only after that strategy has been developed and adopted, the burden of proof that this proposed power plant meets the greenhouse gas reduction goals of the Resilient R.I. Act lies with Invenergy and the Governor. Save The Bay has concluded that until the EC4 submits its greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategy and this burden of proof met, it is premature for the R.I. Energy Facilities Siting Board to make any decision on the construction of Invenergy’s proposed natural gas-fired power plant in Rhode Island.

As we go to press, the R.I. Energy Facilities Siting Board has conducted public hearings and continues to evaluate economic, community and environmental factors as it prepares a recommendation to Governor Gina Raimondo. Stay tuned