Thursday, August 17, 2017

Advocacy in Action: A Win for Public Access in Cranston

By Mike Jarbeau, Narragansett Baykeeper

Protecting and promoting public access to Narragansett Bay is a core component of Save The Bay’s work. Our advocacy staff works tirelessly to identify and engage any actions or activities that could threaten the progress that’s been made around the Bay. Recently, we were made aware of a fast-moving ordinance by the Cranston City Council intended to ban fishing from a public access point at the end of Ocean Avenue in Cranston. The draft ordinance stemmed from complaints from nearby property owners, including the Rhode Island Yacht Club, about littering, noise violations, and congestion at the end of the narrow street. The ordinance was flawed in that it failed to address any of the problems at the site while singling out the fishing community.

The public access site at the end of Ocean Avenue.
(Buildingin the background is Rhode Island Yacht Club)
We worked quickly to gather the relevant facts and met with others opposed to the ordinance, including the Edgewood Waterfront Preservation Association and the Rhode Island Saltwater Angler’s Association. We asked the Coastal Resources Management Council to clarify the city council’s interpretation of state public access policy, and urged the Department of Environmental Management to formally confirm its role as the only agency in the state with the power to regulate fishing activities. We also made the Attorney General’s office aware of potential conflicts with the state constitution. At the same time, we met with the Rhode Island Yacht Club and other neighbors to other solutions. We reached out to city council members to share our concerns and offer Save The Bay’s assistance in promoting public access.

The Save The Bay team attended and testified at the July 24th Cranton City Council meeting in opposition of the ordinance. The council passed an amended version, but we felt it didn’t go far enough, and urged Mayor Allan Fung to veto. The Mayor’s office clarified that it read “and will enforce the ordinance to allow people to stand on the ocean side of the guardrail to the sea wall and on the beach for fishing – but not in the street or on the sidewalk.” In the end, all rights of fishery are maintained at the public access point.

We appreciate the actions of the Cranston City Council in hearing our concerns and amending the ordinance. However, we still do not believe the new ordinance addresses the concerns about noise, litter and parking at the end of Ocean Avenue; we urge the city of Cranston to look closely at solutions that will promote public access at this site and others, and we stand ready to assist. 

Every day, Save The Bay fights for the rights of all to enjoy a healthy Narragansett Bay. Our network of members and supporters plays a huge role by serving as additional eyes and ears in the community. In this case, we were able to further the concerns of community members and work with other organizations and state agencies to raise awareness of a threat to public access and influence positive change.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Dammed Wildlife

The Kickemuit River Fish Ladder was built on the
Warren Reservoir 
to give migrating river
herring access to the pond.
By Rachel Calabro, Save The Bay Riverkeeper

Imagine you are a river fish. To thrive in your environment, you have a few requirements. Cool water with enough oxygen will keep you alert and active. Insects that wash downstream or emerge from the stream bottom will keep you fed. Sand and gravel in which to lay your eggs and plenty of places to hide from predators are also keys to survival. When rivers function properly, all these things are in place to support a wide diversity of fish and insects.

But when environmental stresses, such as low water levels or warm water, are present, fish need places to go for refuge. Just like on a hot sunny day you might seek the shade of a tree, fish seek out cold spots in deep pools and under bits of wood in the stream. Fish also need to find mates to increase their genetic diversity and species health. A healthy population of fish will be able to migrate up and downstream and into tributary streams to mix and mingle with others of their species and to find new habitat. These are all parts of a healthy stream ecosystem.

An historic photo of Pawtuxet Bridge and
falls before the dam was removed in 2011. 

Dams, culverts and other physical changes to a stream can cause harm not only to the species living there, but also to the quality of the water and habitat for other wildlife and surrounding ecosystems. Dams change the dynamics of a stream by slowing the water, allowing fine sediment to deposit rather than flow downstream, and changing both temperature and nutrients in the water. Warm water holds less oxygen. Gravels are covered over by fine silts and sands. In essence, a dam turns a river into a pond. Fish that thrive in ponds move in to the newly created habitat, cutting off the upstream habitat from the fish living in the river below. As a result, genetic diversity suffers, and less food comes downstream. The community of river fish changes as well.

Humans have caused many changes to our surrounding environment, but few of our changes to streams and rivers have had as much consequence as dams. Although beavers have made dams for thousands of years, altering the landscape in many ways, these dams are temporary and an important part of creating a constantly changing set of diverse wetland systems. Our wildlife adapt and thrive with these changes. Most of our man-made dams no longer serve their original purpose of providing power for mills. They have become icons of industrial and community heritage with lasting negative effects on river and stream ecosystems.

The Hopewell Mills dam was removed in 2012 to restore the
Mill River in Taunton, Massachusetts. Three dams on
this river are being removed.
Efforts to restore migrating fish populations with fish ladders have allowed us to leave the dams and preserve their legacy while trying to accommodate some lost river function. But these aging structures are becoming a hazard for our communities as they reach the end of their functional lives, threatening either to release years of sediment that has accumulated behind them or flooding downstream towns and structures when they fail.

Climate change is adding to the challenge of managing undersized and outdated dams. Unpredictability in our weather and increasing severity of both droughts and floods will require our ecosystems to be more resilient and our wildlife to be more adaptive. This means allowing for more migration, more chances to find refuge, and more diversity in habitat. Mammals and birds can migrate across the landscape and can move in response to shifts in temperature. Fish can migrate only as far as they can swim, and for many, that means as far as the next dam upstream. We are seeing major shifts in ocean fish related to changing ocean temperatures, so we expect populations of freshwater fish to change as well.

The Hopewell Mills dam was removed in 2012 to
restore the Mill River in Taunton, Massachusetts.
Three dams on this river are being removed.
Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, New England has a larger density of small dams than any other place in the country. More than 600 dams still stand in Rhode Island, more than 3,000 in Massachusetts, and more than 6,000 in Connecticut. Many of these dams are over 200 years old. Working with various local partners, as well as partners in state and federal government, Save The Bay supports dam removal projects that aim to create resilient streams with diverse habitats.

Dam removal has really gathered steam in Massachusetts, where more than 50 dams have been removed in the last 15 years. The Commonwealth has an entire Division of Ecological Restoration that works not only on dams, but on culverts, stream flow and wetland restoration. The state has made a concerted effort to support these projects through capitol authorizations and grant programs.

Rhode Island also has a small habitat restoration fund and supports river restoration projects through state bond referenda, but no dedicated program for riverine habitat restoration exists in state government. Here, local watershed councils and others must initiate fundraising and manage projects. Save The Bay has assisted on several dam removal projects in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts, providing technical, fundraising and outreach support. These projects require multiple partners, from the federal government to local volunteers, and take many years to complete.

Of the 496 animal species federally listed as threatened or endangered, nearly half are freshwater species that have found themselves living in small habitat “islands” due to the cumulative effects of dams, roads and development. This makes them extremely vulnerable to one-time events such as last year’s drought, which dried up small streams in the Taunton watershed and killed many localized populations of rare freshwater mussels.

Diadromous fish—those that migrate between fresh and salt water, like herring, shad, sturgeon, smelt and eels—have all suffered population declines to less than five percent of historic levels, and many rivers lost these species completely. In addition, only about five percent of historic brook trout populations remain and are extremely vulnerable to temperature stress. We have seen many gains in water quality in the last few decades, but we still must remain vigilant in the protection of our most vulnerable freshwater species. The Narragansett Bay watershed depends on us.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Can I Pet Your Quahog?

by Elizabeth Droge-Young, communications intern

I love petting animals. Furry ones, scaly ones, even spiky ones—though I’m more careful about spikes after an unfortunate plant petting experience. Years ago, I lovingly stroked a cactus with soft little red spots, only to discover that the “soft spots” were full of irritating bristles that imbedded in my finger.

While I often ask strangers with pups if I can pet their dog, this July I volunteered at the Exploration Center & Aquarium and got to ask the staff: “can I pet your quahog?”

The Exploration Center & Aquarium has three (count ‘em, three!) touch tanks. Visitors are greeted by a large, low tank filled with critters found on Rhode Island’s rocky shores—think snails, sea urchins, and crabs. Around the corner, you can get up close and personal with skates and horseshoe crabs in a second tank and oft-maligned sharks in a third.

I spent much of my volunteer day at the touch tanks answering questions about the Bay’s residents—and encouraging visitors to expand their definitions of a pettable animal. Physically interacting with the animals also proved a great opening to talking about biology and habitats.

Pet a skate? Check out what the embryos look like in a neighboring tank. 
Hold a horseshoe crab? You can find them right off the beaches of Newport.

Even better than petting my first silky smooth dogfish shark at the aquarium was watching how visitors interacted with the Bay critters. Upon spotting the live horseshoe crabs, a group of vacationers excitedly solved the mystery of the bizarre shells they found outside their vacation rental. A mom showed her daughter a favorite beach sighting from her childhood, so-called mermaid purses, which are actually skate embryos and we all got to chat about skate development. A group of three swimsuit-clad teens hovered around the rocky shores tank with a mixture of interest and apprehension, until one young woman dove her hand in to show her friends a spider crab.

Aside from the fun of hands-on education, interacting with animals of the Bay builds a personal connection to our state’s greatest natural resource. Instead of the abstract idea of protecting the Bay, visitors see the very animals helped by conservation.

What will your connection be? Will you cradle a spiked sea urchin? Or stroke the squishy and nubby skate? Or maybe sit back and watch someone else navigate a horseshoe crab’s (harmless) swinging tail?

Save The Bay’s Exploration Center & Aquarium, located on Easton’s Beach, is open every day 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day, and Friday-Sunday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. in the winter.    

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Warwick Summer Cleanup Series

By Phoebe Finn, communications intern

Fishing has been a traditional part of living on Narragansett Bay for many generations. For most people it is a great way to relax, socialize and catch some dinner. However, as the summer months arrive and the amount of fishing increases, we need to make sure that fishermen are not leaving any gear behind on our beaches. Most people clean up their gear, but the few that leave it behind end up causing some serious problems.

Volunteers picked up 2,463 pieces of fishing gear during Rhode Island’s 2016 Intercoastal Cleanup and 100,000 meters of fishing line alone during the 2016 International Coastal Cleanup. That amount of fishing line is enough to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of any ocean, nine times! Compared to other items in Rhode Island, the amount of littered fishing gear is actually relatively small because most fishermen are respectful of the ocean that they rely on.

After completing one month of Save The Bay’s Warwick Summer Cleanup Series it is very clear how many fishermen there are here in Rhode Island, so Save The Bay started reaching out to bait and tackle shops to inform them of our beach cleanups. There are many local shops who have pledged to remind their customers of the dangers of littered fishing gear.

While visiting these bait shops I had the pleasure of meeting David Henault at Ocean State Tackle. David was extremely enthusiastic about keeping Narragansett Bay healthy, his partnership with Save The Bay and all the sustainable efforts that he has organized for his shop. After working on the Warwick Summer Cleanup Series for a couple of weeks, it was reassuring to meet such nice people like David who are not only passionate about reducing litter but also interested in making a difference in their day-to-day life.

Fishing gear may not be the most littered item in Narragansett Bay, but it is the most dangerous. Lines, nets, hooks and other gear are designed to entangle wildlife, and that is what they do, long after they are left behind. We have all seen heartbreaking photos of birds with fishing hooks stuck in their beaks, turtles with fishing line wrapped around them and whales entangled in massive nets. Littering is never okay, but in the case of fishing gear, it is especially important to make sure to dispose of it properly.

This dangerous problem has a very simple solution- keep marine species safe by taking your used fishing line, hooks, and any other trash with you when you leave the shore. Most of Warwick’s fishermen already leave their sites clean because they respect Narragansett Bay and know the impacts of littering, but a healthy and safe Narragansett Bay needs all anglers to be a part of the solution.