Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reduce carbon emissions for a healthy Bay

Kati Maginel
Captain and Education Specialist


One of my interests in my work at Save The Bay is to incorporate learning into our curriculum about sustainability, healthy living, and green communities. A healthier and better-informed individual can become a community asset by monitoring the health of Narragansett Bay. Responsible stewardship of our waters results in a more vibrant economy boosted by a diversity of recreational and sustainable commercial use. Our very culture in Rhode Island is intimately linked to healthy waterways and accessible coastlines; they go hand in hand, after all.

With these guiding principles, OSEEC AmeriCorps member Anna Kate Hein and I applied for a professional development opportunity run by the National Network of Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI). We were excited to find out that we were accepted! 

Our first seminar was hosted at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA. We found NNOCCI to be a well-researched and well-funded institution that is devoted to providing educators the resources needed to communicate climate information in a clear and scientific way. They leave visitors and students empowered with information needed to address climate change in their communities. 

Ninety percent of Americans rate climate change as their largest environmental concern. We can all agree that it’s an overwhelming and complex issue to tackle. One of the reasons the issue is so daunting is the multitude of factors that contribute to climate change as our understanding of the crisis evolves.

NNOCCI encourages us to use this metaphor to understand the basic science behind the changes we are witnessing:

“When we drive cars and use electricity and go about our daily activities, we burn fossil fuels like coal and gas. This pumps more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and this build-up creates a blanket effect, trapping in heat around the world. The ocean and the air absorb this excess heat.”

As educators, we can help the public to understand the changes to our ecosystem as our climate continues to change. All of the changes occurring can be addressed by the same simple solution: reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that we release into the atmosphere.

My personal goal is to reduce carbon dioxide by growing vegetables for family, neighborhood, and friends, and to be a resource for others in my community who wish to do the same. Eating locally grown food means fresher, healthier food, and a giant reduction in the amount of CO2 emitted, therefore thinning the CO2 blanket surrounding the earth.

Healthy Bay and healthy people! What more could we ask for? 

For more information on how to get involved in community efforts to reduce our carbon emissions, check out my favorite local news source, EcoRI News, and Aperion Institute’s Sustainable RI Directory.

- Kati

*Special thanks to NNOCCI’s research partner, Frame Works Institute

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

One fish, two fish...

Rachel Calabro
Community Organizer


Spring has arrived, even if it doesn't feel like it. Increased stream flow and warmer water are triggers for migrating fish that it is time to mate. When they feel the urge, they come back to their home rivers to lay and fertilize their eggs. Right on cue, a river herring was seen on Buckeye Brook in Warwick near the first day of spring. The numbers of river herring returning to Narragansett Bay are extremely low when compared with recent history, as I discussed in my last blog post. While we try to reverse the trend, volunteer fish counts are an important way to keep an accurate estimate of the population size of local fish runs.

Groups of volunteers will be out again this spring to count herring at several locations around Rhode Island. Volunteers spend 10 minutes at a site counting the number of fish that pass upstream. The three largest runs that are monitored by RI DEM are Gilbert Stuart Mill in North Kingstown, Nonquit Pond in Tiverton, and Buckeye Brook in Warwick. At Gilbert Stuart and Nonquit, electronic counters at fish ladders assist DEM in addition to visual counts. Buckeye Brook is one of the few places in the Narragansett Bay watershed where migrating fish are unimpeded by a dam and can swim freely to their spawning area in Warwick Pond. At Buckeye Brook, fish are counted by volunteers at a culvert utilizing a white board that is placed on the stream bed to help see the swimming fish. Last year's count revealed that an estimated 45,244 fish returned to the river, while in 2012, the count was closer to 90,000.
The last several years have brought newly opened fish runs into focus, as well. New fish ladders and a dam removal on the Woonasquatucket River have opened up an historic fish run that will hopefully grow through the years. Counts will begin April 1st at both Rising Sun Mill and Riverside Park in Providence. The Ten Mile River Watershed Alliance will be conducting fish counts at Hunts Mill on the Ten Mile River.

A newly completed fishway project at Kenyon Mill will allow fish access to the entire reach of the Pawcatuck River up to Worden's Pond, and the removal of the Pawtuxet Falls Dam in 2010 has opened up the first seven miles of the Pawcatuck River in Warwick and Cranston. While the volunteers are out mostly counting river herring, several other species migrate to our rivers in the spring including American shad, sea lamprey, white perch, and American eel, which arrive in their juvenile stage to live their adult lives in fresh water.

A video monitoring system will be in use again this year on the Mill River in Taunton to help the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries study recovery of that system. Many species of fish were seen last year including those that migrate within the river, like yellow perch and brook trout. With so many restoration success stories, this is a perfect time to learn more about the sometimes mysterious life cycles of these important fish species.

- Rachel

Rachel's blog can also be found at Watershed Writings

Thursday, March 13, 2014

An expanded fleet to connect people to the Bay

Joe Mariani
This past fall marked a major turning point for Save The Bay. With the christening of our new education vessel, the Elizabeth Morris, we began the anticipated task of expanding our programming into new locations. The size, speed, and seaworthiness of the Elizabeth Morris opened up an array of new opportunities for our education programs. At the top of our list for new programs was the area surrounding Little Narragansett Bay, predominantly Westerly. 

Our South County Coastkeeper, David Prescott, has enjoyed a presence here for the past five years, working closely with the community. Unfortunately, we did not have the fleet capacity to bring an education programming to the waterways in Westerly. After years of planning, it was exciting to finally offer our first public and school boat trips out of Westerly this fall.

M/V Elizabeth Morris
on her maiden voyage
Years of reconnaissance and planning were behind the launch of our new Westerly boat trips. Yet still mixed with the excitement of introducing these new trips, there was anxiousness as well. We knew the seals were in the area, but would they cooperate for viewing just as they had for us in Newport? Would the wildlife on the Pawcatuck River be active and engaging enough for our passengers? Would the local community be enthusiastic enough to embrace our new offerings and join us on a cruise? These were all questions I was confident we had the answers to, but like so many things in life, you never truly know until you try.

Captain Kati Maginel
Education Specialist
It was for this reason that November 30, 2013 was such a special day for Save The Bay. Our first public Westerly Nature Cruise left the dock at noon. As my fellow captain, Kati Maginel, removed the lines from the dock, I eased the Elizabeth Morris out of her slip at Viking Marina with 24 passengers on board. Kati and I cruised the river quite the week prior, doing “dry runs” with the new boat. This was the big test, to see if our guests would find Little Narragansett Bay and its wildlife as interesting as we did.
Within minutes, any anxiousness I had about the public's reception had vanished.  While our friends from the Stonington Historical Society narrated the trip, I saw that our guests were engaged and fascinated with the history of the area and its surroundings. The next 30 minutes passed quickly as we navigated the shallow, winding river, finding ourselves at the mouth of the river, with seals swimming and resting within easy viewing distance. Our passengers busily snapped photos of the seals. It proved what Kati and I had expected: the natural beauty of this area is something that everyone can enjoy.
Over the next two months Kati and I continued to run our nature cruises on the weekends, and their popularity began to increase word spread. Through our conversations with our tour guests we quickly began to realize that many were locals who also took pride in Little Narragansett Bay, and they were excited to have the opportunity to learn more about it. 

Elizabeth Morris (l) and Alletta Morris (r)
at the dock at Fields Point
During one trip, an unexpected rain shower came upon us as we were cruising down the Pawcatuck River. We all stayed dry under the protection of Elizabeth’s extended roof until the rain passed. After the trip, concerned that our guests may have been disappointed in the weather, I offered an apology for the foul weather. One family remarked that they live and boat on the river, but usually only on sunny days. It was truly beautiful, they said, to be able to see the river and the seals in the rain. Initially surprised by their response, I agreed with them.
As December came to an end, and what was already proving to be a brutal winter was setting into place, it was time to leave the river and head back to Newport before the ice set in. It was bittersweet to leave Little Narragansett Bay. We were excited for a successful inaugural season, but sad about leaving an area we had quickly become attached to. 

Last week, when Kati and I made the three-hour cruise from Newport to Westerly, we found ourselves full of the same nervous excitement again. As we cruised down the river on our first public cruise of 2014, the sun was out and the seals were once again swimming in the Bay and resting on the rocks. With the ice cleared from the river and spring on the horizon, it was good to be home.

- Joe

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A distinguished researcher examines Rhode Island's rivers


Tom Kutcher
Narragansett Baykeeper
Narragansett Bay was once the most industrialized estuary in the world. The Bay’s tributaries were used by mills as a perpetual source of energy and as a convenient conduit to carry away industrial waste. With industrialization came extensive build-out of the watershed to support the hordes of workers that flocked to the area in search of a life of security and prosperity on the beautiful shores of Narragansett Bay and her many tributaries. In recent decades, industry along Bay tributaries has subsided, but the cumulative impacts of industrialization and build-out continue to dramatically degrade the water quality of the important rivers that once nourished our Bay.

Dr. Bernhard Peucker-Ehrenbrink of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is an expert in analyzing the historic implications of the biogeochemistry (or chemical makeup) of river water from around the world. Last week at Save The Bay, he presented the preliminary findings from a recent study conducted right here in the Narragansett Bay region to an audience comprised largely of scientists and decision-makers. 

WHOI researchers collect samples from the Pawtuxet River
In partnership with Save The Bay and a host of volunteers from the community, Dr. Peucker-Ehrenbrink analyzed water samples from Narragansett Bay’s major tributaries, the Blackstone, Pawtuxet, and Taunton Rivers, plus the Pawcatuck River, which drains into Little Narragansett Bay on the South Coast. His study aimed to reveal the legacy and ongoing impacts of the industrialization and build-out of Southern New England on the water quality of Rhode Island’s main rivers. Dr. Peucker-Ehrenbrink used a novel analytical method to compare our rivers to some of the most important and well-known rivers in the world, offering the audience a truly unique perspective on our already well-studied river systems.  

WHOI researchers along the Pawtuxet River
Dr. Peucker-Ehrenbrink highlighted that our urban rivers are highly prone to flash flood events due to the speed in which rain water pours off of our now highly-paved urban landscapes versus being absorbed by a historic naturally vegetated landscape. But just as important are the chemicals that flow with that runoff into the rivers. These include toxic heavy metals, petroleum hydrocarbons, nutrients, salts, and sediments. 

For example, the Pawtuxet River was found to have elevated concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons (motor oil, grease, industrial solvents) compared with other river systems. This certainly reflects urban runoff, and may also reflect the intensive industrial history of this urban river. 

Mid-river water sampling
Another finding of interest is that our rivers are much more acidic than expected relative to our bedrock geology, indicating that they may act a source of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) to our atmosphere, whereas our salt waters act as a carbon sink. Our rivers are also affected by the direct inputs of wastewater discharges from our wastewater treatment facilities. These inputs tend to increase salinity and nutrient concentrations to at or above levels found at the tail end of the Mighty (impacted) Mississippi.

In his concluding statements, Dr. Peucker-Ehrenbrink recommended that we continue to pursue long-term monitoring of water quality in the Narragansett Bay estuary and tributaries. Identifying trends, or predictable changes, in the quality of the water in our rivers is critical for developing effective management actions to solve some of the problems imposed on us by our industrial legacy. 

Save The Bay is honored to work with Dr. Peucker-Ehrenbrink and his many partners at WHOI on this informative project. This project would not have been possible without the generous support of the van Beuren Charitable Foundation.   

- Tom

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A melting pot of sea creatures around us


Adam Kovarsky
Aquarist & Education Specialist
Our Exploration Center & Aquarium in Newport is a melting pot. Local fishermen bring in live specimens they discover while fishing Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound. These fishermen are the most active explorers of the Bay and are the first people to see many of the examples of life that are present in our waters. 

Last week was no exception when one of our interns - who happens to also work on a local fishing vessel - brought in some amazing examples of life rarely seen in our waters. Let's have a look:

Northern Red Sea Anemone 

Northern Red Sea Anemone
The first of these unique creatures is a Northern Red Sea Anemone. It is a brilliant red with finger-like tentacle projections radiating from the mouth. The mouth is located in the center of its body and is up to 4.5 inches wide in diameter. Along with this vibrant invertebrate were half a dozen Blood Stars which feed on native sponges such as the Red Beard Sponge.

Barnacle Nudibranch 

Barnacle Nudibranch
The most exciting specimen for the inner marine biology nerd in all of us is the Barnacle Nudibranch, also known as a sea slug. Nudibranch, which translates from Latin meaning “naked gill,” relates to the characteristic bronchial plume that is in a rosette pattern on the back of all nudibranchs. This organ is an exterior gill used for respiration. 

The gill is unique as most marine fish have interior gills hidden from view to the human world, yet this sea slug presents its breathing organs for all to view. Being exposed to the world has given many nudibranchs amazing adaptations, including eyes, antennae, and poisonous tentacles to sting oncoming predators. Using a modified tooth structure called a radula, this sea slug feeds primarily on barnacles. The Barnacle Nudibranch can grow up to four inches long.

The inhabitants of our aquarium are constantly changing. Our staff and volunteers seem to fall in love over and over again with the natural worlds of southern New England and look forward to what the mysterious Bay will bring in next.

- Adam