Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Save The Fish, Save The Bay

This post was published in the Spring 2014 issue of Tides, Save The Bay's biannual magazine.


Tom Kutcher 
Narragansett Baykeeper

The Atlantic menhaden has been called the most important fish in Narragansett Bay. Locally referred to as pogy or bunker, this common fish is not widely recognized. People don’t eat it because it’s oily, pungent, and loaded with bones. However, menhaden are well known to many who have spent time fishing on the Bay. 

Menhaden are used as bait and chum by recreational fishermen, and as bait by lobstermen. In the summer and early fall, they are the most abundant fish in the Bay, sometimes numbering in the tens of millions. On calm days, large schools of menhaden can be spotted flapping at the surface or jumping clear out of the water to escape hungry bluefish and striped bass. Indeed, menhaden are the most important food source for these popular game fishes, luring them up into the Bay every year, with anglers not far behind. 

But menhaden are so much more. As filter feeders, they serve the keystone role of converting widely abundant plankton (microscopic plants and animals) into fleshy biomass (the menhaden themselves). This provides two benefits that make them so vital to the health of the Bay. 

First, menhaden provide food for species that don’t eat plankton. They are a critical part of the Bay’s food web, affecting other species directly and indirectly. Along with bluefish and stripers, menhaden are an important direct food source for a host of Bay species, including summer flounder, weakfish, black sea bass, lobsters, crabs, wading birds, diving ducks, osprey, and seals.

Atlantic Menhaden
Courtesy: Maine Department of Marine Resources
But menhaden influence species indirectly, too. When they’re not abundantly available, striped bass focus their feeding to lobsters and crabs. It’s estimated that striped bass consume three times as many lobsters as the lobster fishery takes every year. This suggests that a lack of menhaden puts both lobsters and lobstermen at risk. 

Second, menhaden remove nutrients from the water column by consuming them, growing (turning the nutrients into fish), and swimming out of the Bay at the end of the season. Excessive nutrients in the water, mostly nitrogen from our waste and stormwater runoff, can lead to algae blooms, murky water, dead zones, and fish kills. Menhaden have the potential to remove a significant proportion of the Bay’s excessive nutrients. 

These benefits rely on an abundant population of menhaden remaining in the Bay for the bulk of the season. But, any time there are more than two million pounds of menhaden in the Bay (less than one tenth of historic levels), the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management opens the Bay to a private industrial purse seine fishery that uses aircraft to spot the schools, and then sends out a huge boat to scoop up 120,000 pounds per day. While the current regulations recognize the value of a base population of menhaden in the Bay, they fail to consider that two million pounds is a small fraction of historic levels. It’s not good enough. 

Save The Bay is committed to restoring Narragansett Bay’s menhaden population to healthy levels. This February, Save The Bay proposed a ban on purse seining for menhaden in the Bay and Rhode Island coastal waters. Our goal is to see menhaden restored for the benefit of all, not managed for the profit of few.

- Tom

The Narragansett Baykeeper is affiliated with the Waterkeeper Alliancewhich now has more than 175 programs worldwide. They are both part of network of specialists with a passion for defending the environment and a devotion to working in their communities. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Interesting creatures abound in Narragansett Bay

Jen Kelly
Education Specialist


With temperatures warming and spring right around the corner, it’s almost that time of year again - marine science cruises on the Providence River and upper Narragansett Bay! A few weeks ago we were aboard our education vessel, M/V Alletta Morris, with students and three professors from Brown University's oceanography program. 

We've been running this unique program with Brown University for the past eight years. Students rotate through four stations on the vessel. They measure salinity, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and chlorophyll fluorescence at various depths in the water column using a CTD-fluorometer. They also research light detection, conduct a sediment grab, and identify plankton.

On our most recent trip, I came upon something I had never seen before, wiggling and squirming around in the jar. Then I noticed a second, larger one. Placing it on a slide and under the microscope, I saw that it resembled the bell of a jelly. This organism had four tentacles stemming off of the bell. Interestingly, it had a long tube that extended down the center of the bell and past the tentacles. It resembled a siphon because it seemed to be pushing the jelly around. This was something I had never seen before and I was excited to find out what it was.

I opened the Atlantic Seashore Peterson Field Guide and determined that a clapper hydromedusa. The long siphon-like part is actually called a pendulous manubrium and contains the mouth at the end. The clapper can grow up to 0.25 inches long. As I continued to read about it, I learned that they are found as far south as the Chesapeake Bay.

It’s always exciting to stumble upon something new while on educational programs and to share such moments with others about Narragansett Bay.

- Jen

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A teacher academy in Providence


GrĂ¡inne Lanigan
Education Specialist
Last year we were very delighted to receive the news that we had been selected as a national recipient for NOAA's Bay Watershed Education andTraining (BWET) funding. The funding would allow us to work with 20 fourth-grade teachers from the Providence School District through our professional development program, Project Narragansett- Providence Schools Edition

The teachers were able to participate in our four-day Teacher Academy last August where they combined their training with two fully funded field experiences with their students. This unique professional development program allows the students to directly experience the same learning activities their teachers have.  

The Teacher Academy participants were exposed to an in-depth water quality analysis with Dave Murray from Brown University. Together, they analyzed the complex ecosystem of the salt marsh and studied the challenges that salt marshes currently face. They also studied the sediments of the benthic zone, dissected a squid, and trawled in different areas of the Bay to compare and contrast biodiversity. 

As program coordinator, I was humbled by an evaluation we received from Bridget Richardson, a fourth-grade teacher at Young & Woods Elementary School:
"In my 13 years teaching in Providence, this was the best professional development I've ever been involved in. The instruction we received has given me the confidence to teach my students more about where we live and all of the amazing things going on around us."
Last month, we reconvened for the Teachers In Action Showcase, an opportunity for the teachers to showcase the hard work they had put into connecting their students to Narragansett Bay and their classroom curriculum.  

Over 100 people came out to support these wonderful teachers, including school principals, members of the Providence Public School District, Save The Bay staff and board members, parents, and students. They were all excited to see their teachers shine, and the teachers, of course, outdid themselves. There was a water cycle demonstration, informative poster presentations of Bay marine life, a project that examined the historical aspects of Narragansett Bay, and even a giant squid model that now proudly hangs in one of our classrooms. 

The event was a showcase of the amazingly talented teachers we are fortunate to have in Rhode Island. These educators constantly go above and beyond the call of duty to create exciting learning experiences for their students. I am so very proud to be working with teachers from this year's Project Narragansett - Providence Edition, and I can only image what the next two years will bring!

- GrĂ¡inne 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Faster than a speeding bullet: the mantis shrimp

Tiffany DellaVentura
OSEEC Member


The Exploration Center & Aquarium is home to many mysterious sea creatures. The mantis shrimp is one of the more fascinating animals because of what we know about it, but also for what we don’t know. At first glance the shrimp looks harmless and almost cute, but fishermen refer to them as “thumb splitters” because of their incredibly fast and accurate claws. The claws are tucked beneath the sides of the body and resemble serrated swords. 

What makes the mantis shrimp so menacing is that the claws are capable of striking prey at 23 meters per second: the equivalent velocity of a .22 caliber weapon firing.  

Mantis shrimp (photo by Jack Kelly, Newport This Week)
Lightning reflexes and razor sharp claws are things we understand about this fierce predator. What we still don’t understand and makes the shrimp so fascinating is that they have the most complex eyes in the known animal kingdom. Compared to human eyes, which have two types of photoreceptor cells, the mantis shrimp have 16 receptors. This means they are capable for far more than we currently understand. The 16 receptors are classified into four groups; spectral, color, wavelength, and polarized. But the complexity doesn’t stop there. It is thought that mantis shrimp can see about 100,000 colors. Not only can they see color, this shrimp can see UV light and polarized light! 

So why have such complex eyes? It is still unknown, but many scientists believe the shrimp have brilliant colored courtship dances that allow the males to display beautiful color patterns to impress a female mantis.

These remarkable and mysterious shrimp call Narragansett Bay their home. They are an important predator and prey for the ecosystem of the estuary and can be viewed at our Exploration Center in Newport during our new feeding program. I invite you to check it out!

- Tiffany

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Monitoring seal migration for more than a decade

Robbie Hudson
Restoration Ecologist


Save The Bay has been monitoring seal migration in Narragansett Bay since 1993. There are four types of seals typically found in the Bay. Harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) are the most common, followed by gray seals (Halichoerus grypus), harp seals (Phoca groenlandica), and hooded seals (Cystophora cristata). The seals return to our waters around September in pursuit of herring, which is their primary food source, then return to northern waters in late April.

Save The Bay’s monitoring data have been used in the development of an oil spill response plan and in an impact assessment for a proposed port development project in the vicinity of the largest haul-out site in Narragansett Bay. Our volunteers have also reported the location of injured or stranded marine mammals to the marine stranding network in southern New England. Like all marine mammals, seals are negatively affected by habitat degradation and its effects which remains an important factor in monitoring their activities. If you know a site where seals haul-out and would like to monitor a site, please let us know. I am hoping to include more sites for the 2015 season (including coastal ponds and barrier beaches).  

Viewing harbor seals in Newport
Seals are a native and important species to our Bay. Prior to 1972 you may have only spotted a few seals, but today the population is in the range of 300-500 seals that visit our waters annually. The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 allowed seal populations to rebound. The law makes it illegal to attempt to harass, hunt, capture, kill, or collect (live or dead); marine mammals. The also law mandates a safe distance of 150 feet for viewing the animals. Warning signs that you are too close to the seal (and are harassing the seal) are the seal is shaking its body or trembling, increased vocalizations, or the seal is eating rocks or sand, and if the resting seal continually lifts its head to warn off any approaching threat. 

Harbor seal on a rock off Fields Point in Providence
More information about safe and legal observation of migratory seals can be found by visiting the Birds and Mammals page on our website our website. If you haven't done so yet, join us for one of our Seal Watch Cruise in Newport or Westerly. We have just a few weekends left to view these majestic marine mammals.

If you witness an animal being harassed, discover a live marine mammal with obvious injuries or health problems, or find a dead marine mammal or sea turtle, please contact a marine mammal stranding coordinator. In Rhode Island and Connecticut call MysticAquarium & Institute for Exploration at 860-572-5955 ext. 107. In Southern Massachusetts call the International Fund for Animal Welfare/Cape Cod at 508-743-9548.

- Robbie 
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