Thursday, May 29, 2014

Students Present Field Study Research on Lonsdale Marsh

Annabelle Everett
Communications Intern

In Laura Stanish’s Advanced Placement Environmental class at Central Falls High School, students combine classroom learning with a year-long field study at Lonsdale Marsh in Lincoln, RI. The class was divided into five groups: vegetation, macroinvertebrates, water quality, biodiversity, and human impact, and students studied the various environmental influences within the marsh habitat. 

The students spent their first semester monitoring the marsh twice monthly before applying their findings to create unique research projects. Each group proposed a hypothesis, crafted an experiment of their choice, and made multiple visits to the marsh to collect data.  Students then combined their discoveries into journal articles, which were presented at the Eco Summit at Save The Bay Center in Providence on May 27. Save The Bay employees were asked to evaluate the projects by listening to students discuss their results and answer questions posed to them. 

Pictures of the Lonsdale Marsh
in the Human Impact presentation
Each group’s project focused on an assigned topic. The human impact group proposed that as sound pollution increases around Lonsdale Marsh, the bird population will decrease and the number of small rodents will increase, as there will be fewer predators to prey on them. Students Lillian Marroquin, Sharil Deleon, and Christina Munoz visited four locations: two that had elevated sound pollution levels and two that had lower levels. Through observation of the bird population and the use of rodent traps in each location, the students concluded that their initial hypothesis was correct.

In the vegetation group, Laura Cuevas, Maria Felicidade, and Mercedes Peters hypothesized that Japanese knotweed, an aggressively invasive species, would not grow in soil with a pH higher than 6.5. By testing the soil in three areas in which the knotweed grows, as well as three spots where it does not, they found this to be true. However, they concluded that there were other possible factors, such as organisms or sunlight, that could have affected their results and therefore further experimentation was needed to form a concrete conclusion.
Vegetation group presentation

This field study program is just one example of how SaveThe Bay’s educational programs strive to connect students and teachers with the state’s rich environment on a more intimate level. Instead of simply absorbing information from a textbook, Ms. Stanish’s environmental science students were able to enhance classroom concepts with hands-on experience in the field. Supplementing knowledge gained in the classroom with actual field study is essential for educating students and their first step towards becoming environmentally informed and concerned members of their community. Save The Bay’s educational programs attempt to bridge a generational gap and arm students with the information and experience they need to become advocates for Rhode Island’s environment.
- Annabelle

Annabelle Everett is studying Writing & Rhetoric at Hobart & William Smith Colleges

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Coastkeeper Report: Our Changing Coastline


David Prescott
South County Coastkeeper
Over the past several years, we have had our mix of intense tropical storms, floods, and nor’easters. While the impact of Superstorm Sandy was felt all along the southern coast of Rhode Island, by far the worst damage was felt in the town of Westerly and the community of Misquamicut. 
Since Sandy, strong coastal storms continue to besiege the area, exposing the vulnerability of our shoreline community. How prepared are we for a future with intense and more frequent storms? 

Save The Bay advocates for a long-term strategy to adapt to the ever-present reality of rising seas and accelerating coastal erosion, while protecting natural beauty, ecological health, and public access along the shore. That is why Save The Bay is participating in the Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan (Beach SAMP) that is being developed by the Coastal Resources Management Council, the Coastal Resources Center, and Rhode Island Sea Grant.

Image courtesy of SAMP
Save The Bay envisions a long-term strategy that includes studying all available options, not just rebuilding. As the community recovers from coastal damage, the options of retreat, abandonment, and the raising of structures must be clearly considered. We are sympathetic to the plight of residents and businesses directly impacted by Sandy and other coastal storms; however, it is our role to protect the coast from poorly planned and shortsighted shoreline development.

There is no question that our climate is changing. These changes will impact everyone-not just people living along the coast. We must understand what is at risk and how we can live in harmony with nature. It is essential that we educate ourselves about the science and risks of our constantly changing shoreline. Save The Bay will continue to proactively work with state agencies and local communities on a sustainable, long-term plan that is based on the best available science, while addressing the challenges that lie ahead.

Do you want to learn more or get involved? Visit  to learn about upcoming meetings and discussions and how you can take part in the public stakeholder process of the Shoreline Change SAMP.

- Dave

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Solution Man: Bringing the Exploration Center & Aquarium back to life

How a Bay-loving naturalist helped bring the Exploration Center & Aquarium back to life       

Peter Hanney
Communications Director
John Haley got the call while on a business trip to the Monterey Aquarium.  “We need your help; you gotta come back!” It was Mike Russo, the facilities manager for Save The Bay, calling to ask John for help after Superstorm Sandy barreled through southern New England on October 29, 2012. The Exploration Center & Aquarium at Easton’s Beach in Newport, which had served as a local educational institution for thousands of Rhode Island children, had been knocked out of commission.

The day after the storm, Save The Bay staff returned to the beachfront facility to survey the damage. Three to four feet of water had pushed through the facility, depositing almost a foot of sand in its wake. “When I saw it for myself, I couldn’t believe it,” recalls John. “The place was a disaster. Sand, was awful.” 

John Haley of
John Haley is Chief Scientific Officer for BioProcessH20, a Portsmouth, Rhode Island-based company that specializes in wastewater treatment solutions. He and his engineers work on multi-million dollar projects for municipal and industrial applications. Devoting the time to getting a small beachfront aquarium back on its feet was not seen as a priority to some of his colleagues, but John, who had a lifelong connection to Narragansett Bay, was able to win them over. “I told them Save The Bay is local. They’re our neighbors, how could we not do it?” recalls John. “I had a lot of spare parts from other projects, so I thought that I could really trick this place out.”

John’s Connection to the Bay

John’s family connection to Narragansett Bay dates back to the Colonial era of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson. “My family was here forever and ever.” His ancestors farmed on Aquidneck Island and kept hogs on Dyer Island, a small island that lies between Portsmouth and Prudence Island. John learned about the history of Narragansett Bay from his grandfather, a Rhode Island historian. 

“He explained to me how Narragansett Bay is an ancient river valley with three big rivers running through it—the West Passage, the East Passage, and the Sakonnet River.” Growing up on the Barrington River, John was never far from the Bay. As a child, he caught fish using a large circular fishing net called a seine. When you live near a river, fish in it, and spend as much time growing up along it like John did, you form a relationship with the river and its inhabitants.

John began keeping a diary of the fish he caught in the Barrington River when he was ten years old. In the decade that he collected data, it became evident to him that the Bay was changing. Since then, John says he has seen a real decline in fish stocks. “There’s a kinship with those creatures, just like you have here at the Exploration Center.” John points to a small, thin fish in one of the tanks. “I caught that pipefish right there. I know his whole life cycle. We have a kinship.”

Sandy’s Destruction

On that fateful day in October of 2012, the storm surge pushed through ocean-facing doors—knocking down displays, desks, and supply shelves—and made its way to the lowest point in the building: the basement. The storm surge caused a power failure, which affected the aquarium life support systems located in the basement, and jeopardized the survival of the marine life in the tanks.

Adam Kovarsky, lead aquarist for Save The Bay, arrived a few hours later to survey the damage. Thankfully, aquarium staff had left battery-powered aerators in the tanks prior to the storm to provide needed oxygen in the event of a power failure. As a result, all of the specimens that were entrusted to him had survived the blow from Sandy. “I had three feet of water and tons of sand in here,” says Adam. “We grabbed buckets and aerators and brought the critters to our Bay Center in Providence. Luckily, Mystic Aquarium and Aquidneck Lobster in Newport were able to take in a few sea creatures, too.”

Birth of the Exploration Center

John’s first foray into the Easton’s Beach aquarium was in 2006. Curt Spalding, then executive director of Save The Bay, and Bridget Kubis Prescott, education director, consulted with John when the New England Aquarium was preparing to sell the facility to Save The Bay. “I arrived on a gray February day,” says John. “There was no heat, and the place was stripped of most of the displays. Curt said to me, ‘What do you think about this place?’ I told him I’d do an analysis and see what we could come up with. 

I remember saying to Bridget, ‘We’ll make it work.’ And we did. I volunteered my services, got it up and running, and my work was done. Or so I thought.” Seven years later, John was repairing the aquarium once again. He took apart the old hardware and replaced it with industrial-grade plumbing. “Save The Bay bought the spare parts, and I volunteered my time to put it all together the best I could,” he recalls. “Every weekend, all 
winter, all spring, early summer, during my vacation, I worked on it around the clock. 

I really tried to do it right, thinking this place would be here for 100 years.” Mike Russo wanted to protect the facility’s life systems from another storm surge, so all of the electrical components had to be on the first floor, not in the basement. John was able to make most of the systems portable, allowing for easy relocation, if needed. He also incorporated redundant systems so that when a failure is detected, another pump will automatically start. 

An emergency air system was installed to protect the fish from loss of air during a power outage. To John, the most important thing at the Exploration Center isn’t the tanks or the pumps or the filtrations system; it’s the enthusiasm of the people here—the volunteers, the staff, and the members who visit the aquarium. 

“People who come here support something because they feel it’s worthwhile, and it’s a good cause,” says John. “You don’t have to be a scientist to appreciate what’s going on. You can work in a dress store, be a baker, whatever. But come here and learn what the Bay is really about from people who feel the same way. You build up a relationship with them, and suddenly you’re an advocate. And you know what? That, to me, is the most important thing.”

Save The Bay is forever grateful to John Haley and Tim Burns of BioProcessH2O, Hayward Pumps of North Kingstown, RI, and the countless volunteers, supporters, and members who helped us bring the Exploration Center & Aquarium back to life.

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

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Meet our new boat captains

Keith Chilcutt
Communications Intern
By Keith Chilcutt

As our shipboard educational programs grow, there has been an increased need to expand our fleet. Last fall, Save The Bay christened its newest motor vessel, the Elizabeth Morris, effectively doubling our capacity to take schoolchildren, educators, and the general public out on the water. With the new vessel, more on-the-water programs were made available and there arose a need for additional captains.
We are proud to announce that two of our current educators have completed their captain’s licensing requirements and will soon be plying the waters of Narragansett 
Bay aboard Save The Bay’s boats. 

Jennifer Kelly
Jennifer Kelly began working for Save The Bay in 2008 as an education assistant at the Exploration Center & Aquarium. Four years later, she took on the role of afterschool program manager and education specialist. 

Jennifer’s love of the Bay began as a child where she spent nearly every summer swimming, fishing, and exploring marine life. Her passion continues in her dedication to educating future generations about the importance of the Narragansett Bay watershed. “I hope the time students spend on the water learning about Narragansett Bay creates positive, lasting memories they can reflect on as they mature,” says Jennifer. “It helps foster their awareness for environmental stewardship.”

Gráinne Lanigan
Gráinne Lanigan hails from Skerries, a small fishing village near Dublin, Ireland, and has been with Save The Bay for ten years. She has been instrumental in creating professional development programs for teachers. 

“My favorite days are when we have an early program scheduled on a calm, sunny day,” says Gráinne. “I look around at the sea of smiles, grateful to be out on the Bay, eager to learn all there is to offer. Those are the days when I know I have a great job." 

"I love the opportunity to provide professional development,” continues Gráinne. “We have wonderfully talented teachers in our state, and I find it very rewarding to work alongside them educating students about Narragansett Bay.”

The role of captain does not come easily. Certification requires logging 360 days at sea, along with an intensive, eighty-hour course. The women sacrificed nights and weekends to obtain their licenses, but found the challenges rewarding and the experience invaluable. Having a captain’s license will enhance their abilities as educators. On the boat, the students test water quality within the water column for temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen. After comparing results, students gain a better understanding of what is ecologically healthy for the Bay. The students also collect plankton samples and conduct benthic trawls to identify organisms. 
 M/V Elizabeth Morris

On a recent trip with students from Robertson Elementary School to view seals, a girl was overheard saying that this was the best day ever. Undaunted in their enthusiasm for educating students, Jennifer and Gráinne hope to expand learning opportunities to create an indelible connection to Narragansett Bay.

- Keith

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

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Beware the Shifting Baseline

Jonathan Stone
Executive Director


How do we know when we’ve achieved our goal of restoring Narragansett Bay to health? One challenge in answering this question is the problem of the shifting baseline. 

The concept of the shifting baseline arose in the study of fisheries. Scientist Daniel Pauly in his paper, “Anecdotes and theShifting Baseline Syndrome of Fisheries,” observed that fisheries scientists sometimes fail to identify the magnitude of decline in the abundance of a particular species by adopting as their reference point the state of that fishery at the start of their careers. In this way, large declines in ecosystems or species over long periods of time are masked. 

We often compare the Bay today to what we experienced in our lifetime, perhaps when we first learned to swim or sail or fish. Because we weren’t around 100 years ago, we don’t necessarily appreciate the extraordinary changes the Narragansett Bay ecosystem has undergone. 

We have lost 90% of the eelgrass beds in Narragansett Bay over the last century. Without eelgrass there are fewer fish and scallops. Populations of fish species with significant commercial value have collapsed to less than 10% of levels seen 100 years ago. Our salt marshes—nurseries to crabs, shellfish, and forage fish—have been degraded or completely lost to filling, coastal development, erosion, and rising seas. Our dynamic beaches have migrated hundreds of feet inland, despite repeated attempts to arrest their movement. 
In our role as advocate for and voice of Narragansett Bay, we are all too familiar with the complacency that comes with this “shifting baseline” syndrome. In the Spring issue of Tides magazine, Tom Kutcher, our Narragansett Baykeeper, writes about the importance of restoring a healthy population of menhaden, known locally as pogies. While fisheries managers have made progress in arresting the collapse of the menhaden fishery, baseline population of menhaden in the Bay today is a small fraction of what it was just a generation ago. 

This is unacceptable. Complacency is our own worst enemy. Our goal is a Bay safe for swimming and shellfishing year-round; teeming with shellfish, crustaceans, fish, and birds; its shores and waters accessible to the public. When we accept the condition of Narragansett Bay as it is, we lose sight of what it could and should be.

- Jonathan

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