Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bringing Back Memories of the Bay


Jennifer Packard
Communications Intern
When speaking to people about Narragansett Bay, it doesn't take long before a deep appreciation and sense of history come out. Fond memories and ties to Narragansett Bay are strong, and add multi-layered aspects to Rhode Islanders’ lives.

At Save The Bay’s Exploration Center & Aquarium in Newport, visitors are reminded, or learn for the first time, of hundreds of plants, animals and other sea life that call the Bay home. These connections spark memories and conversation. 

“We love coming here; the kids love it,” said Maria Santos of Newport as she sat at the crafts table making a lobster hat with her son, Anthony.  “I remember when [the Center was] damaged by Hurricane Sandy.  I'm so glad they were able to rebuild it.”

A dogfish shark swims in one of the tanks 
“We have to keep it clean,” added Maria’s son, Anthony, while talking about the Bay.

The Easton’s Beach location draws people in with its kid-friendly touch tanks, its knowledgeable educators, and the hundreds of Bay creatures available to see and touch. Kevin Germaine, on a visit with his wife and kids, watched as the smooth dogfish sharks swam around the large pool in the exhibit in the back. 

“I didn't even know they lived in the Bay. That’s what is so great about this place,” said Kevin. “We're learning things we didn't know before. The staff is great, too!”

A skate stops to say hello
Kathy G. also expressed her excitement for the Bay. “It’s a great memory because my husband used to fish on Narragansett Bay when he was young. Now we can take Brandon and it’s like a tradition.” 

Brandon, her son, smiled as he stuck his hand in the tank to touch a skate as it floated by. “These are cool!” he said, excitedly.

Much of the sea life may be familiar to some residents, who have walked the beaches and spent time wading in the Bay’s waters, but invariably many of the creatures at the Exploration Center end up surprising people. 

“I had no idea there were seahorses in the Bay,” Pat Martone said as she watched five of them glide gracefully through the seahorse and pipefish tank. “They are my favorite. They're so delicate!” 

The skates living in the Bay surprised Rob Pacheco. He pointed to a rectangular shape casing through the water. “I’ve seen those things on the beach my whole life and didn't know they were eggs from the skates.” 
A seahorse found at the Exploration Center
Photo by Jack Kelly

When asked whether he had seen a difference in Narragansett Bay’s condition from long ago, Rob didn't hesitate to answer. “Oh yeah, it’s so much better than it used to be. It’s cleaner. I know Save The Bay does tremendous work for it.”

It is clear when speaking with Exploration Center visitors that the Center is more than an aquarium where one comes face-to-face with sea life in the Bay; it is a place where lifelong relationships and memories are revealed.

- Jennifer

Jennifer Packard is studying creative writing at Rhode Island College

The Exploration Center & Aquarium is open daily 10a.m. - 4p.m. through Labor Day.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Bay as a Middle School Classroom

Annabelle Everett
Communications Intern


Sixth graders from Bird Middle School in Walpole, MA are nearing the end of a lengthy unit on environmental science and the problems that their environments face. Students spent six weeks studying ecosystems and investigating the Neponset River watershed in Walpole. They discovered various environmental issues that result from residents’ suburban lifestyles and were then tasked to come up with several solutions. Such a project attempts to mirror the work that Save The Bay does every day and it culminated in a week of field trips, including a June 10 visit to the Save The Bay Center in Providence.

Life in the touch tank
I had the chance to shadow one of the groups from Bird Middle School for a few hours. They began their day learning about plankton in one of STB’s classrooms. After a brief rundown of the species, each student was given a microscope and a water sample containing some plankton. They filled out a worksheet with their findings before moving on to one of the touch tanks. The chance to interact with the different creatures in the tank was met with excitement from the students, who asked numerous questions while nudging each other to get the best view.  

Exploring the rocky shore
The next activity was to explore the shore behind the Bay Center. Students were given buckets to collect any rocks, shells, or various creatures that they might find. Within minutes, one student called out, “I found a live crab!” When asked if they were having fun, a few of the boys responded with an enthusiastic “Yeah!” Each group excitedly picked up rocks, scooping up the crabs that they found hidden underneath.   

The students spent half an hour combing the shore before settling down to get a better idea of what sort of creatures they had just found by looking through a guide to the life in the Bay. Each was then asked to share one of their findings with the class. One prominent discovery was the Asian Shore Crab, which the students were taught is an invasive species that arrives on ships from Japan and has taken over the Bay waters. Students also discovered other types of crabs on the shore, as well as quahogs, mussels, and periwinkles.

Bird middle School sixth graders at the Bay Center
This educational program allows Narragansett Bay to serve as the classroom, gives students a hands-on experience, and exposes them to various problems faced by the environment. Observing the students, it is clear how excited they are about this chance to investigate the Bay. One boy, when describing that his favorite part of the day was getting to explore the shore, remarked that this was “better than sitting in class.” This type of interactive learning that Save The Bay provides is essential in getting kids excited about the environment and educating them on environmental issues.

- Annabelle

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

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Adapting to Ongoing Erosion at Cranston’s Stillhouse Cove


by Wenley Ferguson
The evidence of the erosive force of Superstorm Sandy was not just confined to the south coast of Rhode Island. Stillhouse Cove, a small waterfront park in the Edgewood neighborhood of Cranston, suffered significant erosion during the storm. Bordered by a salt marsh, the park is exposed to the east, where storm-generated waves crash against a steep bank. During Sandy, the bank eroded and threatened the loss of the park. 
Coir mat "burritos" create a gentle, protective 
slope that will help prevent erosion.

After years of collaboration on restoring the Stillhouse Cove salt marsh, the Edgewood Waterfront Preservation Association (EWPA) and Save The Bay teamed up on an innovative erosion control project to address the bank erosion. 

Instead of trying to replace the lost soil along the steep shoreline, the bank was carved back to create a gentle slope that will dissipate future wave energy. Coir envelopes, coconut fiber mats filled with sand that resemble large burritos, will protect the slope from future storms. Contemporary Landscaping, a local contractor, teamed up with NETCO, a Massachusetts construction project manager that specializes in the installation of the coir mats. 

An excavator was used to carve a slope out of the bank, then three coir mats were installed in a series of steps on top of each other. The mats were covered with the excavated soil from the bank, and then covered with additional coconut fiber. 

The project was a true collaboration of a number of partners. The City of Cranston provided sand for the coir mats, and Coastal Resources Management Council, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) each provided funding and invaluable technical guidance for the project. 

Once the bank was regraded, a variety of native grasses was planted to act as a buffer between the park and the salt marsh, and to stabilize the bank. Neighborhood volunteers from EWPA, students from Johnson & WalesUniversity, Save The Bay staff and interns, and the contractor installed 6,500 plants along the cove in just one week. Due to the steepness of the slope, the fall drought and remnants of debris from historic fill along the marsh, the planting conditions were less than ideal, yet the involvement of the community was inspiring. One volunteer read about the project in The Providence Journal and stopped by to see how he could help. Moments later, he had a trowel in hand and was scrambling up and down the bank planting grasses. 

This shoreline adaptation project was part of Save The Bay’s Bay-wide effort to identify opportunities to protect shorelines naturally and create a more resilient coastline. As sea level rises, it will be important to create places where wave energy can be dissipated, and where shorelines can adapt to changing conditions.

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

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Touching the life of Narragansett Bay

Jennifer Packard
Communications Intern


The plant life and creatures of Narragansett Bay continue to delight and educate visitors of Save The Bay’s Exploration Center & Aquarium, which overlooks Easton’s Beach in Newport. The Center is a dazzling showcase of hundreds of creatures that call Narragansett Bay home. It is circular with tanks containing different types of sea life that kids, as well as adults, can get close to and touch.

Smooth dog fish sharks
One of the main attractions is the dogfish tank, a large pool housing two or three of these shark relatives, as well as crabs and fish. Adults enjoy peering over the tank at eye level with these sleek creatures, while kids excitedly stand on stairs and outstretch their arms to feel the creatures’ skin as they swim by. It is a joy to watch visitors’ faces as the sharks sense their presence, dancing back and forth in front of them. 

Kate Hamilton started as an intern at the Center last week and already loves her job. “My favorite part is working with the little kids," she explains. 

It is quite obvious that each staff member at the Exploration Center enjoys what they do to help educate people and form connections between the public and the sea life of Narragansett Bay. 

Meg, an Exploration Center employee, also explains what she loves about working here. “I feel like I got really lucky to have gotten a job here. [Right now] I’m feeding the sea horses because they don’t have any stomachs.”  
Visitors to the Center can touch live skates

She explained that the graceful sea horses were related to the long, thin Pipe Fish swimming alongside them, and that in both species the males carry the babies and do much of the work to care for them. 

Throughout the day, I found that each staff member was highly informed about the species that they care for, and are always happy and available to answer any questions.

Another part of the Exploration Center that people love is its collaboration with schools. Teachers can schedule visits and have expressed their love of taking their students to the Exploration Center over the years. 

Theresa Spelgler, owner of the Silveira Kindergarten & Nursery School in Middletown, shared what she loved about the Center. “It’s hands-on and the kids can visually look, touch, and learn. The staff does a great job. We love coming here and we’ve been coming here for years."   
A juvenile skate living with seahorses

Local residents also take advantage of what the Center has to offer.

Deb, a patron who has been bringing her 15-year-old daughter, Emily, to the Exploration Center for quite some time, loves the highly interactive quality of the place. “It’s all hands-on. I’ve learned so much I didn’t know before.” 

Emily agrees. “The thing I like about the Exploration Center is you can get up close and, if you have a question, there are people here to talk to. It’s not just reading along by yourself.”

- Jennifer

Jennifer Packard is studying creative writing at Rhode Island College

The Exploration Center & Aquarium is open daily 10a.m. - 4p.m. through Labor Day.