Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Interning with Save The Bay

By Courtney Danforth, Save The Bay Intern

Saving the Bay is not the only thing that Save The Bay is doing – they are saving the planet and taking their local communities with them. So be on the look out, and don’t be afraid to get involved! During my time interning at Save The Bay, I have never witnessed a group of people more dedicated to the goal of bettering their environment; and what a goal to have.

Roughly four months ago, I first set foot in the Providence Save The Bay Fields Point building. I was surprised to discover that the building itself plays a role in Save The Bay’s mission to save the environment, a building project made entirely possible by STB volunteers and donors. It offers natural lighting, roof plantings, recycled flooring, solar paneling, storm water management and more. The land on which the building sits, once a landfill,  is now home to many different animals. Just beware: you might stumble upon a humble snake just trying to get by in the parking lot.

A few weeks into my internship, I participated in my first International Coastal Cleanup. I had been writing a couple of press releases on the subject and was intrigued by the people I interviewed and their dedication to helping keep their local beach communities clean. Growing up for a part of my life in the little beach town of Narragansett, I felt it was more than necessary to attend a cleanup. How could I have gone my entire life not participating in something so global and charitable?

So, on the slightly cloudy Saturday of September 19th , I drove down to Narragansett to pick up my mom for our first ever International Coastal Cleanup. We arrived in Galilee, at Salty Brine State Beach just as the clouds subsided and revealed a mild, clear day. I was given a clipboard and a tally sheet to record the types of trash found, while my mom held the trash bag and put on some plastic gloves. We combed the beaches and found mostly cigarette butts, my mom stopping in her tracks to inspect an unidentifiable piece of debris every 10 minutes or so.

“Another butt, a butt, another butt, did you write it down on your tally sheet? Five more butts. What is this, a piece of rope?” my mom uttered as she held out a handful of the burnt orange and white stubs along with a tiny piece of rope. My tallying was apparently not fast enough for her findings.

Amazed at the large amount of tiny trash we managed to collect in a short amount of time, we concluded our first ever International Coastal Cleanup. It will not be our last. It now makes more sense to me why people become passionately involved in coastal cleanups. Taking a deep breath when we finished, I was able to look at a more pristine, more breathable coastline in front of me.

I am leaving this internship with a deeper appreciation for Rhode Island’s coastal habitat. I was able to get my feet in the water (both literally and figuratively) during my time here at Save the Bay, and I hope you do too.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Perseverance Wins for Narragansett Bay

By Topher Hamblett, Director of Advocacy

Staying power. Determination. Patience. Impatience. That’s what it takes to protect and improve Narragansett Bay. As we reflect on nearly 50 years of advocacy, and prepare for the next 50 years, it is important to remember that some of the most important victories for Narragansett Bay have been achieved by taking the long view, and by persevering through the most difficult battles. Here are a few of the more memorable ones:

Quonset Mega-Port
In 2000, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Almond announced that the state would develop a global “load center” port at Quonset Point. The plan called for filling in 500 acres of Narragansett Bay by extending Quonset-Davisville, blasting a trench across the Bay to accommodate the world’s largest container vessels and disturbing highly-valued shellfishing grounds. Save The Bay called “time out!”
Working in coalition with North Kingstown residents, fishermen, shell fishermen, the Conservation Law Foundation, Sierra Club-RI and countless other allies, we convinced Governor Almond to carry out a stakeholder process that involved countless public meetings, hearings, and events over the next nearly five years to examine alternatives to the load center port. We mobilized citizens and members, engaged legislators who questioned the viability and wisdom of the “megaport” and were a constant presence in the media. We also overcame accusations of being “anti-job” and “NIMBY” (not in my backyard) by political leaders and the media outlets. In the end, the voice of the people who love Narragansett Bay prevailed.

The Habitat Trust Fund
The Rhode Island General Assembly passage in 2004 of the Rhode Island Habitat Restoration Trust Fund was the result of eight years of relentless advocacy by Save The Bay. The fund, passed by the leadership of Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed (Newport) and House Environment Committee Chairman Jan Malik (Warren), generates $250,000 for projects through a five-cent-per-barrel fee on petroleum imported to Rhode Island ports, and has leveraged millions of dollars in federal, local and private funds for restoration efforts. Through sheer determination, we overcame strong opposition by the petroleum industry and by some legislative leaders who aimed to ‘punish’ Save The Bay for supporting a Separation of Powers amendment to the RI Constitution, which, in the end, barred legislators from sitting on, and making appointments to, quasi-public boards and commissions.

The Dredge Wars
Historically, the dredged material from marinas and yacht clubs was dumped in the most convenient locations, often nearby salt marshes. As a result, marshes in places like Allins Cove (Barrington) were choked with dredge material, their ecological functions as nurseries badly impaired. At other times, proposals were made to dump dredged spoils in other ecologically valuable places, such as the waters off Prudence Island that serve as lobster habitat. After a decade of fighting the “dredge wars,”
Save The Bay and the RI Marine Trades Association rolled up our sleeves and advocated for new state policy that now makes in-Bay dumping a last resort and the beneficial use of dredge material for landscaping and capping of contaminated sites the preferred option.

Saving Mount Hope Bay from Thermal and Sewage Pollution and an LNG Terminal
When Weaver’s Cove Energy LLC announced in 2011 that it was suspending its pursuit of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Mount Hope Bay, the company cited “unfavorable economic conditions” as its reason. But that’s just part of the story. The company had been aggressively pursuing the project for more than seven years, first on the shores of Fall River, Mass. and then smack in the middle of Mount Hope Bay itself. In fact, Weaver’s Cove was the third LNG proposal for Narragansett Bay that Save The Bay successfully defeated since the early 1970s. And it wasn’t the only time the ecological health of Mount Hope Bay was at stake. By the 1990s, the Brayton Point power plant in Somerset, Mass. had been using one billion gallons of Bay water per day to cool its generators, destroying the young winter flounder populations it drew into its intake pipe, and upsetting the ecosystem when it then ‘returned’ water to Mount Hope Bay at up to 95 degrees.

Joining with and mobilizing citizen groups, municipal governments, marine trades organizations, fishermen, lobstermen, chambers of commerce and many individuals, Save The Bay has repeatedly and staunchly defended Mount Hope Bay through grassroots, media, legislative and legal advocacy. The community dug its heals in and won again the LNG proposal. A new EPA permit required major changes in the power plant’s cooling operations. And the City of Fall River, Mass. embarked on a project to dramatically reduce raw sewage overflows to Mount Hope Bay, which had caused the closure of shellfish beds in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island waters. For nearly 50 years, we have worked to prevent the over-industrialization of Narragansett Bay, preserving the delicate balance of uses that makes Narragansett Bay so unique and championing its restoration. Today, Mount Hope Bay has turned the corner from decades of pollution, the Brayton Point power plant is operating with a new cooling system, and shellfish beds are open far more frequently than ever before.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Paris Climate Talks: What does it mean for the Bay?

By Rachel Calabro, Community Organizer & Advocate

For the past two weeks, negotiators from across the globe have convened in Paris for the 21st United Nations conference on climate change. One hundred eighty six countries have come with ambitious pledges to limit greenhouse gas emissions. While past conferences have attempted to negotiate a treaty that would keep warming to 2 degrees Celsius, over 100 countries have now pushed to try and keep warming to 1.5 degrees.

It is unclear if this goal is possible given the amount of carbon we have already added to the atmosphere and the voluntary pledges being offered so far. Our current path including these pledges sets us up for 5 degrees, and we have already passed the 1 degree mark. Meeting a goal of only half a degree more of warming would require an unprecedented shift to a decarbonized economy across the world and would also require removing large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Because of the urgency, the final treaty will likely have specific requirements to “ratchet up” the promises from each country. The goal is that by the year 2030, all countries would be on a common pace to revise these promises every five years.

Much of the focus at the conference has been on lowering the demand for fossil fuel and using technology to limit emissions while switching to renewable energy. This directly ignores the scientific consensus that 80% of known fossil fuel reserves must say in the ground for us to remain below 2 degrees of warming. Keeping it in the ground is not being discussed at this point, and here at home, the United States promotes and subsidizes fossil fuel development while trying to limit carbon emissions – a very difficult task.

In Paris, and here at home, you will hear two major topics of discussion when it comes to climate change: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation includes activities that will reduce or prevent greenhouse gas emissions, such as switching to renewable energy or preventing deforestation. Adaptation includes activities that reduce harm from the effects of climate change, such as removing infrastructure from flood prone areas, planting trees and treating stormwater.

Much of Save The Bay’s work in habitat restoration falls under adaptation. We are restoring salt marshes so that they provide habitat value for as long as they can be sustained. We are supporting dam removal as a way to connect rivers so that fish can migrate. We are helping cities and towns to move flooded infrastructure and treat stormwater. We also support mitigation by using solar panels at the Bay Center and advocating for renewable energy. On Tuesday, the RI Governor signed an executive order that will direct state agencies to get 100% of their energy use from renewable sources by 2025. It also supports zero emission vehicles, public transit and green buildings. 

There is a third piece of the puzzle, however, and that deals with loss and damage.

The problem, of course, is that no matter what we do in the coming years, some amount of sea level rise and temperature rise are already “baked in” and this will bring significant loss and damage to everyone on the planet to varying degrees. Already, Pacific Island nations are faced with abandoning areas that are uninhabitable, and droughts and floods are forcing people off their land.

This loss and damage is a bone of contention at the talks because poor countries feel that wealthy developed nations should shoulder the burden for making payments to them as restitution for causing much of the problem. Beyond money, assistance would include providing these countries with the capacity to cope and welcoming refugees from climate change disaster zones.

The sad reality is that so much damage has already been done we are beyond talking about mitigation and adaptation and are realizing that we could be soon dealing with a vast humanitarian crisis. The scale of that crisis depends on the strength of this and future climate agreements and how quickly they are acted upon by all the countries of the world.

Monday, December 7, 2015

What’s in the FLUPSY?: A new tool for aquaculture education

By Robbie Hudson, Save The Bay Educator

In 1970, Save The Bay was created with a vision for protecting Narragansett Bay. In 1986, we launched our education program, recognizing that future generations would be critical to achieving that original vision, and with the goal of providing the best hands-on marine science instruction available. In the mid-90s, our vision expanded to include restoration of the Bay habitats.

Today, Save The Bay has a new tool that speaks to all three rungs of our organization: habitat restoration, water quality improvement and the building of stewards of Narragansett Bay. We have installed and now operate a Floating Upweller System (FLUPSY) at the Bay Center dock to grow shellfish. FLUPSY is a controlled nursery system that force-feeds infant shellfish (seed) by constantly moving water past them as they sit in a holding tank. The shellfish grow quickly and enjoy a higher survival rate than in the wild because they are continuously eating and growing while protected from such predators as crabs, lobsters and fish. The system makes it possible to grow out hundreds of thousands of shellfish at a time. 

Once the shellfish reach a predetermined size (depending upon the species), they can be deployed at restoration sites in Bay and coastal waters. Bivalve shellfish, such as ribbed mussels and oysters, are great at filtering water and removing unwanted nutrients out of the water column. They strengthen the shoreline by preventing erosion, an increasingly challenging issue due to increasing storm intensity and sea level rise from climate change. And, they can function as brood stock that will contribute to further generations of their species. 

The FLUPSY allows Save The Bay and our partner schools and organizations to study the possibility of increasing shellfish populations in Narragansett Bay, while adding new, exciting content to our K-12 marine science education program. Aquaculture education programs introduce students to ecology, shellfish biology, the shellfish industry and role of aquaculture in Bay management. With an upweller system, they can explore such activities as water quality monitoring, shellfish life cycles, habitat restoration and animal husbandry.

Our middle- and high-school BayCampers have experienced the upweller while learning about shellfish biology, the importance of water quality to marine life and how to test for various scientific parameters. College interns have been assisting in weekly data collection, and maintenance of the equipment. The education and experience these students acquire from this program is helping create our future scientists.

Shellfish have and will always be an important part of Southeastern New England culture and can play a crucial role in keeping Rhode Island waters healthy. Utilizing our knowledge and resources, Save The Bay will continue to find ways to preserve our waters while educating students of all ages about what we can do to protect and restore Narragansett Bay.