Monday, November 28, 2016

RiverKeeper Blog: Rattlesnake Brook Dam removed in Freetown

By Rachel Calabro, Save The Bay RiverKeeper

The Taunton River watershed is becoming more fish friendly as another dam is removed in an effort to increase habitat. The Rattlesnake Brook Dam, owned by the Fall River water department, is being removed this month to help fish access habitats cut off for almost 200 years. The dam had partially failed and was unsafe in its former condition. Rattlesnake Brook is part of the Assonet River watershed, which drains into the Taunton River just north of Fall River. Assonet Bay has some of the healthiest salt marshes in the Narragansett Bay watershed and is home to threatened diamondback terrapins.

Dam removal is becoming commonplace in Massachusetts as a way to eliminate flooding risk and to restore free flowing rivers. This project is the 44th dam removal to take place in the state. Three more dam removal projects are planned for next year in the Taunton River watershed, and other dams are in study. The Taunton River was designated as a Wild & Scenic River in part because of its large and healthy fish run. The migratory river herring run is the largest in the state and will increase as other rivers are opened up for spawning. American eel, white perch and shad are also benefitting from these projects.

Save The Bay has been supporting these projects as a partner for many years. We provide outreach and community support to get projects started, and technical support as they move through design. Habitat restoration in the Taunton River watershed is one of our long term strategic goals. Rivers that are free flowing and connected are better able to support wildlife and are more resilient to changes in climate. We look forward to supporting more projects in the coming years.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Critter Tales: Bowser the Snapping Turtle

By Dani Gariglio, Communications Intern

Bowser has called the Exploration Center home for almost his entire life. And no, we’re not talking about the Bowser from Super Mario, who is always trying to kidnap Princess Peach and defeat Mario once and for all.  The Bowser we’re referring to is an Eastern Snapping Turtle that currently lives at Save The Bay’s Exploration Center.

With a name as fierce as Bowser, and a cartoon counterpart who gets a bad rap, you would think the four-year-old snapping turtle is another villainous creature of the deep blue. However, our snapper loves to eat, swim and relax in his big, roomy tank, all to himself. With his heavily scaled, long clawed, webbed feet, Bowser is able to whirl from one end of his freshwater tank to the other, in just one stroke. Perhaps Bowser is such a good swimmer because of the two extra toes he has on his front left foot! That’s right; Bowser has SEVEN toes on his left foot, and normally snapping turtles only have five!

When you come into the Exploration Center, right under Bowser’s tank you’ll spot a small sign with Mario and Luigi trying to warn you of what kind of mood Bowser is in today. Is he happy? Is he moody? If he’s in a bad mood, he might just jab at your fingers waving at him in front of the tank!

But how did Bowser even get in the Exploration Center, you might ask?

As just a hatchling, a then-tiny Bowser was found at Easton’s Beach in Newport. Save The Bay staff members knew that snapping turtles belong in a freshwater habitat and not at the beach, so Bowser most likely came from the freshwater reservoir across the street. Since he had been at the beach for quite some time, Bowser was covered in sand and salty water, so he was taken to the Exploration Center for a clean up.

Fast forward four years later and Bowser is thriving. He may even be released one day, according to Adam Kovarsky, Save The Bay’s aquarist. The Exploration Center plans on helping Bowser grow to full size before release, because he is a part of a species for which adapting back to his natural habitat is possible.

The Eastern Snapping Turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in Rhode Island. With a neck that can stretch as long as the length of its shell, snapping turtles can be as large as 20 inches, weigh up to 35 pounds and live to be at least 30 years old! Snapping turtles are a top predator in their freshwater habitat niche and have access to a wide variety of their prey, which consists of insects, birds, small mammals, amphibians and even aquatic plants. While snapping turtles have no teeth, they do have powerful jaws and beaks that are used to snap, crush and chomp on their prey. These predators provide a top down pressure on population size, meaning the different feeding levels of the food chain are limited to and reliant on the predators at the top. This type of food chain regulation enables increased biodiversity.

“Increased biodiversity is always a great way to keep habitats healthy and functioning, which adds to the healthy fresh water inputs that drain into the Narragansett Bay through our watershed,” Kovarsky said.

Bowser is an important part of the Narragansett Bay, and also a cherished critter by Save The Bay. Come down to the Exploration Center to meet Bowser and his seven toes, and tons of other amazing critters! Try to find out what kind of mood Bowser is in, too, at the Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium at Easton’s Beach in Newport, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m.–4 p.m.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Booking a Private Seal Tour for your Group

By Dan Blount, BayCamp Director

Save the Bay group Seal Tours are the perfect trip for large families, teams, clubs, school groups and even work outings. These Seal Tours allow groups of 15 or more to experience one of our incredible tours in a private setting. Each tour is narrated by one of Save the Bay’s experienced environmental educators. We offer trips leaving out of Newport, Westerly, and Fall River, so no matter where you are, there's a tour for your group.

Groups who leave from Newport will depart from Bowen’s Wharf. These tours take your group on a cruise through historic Newport Harbor and eventually making its way out to one of our favorite seal hang outs in the bay, Citing rock. There, your group will get to see large groups of seals in their natural habitat and take in breathtaking views of Rose island, the Newport bridge and even some of Newport’s famous seaside mansions. We offer options of 1-hour seal tours, or 2-hour seal tours combined with a private tour of Rose Island Lighthouse. The lighthouse tour includes a tour of the grounds as well as the ability to explore the inside of Rose Island Light. Trips in Newport run from November 2016 through the end of April 2017.

In Westerly, our 90-minute cruises leave from Viking Marina in downtown Westerly and travel down the Pawcatuck river into Little Narragansett Bay. During this tour, Save the Bay’s experienced staff will point out historical sites, migratory winter birds, as well as the seals that inhabit the area. The trip down the Pawcatuck is nothing short of amazing. Our trips in Westerly run from November 2016 through December 31st 2016.

The 75-minute group tours leaving from Fall River depart from Borden Light Marina. These trips cover almost all of Mount Hope Bay. We visit Spar Island, where the seals tend to congregate during the Winter months, and take a scenic tour past Borden Flats Lighthouse, Battleship Cove and up into the mouth of the Taunton River. Fall River group tours run from March 2017 through April 2017.

Reservations are required for group tours. Our vessels can carry up to 38 people, so larger groups are encouraged to join us. You can find out more about our Group Seal Tours at or by contacting our Seal Tour Hotline at (401) 203-SEAL (7325). We can’t wait for your group to join us!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What is afterschool programming all about?

By Jennifer Kelly, After School Program Manager

It’s 3:00 and school is out. So, where do kids go while their families are still working? Here’s the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How on our afterschool programs.

According to the Afterschool Alliance, in Rhode Island, 17% of children living in communities of concentrated poverty were alone and unsupervised between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m.. On average, these same children were spending an average of seven hours per week unsupervised.

Why do we need afterschool programs? According to the Afterschool Alliance, afterschool hours, from 3:00 - 6:00 p.m., is the peak time for children to become involved with crimes and experiment with drugs & alcohol. Parents agree that afterschool programs help keep kids safe. Also, parents in communities of concentrated poverty believe afterschool programs improve students’ behavior, school attendance and performance in school.

What is Save The Bay doing about it? We are getting kids excited about science and Narragansett Bay! But we do even more than that. In addition to just teaching science, we teach them marine science while incorporating technology, engineering, and math, typically referred to as STEM. Our program offers high-quality, hands on STEM enrichment. While one afterschool group may be learning about the fascinating animals that live in the bay, another group may be designing and building their own aquarium and life support system to run in their school. Kids in our program are learning essential life skills that we hope they will carry on with them into the future. Elisa Almonte, Director of Beyond School Programs at UCAP, states, ”The Save The Bay afterschool collaboration provides my students with quality programming. Lessons are intentional and engaging and staff members are always warm and excited about working with youth.”

High quality programs, like Save The Bay’s, extend the opportunity for children to continue to learn after school and helps them achieve in their classroom. All of our programs are aligned with state science standards so it will expand upon what students are already learning in their classrooms during the school day. According to the Afterschool Alliance, when students participate in STEM programs, 80% have shown an interest in continuing STEM learning. It is projected that STEM jobs will be in higher demand in the future.

During the 2015-2016 school year, 77% of our afterschool programs took place in communities of concentrated poverty. We partnered with community groups and schools in Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, Central Falls, Newport, Middletown, Narragansett and North Providence. Many of our programs take place at their sites, but often times, students are walking with us to a local river or waterway to have an in-depth look at its water quality and explore for wildlife and vegetation. We can also host programs on one of our education boats, at our aquarium, or along a coastal shoreline for an on-the-bay experience.

When will Save The Bay’s afterschool program make a difference in your or your child’s life? We have partnered with Connecting for Children and Families in Woonsocket for 7 years. Charlotte Boudreau, Director of Education & School Linked Services for Connecting for Children & Families states,
“The partnership has brought extraordinary experience for the Woonsocket students we serve because of the quality programming Save the Bay provides us at Connecting for Children & Families. Many students are distractible during the school day, but because of the hands on experiential activities that Save the Bay provides, they are totally engaged in everything they do and learn and retain everything they are taught. While exploring the Blackstone River, the parks and the areas around their school, students also interact with the environment in their community. Because of their experiences with Save the Bay the students’ academic performance and behavior continues to improve throughout the school year.”

How does Save The Bay’s afterschool program impact the lives of the people we serve? When asked, "What does Save the Bay's Afterschool mean to you?", a first grade student from Woonsocket said "It means fun! I like to look at and touch the animals."

Monday, November 7, 2016

Critter Tales - The Mighty Mantis Shrimp

By Danielle Gariglio, Communications Intern
It’s hard to believe that a critter small enough to fit in your hand has earned itself the title of “thumb splitter” from fishermen around the world. Mantis shrimp, though only four to five inches long, have the fastest punch in the world and are able to smash shells, glass and, evidently, the thumbs of fishermen. Some Mantis shrimp are so powerful they can strike with the same force as a 22-caliber bullet!

These featherweight champions are usually laid back and slow moving by nature, until it’s time to eat or protect itself from a dangerous predator. If you’re at our Exploration Center and Aquarium down in Newport, pay close attention to our resident mantis shrimp, and you might find him kicking up the ground beneath him, creating a flurry of dust in his tank and wiggling his way into tight spaces. This habit is called burrowing, a common behavior used by mantis shrimp to escape predators. And keep an eye out for next month’s Feeding Frenzy, because that’s when these crustaceans really come to life! They’ll wrestle and wrangle their prey like their lives depend on it.

At first glance, these critters may seem bleak and dull with an opaque, gray color to them and a dozen scales lining the length of their backs, but there is more to the Mantis shrimp than meets the eye, literally. Mantis shrimp have incredibly advanced eyes with three lenses, as opposed to one in humans, and 16 color receptor cones, while humans have only three! This means that Mantis shrimp can detect up to ten times more colors than we even think possible! While also having the ability to see ultraviolet light, Mantis shrimp are regarded as having the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom.

“Try to picture a world where color is more vibrant than your imagination can even come up with,” said Exploration Center Manger Adam Kovarsky. “Mantis shrimp have a life we could never begin to comprehend; our brains can’t do it!”

Mantis shrimp generally live in the western Atlantic Ocean and can live in waters as deep as 500 feet. But, the Exploration Center has a few of its very own! One mantis shrimp has a big tank all to himself right next to the Big Fish of the Bay exhibit, and another mantis shrimp shares a tank with the infamous stargazer in the Narragansett Bay at Night exhibit. Come meet these powerful punchers and the rest of Save The Bay’s friendly critters too, at the Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium at Easton’s Beach in Newport, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. The aquarium will also be open on Veteran’s Day, Friday, Nov. 11 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.