Monday, June 12, 2017

Meet our new BayKeeper: A fresh set of eyes on our Bay

By Cindy Sabato, director of communication

Meet your new Baykeeper, Michael Jarbeau. Mike joined the Save The Bay team in late March, ready and more than able to take on the all-important responsibilities as our on-the-water eyes and ears, looking out for pollution and championing public access to the shore. As our fourth Baykeeper since we instituted the program in 1992, he’s part of our advocacy team and will be instrumental in fighting for legislation and policy that protect our waters. He’s also the person we ask you to call to report pollution incidents or concerns about water quality in the Bay.

What’s your connection to Rhode Island, Narragansett Bay, and our love for our waters? I’m a fourth-generation Rhode Island native, born and raised in Warwick. I spent most of my summer weekends at Buttonwoods Beach on the north side of Greenwich Bay, a short walk from where my grandparents live. I grew up spending time with family at the beach, swimming, fishing and sailing. 

Shellfish closures were my first exposure to pollution problems in the Bay, and I remember being disheartened by the fact that the place I loved so much wasn’t healthy and thriving. The Bay played a major role in my development, as well as in my education and career choices, which is why I’m thrilled to be able to directly advocate for the Bay as Baykeeper and help ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy the Bay as much as I do.

Why do you consider Narragansett Bay worth protecting? Narragansett Bay is a critical piece of Rhode Island’s history and character. People and businesses move to Rhode Island because of the Bay and how it can support their lifestyle. To me, the future of the state is closely intertwined with the health of Narragansett Bay. The Bay can’t speak for itself, and we can’t take it for granted.

What appeals to you about serving as Save The Bay’s next Baykeeper? The Baykeeper position allows me to pursue my personal and professional interests on a daily basis. The activities that so many of us enjoy are only possible if the Bay is healthy and resilient. For progress to continue, complex scientific and regulatory issues need to be addressed. I am excited to be able to work closely in and around these processes and look out for the Bay day in and day out.

As Baykeeper, you’ll be a face for Save The Bay among our constituents and citizenry. How do you feel about taking on that role? I know people are passionate about Narragansett Bay, and I believe my education and experience will help me voice their concerns and keep them aware of what’s happening. I realize that the Baykeeper is a resource for Save The Bay’s constituency and people who care about Narragansett Bay. It’s humbling to think that people will look to me as a resource and expert on Bay issues, and I will do my best every day to help those people stay informed and engaged.

You attended the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and served as a commissioned officer. What have been your roles with the Coast Guard? I served on two ships, USCGC Venturous and USCGC Sanibel. On Venturous, we patrolled mostly in the Florida Straits, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, conducting fisheries, counter-drug, and other law enforcement missions. While serving as executive officer on the Sanibel out of Woods Hole, Massachusetts, our primary missions were search and rescue and fisheries enforcement. This experience furthered my interest in fisheries and coastal management, and when I completed that tour, I attended the University of Rhode Island for a master’s degree in Marine Affairs. After grad school, I was assigned as the Fifth Coast Guard District’s Assistant Fisheries Officer and Cutter Operations Manager in Portsmouth, Virginia, where I played a role in the development of Mid-Atlantic fisheries regulations and their translation into Coast Guard enforcement policy. I’m currently assigned to the First Coast Guard District in Boston as a Reservist.

How do you think your Coast Guard career will translate to the Baykeeper role? Whether on a ship or in an office, there is no such thing as a “typical” day in the Coast Guard. Things change fast, and success requires flexibility, teamwork and expertise. Similarly, the Baykeeper’s day can change in an instant as Bay-related issues arise. My career has taught me to be prepared, expect the unexpected, and stay vigilant. I’ve also seen firsthand the value that clean water and healthy ecosystems play in sustaining coastal economies and recreational opportunities. As Baykeeper, I’ll be able to continue working for the protection of those resources.

You’ve lived in many places. Why come back here? I’ve been lucky to live in and travel to many coastal areas, but something is different about the local connection to Narragansett Bay. The Bay is more than a background for our daily lives; it’s a part of our lives. I really think that relationship is unique, and it’s hard to understand unless you’ve experienced it.