Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Hidden Treasure

By Bay Gammans, communications intern

I’m shocked as my GPS tells me to pull into the parking lot at Easton’s Beach, Newport. I’ve been to this beach countless times, and not once have I noticed the Save The Bay Exploration Center sign. Who would guess that this brick rotunda building held a 1500 square foot aquarium?

I’m a summer communications intern at Save The Bay, giving me a chance to volunteer at the Save The Bay Exploration Center. I was luck enough to volunteer on the same day Sowams Elementary School kindergarteners explored the aquarium. Seeing the excitement and interest in their eyes, only magnified my own.

My favorite tank station was the little skate and horseshoe crab touch tank. The little skate exhibit was of special interest to me, because a visitor can see the full life cycle of the creature. A tank to the side of the touch tank holds mermaid purse eggs getting ready to hatch. The little skates will incubate for 9 to 10 months in this tank, until they hatch. Once they hatch they move to a tank directly beside it until they are big enough to move to the touch tank or be released.

A visitor may notice that there is a lighter type of egg also kept in that same hatching tank, these are the chain catsharks’. While I was volunteering at the shark touch tank, I was lucky enough to see a chain catshark in the process of laying an egg, which they lay in pairs.

The day of my visit to the aquarium must have been lucky, because I was also able to see a spider crab clean her eggs. Spider crab mothers incubate their eggs in their stomach until they hatch. During this time the spider crab will clean and check their eggs, removing ones that are no longer fertile.

I have recently become weary of zoos and aquariums. I was relieved to hear not only that all of the creatures in the exploration center are local, but that many are also released once they have recovered from injuries or are big enough to survive in the wild, only kept there if they can’t survive otherwise. For example, the Exploration Center has one tank with tropical fish that have drifted on the Gulf Stream into the Bay and would not survive the cold winter waters in the wild.

The cozy area holding the aquarium creates a unique and personalized experience. A volunteer or intern is always available to hand a visitor one of their critters, while teaching them more about what lives right outside their door. Save The Bay’s Exploration Center truly is a hidden treasure.

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