Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Narragansett Baykeeper testifies for your right to fish in Cranston

By Mike Jarbeau, Narragansett Baykeeper

On Monday night, the Cranston City Council approved an ordinance that prohibits fishing from substantial part of the public access site at the end of Ocean Avenue, located adjacent to the Rhode Island Yacht Club. According to the City Council, and some residents who testified at the meeting in support of the ordinance, Ocean Avenue suffers from problems related to litter, noise, disorderly conduct and traffic congestion. The public access site is also a popular spot for fishermen, and much of the testimony attributed the issues directly to the fishing community.

Article I, Section 17 of the Rhode Island Constitution provides that “(t)he people shall continue to enjoy and freely exercise all the rights of fishery… including but not limited to fishing from the shore.” The City of Cranston does not have the authority to regulate fishing, or to prevent any Rhode Islander from enjoying his or her Constitutional right to the resources of Narragansett Bay. The Department of Environmental Management issued a letter to the City Council last week reiterating this point.

The public access site at the end of Ocean Avenue. (Building
in the background is Rhode Island Yacht Club)
As advocates for public access to Narragansett Bay, Save The Bay spoke with residents, City Council members, the Rhode Island Yacht Club, and others in an attempt to encourage other solutions to the problems that have been identified. Having visited the area numerous times, we believe there is a way for all uses to coexist. Municipal trash receptacles could curb litter. A creative look at the parking situation could limit parking directly on the end of the road, which is a major source of congestion and limits the ability of others to enjoy the site.

I testified at the City Council meeting in opposition of the ordinance, along with the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association, the Edgewood Waterfront Preservation Association and several residents who agreed that a fishing ban is not the solution. Following the City Council’s vote, Save The Bay and others have petitioned Mayor Allan Fung to veto the ordinance. We are concerned about the precedent this ban sets in the state and hope Mayor Fung will take a stand in support of public access and the rights of the Rhode Island fishing community.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Critter tales - This ‘trash fish’ is a treasure

By Elizabeth Droge-Young, communications intern
Sea robins get a raw deal.
They’re described as ugly bait stealers, likened to the mythical creature from the black lagoon, and uncharitably labeled as trash fish. Even the most supportive of sources term them “unusual”.
As a Colorado native, where we’re up to our gills in trout, I could only have dreamt of a fish as unique as the northern sea robin. With my land-locked perspective, I’d like to make a case for this gorgeous and spunky fish (that’s right, I said gorgeous):
They come from a talented family
Northern sea robins belong to the greater sea robin family, called Triglidae. They get their common name from their wing-like pectoral fins, as well as the orange belly of an Atlantic-dwelling relative. Those “wings” aren’t just visually striking, some species use them to glide through the air like flying fish.
If that’s not a neat enough trick, take a step onto a different branch of their family tree to find the brightly striped—and venomous—lionfish. Both lionfish and sea robins are part of the same spiky-finned order, Scorpaeniformes.
They speak up when upset
If you’ve ever caught a sea robin, you may have heard its signature ‘croak’. When removed from the water, sea robins let their displeasure be known by internally drumming on their swim bladder, the air-filled organ that keeps fish afloat.
They’re super at sensing
The first three rays of each winged pectoral fin are separated from the rest of the fin and look like little walking legs as they search for food along the bay’s bottom. These specialized rays are used to detect subtle chemicals found in their invertebrate prey.
They’re not fussy eaters
Northern sea robins are just as happy with worm bits as they are with a gourmet lobster dinner. They’ll make a meal of any invertebrate or small fish they run into on the bay floor. Their easy going eating habits also means anglers who are after more popular fish frequently hook northern sea robins on accident.
They’re tasty with butter
While anglers frequently throw back northern sea robins, their relatives are frequently found on European dinner tables, including in bowls of authentic French bouillabaisse. Still, sea robins are making their way into Northeast fish markets as a more affordable alternative to popularly served fish, such as fluke.
You don’t have to travel far to see them
Abundant in coastal waters from Maine all the way down to South Carolina, northern sea robins can be found right off Rhode Island’s shores. You can get up close and personal with these remarkable fish at Save The Bay’s Exploration Center on Easton’s Beach at 175 Memorial Blvd.
While the number and kinds of sea robin are always rotating, the aquarium now hosts seven of these fish—all visiting from the Narragansett Bay. In addition to the northern sea robin, you can also gaze upon their cousins, the striped sea robin. Growing up to a foot long, these fish can be found in the aquarium’s rocky shores tank and the big fish of the bay tank. A juvenile sea robin can also be spotted in the specimen tanks at the back of the center.
Spend some time with these lovely critters and you may see this trash fish from a new perspective.
There’s always more room with me on “team sea robin.”

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Life of an unpaid intern

By Timothy Nairtney Belliveau, non-profit development intern

Think of the title “unpaid intern.” Now, close your eyes and picture the words associated with it. Coffee, paperwork, invoices? The “volunteer,” rite of passage that university students partake in has been described by some as unfair, disadvantageous, exploitive, and yet, necessary.

Throughout the interview process at Save The Bay, I was informed that paperwork folding, and furthermore, envelope stuffing skills, would make me a very well-equipped candidate to fill the position of Non-Profit Development Intern. This, of course, stirred images of something resembling Dilbert, but a poorer Dilbert. And yet, I took a chance with Save The Bay after consulting with family and professors for advice. After being with Save The Bay for about two months, I can honestly say that my experience with the team has proved to be among the most rewarding, educational, and exciting that I’ve ever had. Instead of mindlessly stuffing packages, that eventually leave to the great abyss called the mailbag, I have been provided the opportunities to engage myself in out-of-office expos, shoreline cleanups, authorship and collaboration with the marketing team on summer campaigns.

Whether it’s meeting volunteers at Ninigret Salt Marsh and assisting in planting projects through habitat restoration projects or enjoying the fruits of the Taste of the Bay fundraiser, having the opportunity to find meaning in a summer internship is something I haven’t taken for granted. The people here in the organization could not have been more welcoming in these first two months and truly make every week’s 8–12 hours a rewarding pleasure instead of a burden.

Save The Bay’s work is only possible with your generosity and care for our sacred Rhode Island landscape. We hope to see you at our upcoming summer events, including our annual Bay Swim on July 29! Even if you're not a swimmer, volunteers are pivotal to the success of this great event and we hope to see you there!



Monday, July 17, 2017

Swimmer Blog - Michael Garr

By Michael Garr, Save The Bay Swimmer

The Save The Bay Swim has always been a challenge for me. It has represented an enigma as so many things in life do. I took up ocean swimming two years after I got interested in swimming as a way to stay fit and active. It was several years later that I did my first Save The Bay Swim. By that time, I was accustomed to the open water and to rough conditions. I used a wetsuit and surprised myself by finishing in under an hour, in a strong northerly breeze. That was the same year many kayakers had to be rescued by their swimmers.

The Swim can also be a smooth enjoyable experience when the winds are calm. As an experienced sailor and a sea going scientist, I know that proper preparation is essential to surviving the test of the open water. For the swimmer, this means time spent testing oneself in the worst conditions to be expected. As a coach, I know that nothing can take the place of good technique and consistent practice. My personal method to achieving an easier time of swimming the Save The Bay has been to refine my technique, maintain a regular open water regiment and to become relaxed in my swimming to where I do not get tired, winded or struggle. The Swim borders on being a marathon effort and requires a strong sense of navigation as well. I truly enjoy the swim.

There is a strong tradition about this Swim in Rhode Island. Among competitive pool swimmers it's their chance to prove what they can do in the open water. Groups of competitive men and women consistently try to stay at the front of the pack and edge each other out. If you tell an acquaintance from Rhode Island that you are a swimmer, their first question is always "do you do Save The Bay?" Or "have you swum the Bay?" There simply isn't any other question. It's as if you're second rate or a pretender if you haven't and very accomplished if you have. Last year, I started coaching and offered free open water swimming training sessions to folks who were going to try the swim for the first time. With no formal swim training the Swim is too long. Pool training is good up to a point, but navigation and conditions can put the swimmer at risk. It has been really wonderful to be able to make swimming easier for folks by concentrating on the fundamentals.

Finally, as a scientist, I have to say the mission of Save The Bay to educate folks about the need to maintain a healthy biosphere, especially on our local level, but also globally, is a necessary thing. It's so essential that there is no reason not to applaud and support Save The Bay through the Swim. I am proud to participate, and I love the camaraderie of the swimmers, the festive nature, food and the appreciative and hard working volunteers. It's quite an event! But it's not enough. All of us need to wake up to the cause of Save The Bay, or we will lose our beautiful place to live!

See you at The Swim

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tropical Travelers: What gulf stream orphans tell us about a Narragansett Bay of the future

By Adam Kovarsky, aquarium manager

Narragansett Bay is rich with hundreds of species of flora and fauna. The native species have existed here naturally for millions of years, perfectly intertwined in a symbiotic ecosystem suited to the Bay’s natural habitat and water conditions. Invasive species have been brought to Narragansett Bay from various parts of the world strictly by way of human intervention and have thrown off the delicate balance nature has honed for millions of years. At Save The Bay, we work to restore native populations and educate communities about the potential negative impacts of the invasives. We are also particularly interested in a third, lesser-known category of life in the waters of Narragansett Bay, because they may paint a picture of the marine life in a Narragansett Bay of the not-so-distant future.

I’m talking about species we call tropical strays, or Gulf Stream orphans, which natively occur in warmer tropical waters along the North American Eastern coast, usually between the Carolinas south to the Bahamas. These tropical travelers—typically either recently hatched juvenile fish or unhatched eggs—get displaced by the Gulf Stream current and washed 25-75 miles per day northward along the coast, becoming stranded in Narragansett Bay. They exist in our waters for the remainder of the warm summer months, only to perish in our cold New England waters in winter, save the few lucky larger adults that make it back to their native ranges— or those that make it to our Exploration Center & Aquarium. We have a strong partnership with many local fishermen who bring us spotfin butterfly fish, triggerfish, striped burrfish, crevalle jack, and others caught in their nets and traps, knowing they won’t survive our winters. At the aquarium, we use them to teach our guests about warming water temperatures and how they can help slow the process of climate change.

Figure 1: Global ocean conveyor belt.
Image by Thomas Splettstoesser via Wikimedia Commons. 
Tropical travelers are nothing new. The warm Gulf Stream current has been displacing marine life on earth for as long as it has existed, circulating as part of the constantly moving global ocean conveyor belt (Figure 1) controlled by temperatures and salinities in our planet’s oceans. These currents control the planet’s climate and weather patterns and give Earth the amazing ability to support life as we know it. The ocean is like the brain of our planet, regulating climate and weather. But today’s Gulf Stream orphans are telling us things are changing.
As our water temperatures have warmed by 4º F in the past 50 years, these tropical fish are arriving earlier each summer and surviving later into the fall and winter seasons each year. This poses the question to local scientists: What will the Narragansett Bay of the future look like? Will cool water species such as lobster, winter flounder, tautaug and dogfish still reside in Rhode Island years from now? Or will our year-round Bay community consist of such critters as crusty blue crab, spikey striped burrfish, toxic trunkfish and aggressive permit, all now found far south of here? Only time will tell as changing climate conditions continue to warm the waters of our Bay. The question I ask myself is how these Gulf

As waters continue to warm, will we see more
Gulf Stream orphans like the permit and smooth trunkfish 

Stream orphan species will affect our Bay and its native inhabitants as newcomers arrive. When species’ native ranges shift along the coast, a myriad of interactions are created that are relatively untested, unobserved and unpredictable. 

“Blue crabs have always populated Narragansett Bay, but in recent years we have seen a noticeable increase in their density when trawling and surveying intertidal areas,” said Save The Bay Captain Eric Pfirrmann. As these blue crabs find the warming waters of the Bay desirable, they migrate northward.

Likewise, the American lobster, which prefers waters cooler than 60 degrees, has begun to migrate north as well, to places such as Maine coastal waters. “This has been the best several years for lobster fishing in Maine in a long time. We think that because so many lobsters are moving their range northerly, they are congregating in Maine in large numbers,” said a lobster fisherman from Maine who asked to remain anonymous.

While these sound like positives for lobster commerce in Maine and the potential for a stronger local blue crab fishery, we must consider broader impacts of spatial and temporal issues. As species migrate north, they can travel only so far until there are no more northern portions of our planet with the temperatures they require. Species that live at the poles are already feeling these effects. The most charismatic of mega-fauna that we all know and love are the plighted polar bears, which no longer have territory further north toward which to migrate and may soon be extinct due to lack of frozen ice cap habitat. Will lobsters one day arrive at the poles with no suitable habitat remaining?

Another potential negative impact of species range shifts is how the animals will interact with one another. Many Gulf Stream orphans have survival adaptations, or “novel weapons,” to which Narragansett Bay native species have never been exposed, posing the potential for outcompeting our native species. An example is invasive plants that produce a toxic chemical that acts as an herbicide against native plant species. When looking at the collection of novel weapons possessed by all potential Gulf Stream orphans, Narragansett Bay will have a lot to deal with as its population shifts.

The mission of Save The Bay is to protect and improve Narragansett Bay; we need to take action to educate the public, inform lawmakers and adapt our Bay to an uncertain future. It will be the civic responsibility of all Rhode Islanders to find innovative ways to reduce the effects of climate change to protect the native life in Narragansett Bay in the years to come.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Life on the Bay - Richard Benjamin

Life on Narragansett Bay is robust, and it’s not limited to the fish. Meet a renowned photographer who spends his life on the Bay, capturing its magnificence in images of spectacular mood and emotion. Thanks to Rhode Island PBS for telling its stories.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Life on the Bay - Mike Laptew

Narragansett Bay is precious in so many ways. Meet a freediver who captures life beneath the Bay in more ways than one. Just goes to show… Narragansett Bay is for everyone and worth protecting. Thanks to Rhode Island PBS for reminding us just how valuable our Bay is.


Monday, July 3, 2017

Life on the Bay - Dave Polatty

What’s a beautiful body of water if you can’t swim in it? That was Narragansett Bay decades ago, but today is a better story. Meet a swimmer who’s been helping us make the Bay swimmable, fishable, healthy and accessible to all. Just goes to show… Narragansett Bay is for everyone and worth protecting. Thanks to Rhode Island PBS for telling its stories.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Critter tales – A common misperception

By Bay Gammans, communications intern

One of the first things a volunteer observes at Save The Bay’s Exploration Center is how many people mistake the little skates for stingrays. Both animals look fairly similar with a triangle-like shape and a flat profile, but they are actually quite different.

Both have similar tails, but the little skate's tail is completely harmless, while the stingray’s tail is poisonous. Stingrays are commonly larger than little skates and give birth to live young, while the little skates lay eggs. One thing they have in common is that their skeletons are made from cartilage, rather than bones, making them both part of the elasmobranch family.

Like most who grew up by the Bay, I picked up dried mermaid purses along the shore as a child. The Little Mermaid was my favorite movie, so I imagined that Ariel was missing a coin purse and I was lucky enough to find it. This led me to collecting not only mermaid purses, but also sea glass, shells, and rocks for my own mermaid collection.

As these activities became memories, I never really considered exactly what a mermaid purse was. Seeing them at the aquarium with baby little skates squirming around inside of them, not only brought back these memories, but answered questions I didn’t even know I had.
The little skate eggs incubate for 9 to 10 months. When they hatch, the newly-born little skates have clear skin that allows visitors to get a unique look at their inner organs. In a separate tank, the little skates continue to grow until they are large enough to be moved into a touch tank or released into Narragansett Bay. In the touch tank, visitors can pet the little skates with two fingers, if they aren’t camouflaged against the sand. Visitors may notice their skin feels like another resident at the aquarium, hinting at who their relatives may be.

Little skates are surprisingly unrelated to their tank mate, the horseshoe crab, but more closely related to the giant round touch tank in the middle of the room—the shark tank. The relation is easily seen between these two boneless fish, when the little skates and the dogfish sharks do the same dance. They bob their noses in the air above the water’s surface and flap around to get a better sense of their environment.

Once released to Narragansett Bay, little skates can be found along the bottom of the ocean eating anything from shellfish to small fish. They are an important part of the Bay’s ecosystem, as prey to sharks, other skates, certain types of fish, gray seals and certain crabs. To learn more about little skates head over to Save The Bay’s Exploration Center on Easton’s Beach at 175 Memorial Blvd.