Monday, June 18, 2018

Critter Tale: The Mighty Short Bigeye

By Julia Gentillo, communications intern

Welcome into my humble abode, a spacious tank for me at the back of Save The Bay’s Exploration Center and Aquarium. I’m the only Short Bigeye here, but I’m not lonely at all; even in my natural habitat, I am usually by myself. Before making my way to Rhode Island, I lived in tropical waters, as my species is most populous in the Caribbean Sea, West Indies and the Gulf of Mexico.
How did you make it all the way up here from all the way down there, you must be asking? A Gulf stream current swept me up when I was young and carried me all the way to these northern waters. Once a small fish or egg is caught in the current, they really can’t escape. Believe it or not, I am not the only fish here that got caught in the current and made its way into the Bay. Some of my tropical stray neighbors at the Exploration Center include the striped burrfish, crevalle jack, scamp grouper, pinfish and the colorful spotfin butterflyfish. My fellow tropical strays and I were found by local fishermen and Save The Bay students who brought us into our new cozy tanks. Together, we make up the “Bay of the Future” exhibit.
Although finding tropical strays in the Bay is fascinating, our presence here is an indication of climate change. In the last 100 years, the average temperature of the Bay has risen four degrees. While tropical strays cannot survive a harsh Rhode Island winter, each year we have been arriving to Narragansett Bay earlier and surviving longer into the colder months. Climate change is aggressively changing the environment and ecosystems in Narragansett Bay. The “Bay of the Future” exhibit poses the important question: “What will the Bay look like in 1,000 years?” Perhaps the warming water temperatures will mean the end of winter flounder, sea stars and clams in Narragansett Bay. Or perhaps, as tropical fish like me continue to populate the Bay, we’ll outcompete the native fish altogether once waters continue to warm even more.
For now, we are able to survive the winters only from the warmth of our tanks at the Exploration Center, where we also help teach visitors about climate change. The ultraviolet light in my tank makes it difficult for you to tell, but I am actually bright red, critical to my survival. In the wild, I like to hang out around 650 feet deep. As light penetrates down into the water from the surface, red light waves are filtered out first, so I appear black to other fish. With my camouflaged coloring, I am able to sneak up on my prey and snatch them in my upturned mouth without them even noticing me. I am nocturnal, so my big eyes help me see at night.
During the day, I love to sleep in shallow rocky areas where my natural predators can’t see me. In fact, I was napping in a shallow rocky area off of Fort Adams when I was rescued by a Bay-Camper. Once night falls, I leave my safe place and scour for food with a cloak of invisibility. I think you all should come and visit me and the other tropical strays this summer at Save The Bay’s Exploration Center and Aquarium at Easton’s Beach in Newport.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Restoring Sabin Point

by Elizabeth Droge-Young, communications intern

Tucked away in a charming East Providence neighborhood, Sabin Point Park has been a favorite spot on the Bay for generations. In the Facebook group “The Love for Sabin Point Park,” older residents reminisce about crisply-uniformed sailors walking the beach in the summer of 1945, while newcomers recount recent visits and hunts for horseshoe crabs. But despite the panoramic view of the Bay as it washes onto the park’s sandy beach, visitors are confined to the shoreline. The beach hasn’t been swimmable in generations—but Save The Bay is working with the City of East Providence to restore the water quality of the beach so that someday, Sabin Point can become the northernmost swimmable point in Narragansett Bay. 

Sabin Point beach-goers enjoy the beach,
but the water is off limits to swimming.
Although water quality at Sabin Point has steadily improved with decades of investment in wastewater treatment in the upper Bay, bacteria levels remain high at the beach. The culprit? A few improperly installed road drainage pipes that carry polluted runoff directly onto the beach. 

“I got the story from three separate neighborhood residents, this crazy story, that every time it would rain, the ground would rumble and then a huge plug of stinky water and material would pour out of those pipes,” recalls Tom Kutcher, former Save The Bay Baykeeper. 

After Save The Bay worked with East Providence city engineers to pull up blueprints for the pipes, roughly two feet in diameter, the cause of the beach bacteria levels and the post-storm rumbles became clear. Instead of being angled downhill toward the beach, the pipes had been pitched back toward the park. At every high tide, Bay water, along with seaweed and waste from geese, washed into the pipes. Making matters worse, the pipes collected polluted runoff from Sabin Point neighborhood streets. 

“They were big pipes, so they could hold a lot of seaweed. It was basically a bacteria breeding ground,” Kutcher said. During a big rain, the pipes would fill with enough polluted runoff to push the plug of decomposing material onto the beach. 

Pipes discharge polluted runoff from neighborhood
streets directly onto Sabin Point beach.
To assess the effects of the discharge, Save The Bay and the Rhode Island Department of Health partnered to sample the water quality at Sabin Point beach. “We learned that bacteria levels exceeded swimming standards in the vicinity of the pipes, while further away from the pipes, the water met swimming standards,” said Save The Bay Director of Habitat Restoration Wenley Ferguson. 

Once the bacterial source was identified, Save The Bay went to work with the City of East Providence to find funding to treat the polluted runoff and to rectify the decades-old engineering flaw. The overarching goal is to treat polluted runoff that drains to the beach and remove the drainage pipes. Save The Bay developed a conceptual stormwater management plan that was used to secure a $47,000 grant from the Bay and Watershed Restoration Fund for the development of a comprehensive stormwater management plan covering the entire watershed and the design and installation of a shallow basin, called a sand filter, within the park. The sand filter, to be installed in fall 2017, slows and filters runoff from the neighborhood streets and Sabin Point’s parking lot and redirects water away from one of the discharge pipes at the beach. 

The City of East Providence and Save The Bay sought and won an additional $100,000 grant in 2015 for the construction of additional stormwater infiltration areas in the Sabin Point Park neighborhood to reduce the amount of runoff that makes it to the beach. That grant, awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Southeast New England Program and administered by the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission, represents important federal funding crucial to the Sabin Point project and many other local environmental and infrastructure initiatives. 

Sea lettuce, a type of seaweed that grows abundantly in waters
with high nutrients, accumulates on the beach at Sabin Point.

The grant also included water quality monitoring, which has been taken on by the Department of Health and Brown University researcher David Murray, a Sabin Point Park neighbor. He contacted his neighbor Jeanne Boyle, then-director of planning for the City of East Providence, and what began as a neighborly chat while raking leaves, blossomed into a monitoring plan spearheaded by Murray. “I thought Sabin Point Park could be a nice place to spend time if we moved the storm drain pipes that empty onto the beach,” Murray recalls. “The projects now underway at Sabin Point have the potential to make a tremendous improvement,” he said. 

Although Boyle has left her position in East Providence, the partnership forged with the city continues. Ferguson and the city collaborated on a third grant in 2017 for design and construction to “daylight” the runoff in the large pipe that leads to the beach into a series of a infiltration basins further inland. The long term goal is for the pipes that discharge on the beach to be removed. “The city’s commitment runs deep, from dedicating both staff time and expertise and actual funds to match the state and federal grants” said Ferguson. 
“East Providence is committed to continuing the partnerships among state and federal agencies and Save The Bay towards the goal of returning Sabin Point Park to a swimmable beach,” said City of East Providence Acting Planning Director Diane Feather. 

The watershed plan is being used as a blueprint to treat and manage stormwater from this urban watershed, and local, state and federal funds are needed to achieve the goal of opening the beach for swimming. 

“The massive strides to make Sabin Point Park swimmable shows the commitment of everyone in the state: from voters and municipalities supporting wastewater treatment improvements, to years of stringent permitting efforts by the Department of Environmental Management,” Ferguson says. 

Kutcher echoes this sentiment, “It would be a huge victory for Narragansett Bay, and for all partners working really hard to clean up the Bay. This will be an important milestone.” 

Sabin Point Park is just one example of how Save The Bay partners with local government to improve Narragansett Bay quality and accessibility. A similar effort is underway at Stillhouse Cove in Cranston, and communities throughout the state are pursuing projects to improve local waters through stormwater management. Thirty years ago, residents described grease balls, mixed with human waste, washing ashore. “Now, the upper Bay is alive with activity from the community boating center at India Point Park, to kayakers paddling along the shoreline and people gathering at WaterFire, where historically the smell of the urban river would have driven people away,” Ferguson says. 

All of these successes rely on diverse players, including citizens supporting bond measures to fund water quality improvements, supportive local government agencies to execute plans and provide matching funds, and ongoing federal funding of the EPA and the EPA’s Southeast New England Program—both of which are currently under threat at the federal level, where commitment to environmental protections is waning. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

For the Love of Rhode Island

Rachael Lewin, Communications Intern

          I’ve always thought Rhode Island is a special place—the smallest state, nestled in the corner of Connecticut and Massachusetts. Although Rhode Island’s land area is only 1,045 square miles, the ocean, a resource that gives us our beautiful rivers and an expansive 400 miles of coastline, makes it feel much greater. Unfortunately, these waters are facing more threats than ever. Shorelines are shrinking, creatures and their habitats are dying, and water temperatures are rising. The idea of climate change may be overwhelming, but we still have time to help our Bay and its inhabitants. Since 1970, Save The Bay has been working toward its mission to protect and improve the waters of Rhode Island through multiple programs involving education, advocacy and habitat restoration. Located at Easton’s Beach in Newport, Save The Bay’s Aquarium and Exploration Center teaches community members just how special these habitats are, by giving visitors an up-close and personal experience with many of the creatures of Narragansett Bay.
          As a youngster, I visited Save The Bay’s Exploration Center and Aquarium for a field trip in elementary school. I remember encountering animals I had never seen before, as well as species I once believed to be plants. Now, as a college intern in the communications department, one of my very first projects was to spend the day at the Exploration Center and Aquarium, taking photos, helping visitors navigate the exhibits and teaching about the critters living in them. Because the last time I went to the aquarium was on a field trip over a decade ago, I was really excited to experience it again as an adult.
Save The Bay's Exploration Center and Aquarium is
located right on Easton's Beach in Newport
at 175 Memorial Boulevard.
          The friendly staff and volunteers at the aquarium are eager to share their knowledge and answer any questions—creating a positive and welcoming energy felt by all who step through the double-doored entrance. With over 40 different species all coming right from our Bay, this little space in the center of a uniquely-shaped round building, tucked in the corner of the parking lot of Easton’s beach in Newport, is a hidden gem within our tiny state.
The Exploration Center and Aquarium gives visitors a close up and intimate view of delicate critters and their habitats, a unique experience not found at many other places. Since all of the creatures at the Aquarium come straight from Narragansett Bay, holding some of them and learning how their habitats are being destroyed can help instill in both adults and the youth of Rhode Island a sense of how delicate the natural ecosystem of the Bay is and how we as humans are accountable for its health and the well being of the inhabitants, from the smallest mollusk to the largest seal.
Much like the ocean, the Exploration Center and Aquarium is always changing. The creatures living here are mostly just visiting, brought in at a young age and released back into the wild when they have a higher chance of survival. Also, a monthly theme features a different animal crucial to the Bay, and usually, on the third Thursday of each month, the Aquarium gives visitors a special, after-hours chance to help feed the critters during Feeding Frenzy. At this registration-only activity, visitors see how and what the creatures eat and get the unique opportunity to help! Private tours of the Aquarium are also available, a perfect option for classes or birthday parties. These one-hour tours give guests an even closer look at the exhibits and more focused interaction with the volunteers and staff.
Anyone can see Rhode Island is beautiful. The state’s expansive coastline, majestic lighthouses, and tiny towns are all very similar yet still unique in their own ways. Learning about how habitats are being destroyed and whole species are in danger of extinction has, for me, shined a new light on the impact humans are having. The time I’ve spent working with Save The Bay has not only taught me more about the various creatures inhabiting the Bay, but also about issues on a larger scale pertaining to both the wildlife and the ecosystem as a whole.
          Introducing these issues to young minds creates active adults who help Save The Bay in its mission to protect and improve Narragansett Bay, from its water condition to its marine life. Places like Save The Bay’s Exploration Center and Aquarium show exactly how special these little details within our state are and why it’s so crucial that we all work together to protect our Bay and its inhabitants. The passion from each individual working or volunteering at the Aquarium is central to its success, and this is what makes Save The Bay an integral part of the states overall conservation effort.