Thursday, October 18, 2018

50 Ways We've Saved The Bay: Changing the Oil Industry

by Chris Cassaday, communications intern

Fifty years ago, Save The Bay was founded by a group of Rhode Island residents who, concerned about the risks of oil spills in Narragansett Bay, fought hard to stop the proposed construction of an oil refinery in Tiverton. Sadly, that victory wasn't enough to stop a deluge of oil from making its way into our water years later. But our efforts surrounding three devastating oil spills in 1989, 1996 and 2000, led to the alteration of the oil transportation industry that diminishes the likelihood of another catastrophic oil spill. Our advocacy brought GPS technology to large ships and reinforced the hull strength of oil tankers making business in Rhode Island waters. These changes are now felt globally and have brought about a much-needed reformation to the industrial sector.

Putting GPS on Tanker Ships

The 420,000-gallon fuel oil spill by World Prodigy in 1989 was the first of the spills that caused Save The Bay to challenge federal laws and regulations. Recognizing that integrated GPS technology would help prevent ships like World Prodigy from inadvertently veering off course and causing preventable disasters, Save The Bay’s then-Executive Director Trudy Coxe led the charge. Coxe issued a proposal during a special hearing at Salve Regina University, urging the government to implement what was then an experimental state-of-the-art tracking system in ships and military satellites. This “Differential Global Positioning System” would allow the Rhode Island Coast Guard to keep track of ships within the Bay and notify their captains when a ship was running off course.

By the end of the year, Save The Bay, advocating for GPS integration in large vessels, had begun a campaign before the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. In July 1990, Congress passed a series of oil spill prevention laws and nominated Narragansett Bay to be the first testing ground of the GPS. Thanks to Save The Bay’s efforts, oil tankers and other large ships globally are now linked with Department of Defense satellites.

Strengthening Ship Construction

Still, human error can trump the best precautions. January 19, 1996, North Cape ran aground off Moonstone Beach in South County, spilling close to a million gallons of home heating oil and, as a result, killing millions of animals throughout 250 square-miles. Many Rhode Islanders still remember the stench of oil and decaying marine life that perished during this event.

After the devastating spill, Save The Bay denounced the oil industry’s tanker parameters, as most ships at the time were only outfitted with a single hull. Single-hulled ships contain their cargo just beyond the watertight hull; if the hull is breached, the contents can immediately leak into the water. Double-hulled ships, on the other hand, contain two separate watertight hulls, with the cargo located within the secondary, interior hull. If a ship suffers a collision, the chance of a spill is much smaller.

We teamed up with then-R.I. State Senator Charles Fogarty and then-U.S. Senator John Chafee. As a result of our advocacy, effective June 1, 1997, the Oil Spill Prevention and Control Act required all large vessels transporting oil or hazardous materials to have double-hulls or escort tugs. The subsequent Federal Oil Pollution Act required the phase-out of all single-hulled tank vessels by 2010—a monumental victory for Save The Bay.

Four years later in 2000, an estimated 9,700-14,600 gallons of oil spilled in the East Passage off Middletown. Penn. Maritime Inc. from Stamford, Conn. claimed responsibility. While the earlier North Cape spill pushed Save The Bay to advocate for double-hulled barges, Penn. Maritime—though small—furthered our agenda. Had both of these vessels been equipped with double hulls, these spills could have been avoided.

Presidential Recognition

Over the course of these three disasters, Save The Bay fielded over 4,000 calls and prepared an estimated 1,500 volunteers in coastal cleanup and marine bird rescue training to assist with state and federal agencies. We lost hundreds of birds to these spills, but were it not for the volunteer force, the number would have been much higher. Our role in the North Cape spill led to the Rhode Island Coast Guard nominating Save The Bay as the official oil spill volunteer coordination center. Rhode Island’s citizens stood against the threats with everything they had. After the spill of ‘89, President George H. W. Bush recognized Save The Bay’s efforts and named us as the 76th of a “Thousand Points of Light” on February 26, 1990, an immense honor, especially for a small nonprofit based in the smallest state of the country.

2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the World Prodigy disaster, the 23rd of North Cape and the 19th of Penn. Maritime. We at Save The Bay strive to ensure that our waters stay clean and safe for the millions of people who live within the watershed; when disaster strikes, we are ready to take the call.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

One Man's Trash is Another Man's Labor

by Chris Cassaday, communications intern

With over 400-miles of accessible coastline, Rhode Island is aptly named the “Ocean State.” Sadly, many do not understand the importance of keeping our beaches clean, and leave their trash for gulls to fight over. On Saturday, Sept. 15, Save The Bay coordinated Rhode Island’s participation in the International Coastal Cleanup. Hundreds of volunteers took to Rhode Island’s beaches to remove all the trash they could find. In 2017, Save The Bay led 90 cleanups across 25 towns, collecting over 16 thousand pounds of garbage! How much will we clean this year?

I personally witnessed the cleanups at Compass Rose Beach in North Kingstown and Scarborough State Beach in Narragansett. Compass Rose is set right within the industrial park of Quonset and, as a result, can become pretty filthy very quickly. The early morning sounds of birds and the lapping of waves is lost to the trucks and heavy machinery that echo across the quiet waters.

Beach Captains Kathy Vigness-Raposa and Walter Berry made certain the volunteers knew the risks with certain types of industrial trash, such as sharp metals, glass and possibly even medical syringes. Rubber earplugs used by the industry workers are tiny and easily lost when they bounce out of pockets; they are one of the most common items to lookout for at Compass Rose. The danger they pose to wildlife is severe, as they can easily be swallowed by birds or large fish, which can be fatal.

Though my visit to Compass Rose was short, I was fortunate to meet several of the 26 local volunteers who came to the beach to help clean North Kingstown’s waters. Many families brought their children to educate them about the importance of trash cleanup and the effects pollution has on the environment.

All in all, the volunteers were able to clear roughly 45 pounds of trash from the small beach. I’ve lived in North Kingstown for 16 years and I could not be more proud of my local community members for giving their time to help keep our town in pristine condition.

The sun broke free of the morning clouds as I made my way south to the next beach on my list. Unlike Compass Rose, which is cramped between a ferry port and a shipyard, Scarborough State Park stretches across 60 acres of land. To cover so much acreage, we needed a lot of manpower. Thanks to the combined efforts of 74 volunteers, including the University of Rhode Island Girl’s Tennis Team, North Smithfield High School’s Girls Volleyball Team, volunteers from BlumShapiro Accounting Firm, and Beach Captains Julia Hallworth (left) and Lisa Pannozzo (right), we managed to clear 210 pounds of garbage.

When I first arrived at the beach, I kicked off my sandals and trekked down to the north end, speaking with volunteers and picking up whatever I could find along the way. The early afternoon rays of sunlight danced on the surface of the water. Soft sand eventually gave way to piles of red, rotting seaweed that I tried to avoid stepping in. But that didn’t deter several of North Smithfield’s high schoolers from diving in and searching for whatever they could find. Seaweed piles are havens for coastal insects and birds that feast on them. They are a unique ecosystem of their own.

Volunteers collected everything from small pieces of plastics and beer bottles to netting and abandoned lobster cages. Tons of trash was scattered across Scarborough’s parking lot, dunes, jetties and the prominent ruins at the north end of the beach. I’m amazed and saddened at how much was found.

The number of discarded beer bottles and the like within the sand dunes was heartbreaking. The dunes play an integral role for the beaches as they prevent erosion and create safe havens for shoreline animals. Trash build-up prevents plants from taking root or growing and can become harmful to the animals that make the dune plants their home. The lone exception may be the mouse that we scared out of her beer box home. Sorry, Minnie, your nest was made of our trash.

This was my first time participating in a beach cleanup, and I will no doubt be volunteering again. If you want to help, you still have time! Head over to Save The Bay's website to sign-up for more cleanups that will be taking place over the next month. If you can’t make any of the dates, grab a bag and some gloves and take a walk along a beach of your choice. Anything you can do to help our beaches stay clean year-round is greatly appreciated not only by us at Save The Bay, but for the millions of animals that inhabit our waters.

Monday, October 8, 2018

BYO... Reusable

by David Prescott, South County Coastkeeper

Plastics have dominated environmental conversations lately. They litter our beaches, pollute our oceans and Bays, contaminate our drinking water. Plastics are everywhere—from our cell phones, to our sunglasses, to our cars, to our homes. Plastics have made our lives easier. However, all plastics eventually break down into smaller and smaller pieces that get mistaken for food by wildlife, attract toxins, and contaminate our water and food supplies. Or they just fill up our landfills. While the plastic issue can be overwhelming, we can do a lot as individuals and as a community.

But sometimes, trying to make the right decision about what to do, how to help, is challenging, and sometimes, even decisions that seem right at first end up potentially being the wrong one. Like trying to unravel the differences between recyclable, compostable and biodegradable. With so many eco-friendly options out there, things can get confusing.


Most of us have been doing it for decades. We take our glass bottles, aluminum cans, plastic containers, and newspapers, magazines, and junk mail and toss them into the recycling bin. From there they are sent to a recycling facility, where they are sorted. For more info on what, exactly, we should be recycling, check out the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation’s website at


These products sound great on the surface. Biodegradable basically means that the product is capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms, and they should be placed in the garbage. However, not all landfills have the bacteria and microorganisms necessary to help break down that product within a reasonable time period.


Compostable products are becoming more and more popular. However, in order to be broken down into the organic matter that makes them so attractive, they have to be sent to an industrial composting facility, which operates at very high temperatures to help break down the compost. You cannot recycle compostable products; a landfill will not break down compostable products; and most backyard composters do not get hot enough to turn them into organic matter.

So, what’s the best option for the environment and our local waters? 

BRING YOUR OWN. Whether it is a refillable water bottle, coffee mug, stainless steel straw, canvas shopping bag, or bamboo utensils, each one of these options can be used over and over and over. No filling up trash cans and landfills. No breaking down into tiny plastic pieces. The possibilities for reusable products in place of disposable are endless. And many local businesses have stepped up and have started selling them.

You may be asking, what’s the problem with one extra plastic straw out there? Well, last year alone, Save The Bay and our volunteers collected over 4,500 straws during International Coastal Cleanup in Rhode Island (over 643,000 straws were collected worldwide during the event)—and these were just the straws littering the ground. Imagine how many are taking up space in our landfills! Refusing a straw at your local watering hole can be one small decision that can have a huge impact on the health of our local waters and the animals that live there.

Finally, stay tuned for the launch of our Bay-Friendly Businesses program. We are recognizing restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and other establishments that made the important decisions to protect our environment by eliminating straws, styrofoam containers, plastics bags, and other single-use products in their establishments. Look for the Bay-Friendly Business seal on the window of your favorite spots. Together each one of us can help our local environment by making smart, informed decisions about the products that we purchase.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

A view of summer BayCamp from the Captain's seat

by Meghan Kelly, Save The Bay educator

Summer out on Narragansett Bay is probably the best summer one could ask for. What is better than heading out on a boat, going to an island, dropping anchor and getting to explore and swim for the whole day? At Save The Bay’s summer BayCamps, that is exactly what we do! This summer, I got a new look at our BayCamps, from a different seat on the boat.

For the past four summers, my view of our summer camps has been from the educator’s perspective. Spring would roll around, and I would get excited to find out what camps I was on and start planning what we would do each week with the campers. The schedule for each week would be full of games, swimming, exploring habitats and learning and seeing all the different animals that call Narragansett Bay home. As an educator, I always knew it had been a good day at camp when parents told me the next morning at drop-off that their camper was so tired they couldn’t even finish their stories from the day because they had fallen asleep. Some of my favorite summer days have been when we take the campers to a salt marsh. At first, as I put peat, or salt marsh mud, all over my face and arms, the campers look at me like I have 10 heads. But within minutes, the campers are elbow deep in the peat with no signs of wanting to stop. I may smell like peat for the rest of the day, but seeing the smiles and hearing the campers’ laughter makes it all worth it.

My view of summer camp changed a little this past summer. I was fortunate enough to use my captain’s license to drive our education vessel, Swift, a 26-foot Old Port that can hold up to 15 campers. For five weeks, Swift is based out of Wickford and spends its final week of summer in Bristol. As boat captain, my mornings were a little quieter than past summers. I’d arrive at the boatyard before camp, hop into my kayak with my gear—trying not to start my day by falling in the water—and paddle out to the mooring where Swift is kept. On many of these mornings, the harbor was glass calm, and I’d have the chance to enjoy the stillness around me. On several mornings, a cormorant would pop up right next to me on its morning swim. When I got to Swift, I would do my daily checks and prep for the day, then take it over to the Wickford dock to wait for the campers to arrive from Wilson Park. I could always tell when they were getting close because I could hear them talking, and on some mornings even singing!

When the campers were all settled on Swift, we headed out of the harbor for a new adventure. We got to explore places like Cornelius, Prudence, Dyer and Rose islands. Anchoring Swift was a whole new adventure for me! Learning the water’s depth and where the rocks were around the island was a task that brought me closer to the Bay. I also developed a love-hate relationship with the wind; the best kind of wind was no wind at all. On the few occasions when I was approaching the dock and got blown off, the kids would say “where are we going?” I would reply with, “We were having so much fun, we wanted to go back out for more!”

Knowing that I had a wonderful team of educators at my back made my job a lot easier. The campers would work together to help offload all the gear, and then their exploring would begin. During my first four summers at Save The Bay, as an educator, I would offload the boat and not give it a second thought for the rest of the day. This summer was a little different. As the tides shifted, I would have to adjust the boat; sometimes we would dock at Prudence and have to raft up with one of our other education vessels. When the day was coming to its end, we would all work together to load up Swift again and head back to the dock. Many times our boat rides home were much quieter than on the way out, as many campers were so tired from their day’s adventures that they’d fall asleep. My view from where I was standing during summer camp this year may have changed, but one thing that didn’t change was the fun and excitement that Save The Bay Summer Camps offer to everyone!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Where the Rain Meets the Road

How Urbanization and Climate Change Are Affecting Our Waters

by Wenley Ferguson, David Prescott, Cindy Sabato

Within the Narragansett Bay watershed, the water in 162 miles of streams, 57 square miles of estuarine waters where freshwater and saltwater mix, and 4,800 acres of ponds and lakes is too polluted for aquatic life, according to the State of the Narragansett Bay and Its Watershed report. Location matters; the report tells us the water is more polluted in urbanized areas than rural areas and gets cleaner and safer the further south it flows. 

Why? One big factor in water pollution is how we use our land, and that is very much tied to location. More and more development within the watershed has turned forest land and open space into streets, buildings and parking lots, spurring two important changes in the way rainfall affects our waters. When rain falls onto natural areas of land, it soaks into the soil, where excess nutrients, bacteria and other pollutants are filtered out naturally. When rain falls onto parking lots, streets and roofs, it can’t soak in, and instead runs right off, picking up and carrying pollutants into our rivers and the Bay in higher-than-normal volumes and velocity. This is commonly known as “polluted runoff.” 

Water quality begins to become degraded when more than 10 percent of the land in a watershed is hardened by roadways, parking lots, driveways and roofs. According to the State of Narragansett Bay and Its Watershed report, 14 percent of the watershed is covered by hard surfaces, and more than one-third of its residents use septic systems and cesspools, “some of which are thought to be significant sources of nutrients and contaminants entering rivers and the Bay.” Unfortunately, more and more forested land around the watershed is being developed, particularly in the Taunton River and Pawtuxet River basins. 

Climate change also brings with it some important changes to precipitation patterns, making the effects of urbanization on water pollution even worse. According to the report, Providence has been getting nearly half an inch more rain every decade since 1895. Climate models predict that number will go up to three inches per decade in the future. What’s more, most of the increased precipitation comes during intense downpours, which have more than doubled in frequency since 1950. More intense rainfall, combined with increased volume and velocity of runoff carrying pollution over hard surfaces into our waters, is all bad news for water quality. On top of that, rain and snow are coming more often in large events with drier spells in between. When all of this rainfall runs off the hard surfaces of our cities and neighborhoods directly into our rivers and the Bay, our groundwater is not replenished, and we suffer from more frequent droughts. 

The broad, cumulative effects of increased development and precipitation changes include more pollution and more beach closures, adding to Save The Bay’s sense of urgency to address the problem of polluted runoff. We have been partnering with multiple municipalities and other organizations over the last decade to reduce the impacts of polluted runoff from the Bay’s watershed: 

Volunteers plant a buffer around Roger Williams Park Pond, to reduce
polluted runoff going into this Pawtuxet River tributary and to
discourage people from feeding geese.
In Providence’s Roger Williams Park Pond, a tributary of the Pawtuxet River, we have collaborated with the City of Providence Parks Department on planning, installing and maintaining planted areas where polluted runoff from the park and neighborhood roads is diverted and absorbed into the ground. We continue to work with the City to restore buffers along the pond to improve water quality and discourage geese feeding.

The newly installed stormwater infiltration area along Narragansett
Boulevard in Cranston filters polluted runoff before it flows down into
Stillhouse Cove.
At Stillhouse Cove in Cranston, we partnered with a local watershed organization, the Edgewood Waterfront Preservation Association and the City of Cranston on a stormwater management plan for the Stillhouse Cove watershed. Last fall, along the edge of Narragansett Boulevard, we installed a catchment area designed to capture and infiltrate the first flush of polluted runoff, removing bacteria and nutrients before they reach the cove. 

We are working with the City of Warwick to treat stormwater at several sites and improve the quality of local waters. At Oakland Beach, we have helped the City maintain a new infiltration area along Suburban Parkway and contributed conceptual designs for another stormwater infiltration area north of the beach. We are helping the city identify sites where low-lying pavement at the end of coastal roads can be removed and stormwater can be treated. 

Along the Seekonk River in Providence, runoff flows untreated down a steep bank, causing significant shoreline erosion. We are working with the City of Providence Planning Department on a project to address the erosion and to reduce the impacts of polluted runoff by installing infiltration areas further inland. 
At Barrington Town Beach, the parking lot was moved
back, a filtration area installed at the edge of the lot, and
beach grasses planed between the lot and the beach,
all to reduce polluted runoff going into the Bay.

At Barrington Beach, we are working with the Town and the University of New Hampshire’s Stormwater Center to address stormwater that flows from neighborhood streets down to Barrington Beach, causing beach erosion and water quality problems. We have installed infiltration areas and replaced a section of the beach parking lot with a protective dune of beach grass. We are now looking further inland to identify areas where we can reduce the volume and velocity of the runoff that flows down to the beach from neighborhood streets. 

In Bristol, we continue to work with the Town to manage stormwater that discharges into Bristol Harbor from the Silver Creek watershed. Students from Mount Hope High have installed rain gardens on the campus adjacent to Silver Creek. 

In North Kingstown, at the end of the Calf Pasture Point bike path, asphalt was removed and an infiltration area installed. We are working with the Town of North Kingstown to address the high erosion rate in this area that is threatening the lower sections of the infiltration area.

New infiltration areas along Water Street in Warren filter polluted runoff
before it flows into Warren Town Beach.
In Warren, we are helping the town restore a stream corridor to enhance its flood storage capacity and to manage and treat polluted runoff along the Warren River and Belcher Cove. We are also identifying low-lying coastal roads subject to saltwater flooding to carve back and install stormwater management practices. 

With a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Charlestown is partnering with Save The Bay, the University of Rhode Island, and the Salt Ponds Coalition on a number of strategies to reduce nutrient pollution in groundwater and surface water in Green 
Hill, Ninigret and Quonochontaug ponds. Fifteen substandard septic systems are being replaced with newer systems that utilize nitrogen-reducing technology. Save The Bay is installing six rain gardens to promote stormwater infiltration and serve as public demonstration projects. And our Bay-Friendly Living guide is being distributed to homeowners. 

In Newport, in partnership with the city, University of Rhode Island Sea Grant and University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center, we worked on conceptual designs for a stormwater infiltration area along an access path to the Cliff Walk, where erosion from stormwater was affecting accessibility and discharging to a local beach. And Rogers High School biology students worked with Save The Bay to plant rain gardens to filter runoff from the school parking lot. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Save The Bay works toward a sustainable Atlantic herring fishery

by Mike Jarbeau, Narragansett Baykeeper

You may remember that last fall, Save The Bay joined a coalition of like-minded partners to advocate for strong, ecosystem-based management measures in the Atlantic menhaden fishery (see Fall 2017 Tides article). The importance of menhaden and other forage fish to the health of Narragansett Bay cannot be denied. They perform the critical function of converting plankton and other tiny nutrients into food for larger fish to eat, and abundant menhaden support healthy levels of fish, birds and seals. While while our preferred measures were not adopted, we gained significant support and hope to see an ecosystem-based approach to managing this fishery in the next few years.

Altantic herring (Clupea harengus)
In the meantime, we have another opportunity to protect another key forage species—the Atlantic herring. Like Menhaden, Atlantic herring are a keystone species and the mainstay in the diets of striped bass, tuna, cod, and many of the birds and mammals that live in the Narragansett Bay watershed. Unfortunately, Atlantic herring aren’t doing very well. A new stock assessment this summer showed that the population is struggling, leading the New England Fisheries Management Council and National Marine Fisheries Service to take an emergency measure reducing the 2018 allowable catch catch by more than 50 percent, from 110,000 metric tons to 49,900 metric tons.

The New England Fisheries Management Council has been working on an amendment to the herring management plan for many years. Like last year’s menhaden proposal, the herring plan includes a measure that would set catch limits based upon the fish’s role as a forage fish, which Save The Bay supports. Under the current structure, Atlantic herring limits are largely based on past catch totals, which can lead to wide stock variations from year to year and extreme uncertainty regarding the future health of the fishery.

We also support the Council’s consideration of an inshore “buffer zone” that will protect Atlantic herring from the localized depletion and conflicts caused by large, industrial midwater trawlers, which can quickly harvest hundreds of thousands of pound of fish from a small area. Their harvest techniques affect other species that feed on herring, as well as the recreational fishermen, charter boats and others who make a living on the water. We believe a 25-mile buffer that includes the waters off of Narragansett Bay will help protect the Bay ecosystem, including river herring that gather offshore to make their way up our rivers and streams and are often caught by midwater trawl vessels as unwanted “bycatch.”

Opponents of these changes come mostly from the commercial fishing industry. Atlantic Herring are an important bait for the lobster fishery, and some in the industry are concerned about unintended side-effects on other fisheries. This is exactly why all fisheries need to take ecosystem considerations into account; in the end, all stocks will benefit from these science-based management techniques and reduce year-to-year uncertainty about the populations of fish.

We recently met with Gov. Raimondo’s staff and R.I. Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit to share our views on Atlantic herring. Rhode Island took a strong lead in advocating for menhaden protections last year, and we encourage the state’s delegation to the New England Fisheries Management Council to do the same when they meet at the end of the month to consider these new herring management measures. A healthy, vibrant Narragansett Bay depends on forage fish like Atlantic Herring and benefits each and every one of us.

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Blue Crab Rescue in Westerly: What a Way to Spend a Summer

by Mary Klimasewiski, Save The Bay educator

This summer, Save the Bay partnered with Tower Street School in Westerly and the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative to offer a summer camp experience that combined marine science and summer fun. What could be better?

Over the course of six weeks, students visited six different publicly-accessible shoreline locations in Westerly, Watch Hill and Weekapaug, each one giving the students a different ecosystem to explore and learn about right in their backyards. In a directly hands-on experience with the plants and animals that live in their own hometown, the students learned what a watershed is, tested the water chemistry, completed plankton tows, learned about buoyancy and density, built aluminum foil boats, learned how to use a seine net and caught many native and invasive species of crabs, shrimp and fish. Some students even experienced their first boat ride when we pulled up lobster traps to see what kind of marine life lives beneath the water's surface and used binoculars to identify marine birds in the area. It was a busy summer!

The most memorable day of the summer though, was when a group of students using the seine net caught two blue crabs. The students were very excited with their catch, and at first glance, they thought the blue crabs were fighting. However, upon closer examination they soon realized that both of the blue crabs had tangled themselves up in fishing line and in fact were now attached to each other.

Immediately the students realized it was now their duty to help these two blue crabs. We grabbed a pair of scissors, cut the fishing line and untangled both of the blue crabs. Both blue crabs were happily released back into their water. Right away, the rescue of these two crustaceans brought to life for the students the concept of a watershed (a topic often difficult for students to fully grasp) and acted as an anecdote that helped these future Bay stewards understand that our actions on land do indeed have an impact on the life in the water.

At the end of our six week, the students were equally sad to know the BayCamp was coming to an end, excited to look back on all they had learned and accomplished, and hopeful to think about next year and the many more “blue crabs" out in the world needing their help. And since each location the students experienced during camp publicly accessible, they can go back to on their own time, any time, and of course bring along family and friends to share their newfound knowledge of the habitat that exists right in their own backyards.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Narragansett Bay: Always Changing, but Not Too Clean

by Mike Jarbeau, Baykeeper

The question of whether Narragansett Bay has become too clean to sustain a healthy fishery was the main topic of the annual Ronald C. Baird Sea Grant Symposium, held at the University of Rhode Island’s Bay Campus in December. While there was certainly no consensus among the communities present in the room, one theme was clear: the Bay has been changing since humans first settled in New England, and changes continue to occur today. But what are those changes? And is there a “Goldilocks” level of nitrogen or other nutrients to which the Bay should be managed?

In the science and research communities, Narragansett Bay is often touted as the most studied estuary in the world. State and federal agencies work closely with local colleges and universities to gather and interpret data in all reaches of the Bay. The University of Rhode Island’s Fish Trawl Survey, for example, began in 1959 and is one of the longest continuous records of marine species abundance in existence. And anyone who spends time on the water is also familiar with the many buoys, probes and gauges dotting the Bay that collect information to help us understand its complex dynamics. 

The Narragansett Bay Estuary Program’s recent State of Narragansett Bay and Its Watershed report does a great job summarizing what we know about the Bay, illustrating changing conditions and highlighting areas that need more investigation. 

Save The Bay staffers Joan Abrams and Topher
Hamblett pull up mats of Cladophora macroalgae
littering Little Narragansett Bay.
One major success has been a reduction of nutrients—nitrogen and phosphorus—entering the Bay from many sources, but particularly from the process of treating human wastewater. Just as nutrients in fertilizer cause our grass to grow, excessive amounts of nutrients in our water stimulate algae growth. Too much algae starves the water of oxygen as it dies and decomposes, harming marine life that needs that oxygen to survive. The good news is that the amount of nutrients going into the Bay has gone down by almost 60 percent over the last 15 years. But this success has led to questions about whether these nutrient reductions are negatively affecting fisheries by starving the Bay of its productivity. 

We must not be confused by the discussions. No, Narragansett Bay has not become some sort of dead zone incapable of supporting marine life. Yes, the Bay of several decades ago was different. And yes, we hear stories of the glory days gone by and the difficulty of making a living on inshore fisheries today. But we must take into account that many factors have caused the types and numbers of fish and shellfish in our waters to change. We can’t ignore decades of closed beaches and stories of ear infections or other health issues still felt by people who spend time in the water. And we must remember the extensive shellfish closures that are just now beginning to be lifted in parts of the Upper Bay, opening up new opportunities for fishermen. 

Reports from the 1800s tell us that Narragansett Bay was teeming with fish and natural resources readily available for harvest. Researchers point to many reasons why fisheries in the Bay have changed since then. But changed by what? 

Habitat quality is a critical component of a healthy ecosystem, and our Bay habitats have changed significantly over the past century. A Bay high in nutrients is not natural or conducive to the growth of critical habitats that support an abundant fishery. Much of the nuisance seaweed that washes up on our beaches in the summer is a result of excess nutrients. Eelgrass beds that were once plentiful all over the Bay floor, supporting a robust oyster population and providing habitat for fish and other shellfish, are scarce now, killed off by pollution, disease, and scallop trawls, despite significant efforts by Save The Bay and others to restore native beds.

A timeline and description of changes in the
Narragansett Bay fish community as water temperature have risen.
Water temperature also influences the types and abundance of fish in Narragansett Bay and surrounding waters. The water in Narragansett Bay has risen almost four degrees Fahrenheit since 1960. This temperature change is believed to have had a large effect on the types of fish that live in the Bay. In the 1960s, colder water temperatures supported a high abundance of bottom fish such as winter flounder. But in the next few decades, populations of these bottom fish declined as temperatures rose and allowed lobster and crab populations to grow. Finally, scientists say, in the last several decades, warmer-water species, such as black sea bass and scup, typically found in Mid-Atlantic waters (see illustration) have become more common.

The fact is: spawning conditions, habitat availability, pollution, and fishing pressure are among the many factors at play when we consider the current health and productivity of the Bay. As noted in the State of Narragansett Bay and Its Watershed report, more study is needed to fully understand the complexities of our marine ecosystem. We have many questions about how evolving Bay conditions affect the health and productivity of the microscopic phytoplankton that forms the basis of the entire marine food chain. More study is also needed to characterize the Bay’s response to improving conditions and how weather and water flow patterns influence offshore nutrient inputs, among many other topics. 

While we may not be able to pinpoint a “Goldilocks” scenario where conditions in the Bay are “just right” for every interest, there is no question that recent efforts are moving us closer to a Narragansett Bay that is fully fishable, swimmable and accessible. The Bay has been changing for centuries, requiring us to adapt to evolving conditions and new opportunities, just as we have always done. We should all be proud of the fact that beach closures are down, shellfish beds are reopening, and our investments in a cleaner Bay are paying off.

Algae blooms, caused by excessive nutrients in the water, can be seen along
the shores at Sabin Point.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Critter Tale: Are Diamonds Forever?

by Chris Joseph, communications intern

They say that what is beautiful does not last. Such a statement may certainly be true of the diamondback terrapin, the endangered turtle whose Rhode Island populations are now dangerously low. The geometry of the terrapin’s trademark shell is unmistakable; it is one of the most striking patterns in nature. Its stands a fair chance of soon joining dozens of others in the catalog of discontinued designs. Alphabetically, you’d look for it between toad (Toad, Golden: Extinct 15 May, 1989) and tiger (Tiger, Tasmanian: Extinct 7 September, 1936). Beside "Terrapin, Diamondback," there might be a caption: “Its majesty was unmatched. Its noble pattern continues to inspire.”

We might take a lesson from the terrapin; in Rhode Island, anyway, it's a lot like us.

Of all the turtles in the world, the terrapin is the only species that lives exclusively in coastal marshes. Some turtles are equipped to come and go from brackish waters, but the terrapin thrives in tidal marshes, where fresh and salt water mix. Its special salt gland is the only adaptation of its kind. It must live its whole life right where the ocean meets the land.

Rhode Islanders, does this sound familiar?

We are also bound to the coast. Some of us would leave no more easily than the terrapin, whose biology compels it to stay. Our compulsion runs as deep as a good genetic design. That much we have in common with the terrapin: we are both coastal creatures.

Yet life on the coast is precarious. The terrapin inhabits the thinnest sliver: the tidal marshes that hang between the rivers and the Bay. These delicate environments are trapped between waterfront developments and rising seas. As storms strengthen, they are drowned and destroyed, and the terrapins are cast out where only roads and crowded waterways greet them. The loss of their coastal habitat is their downfall. Without a home in Rhode Island, our terrapins cannot last long. Humans might take a lesson from the terrapin.

Luckily, Save The Bay has acquired two diamondback terrapins, and is keeping them at the Exploration Center and Aquarium in Newport, Rhode Island. The first of the turtles, Jerry, was found without an upper jaw, rendering him unable to feed himself and survive in the wild. Consequently, the state Department of Environmental Management issued a permit allowing Save The Bay to keep the turtle.

The second turtle, Phyllis, was donated to the aquarium by a family that had mistakenly taken the terrapin as a pet. Phyllis’s time spent out of the wild similarly reduced her chances of survival, and so DEM issued a second permit allowing Phil to join Jerry at the aquarium. The two recently got a new addition to their tank—a giant sandbox that aquarist Adam Kovarsky hopes will set the stage for a few new additions to Rhode Island's diamondback terrapin population. Both are still getting used to it, but the conditions in the enclosure are perfect for Phyllis to lay eggs when she’s ready.

Today, the turtles are happy and healthy. With any luck, they will mate and bring healthy offspring. But the truth is that they are two among the last of their kind in Rhode Island. Individuals like Phil and Jerry will lead long lives in captivity, but wild terrapins face sinking ground if they continue to call the Rhode Island coast their home.

The loss of a coastal habitat is a warning shot to all coastal creatures. The diamondback terrapin have been among the first to face local extinction because it is a sensitive species, but the destruction of its wetland habitat signals the beginning of widespread coastline erosion. High seas and strong storms may threaten us, too, if we do not restore our coastal ecosystems and adapt our towns to changing conditions.

These corrections will not be quick or easy, but the story of the terrapin proves they are worthwhile like the turtle, our home is beautiful, but fragile.

Community members can visit Phil and Jerry, at Save The Bay's Exploration Center and Aquarium, located at 175 Memorial Blvd. in Newport, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. daily through Labor Day and on weekends during the rest of the year.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Make a World of Difference

by July Lewis, internship and volunteer manager

Can you imagine 800,000 people picking up 20 million pieces of trash in one giant global beach cleanup? You don’t have to imagine it—you can be a part of it! This year's International Coastal Cleanup is Saturday, September 15, and you can sign up to join it right here.

The Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup is a simple but powerful concept: volunteers all over the world clean up the shore and record what they find. The resulting report is a key weapon in the global fight against the trash that is filling up our oceans. We use the report to raise awareness of the problem, to argue for better products and policies, and to find solutions.

Save The Bay is proud to coordinate the Rhode Island’s participation in the International Coastal Cleanup. Anyone can become a citizen scientist researching this issue. Here’s how to get involved!


As always, we have a list of cleanups to choose from on September 15, and anyone can sign up. Alternate dates are available throughout September and October if you can’t make it on the “big day.” This is a great activity for groups and families, so feel free to recruit others to come with you. No prep is needed—just bring yourself, some sturdy shoes and a reusable bottle of water to stay hydrated. We’ll provide the rest!


It’s easy to lead a cleanup! Your cleanup can be a big event or even small group of friends and family. It’s up to you! Step 1) Coordinate a date and location with me. Step 2) Pick up a Save The Bay cleanup kit. Step 3) On the day of your cleanup, give some easy instructions to your group and do the cleanup, gathering the trash together in a pile for pickup (I will arrange permission and disposal with the town or park). Step 4) Return the kit, and you’re done!

Sign up for cleanup leader training on Thursday, August 30, 6-7:30 PM at 100 Save The Bay Drive, Providence. If you need more details or information, contact me at


Download The Ocean Conservancy’s CleanSwell app, and you can do mini-cleanups wherever you go! Take a bag with you the next time you go to the shore and spend a few minutes cleaning up and recording what you find. Just tap the icons for straws, cigarette butts, food wrappers, etc. to keep track as you pick up. The app will automatically record your location, the distance you walked, the time you spent cleaning up, and the weight of your items. Hit submit and all the data goes to the Ocean Conservancy to be included in their database. You can even take a photo and post it to social media with your results!

JUST REMEMBER: Any cleanups of more than a few people, or where a large volume of trash is being picked up, must be arranged ahead of time with the park or the town. Don’t fill up the park’s trash barrel (if they have one) or leave bags on the curb – be prepared to take your trash home with you!


So please come out and join us for the International Coastal Cleanup, whether it’s joining a cleanup, leading a cleanup, or using the Clean Swell app. And please spread the word—every bit of trash we keep out of the Bay makes a difference!