Wednesday, June 29, 2016

July is Shark Month at the Exploration Center and Aquarium

By Molly Behan, development intern

Down at the Save The Bay Exploration Center in Newport, R.I., staff and volunteers embrace a mission to educate locals of and visitors to Rhode Island alike on the creatures that inhabit our beloved Narragansett Bay. The aquarium is home to not only animals that we expect to find in the Bay, highlighting multitudes of spider crabs, sea stars, and the common periwinkle, but also hosts some other more unexpected creatures: sharks and skates! These creatures are the theme at the Center next month; July is Shark Month at the aquarium!

Narragansett Bay is home to a few different types of sharks and skates. The blue shark, mako shark, spiny and smooth dogfish, and little skate are a few of the most common. These critters are all a part of a group of marine life, called elasmobrachs, which have skeletons made entirely of cartilage, rather than bone. Some of these sharks, the blue shark, for example, are known to be dangerous (don’t worry, they generally stay away from people), while other sharks, like the spiny and smooth dogfish, are completely harmless to humans. The little skates of the Bay, though they look like small stingrays, are also harmless, feeding on a diverse diet of squid, small fish, shellfish, crabs, and other organisms.

Guests can see, and even touch, many of these fascinating creatures at the Exploration Center and Aquarium. The smooth dogfish shark in the back room is always a favorite critter among visitors, as it bobs up and down at the surface of the water to observe its environment. The chain catshark that hangs out at the bottom of the same tank is a crowd pleaser as well. Also in the back room is a touch tank with little skates, where guests love to feel the different textures that make up the skate’s skin. The aquarium has a little skate hatchery, filled with mermaid’s purses, or little skate eggs, all getting ready to hatch into juvenile little skates!

Next month is Shark Month at the aquarium, which means the spotlight will be on our shark and skate friends. In addition to seeing and interacting with the sharks and skates that are usually at the aquarium, guests will be able to join in a number of shark themed activities, including a fun and educational shark scavenger hunt, and the unique “RoboShark” art project, challenging children and adults to use their imaginations to create a shark that one might find on a future Earth.

The Exploration Center is open from 10-4 every day this summer, and is always a fun time, rain or shine.We can’t wait to see you there!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Military and civilian alike, Team Navy takes on the 40th Save The Bay Swim

By Matthew Vieira, Social Media and Marketing Manager

Every year since 1970, swimmers from across the region, and world, gather in Newport to partake in Save The Bay’s iconic 1.7-mile swim to Jamestown. While some travel far, some are already home at the starting line. This team of swimmers are the Navy Newport Swim Team.

Team Navy at the 39th Save The Bay Swim
The Navy Newport Swim Team has been doing the Swim for seven years. The size of the team fluctuates from year to year, but generally consists of about 20 swimmers, with more joining every day, from both military and civilian backgrounds. Four of these swimmers are Navy Reservist Dave Polatty of Narragansett, Retired Chief Petty Officer Dan Force of Portsmouth, Diann Uustal of Jamestown and Lieutenant Aaron Lamay of Newport.

You don't have to be in the military. Anyone who has any affiliation or desire to support Team Navy is welcome to do so. The majority of our team is actually not active duty - only a few people are,” Polatty says. In fact, five close civilian friends approached Polatty him and asked to join the Navy Team just because of their strong connection and love for the U.S. Navy.

Polatty also seeks out strong swimmers. One of those is Diann Uustal, a civilian Team Navy member who holds swimming world records in “every stroke except the breast stroke.” She says she gets it from her grandmother, who would consistently “beat the boys” in open-water swim races. As a young girl, Uustal can remember being pulled around the Bay by a kickboard attached to her grandmother’s waist. She jokes that her grandmother’s swimming genes made it to her. Although Uustal will not be able to get in the water, this year, for her second Swim, because of prior engagements, she will still be integral to Team Navy’s fundraising success as a virtual swimmer, raising donations for Save The Bay and swimming in spirit.

Force, the veteran of the group and a founding member of Team Navy, has crossed the Bay 15 times and the 40th Swim will mark his 16th trip from Newport to Jamestown via the East Passage. He first got involved with the Swim to train for triathlons, until the Navy took him out of Rhode Island. A decade later, he moved back to Rhode Island in 2002, and been doing the Swim ever since.    

While Polatty and Force are not newbies to the Swim, some on the team only recently discovered Save The Bay and the Swim.  Lamay, a two-year Bay Swimmer, got his start with open-water swimming during a mini triathlon on the Navy base in 2013. He and his family became aware of Save The Bay one cold winter weekend when they discovered the Exploration Center & Aquarium in Newport. A few months later, Lamay was swimming in the Navy pool when Polatty approached him with the offer to join the Navy Team. “He sounded like he wasn’t taking no for an answer,” Lamay says. “He’s fast,” Uustal said. Lamay modestly denies that accusation. 

The Swim is not an event to be missed, according to Polatty, who, while stationed in Korea in 2008, did the swim “virtually,” in a small pool at exactly the same time as swimmers back home in Rhode Island (talk about dedication). “This is the one event every year that I truly look forward to...there are other swims, but this is the one that matters,” says Polatty. The Virtual Swim option gives swimmers a way to be connected to the swim and to raise funds to support Save The Bay’s efforts to protect Narragansett Bay, either by swimming somewhere else, at some other time, or from the comforts of home.

But it’s not just about the event, it’s what the event stands for. “Raising money to clean the ocean,” Polatty said. “Most of the Navy Team spends its free time enjoying the Bay, and that is the reason why this swim is so important to us,” Polatty said. Polatty, Uustal and Force can all remember a time when swimming in the Bay was a less than pleasant experience. “It was really disheartening to see the poor conditions around the Bay…I just wanted to do some part in cleaning it up,” says Force.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Critter Tales: The Intelligent Mr. Suckers

by Abbey Greene, communications intern

Four little baby octopuses, no bigger than quarters, were carefully carried into Save The Bay’s Exploration and Aquarium Center by a local lobster fisherman in November 2014. He caught the tiny animals by accident in a lobster pot under Newport bridge as they were migrating into the Rhode Island Sound for the winter. The fisherman brought them in to make sure the babies would not become prey to bigger fish.

Save The Bay staff and volunteers placed the each of the four babies into separate storage containers, kept apart by acrylic plastic walls with tiny holes to allow water and oxygen to circulate, inside a glass tank. The Common Octopus is very territorial and aggressive towards one another by nature, so precautions were taken. But the walls were no match for one octopus. True to his nature, “Mr. Suckers” managed to stretch through the small holes in the plastic and ate his fellow octopuses, outsmarting the other babies and aquarium staff, including Save The Bay’s aquarist, Adam Kovarsky.

“They’re really intelligent,” explains Adam. “We’ve been teaching this one how to deal with different kinds of puzzles. We’ll give him his food in different lids and containers. He can unscrew lids on jars and water bottles, and he even takes apart Legos to find his food.”

Common octopuses can reach lengths of up to four-and-a-half feet long and can weigh up to 22 pounds. Over the last year-and-a-half, Mr. Suckers has just about grown into what Adam says is his full size, now reaching three feet in length.

Adults and children alike from all over the state have come to see the octopus, and Save The Bay’s Education Specialist Celina Segala says a few kids nicknamed Mr. Suckers during one of their visits. “We’ve gotten some really creative names,” shares Segala. “‘Mr. Suckers’ was one that I thought was a great name.”

According to Adam, octopuses like Mr. Suckers play a very important role in Narragansett Bay. The presence of the eight-legged creature indicates clean waters, which is good news for the Bay. Octopuses do not do well in contaminated water bodies. They also are aggressive predators and are signs of a healthy food web.

“They are a top predator,” Adam said. “These guys are voracious, they eat different things throughout the bay, like crabs and clams. They’re also a good food source for many shark species, dogfish, skates and other fish.”

To defend itself against predators, the common octopus has many tricks up its tentacles. It can change its skin color and even its texture to blend into its surroundings, allowing predators to unwittingly swim right past the hidden octopus. But if discovered, the invertebrate can release a cloud of thick, black ink to obscure the predator’s view and jet away at a speed of up to 25 mph. Thanks to its boneless body, it can squeeze into tight hiding areas. As a last resort, it can always use its sharp beak to inflict a venomous bite, normally used to paralyze its prey.

The Common Octopus is a vital part of Narragansett Bay’s ecosystem, and the Exploration Center and Aquarium is lucky to have Mr. Suckers to help spread the word about the Bay’s battle with climate change. “Our bay is productive and diverse with wildlife that need to be protected,” says Adam. “Hard work can reduce the negative possible effects. The Octopus is one of the wonders we want to live in the Bay into the foreseeable future.”

To see Mr. Suckers hide in his lair and stretch his tentacles, the public is welcome to visit the Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium in Newport daily from 10-4 p.m. Adam recommends coming to ‘Feeding Frenzy,’ an after-hours activity in the aquarium when visitors can help feed all of the animals, including the octopus. This fun-filled hour occurs on the third Thursday of every month, from 5-6 p.m.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Report pollution to your Save The Bay Waterkeepers

By Rachel Calabro, Save The Bay Riverkeeper

On Thursday, June 16, Save The Bay received a call from a concerned fisherman about possible raw sewage in the Blackstone River. While our Baykeeper called the Department of Environmental Management, our Riverkeeper Rachel Calabro headed straight out to check out the situation herself. Fortunately, the event was not raw sewage. Rachel shares more information with us here.

As Save The Bay’s Riverkeeper, I respond to issues out on the rivers and Bay that are brought to our attention by the public.. People are often concerned when they see or smell something that isn’t right. Many times, what they are seeing is natural, but can be a result of excess seaweed, algae or plant growth. While the Bay looks beautiful, our rivers are bringing in nutrients and other pollution from the upper watershed that washes off the land. This invisible pollution can feed the plant growth and cause algae blooms. This is what I found yesterday when I went to Festival Pier in Pawtucket. Fishermen there thought they were seeing sewage, when what they were actually seeing was decomposing sea lettuce and other brown algae. These algae had blown up the Bay with the afternoon sea breeze and accumulated along the pier. Still, we’re grateful to have eyes and ears out there on the water, alerting us to possible problems.

When trying to decide if something is a natural occurrence or something to worry about, look for the the following clues:

Sewage: Be on the lookout for milky or grey colored water that contains bits of toilet paper or other floating material. It will also have a strong sewage odor.

Foam: Natural foam often accumulates on rivers below dams or in other areas where water is moving swiftly. It can catch in tree snags and will usually be a light brown or yellow color from the accumulation of pollen and dust. It will fall apart and dissolve when shaken with a stick. Foam caused by pollution from soap will be white and fluffy and will come back together if it is touched.

Sheen: If you see rainbow sheen on the surface of the water, check it with a stick as well. In wetlands or other areas of stagnant water, bacterial breakdown of organic matter will cause a shiny film on the surface. If it breaks up when touched, it is natural. Oil sheen from pollution is generally very light and will hold together when touched. It will also have a strong oily odor. Oil sheen tends to spread out on the surface of the water.

Red or Orange Sediment: If you see a bright orange film on the bottom of a creek or wetland, this is most likely due to iron oxide. This is caused by low oxygen environments in wetlands and groundwater where iron dissolves in the water. When this water exits the ground or wetland and oxygen is reintroduced, the iron comes out of solution and settles on the bottom.

If you do see something that is concerning, try to send us a photo so that we can help diagnose the problem. Send us an address so we can check on Google Earth, and potentially go out to see the problem. You can reach Save The Bay at 272-3540 and For emergencies, call DEM’s 24-hour response number at 401-222-3070. To report a sewage spill to the Narragansett Bay Commission, dial their main line at 401-461-6540 and press 9.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

YOURS, MINE, EVERYONE’S: Upholding Constitutional Access to RI’s Shoreline

By Tom Kutcher, Narragansett Baykeeper & David Prescott, South County Coastkeeper

Sure, other states have beautiful natural resources that technically belong to everyone, but in Rhode Island, we really mean it. In fact, Article 1 Section 17 of the Rhode Island Constitution states, “the people shall continue to enjoy and freely exercise all the rights of fishery, and the privileges of the shore, to which they have been heretofore entitled under the charter… of this state.” 

Three designated public access points to the
South Kingstown shoreline lie beyond this barricade.
Since our beginnings in 1970, Save The Bay has been committed to improving public access to our beautiful Bay, rivers, coastal ponds and south coast. Indeed, our primary vision is swimmable, fishable and healthy waters that are accessible to everyone. Toward that end, we are working on a public access initiative that will make it easier for folks to enjoy our beautiful waters, beaches and rocky coast. Along with state agencies and other non-government partners, we are working to improve your access to these areas throughout Rhode Island. 

The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) has jurisdiction over public access to the shore. From its inception in 1971 through today, CRMC has designated 222 rights of way to guarantee that access and now has an active program aimed at designating more rights of way—one for every mile of coastline in the state—that would amount to 420 rights of way. In fact, the 222nd public access point, in Bristol, was added just this year as part of that program, and more sites are currently under review. Save The Bay is pleased to work with CRMC on this effort by identifying potential new rights of way and by managing volunteer lawyers who are helping with the title work necessary to designate future public access sites. 

But that’s not all. Thanks to grants from REI and other foundations, Save The Bay staff and interns are visiting, assessing and mapping all 221 previously existing designated rights of way in Rhode Island to determine if they are, in fact, accessible to the public. We are characterizing important attributes such as parking availability, path condition, and potential uses, and have taken pictures of the entrance, exit and shoreline of every site. The information we’re collecting will be used to update, enhance, and correct an online map of all CRMC-designated public rights of way to the shore. 

We’re also using the data to identify rights of way that are in need of maintenance, advocacy or litigation, and we will work with CRMC in resolving any of these issues. So far, we have found more than a few blatant access issues at some of the sites, including illegal dumping of debris, completely overgrown vegetation, and outright blocking of access with fences, sheds and other structures (a pool, in one case). We will work with the state and other partners to address and resolve these issues. 

We are also toying with the idea of creating a smartphone app that can link a person’s location with right of way data to let a user know if there is access nearby and provide information about the access. We feel this could be helpful for getting people out to the shore, particularly young people who will become the next generation of stewards responsible for protecting Narragansett Bay. We believe that once they see our beautiful Bay, rivers, beaches and coastline, they will love them, respect them and want to protect them for years to come.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Testing the Waters - South County Coastkeeper Blog

By Dave Prescott, South County Coastkeeper

Two thousand sixteen marks Save The Bay’s ninth year of water quality testing in Little Narragansett Bay and the Pawcatuck River estuary. Back in 2008, Save The Bay began efforts to get a better handle on the health of the estuary by partnering with the University of Rhode Island’s Watershed Watch program to test and analyze the water quality samples that we collected on a bi-weekly basis. The reason for this was simple: we wanted the public to know whether or not it was safe to swim and recreate in their local waters.

Save The Bay monitors the health of the estuarine Pawcatuck and Little Narragansett Bay and uses our dataset to advocate for water quality improvements and continued dialogue between the towns and the states to address ailing infrastructure and stormwater pollution. Long-term water quality monitoring is essential to identifying trends in water quality data and working towards solutions on the local level. Year after year we have wide variations in regional weather patterns which greatly impact our waters. Clearly we have water quality impacts (elevated bacteria levels, high nutrients loads due to increased runoff, etc.) during wet weather. However, even during the driest of weather, we have observed troubling conditions in the river and Bay. It is through this continued monitoring that we will get a better handle on the health of our estuaries.

This summer, we are excited to be working with the town of Westerly and the firm VHB to identify, prioritize and implement water quality improvements in the downtown sections of Westerly. Whether you live near Little Narragansett Bay or somewhere else in the state or region, I suggest checking out the resources and water quality data from the Watershed Watch website. There are countless other local organizations and hundreds of dedicated volunteers monitoring the health of our local waters. Become a steward by educating yourself on the health of your local swimming hole!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Critter Tales: Saving Fogarty the Striped Bass

By Justin Cheves, communications intern

As Captain Dan Blount, captain of the M/V Alletta Morris, took hold of the massive trawling net, the Fogarty Elementary School third-graders accompanying him looked over the edge of the boat, eager to see what species they had gathered, and were quick to help haul in their catch. As they did so, they noticed a long fishing line tangled around their net and, thinking it was trash, went to work separating the debris. They knew from their lessons with Save The Bay that discarded lines and nets are harmful to sea creatures because of their tendency to tangle and trap fish, as they would soon see firsthand.

The line seemed to be carrying something—something thick and hefty. Was it a shark? A snapping turtle? The students and Captain Dan rushed to pull in the line, and to their surprise, a large striped bass was stuck on the tip of the hook. Right away, the students were smitten by their newfound “friend” and quickly named him Fogarty, in honor of their school. Amid the students’ excitement, Captain Dan could see that Fogarty was injured and thought, perhaps, Adam Kovarsky, manager and aquarist at

Save The Bay’s Exploration Center and Aquarium in Newport, might be able to save him. By a stroke of luck, Kovarsky had just installed a new 1500-gallon tank at the Exploration Center and Aquarium and it might be the perfect place for Fogarty to recover. So away they all went with Fogarty the Striped Bass, in search of a new home, improved health, and a way to show visitors one of the important fish of Narragansett Bay.

Also known as a striper, rockfish, and rock bass, the striped bass is the Rhode Island state fish and a prized migratory game fish in the Northeast for its strength, speed, beauty and hunting abilities. Striped bass are anadromous fish, undertaking a long migration southward along the Atlantic coast into the fresh waters of the Chesapeake Bay and Hudson River to spawn and then returning northward – into Narragansett Bay – in the warm summer months. In many ways, it’s one of Narragansett Bay’s top predators, feeding on everything from anchovies and eels, to herring and menhaden, to crustaceans and squid, and in doing so, it is integral to keeping balance in the ecosystem. Unfortunately, after rebounding from a critical decline in the 1970s, stocks of striped bass have been decreasing again since about 2006. The cause? A combination of overfishing, dwindling populations of prey fish for them to feed on, and effects of climate change and disease.

Fogarty, though, has found a safe haven at the Exploration Center and Aquarium. Upon arrival there, he was immediately the largest fish species at the Center and quickly became a kind of celebrity to visitors thanks to his size and survival tale. Kovarsky repaired an infection of his swim bladder, which he needs to stay level in the water. And he quickly began to eat and build strength and grow. At first a little shy, he’s now pretty comfortable in his new home.

“He’s very laid back. He’s gotten a lot bigger since we rescued him, and he just loves hanging around and looking at visitors,” said Kovarsky. He wasn’t sure striper would be able to return to the wild, but Fogarty’s resilience is proving otherwise, and the aquarium manager expects that the big fish will be released back into the wild in the not-too-distant future.

As I peer into his tank, I try to imagine what Fogarty might be thinking as he looks out of his tank, watching visitors go by. Perhaps, “This place is comfortable, yes, and with so many sea robins, scup, and other fish I would normally see in my own natural habitat. The water is cold and fresh, and has a familiar taste, as though it was drawn right from the Bay. I’m a big fish here, literally. My visitors love me, and love to peek out and see their smiles of delight. I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but I’m healing, regaining my strength, and I’ll be the silver dart beneath the waters once again.”