Thursday, December 29, 2016

Making the Hard Decisions - CoastKeeper Blog

By Dave Prescott, South County CoastKeeper

Beaches are dynamic coastal systems that are always moving and constantly shifting. As sea levels continue to rise, we see more and more coastal impacts that threaten homes, businesses, and infrastructure (such as roads, septic systems, and utilities), as well as invaluable coastal habitats (such as salt marshes). The onslaught of more intense coastal storms continues to batter our coast leaving many to question their future along the shore. It’s much easier to blame coastal erosion for the loss of our beaches rather than question why we decided to build so close to the shoreline in the first place.

What can we do about sea level rise and coastal storms and surge? The Army Corps of Engineers recently developed a plan to elevate 341 homes along the southern coast of Rhode Island from Westerly to Narragansett. While other options were evaluated, in the end, the Corps decided upon elevation as the best decision for the region.

In Save The Bay’s opinion, this study was heavily flawed. Not only did the study rely on low (or historic) rates of sea level rise, it failed to take into the account the real costs of upgrading and replacing infrastructure which is necessary for the survival of these coastal communities. An elevated structure does no good if you cannot access the property because the road is constantly flooded. In addition, it did not adequately consider the option of retreat.

One of the hardest decisions we are forced to make along the coast is what are the next steps? Too often we look to the short term. We elevate structures. We spend millions of dollars to put sand back onto the beach, only to lose it offshore or to the breachways and salt ponds. We build (or rebuild) seawalls to try to hold back Mother Nature. We subsidize coastal development over and over again.

Now is the time we should be looking to the long-term. While these decisions can be much harder for a community to swallow, in the long run they truly do make our coastal communities more resilient in light of current and future climate change impacts.

Managed retreat through acquisition, buyout programs, and relocation is often a hard pill for many to swallow – including the communities. However, when you look at all of the infrastructure that supports these homes and businesses (roads, emergency services, utilities, septic systems and wells), the communities just do not have the financial capacity to be able to elevate and upgrade all threatened structures and provide the support that taxpayers expect. The same is true on the state and federal level. There is just not enough money in any of the coffers to be able to support these coastal communities indefinitely when we are already witnessing the impacts higher sea levels, and more devastating coastal storms, have on our way of life. Through retreat, we allow our beaches to migrate naturally, unimpeded by man-made structures and walls.

Now is the time for us to evaluate where we should be elevating structures and where we need to retreat away from the coast. Politically speaking, managed retreat can be very unpopular. However, we need the political will from the state and our local representatives to start moving that ball forward and looking to the future. We need to start making these hard decisions now and develop the best long-term solutions for our coast. Our beaches will always be here…the question is will we let them?

Monday, December 26, 2016

Mixed Messages about Climate Change

By Topher Hamblett, Director of Advocacy

As you might expect, the 2016 national election sent shockwaves through the environmental advocacy world. The President-elect’s mixed messages about climate change and nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with Speaker Paul Ryan’s November 9 remarks about taking aim at the Clean Water Act and its ‘job-killing’ regulations sent chills down my spine and set off alarm bells in my head.

What can I do? What can we do? You may have asked yourself these questions more than once since Election Day. I was asked these questions during a recent television interview. My response then, and now, is: the responsibility for our local environment belongs to us locally. We can't, and shouldn't, be overreliant on the federal government. We all must now double our efforts to protect the amazing gains we've achieved in improving Narragansett Bay and safeguarding our land, water and air for nearly 50 years. 

I like to celebrate our success transforming Narragansett Bay from an open sewer to a spectacular water body that defines our sense of place and evokes pride among the people who live here. Look at the Providence River, from spring to fall, and you will see hundreds of people fishing from boats and from the shoreline.This view was unthinkable just a generation ago. We are, however, far from done, and we must deal with the immediate threats, those we can actually do something about: enforcing the environmental laws on the books right now; finally tackling the age-old problem of polluted run-off, which still impairs our waters and causes swimming beach closures; and, the big one, dealing with the immediate threats of sea level rise, coastal erosion and the loss of our Bay’s precious salt marshes.  

If anything, the election renewed my sense of urgency to protect Narragansett Bay. I will count on our congressional delegation to hold the fort in Washington, from the EPA nominee’s confirmation hearings to protecting the Clean Water Act and the many programs that have been the foundation for our reclamation of Narragansett Bay. But I will also ask you to join me in affirming our commitment take care of things at home. That is the best thing we can do, right now.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Many Ways to Save the Bay

By Gabriela Dinobile, Volunteer Intern

For Jackie and Marty Metzger, volunteering for Save The Bay is a commitment that helps our environment and satisfies their love for nature and the ocean.

After Jackie retired from a career as a clinical laboratory scientist and manager of a cancer center in 2014, she saw that Save The Bay was advertising for office volunteers. She already knew much about the organization; after all, she said, “I think everyone in Rhode Island knows about Save The Bay!” So she signed up and has been a welcome member of the office team ever since, visiting weekly to enter volunteer information into the database and manage seal monitoring data.

Jackie and Marty Metzger
Not long after she began helping, Jackie also became interested in the idea of volunteering outside the office, leading a shoreline cleanup. Her first was an International Coastal Cleanup at Bold Point in East Providence; she liked it so much that she’s become a regular Bold Point cleanup leader. Along the way, Jackie also recruited her husband, Marty, a retired prosthodontist, as a volunteer photographer for the cleanups. Marty’s beautiful photos can be found on Save The Bay’s Flickr page and have been published in the Rhode Island International Coastal Cleanup report.

In August, the two volunteered together at the Save The Bay Swim for the first time — Marty as a photographer and Jackie handing out water to swimmers at the finish line. The Swim is Save The Bay’s largest annual fundraising event, and both Jackie and Marty had only positive things to say about their experience. Marty enjoyed the chance to converse with the other photographers at the event, while Jackie appreciated the sense of pride the swimmers exuded at the finish line in Jamestown.

The Metzgers agree that Save The Bay has immensely improved both the environment and community in Rhode Island over the years. They marvel at how much the organization has grown, and how Rhode Islanders can both give and take from Save The Bay through volunteering and using its educational facilities.

“It’s really gratifying to see how much [Save The Bay] has accomplished, how the bay has gotten cleaner and how much more aware people are of Save The Bay and its work,” said Jackie. “We used to take our son on Save The Bay cruises to learn about the bay, and it was very helpful to utilize the educational aspects of the organization. We hope to bring our grandson when he comes to visit from Tennessee.”

The connections they’ve made with Save The Bay staff and volunteers are what keep Jackie and Marty volunteering. In fact, Marty had the opportunity to reconnect with an old friend and coworker through his volunteer work with Save The Bay. And the folks at Save The Bay think the Metzgers are making a wonderful contribution to the Save The Bay community. Many thanks to Jackie and Marty!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Save The Bay Members – Protecting your Bay since 1970

By Jackie Carlson, Membership and Individual Giving Manager
Save The Bay is a member-based organization. What that means is that for nearly 50 years, we have depended on our generous members in order to achieve our mission “To Protect and Restore Narragansett Bay.” Each year, the financial support raised through our thousands of members is used to implement the important work we do.

In 2016, our community of Save The Bay members made the following work possible:
  • Supported marine science education programs for more than 15,000 students and teachers 
  • Protected and restored more than 124,000 acres of wetlands 
  • Ensured the cleanup of 28,000 pounds of trash from 70 miles of coastline
  • Connected nearly 30,000 community members to Narragansett Bay through our Exploration Center and Seal Tours 

Without the crucial financial support of our generous members, this work and ALL we do at Save The Bay, would not be possible.

As a thank you to our members, we are pleased to be able offer discounts on our Explore The Bay Public Programs including Seal Tours and Bay Camps as well as Save The Bay merchandise. We are also so proud to partner with local businesses who generously offer additional benefits to our members. Save The Bay members also receive a subscription to bi-annual Tides magazine and monthly e-updates. Family Members receive free admission for up to 2 adults and 4 children per visit to our Exploration Center and Aquarium. 

My family and I are proud members of Save The Bay. Not only do we find it rewarding to be able to do our part in protecting and restoring beautiful Narragansett Bay but we also enjoy the benefits of being a member as well. My two children love visiting the Exploration Center and always seem to find some new critter at each visit. We recently went on a Seal Tour out of Newport and my son is already asking when we can go again.

I hope that if you are not a member already, you will consider supporting Save The Bay through a membership and to our current members, THANK YOU for your loyal support. You truly are the backbone of Save The Bay and we are so proud to have you as part of the Save The Bay family. 

Visit for additional information or contact Jackie Carlson at

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Crustacean Devastation!

By Adam Kovarsky, Aquarium Manager and Education Specialist

Crabs have crawled on earth for more than 300 million years; that’s about 295 million years longer than people! Narragansett Bay is habitat for numerous crab species; blue, rock, Jonah, spider, hermit, mud and lady crabs, and that list keeps going. Varieties of crabs found in Narragansett Bay have changed radically over the last three decades. I moved to Rhode Island when I was an awkward teenager wanting to spend most of my time on my own in nature. I recall finding most of these crusty critters during summers on the water. One of those days, I stumbled upon a different kind of crab – tiny, box-shaped with robust claws and purple patterned legs, never larger than around two inches on the upper part of the shell. Later, I learned this was the non-native, introduced Asian shore crab.

Over the years to come, I found more and more Asian shore crabs and fewer and fewer of the crabs I knew and loved in spite of their determined desire to make a banquet of my toes. Now nearly 20 years later, I have a hard time finding native crabs when poking around rocky shorelines in Narragansett Bay. The Asian Shore Crab is an invasive species - a non-native species introduced by humans that causes harm.

Narragansett bay has an extended history with invasive species going back to the Pilgrims who introduced the European green crab. This highly adapted brute was brought here in ballast water on boats nearly 200 years prior and has been causing damage in our bay since. Fast forward to 1988, David Bowie is on tour, Reagan was president and Asian Shore Crabs make their dramatic debut in America. They got here the same way green crabs did, but from further away. That’s why attention to history is vital; we could have prevented this!

But instead, European green crabs alongside the Asian shore crab are now damaging our native Bay life in a vicious tag team. Nothing eats them, they lay almost three times as many eggs as our native crabs, they grow larger faster, they can survive in cooler and hotter temperatures, and they have adapted to flourish in contaminated waters. Now, our exiled, outcompeted native crabs are forced to move to unfamiliar places to simply survive. Many have migrated to deep waters where voracious hunters lie in wait. Larger lobsters, larger fish, octopi, squid, seals and other predators are really talented at eating crabs; they are the masters of the depths of our bay.

In a twisted, sickly turn of the tide, these invasive crabs aren’t all the life in our Bay deals with. In the past century, the temperature of our bay has risen 4◦ Fahrenheit on average. We use electricity, drive cars, and set fire to fossil fuels, all of which form a heat trapping blanket of doom around our planet. These introduced raiding crabs now have a distinct claw up on the competition (pardon the pun) - one they don’t even need. Warming temperatures mean an extended growing season for the invasives, giving them ample time to grow bigger faster, eat the eggs of competing crabs and overtake vital habitat. The native crabs of Narragansett Bay may never exist in the ways they once did. In the future, Narragansett Bay will be something completely different than the Bay I grew up with because of human negligence.

If you’re reading this and wondering why people are doing such a poor job with what Mother Nature provided us, never give up! We still have time to change. Remember, humans need the planet to survive as much as it needs us. If we cut back the scorching of fossil fuels enough, we can avoid reaching conditions that would put cataclysmic levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Ride your bike to the store, walk, turn down the heat, shut the lights, try alternative energy, start a walking school bus in your town. Put simply; just use less. Fossil fuel burning is not natural, and our planet feels it. With hard work and changes made by each and every community on earth we will make the difference we need, there is still time for hope.

Adam Kovarsky is Save The Bay’s Aquarium Manager and Education Specialist.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Emerging Threat to the Bay: Climate Change

What does climate change have to do with Narragansett Bay? Everything!

Changing climate conditions are adversely affecting the health and resilience of Narragansett Bay now, and the pace of climate change is expected to accelerate in years to come. Looking ahead, it poses profound threats to natural habitats, native species and human use of our coastal waters. For example:
  • Higher temperatures and changing weather patterns may increase the frequency, severity and duration of harmful algal blooms, low oxygen levels, loss of native species and increased presence of non-native species.
  • Rising sea levels will degrade the health of coastal wetlands and cause accelerated rates of coastal erosion, resulting in habitat loss, beach erosion and an associated loss of public access along the shoreline.
  • Public and private infrastructure — roads, sewer systems, onsite wastewater treatment, electric utilities, port facilities, and real estate — will become increasingly vulnerable to coastal and riverine flooding and storm surges.
  • Changing climate conditions may undermine the important progress in the cleanup of the Bay in recent decades and cause loss of many of the commercial and recreational benefits of the Bay.
Rapid climate change is now an underlying condition that we must factor into our strategic efforts. Every aspect of our work, from education and habitat protection to public policy and government oversight, is impacted by climate change.

In our role as steward of Narragansett Bay, we recognize that our primary focus must be on both the immediate and long-term impacts of changing climate conditions on the natural systems and native species that exist in the Narragansett Bay region. As an organization our priorities are:
  • Strengthening the resilience of the Narragansett Bay ecosystem;
  • Promoting adaptation to changing climate conditions;
  • Enhancing public understanding of the causes and impacts of climate change;
  • Supporting public policies, investments, and initiatives that will lead to reductions in pollutants, including greenhouse gas emissions.
When Save The Bay was founded in 1970, climate change was not widely understood, let alone a part of our strategy to protect and improve Narragansett Bay. Today, saving the Bay is more complex than ever before, because conditions are changing so rapidly and in such a profound way. As you will see in this edition of Tides, climate change has heightened the urgency of our mission.