Monday, February 27, 2017

Our Yellow Lobster; One in 30 Million

By Rebecca Proulx, communications intern

While many a New Englander can attest to seeing quite a few lobsters in their days, only a handful can say they have seen a yellow one. A yellow lobster is an extremely rare find—one in 30 million, in fact. But do not be discouraged, at the Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium in Newport, you can peer at one right in his face. Our lobster has called the Exploration Center home for two years now after a local fisherman caught him in his pot. This fisherman is one of many who’ve been bringing in creatures needing extra care to the Exploration Center for years, Save The Bay will give them the proper care they need and share them with community who wouldn’t otherwise get to see them.

In fact, the Exploration Center is one of Save The Bay’s ways of connecting the community to the Bay. Our interns love to tell visitors that our lobster’s yellow color spawns from a genetic mutation within its DNA, which codes for color pigmentation. Lobsters have adapted over 300 million years to perfect their exteriors against the keen eyes of their predators, so the blatant discoloration of this lobster from his environment would make our friend easy to gobble up as a next meal.

And his color isn’t the only odd thing about him. Like all of his brethren out in the wild, our lobster is extremely territorial and has an extraordinary way of marking his land-peeing from his eyes. When a lobster finds an area he wants to claim, he guards it with his life and fights other lobsters when necessary. As an act of triumph, the victor celebrates by shooting pee out of his eyes. The defeated lobster will forever recognize the smell of his superior’s pee and stay out of his way.

Silly as they seem, lobsters are first level carnivores and perform a vital function to our ecosystem by cleaning the floor of the Narragansett Bay and eating whatever lies on the bottom. Some may say, “so what? They vacuum, I only do that once in a blue moon when company comes.” However, the lobster’s job is much more essential than a little tidying up. Without lobsters mopping up the bay floor, much of the marine life that inhabits the benthic such as oysters, flounder and quahog would perish due to a loss of habitat from all that clutter.

Unfortunately all of these tasty bottom-dwellers are at risk, because our cleaning maids of the estuary are moving. “Due to climate change, our water temperature has risen four degrees Fahrenheit since 1930, so the lobsters have been forced to migrate further and further north each year to seek the cold environment they require,” Adam Kovarsky, the Exploration Center Manager explains. While a four-degree difference may not seem like much to us humans, the aquatic animals sense this change acutely. Rhode Island is the southernmost region where large lobster populations still exist, but that’s gradually changing.

Save The Bay remains dedicated to preserving this lobster population, as it is with all marine life that possess a crucial role in our ecosystem and community. Our organization is actively trying to tackle this issue in numerous ways. Save The Bay offers numerous education outreach projects such as aquarium visits and seal watches. Our hope is that these programs will instill the importance of the local species and proper water quality in the public. These efforts will also hopefully herald future generations of environmental advocates.

Adam makes an important point in saying, that all of their work in the Exploration Center is “ show people what’s out there. One day, hopefully, if we’re able to manage the planet, as great as a resource as this is, there won’t be a need for it.” Until that day comes, Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium remains steadfast in Newport to educate visitors about the wonderful staples and rarities of species our Bay has to offer.

Come visit the Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium to say hello to our special lobster and other incredible species soon! Our winter season (Labor Day-Memorial Day) hours are Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. We are located at 175 Memorial Blvd, Newport, RI 02840. General admission is $8; $7 for military and seniors; free for children 3 years and under and Save The Bay Family Members. You can even feed our friend from 5:00-6:00 p.m. and see how he eats along with sharks, octopuses, and many more at our Feeding Frenzy event. Feeding Frenzy admission is $10 and you can call 401-324-6020 or click here to register.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Building a Base: Joan Abrams, Major Gifts Officer


Meet Joan Abrams, who joined the Save The Bay team this summer as our major gifts officer. Joan has a long history with Save The Bay, first as a committee member in the 1980s, then a board member and board chair in the 1990s, and finally a trustee in 2004. When Save The Bay made the decision to expand our footprint and pursue a permanent home at Fields Point, Joan helped lead the campaign that built our Bay Center, where thousands of schoolchildren, community members and local fishermen enjoy beautiful Bay vistas and unprecedented urban access to Narragansett Bay.

Why is Save The Bay so important to you that you’re joining us now as a staff member after having served in so many volunteer leadership roles? I consider Save The Bay to be the most important organization defending and bringing attention to the Bay. Rhode Island would be just a commuter community on a train stop if not for Narragansett Bay. And Narragansett Bay could certainly be a sewer without the work that Save The Bay has accomplished. In addition to the advocacy, restoration and education work the organization has always done, Save The Bay is one of the best run non-profit organizations I know. It has a mission I embrace, and it’s an organization I very much admire. So when I retired from teaching, it was a natural fit.

Now that you’re part of the staff, has anything surprised you about the organization? I wish everyone could have the chance to see how very effective the staff is at every level, from the executive director to the interns. The way everyone pulls together as a team has really impressed me. The thing I go home with every day is the attitude, the respect everyone has for each other as a staff, the feeling that nothing is too big to handle. You have to sit here and experience it to truly understand it.

What does the Bay mean to you? My husband Rich and I are boaters, and we live right on the Bay. I’ve tended to work outside of Rhode Island and travel the country, and Narragansett Bay has consistently been our strongest reason for staying here. Commuting has never been an issue because when I cross over Mt. Hope Bridge as I approach my house, it’s like a sense of peace comes over me.

What is your favorite Bay spot? Right in front of my house — Walker’s Cove in Bristol. It’s even more beautiful in winter than in summer, with seals and swans and all kinds of beautiful creatures. It’s truly the picture of how people enjoy the Bay — sailors, commercial fishermen, kayakers, small boaters, yachts, people swimming. Just a really interesting piece of the Bay.

Why do you think Save The Bay is so important to our community? When someone comes to visit this area, the first thing most people do is invite their guests to some vista overlooking the Bay, either the beach, to go fishing or sailing on the Bay, to do something somewhere with a view of the Bay. I think there is a very strong connection for all of us. It touches everyone.

Is that what inspires our donors to invest and remain invested in Save The Bay? Our members and donors look at Save The Bay as one of the most effective organizations they have come to know. While you can have an emotional attachment to an organization, you can also have an intellectual attachment, asking yourself… does that organization accomplish something? I believe we have both connections with our donors.

How important to Save The Bay’s mission is donor support? Because Save The Bay receives very little government support, we are dependent on our members for the work we do. If our donor base were to evaporate, the organization could shrink to one or two people who are called to action only when there was a terrible, unusual and rare threat to the Bay. But because our work is so much broader than that, we need the support of hundreds and thousands of donors. In my role here, I want to reach out to as many people as I can within the watershed — including Massachusetts and Connecticut — to help them understand just how important their own contributions are.

Looking ahead, what do you think are Save The Bay’s greatest challenges? Our biggest challenge is to provide stability and make sure Save The Bay is positioned for the next 50 years. The threats never go away. They change, but they do not disappear.

Monday, February 20, 2017

My first Seal Tour

By Andrew Gorham, communications intern

Despite living in Rhode Island for my entire life, I can probably count on one hand, or less, the number of times I’ve actually seen seals in the wild. Fortunately enough, I recently had the opportunity to go on my first-ever seal tour with Save The Bay. As a current intern at Save The Bay, of course I was going to take advantage of the chance to see some of Narragansett Bay’s winter-time visitors in their natural habitat.

For February, the day was perfect—cold but refreshing—and the sky and water were blue as can be. From Newport, our small group set sail on the M/V Alletta Morris and headed toward Citing Rock, a popular spot for lounging harbor seals. On the way to our destination, we enjoyed the great scenery of Narragansett Bay’s West Passage and the Newport Bridge and some fun seal facts from our guide, Captain Eric Pfirrmann. After a short journey, our boat closed in on Citing Rock.

As we approached, it was hard to tell if there were any seals out and about, but, sure enough, there they were. Twenty or so harbor seals were hauled out on the rocks, basking in the warm sun, flopping around and enjoying the Bay, just like we were—enjoying the Bay, that is. They were having such a great time that I was almost jealous of them! After spending some time circling the rock and getting a closer look at the group of seals through a pair of binoculars, we prepared to head back to port. The hour-long tour was surely worthwhile.

Heading back, I thought of how easily anyone could go see seals at an aquarium, but that it would never be the same as seeing them out in the Bay. There’s nothing like being out on the water and feeling the ocean’s mist on your face, all the while getting to view some pretty entertaining animals. I also had the chance to reflect upon the importance of restoring and conserving habitats, such as Narragansett Bay. We learned from Captain Eric that only a few decades ago, the seal population in the Bay was dwindling, but have since returned in strength due to conservation efforts. Being able to see firsthand the results of these efforts gave an even stronger connection to Narragansett Bay, and it is not something I will easily forget. Besides, how could you not feel an affinity for animals that are so cute?

You, too, can share a similar experience by going on your own Save The Bay seal tour. Tours depart from Newport, Rhode Island, and Fall River, Massachusetts, through the end of April and are perfect for all ages. Visit or call (401) 203-7325 to book a tour to see our favorite winter-time visitors before they’re gone for the summer!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Power up? Save The Bay weighs the effects of Burrillville power plant on Narragansett Bay

***Originally printed in the Fall 2016 issue of Tides Magazine***

By Topher Hamblett, director of advocacy

A proposed gas-fired power plant in the Narragansett Bay watershed has generated great public interest, with opinions ranging from strongly supportive to vehemently opposed. If approved by state and federal regulatory bodies, the plant would be built in the Clear River watershed, which is part of the Blackstone River and Narragansett Bay watersheds.

For Save The Bay, two key issues are at stake:

First, what will be the ecological impacts of the facility on the Clear River, Blackstone River and Narragansett Bay watersheds? We’re talking about such ecological issues as groundwater and wetlands systems, wildlife habitats and the water quality of the Clear River. In keeping with our mission, Save The Bay will give these issues very close scrutiny when, and if, Invenergy, the company proposing the plant, submits specific site plans and required permit applications to the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

Our second concern is about climate change and the potential levels of greenhouse gas emissions generated by the plant — an extremely complicated issue on local, regional and global levels. Save The Bay is mindful of two important facts: 1) global climate change is having profoundly harmful effects on Narragansett Bay, and, 2) under the Resilient R.I. Act of 2014, the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4) is required to submit to the Governor and General Assembly a strategy for achieving greenhouse gas reduction targets set forth in the Act. The deadline for this report is December 31, 2016.

Hikers explore the Burrillville woodlands at the site 

of the proposed power plant. 
We are urging the EC4 to consider a number of important questions in order to chart the state’s energy course carefully and thoughtfully. Is the proposed facility even needed to meet state and/ or regional energy needs? What are the benefits of investments in renewable energy generation and energy conservation on energy system supply and distribution? How do they quantify the impact of these investments — past and future — on energy system reliability, supply, and costs of transmission and power generation? What is the potential for Canadian hydroelectric power in replacing nuclear power as part of the region’s energy mix?

“These are important considerations that must be part of the EC4’s work in guiding our state toward our greenhouse gas emission goals. A decision by the Energy Facilities Siting Board on this proposed power plant before the EC4 develops its greenhouse gas reduction strategy is like the tail wagging the dog,” said Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save The Bay.

Ultimately, and only after that strategy has been developed and adopted, the burden of proof that this proposed power plant meets the greenhouse gas reduction goals of the Resilient R.I. Act lies with Invenergy and the Governor. Save The Bay has concluded that until the EC4 submits its greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategy and this burden of proof met, it is premature for the R.I. Energy Facilities Siting Board to make any decision on the construction of Invenergy’s proposed natural gas-fired power plant in Rhode Island.

As we go to press, the R.I. Energy Facilities Siting Board has conducted public hearings and continues to evaluate economic, community and environmental factors as it prepares a recommendation to Governor Gina Raimondo. Stay tuned