Friday, December 16, 2011

First Debris From Japanese Earthquake/Tsunami Reaches Olympic Peninsula

By Arwyn Rice, Peninsula Daily News

The first piece of debris that could be identified as washing up on the West Coast from the March 11 tsunami in Japan — a large black float — was found on a Neah Bay beach two weeks ago, Seattle oceanographers Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Jim Ingraham said Tuesday night.
Since then, the two researchers, known as DriftBusters Inc. — who have used flotsam to track wind and water currents in the Pacific since 1970 — have learned that the black, 55-gallon drum-sized floats also have been found on Vancouver Island.
Oceanographer Jim Ingraham answers questions about the islands of debris 
from the March 11 Japan tsunami that are slowly floating toward the 
Pacific Northwest. Behind him is a float, found east of Neah Bay, that is
believed to be the first identified piece of wreckage to arrive via 
ocean currents. Photo by Arwyn Rice/Peninsula Daily News.
Ebbesmeyer and Ingraham spoke to more than 100 people at Peninsula College and brought the float with them, along with examples of other items that may be showing up on beaches in the next year.
Tons of debris washed out to sea when a tsunami struck northern Japan after a massive magnitude-9.0 earthquake March 11.
About a quarter of the 100 million tons of debris from Japan is expected to make landfall on beaches from southern Alaska to California, possibly in volumes large enough to clog ports, Ebbesmeyer said.
Using models from a historic shipwreck that occurred 20 miles off Neah Bay, Ebbesmeyer and Ingraham have determined the path of debris that comes into that area off the Washington coast.
They said debris will be snagged by currents leading into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and that a large portion of it will end up on beaches from the mouth of the Elwha River to Port Townsend.
Many ocean models have shown that the massive congregation of flotsam that washed away from devastated Japanese coastal cities is in the middle of the Pacific and won’t make landfall in the U.S. for another year or two.
Most of it is exactly where those models predicted, but those models don’t take into account wind and flotsam with large areas exposed to the wind, said Ebbesmeyer, who became famous for his and Ingraham’s ocean research into currents after large spills of Nike shoes and bath toys from container ships in the 1990s.
Flotsam in a current travels an average of seven miles per hour, but it can move as much as 20 mph if it has a large area exposed to the wind, he said.
The float that was found in Neah Bay sits well above the water, has a very shallow draft and is lightweight, exactly what Ingraham’s computer model said would show up first.
It was found by Surfrider beach cleanup crews working on a Makah-owned beach on the strait, a few miles east of Neah Bay, Ebbesmeyer said.
The black floats are seen in the middle of the Pacific by the hundreds, and are not something that has been seen on Eastern Pacific beaches before, he said.
The floats are included in masses of black blobs supporting huge rafts of debris that include fishing boats, houses and possibly human bodies, Ebbesmeyer said.
Many of those bodies and parts of bodies will likely begin washing up in about a year, some simply as feet in athletic shoes, similar to those found in Puget Sound over the last decade, he said.
Ebbesmeyer has done extensive research on those feet, and said that many more may be found in coming years.
Athletic shoes make the perfect floats to preserve parts of bodies, Ebbesmeyer said, and there are still thousands of people missing from tsunami-stricken areas of Japan.
Shoes with remains or other possibly human remains found on beaches should be reported to the appropriate authorities, either police, sheriff’s deputies or park rangers, he said.
If the debris has any kind of identifiable marking, such as numbers or Japanese writing, it may be traceable, Ebbesmeyer said.
“All debris should be treated with a great reverence and respect,” he said.
Families in Japan are waiting to hear of any items that may have been associated with their loved ones and may travel to the U.S. to meet those who found these mementos, he added.
Items that wash up may include portions of houses, boats, ships, furniture, portions of cars and just about anything else that floats, he said.
The rafts of debris include whole houses which may still contain many personal items, and the Japanese are known for storing important personal mementos in walls, Ebbesmeyer said.
Even the smallest of traceable items may be the only thing associated with one of those people who were lost during the disaster, he said.
Contact Ebbesmeyer at for assistance in translation and to track tsunami debris back to its Japanese origins.
“I have a translator to read things in Japanese,” he said.
Large items still in the water should be reported to the Coast Guard, as they may represent a hazard to boats and ships, he said.
Some shipping lanes have already been rerouted to avoid the worst of the debris, he said.
People should also be aware of the possibility of radiation contamination, he said.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant leaked a large amount of radiation into the water in the wake of the tsunami, and no one knows what levels of contamination there are in the currents, and the items being carried in those currents, he said.
Ebbesmeyer suggested local police take steps to have sensitive Geiger counters available to scan items — just to be safe.

The event was unprecedented, and no one knows yet what levels of radiation, if any, items have picked up, he said.

 This article was originally published in the Penensula Daily News.

Narragansett Bay Journal, Winter Issue #21

The Winter issue of the Narragansett Bay Journal was distributed to subscribers on December 7th. This issue focused on solid waste across a broad set of topics. We have solicited articles from many organizations to give our readers a broad selection of important and timely issues we face in the Narragansett Bay Region.

The Narragansett Bay Journal welcomes contributions from our readers and we encourage folks to send their story ideas, letters, articles, photographs, drawings, poems, cartoons, etc to Lesley Lambert at

Below you will find a link to the complete issue as well as links to each individual article. Most of the material published in the Narragansett Bay Journal may be reprinted free of charge with permission. Please contact Lesley if you would like to reprint any of these articles.  
"Stroking Monet" a junk assemblage by Tom Deininger.
Read about his work in the Urban Nature in Art article
Individual Articles

Friday, November 4, 2011

King Tide: The Mightiest of All Tides

The king tide nearly washed over the bridge in Wickford R.I.
To view more photos of the effects of the
king tide in R.I. click here.

Do you live by the shore?  During the past week did you notice a significant rise in sea level?  If so, what you witnessed was most likely the result of a king tide.  The term “king tide” refers to a remarkably high tide.  This king tide – like all others – offers us a preview of what our coastlines will look like as the sea level rises.  To put things in perspective, mean high tide in Newport, Rhode Island is generally measured at 3.6 feet; however, during a king tide, this level can rise to 5.2 feet. Not only have high tides been extremely high in the past two months, but the rate at which sea level rises has been increasing over the past 100 years.  Because of this, our coastlines are being inundated with more salt water. And areas at or below sea level are experiencing more flooding than they have in the past.

Like all tides, the king tide is influenced by the relationship of the distance between the Moon, Sun, and Earth.  During its 28-day cycle around the earth, the moon’s gravitational pull exerts a significant force on the oceans.  When the moon and sun are in a parallel line with the earth, the gravitational pull of the moon and sun create spring tides. These are the stronger tides we see during the full and new moon phase. When the earth is in between the sun and moon—a new moon—the spring tide is lower than when the sun and moon are on the same side of the earch. However, when the moon is perpendicular (90ยบ) to the line of the sun and earth, we experience weaker tides, known as the neap tides.
The tidal cycle during a lunar month.

Although the east coast experiences two high and two low tides every day, the height of the tide changes each time. We experience two spring tides each month (during the full and new moon) but a king tide only comes along twice a year. The summer king tide generally tends to take place during the day while the winter king tide most often occurs at night, which garners it less notice. However, this year the king tide also occurred during sunlight hours, raising more awareness of the potential effects sea level rise will have in the coming century.  To be more exact, this year, in North Kingstown, the king tide took place on October 26, 27, and 28 at 7:46AM, 8:37AM, and 9:28AM, respectively. 

The Phrase King Tide originated in New Zeeland, Australia and other Pacific nations, possibly because they experience greater effects from tides due to their location in the vast open Pacific Ocean. The island nation of Tuvalu is also located in the middle of the Pacific and is made up of low-lying atolls that has been extremely affected by the combination of king tides and sea level rise. 

Here in New England the king tide was easily seen and impacted many coastal areas. In Rhode Island, citizens were invited to post photos on the R.I. Sea Grant Facebook page of the effects of this tide. Perhaps the most remarkable photos were those that displayed the disparity between low and extremely high tides (from a king tide) in Wickford, Jamestown, and along the Pawtuxet River, among other locales.

On Long Wharf in Boston, MA the king tide actually covered much of the wharf and flooded the streets.Watch the video above to see what the Wharf looked like on October 28th.

While king tide – along with its high and strong waves in the summer – may attract many adventurers, it is a force not to be reckoned with, as its strength can be deadly.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Restoration Celebration!

Pawtuxet River Restoration Commemoration
     On Friday, September 30th, the Pawutxet River Restoration Team will be cutting the ribbon to celebrate the restoration of the Pawtuxet River. In August, the Pawtuxet River Authority and its partners demolished the obsolete Pawtuxet Falls Dam, restoring natural flows to the river and opening passage for native migratory fish which have been absent from the river for 300 years!
      The agenda begins at 10 A.M. on Broad Street Bridge in Pawtuxet Village, overlooking the restored Falls. The Narragansett Indian Tribe will offer an invocation to the River and blessing for the return of the fish runs. A speaking program features state, federal and local environmental leaders and restoration partners, including Governor Lincoln Chaffee, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, EPA regional administrator Curt Spalding, RIDEM Director Janet Coit, and Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save The Bay. Finally, a group of canoeists and kayakers will paddle down the Pawtuxet River and into Narragansett Bay--a new "Blueways" water trail made possible by the dam removal.
     Following the events on the bridge, the Pawtuxet Restoration Team will host a reception at the Aspray Boat House in Pawtuxet Park--just south of the bridge--beginning at noon, with a light lunch provided.
     This event is open to the public and all are encouraged to attend. 

About the Restoration:                                                                                                                
Demolition began on the Warwick side where fish
 passage is targeted for best low-flow conditions.
     In August 2011, the waters of the Pawtuxet River rushed over the natural bedrock falls at the river's mouth, flowing freely into the salt water of Narragansett Bay for the first time in 300 years. The river restoration was the result of the largest ecological dam removal project yet undertaken in Rhode Island, led by the  Pawtuxet River Authority and Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, with funding and technical assistance from more than a dozen federal, state and private organizations (see list below).
     The purpose of the project is to improve the ecosystems of the Pawtuxet River watershed and Narragansett Bay by restoring populations of native migratory fish, such as river herring and American shad, which have been blocked from fully accessing their natural spawning habitat for hundreds of years. Herring and shad are important components of marine and freshwater ecosystems, providing abundant food for bluefish, striped bass, largemouth bass, herons, ospreys and many other predators-even harbor seals, which winter in the Bay. The dam removal will directly benefit Rhode Island's $200 million fishing industry, provide modest flood reduction for homes and businesses, improve water quality in the lower Pawtuxet River, and restore boating access between the river and the Bay.
Excavator putting an engineered steel plate into place.
     Throughout the month of August, contractors used excavators fitted with hydraulic hammers to break up the 150 foot concrete spillway of Pawtuxet Falls Dam, removing it from the river as rubble. The concrete dam was built in 1924, replacing an earlier timber dam. The project restores seven miles of free-flowing river habitat to one of the state's largest and most historic rivers, increasing its velocity and reducing its depth along its downstream reach by two to three feet. Biologists estimate that more than 100,000 herring and shad will return annually to spawn in the Pawtuxet now that the dam has been removed. To speed the river's recovery, RIDEM biologists will stock herring and shad into the river, while PRA's construction contractors will install native wetland plants and trees along newly exposed riverbanks.
     The Pawtuxet River restoration project was made possible through a collaboration of more than a dozen federal, state, local and private organizations which provided funding, technical assistance, and volunteer work. The construction and planting phases cost approximately $600,000, funded primarily by the USDA Natural Resources conservation Service under its Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program and R.I. Dept. of Environmental Management under the Narragansett Bay and Watershed Restoration Bond Fund.

Hunters Garage

For more information about the event, contact:                                          

Rita L. Holahan, Pawtuxet River Authority,  
(401) 935-0723
Thomas Ardito, Narragansett Bay Estuary Program  
(401) 575-6109 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Narragansett Bay Journal, Fall Issue #20

The Fall issue of the Narragansett Bay Journal was distributed to subscribers on September 7th. This issue focused on sustainability across a broad set of topics. With 16 articles, this is one of our largest issues yet! We have solicited articles from many organizations to give our readers a broad selection of important and timely issues we face in the Narragansett Bay Region.
The Narragansett Bay Journal welcomes contributions from our readers and we encourage folks to send their story ideas, letters, articles, photographs, drawings, poems, cartoons, etc to Lesley Lambert at
Below you will find a link to the complete issue as well as links to each individual article. Most of the material published in the Narragansett Bay Journal may be reprinted free of charge with permission. Please contact Lesley if you would like to reprint any of these articles.

Fall 2011, Complete Issue
Individual Articles
The Local Catch can be found at many of the Farmers Markets
throughout Rhode Island. To learn more read the article
The Changing Face of Agriculture and Smart Growth.

The next issue is set to come out December 7th, and will focus on solid waste. The issue will highlight the coastal clean-up that will take place on National Estuaries Day (September 24th), an update on the health of Narragansett Bay beaches, and the trash TMDL. Other articles include resource recovery, recycle-a-bike efforts, urban trash art, and reducing trash during the holidays. If you have any suggestions for articles, contributors, photographs, drawings, poems, etc, please send them to Lesley Lambert at!

Click here to sign up to receive the electronic edition of the Narragansett Bay Journal.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nature, Art and History at the Norman Bird Sanctuary

 Tucked away on Third Beach Road in Middletown, R.I. is a natural haven known as the Norman Bird Sanctuary (NBS).  In 1949 Mabel Norman Cerio willed approximately 235 acres of land, a portion of her original Paradise Farm in Middletown, Rhode Island, "for the propagation, preservation and protection of birds, and where birds and bird life may be observed, studied, taught and enjoyed by lovers of nature and by the public generally so interested in a spirit of humanity and mercy." Over the years, NBS has grown to include more than 325 acres of diverse habitats, and its mission remains true to Mabel Norman Cerio's original vision.
With seven miles of trails, a visitor’s center, beach education center, natural history museum, vegetable garden, chicken coup, and gift shop, the NBS offers entertainment and education to every visitor. With camp programs, field trips, garden workshops, harvest fairs and more, the Norman Bird Sanctuary is a leader in environmental education in Rhode Island.
Exploring the beach.
This summer NBS received a grant from The Rhode Island Foundation’s Newport County Fund to turn their original small garden plot into an educational, multi-garden area called The Good Gardens and to provide education programs on gardening to community organizations.  A partnership with the Martin Luther King Jr. Center (MLK) in Newport was established. This partnership has brought the children of the MLK Center out to the Sanctuary to learn about gardening and how the coastal environment played a role in Native American gardening.   Each week a new group of students from kindergarten through grade 6 take a field trip to NBS. The field trip begins with a tour around the touch tanks in the Third Beach Education Center where the NBS has collected many specimens of local fish as well as some tropical species that have traveled north on the Gulfstream and come into our estuary. Then they head over to Third Beach to explore the shore. After collecting the coolest things they could find, the children learn about what they found.
Listening to the sound of the ocean through a whelk shell.
The counselors also show the children how Native Americans used the natural resources. For example, the purple inside of a quahog shell was used as currency known as wampum. The Native Americans also used seaweed to fertilize their crops, shells to make gardening tools, and whelk egg casings as baby rattles.
After exploring the beach the camp returns to the Sanctuary to investigate the farm. They learn about vegetables, herbs and fruits, and how they are grown. NBS has used a Native American technique known as “three sisters” in their garden. The three sisters are corn, squash and beans. Corn is planted in the middle, beans are next so they can grow up the corn and squash are planted around the base of the corn.  The bean vines produce nitrogen in the soil—providing nutrients to all the plants.
Corn, squash and green beans grow very well
together and make up the three sisters.
After learning how the garden grows, the children got a taste of the ripe vegetables they found in the garden. Although not all children willingly eat vegetables, some found they actually enjoyed zucchini, tomatoes broccoli and cucumbers. In fact, some children began asking their parents to pick up zucchini and squash at the MLK pantry!
Aside from the hands-on outdoor experience this partnership offers to the children in Newport, it will also provide funding and technical assistance to install a garden center at the Martin Luther King Center.
This past year NBS also developed a partnership with Central Falls High School, where the students were given the opportunity to take field trips to the Sanctuary, learn about the plants, animals and natural history of the area. They brought their knowledge back to the city with them. After cleaning up their neighborhood park they planted trees and a peace garden with the students from other Central Falls schools. The students at Central Falls High School confidently spread their environmental literacy through a YouTube video.
But children’s education is not all they do at the Norman Bird Sanctuary. There are many events for adults as well. In September they will host a number of events for families and adults. Something of That Nature, an art show inspired by nature and the Norman Bird Sanctuary, will be held at the Third Beach Education Center September 9th through the 11th. The event is free and open to the public. As is their international coastal clean up on September 24th.
These mushrooms were found in New
Hampshire, but mushrooms thrive in
moist areas, so you are bound to see a
lot on the hike!
The Norman Bird Sanctuary will also host a Mushroom Walk in the Woods on Saturday the 17th for $10-members, $12-non-members. They also offer field trips for homeschooling, story-time in the garden, bird walks, and garden classes. Their annual fall Harvest Fair is scheduled for October 1st – 2nd.  To learn more about these special events go to
Whether you are an avid birder, a natural explorer, or just want a place to walk around in nature, the Norman Bird Sanctuary offers the perfect place for you to observe, learn and enjoy some of the natural habitats and resources our state has to offer.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Crabs and Mangroves in Jobos Bay Puerto Rico

Mangrove System in Jobos Bay, Puerto Rico.
One Coastal Fellow at the University of Rhode Island, Ryann Rossi, is currently working on a fascinating 3-part project with her mentor, Brita Jessen, out of both the Bay Campus at URI and Jobos Bay, Puerto Rico. Rossi’s work for Jessen’s dissertation at the Graduate School of Oceanography at URI is entitled “Ecological Effects of Nutrient Enrichment in a Coastal Mangrove System.” Jessen’s dissertation consists of three parts, one of which we discussed in detail with her and Rossi. They are studying the effects of agriculture and urban sprawl, and the associated nutrients they bring on mangrove systems in southern Puerto Rico.
Nutrients may sound good for humans, but for our ecosystems they can often mean bad news. An abundance of nutrients are introduced to ecosystems by fertilizers and pollution. They can wreak havoc upon the natural state of the environment. While the effects of nutrients on the environment have frequently been studied in developed countries such as the United States, there is a lack of studies of the problem in less developed countries such as Puerto Rico. Not only are Jessen and Rossi studying nutrient cycling in an area that has been virtually unexamined, they are studying in an area of growth and dynamism – Puerto Rico is rapidly being affected by urbanization and agricultural development. Monsanto and Pioneer – two of the largest agricultural industries in the world – have recently announced they will be expanding their facilities in Puerto Rico. Since 2003 more than 50 pharmaceutical facilities and 49 medical device companies have set up shop, and more than $4 billion has been invested in biotechnology manufacturing facilities. As the urbanized areas in Puerto Rico switch over from septic systems to sewage systems, there may be a lessening of nutrient overload from human sanitation; however, urbanization and agricultural development will likely outpace the improvements made by the transition to sewage systems.
Ryann Rossi eating lunch in the field.
The particular environment in which Jessen and Rossi are conducting their studies is the mangrove system. Mangroves are natural barriers between the sea and land and are natural carbon sinks, meaning they accumulate and store carbon dioxide (CO2) from the sea, land and atmosphere. Like the salt marshes and wetlands here in Rhode Island, they too are feeding and nursery grounds for countless species. Tropical areas typically have lower nutrient concentrations, and thus, clearer waters than temperate regions. In order to accommodate for the lack of data, Jessen and Rossi are adapting their research from work done by Jessen’s graduate advisor, Dr. Scott Nixon. Their studies are similar to those that have been conducted in salt marshes all over the coastlines of America.
Nutrient enrichment stimulates microbial activity, which increases the rate of decomposition of materials such as leaves, seaweed and dead fish. Another key player in the decomposition of organic materials are crabs. And in Puerto Rico, there are many species. Crabs are “shredders” and the primary consumers of mangrove leaves. In the words of Rossi, crabs are “ecosystem engineers.” By this she means that they alter the habitat by increasing the rate of decomposition of mangrove leaves and other decaying material. They also dig burrows, which mix sediments and bring oxygen to roots in the peat-based sediment.In order to examine the effects of nutrient overload in the relatively unstudied ecosystem of mangroves, Jessen and Rossi have created a group of mini-ecosystem testing grounds in Jobos Bay to determine how various levels of nutrients will affect the mangrove systems. They have simulated the effects of both agriculture and urban development, while maintaining several control plots. In the urban testing areas, they are using a water-based fertilizer with a nitrogen to phosphate ratio of 16:1, while the agriculturally effected plots, use a water-based fertilizer with a nitrogen to phosphate ratio of 50:1. Both ratios are similar to what is found to contribute in temperate areas. The control plots maintain their natural nitrogen to phosphate ratios.
A quarter compared to the size of a
hole dug by a crab (ecosystem engineers).
Jessen and Rossi’s research not only tests the effects of agricultural development and urbanization on mangroves, but also – within the different test plots – what exactly is leading to the decomposition of leaves. In other words, is it microbial activity from the increased nutrients or the feeding of crabs that primarily contributes to the breakdown of leaves and increases the stability of the peat-based sediment? Jessen and Rossi know that fertilizers (nutrients) speed up microbial processes and thus, increase degradation rates with increasing levels of pollution. Sea level rise and the ability of the coastline of Puerto Rico to handle it is also an issue of concern.

In order to test the effects of anthropogenic growth, Jessen and Rossi have placed yellow leaves (those that are about to fall off the plant) inside mesh “litter” bags in each testing site so that only microbes (not crabs) can feed on them. Each bag contains approximately four grams of leaves, about 7-9 leaves. Three bags were left at each site during their last visit in early July. They’ll return to Jobos Bay in early August to weigh the bags to see how much has been broken down by microbial degradation during the interim. They will then compare the amount of microbial breakdown of the leaves within the bags to the amount of degradation of leaves that have been exposed to crabs. The crab-exposed yellow leaves have been marked by Rossi’s careful work of tying strings to each one. The final weights of the exposed and contained leaves will allow the pair to make a comparison between the amount of microbial (inorganic) decomposition and organic degradation by crabs.
Jessen and Rossi are highly enthusiastic about their research and experiences in Puerto Rico. They are very grateful to their funders, some of whom include The Nature Conservancy, the R.I. and Puerto Rico Sea Grants and the U.S. Forest Service. The URI Coastal Institute and National Estuarine Research Reserve in Jobos Bay, Puerto Rico have provided fellowships for both.
Jessen is always looking for willing and motivated students to volunteer to work with her on her exciting dissertation studies. If you have an interest, please contact her at
Brita Jessen of Boston, MA attended Wellesley College for her undergraduate studies and is currently studying biological oceanography under the guidance of Professor Scott Nixon. Ryann Rossi of Malta, NY will graduate from URI with a B.S. in marine biology in 2013.

Elizabeth Gooding & Lesley Lambert

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Destructing Pawtuxet Falls Dam

Demolition is about to begin on the Pawtuxet Falls Dam in Pawtuxet Village! SumCo Eco Contracting is setting up their staging ground this week and will begin diverting the water and removing the dam on Monday, August 8th.
The Pawtuxet Project Team has set up a blog to chronicle the demolition of the dam, the planting and growth of the plants that will be installed to stabilize the bank. We will be posting pictures regularly to produce a time-laps series of the area. This blog will also provide the public an opportunity to ask questions and get answers about the project. Please visit our blog at and become a follower to get up-to-date information about the project.
The sections of dam you see here will be removed down to the bedrock.
This stretch of the Pawtuxet River is almost entirely bedrock so the river will
still have a cascading effect over the rocks after the concrete dam is removed.
And fish will be able to swim back up to their spawning grounds!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

WPWA Survey for Aquatic Invasive Plants

Volunteers paddle among
nuisance pond plants
The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association (WPWA) – in conjunction with URI Watershed Watch, RI Natural History Survey, and RIDEM – hosted a two-part invasive species workshop this past week. The first part of the workshop was held at the Coastal Institute at URI’s Kingston Campus on Thursday, July 14th from 6:00 to 8:30 PM. This portion of the workshop focused on educating volunteers about aquatic plant ecology, training them to identify the invasive plants, and discussing with them all that a survey entails. The second part of the workshop took place on Saturday, July 16th from 9:00AM to 12:00 noon at the Kingston Community Center at Asa Pond in South Kingston.
A view finder allows you to look
under the surface of the water
It was here that the volunteers reviewed and put into practice the identification skills they developed in part one of the workshop. The volunteers learned how to conduct the survey from boats, canoes, and kayaks. Anyone with access to a boat was welcome to join in the free survey. Plant identification guides and other necessary materials were provided free of charge. One such material involved in the survey were viewfinders, which are essentially see-through cylinders that allowed participants to view the submerged aquatic vegetation without any glare from the sun. Secchi disks were used to test the turbidity of the water. Volunteers gathered samples from the pond and placed them in bags labeled with their location and then marked that location on a map of the pond.
Native floating heart (white flowers)
Invasive species can have a significant impact on the ecosystems they invade and Asa Pond is no exception. While plants are generally considered beneficial to aquatic ecosystems, as they lower the water temperature through shading and prevent erosion, invasive plants can disrupt the natural ecosystem when they out-compete native species. According to Elizabeth Herron, who has worked for the URI Watershed Watch since 1992, the most common submerged invasives in the Rhode Island are – in decreasing order of abundance – variable leaf milfoil and fanwort. These species are particularly prolific because they can reproduce from fragments; in other words, a piece of one of these plants can grown into its own full-grown plant. Also, as may be the case with purple loosestrife overtaking native loosestrife and nymphoides peltata out-competing native floating heart, the bright colors of the invasives are more attractive to pollinators, which leads to more seeds being spread of the invasives and, thus, their proliferation.
Invasive yellow floating heart
Herbicides are the most effective means of combating the overabundance of invasive species and some have even been developed to specifically target invasives while leaving native plants unscathed. Unfortunately, herbicides can be very expensive and require a permit from the Department of Environmental Management; thus, they are not always a viable option for control of non-native species. Preventing the introduction of invasive species is generally the most desirable option; however, many people introduce invasives unknowingly and, education and outreach are important. Oftentimes, boats will introduce invasives when they are not properly washed. Similarly, plant fragments that remain in trail/bait buckets can lead to the introduction of invasives to areas where they’ve not previously been seen. Protocol for cleaning boats and buckets is currently being established. WPWA is currently working with groups in Connecticut to get support for invasive aquatic plant monitoring.
Variable Milfoil is an invasive species
The good news is that despite the heavy public use of Asa Pond, no invasive aquatic plants were detected during the survey. Still, throughout Rhode Island there is much work to be done in terms of preventing the spread of aquatic invasive plants, but through educational public outreach events such as the two-part workshop, progress can be made. If improvements are to be made it will require hard work on the part of volunteers and stakeholders throughout the watershed. If the turnout for this year’s workshop is any indication, there are many citizens concerned with the health of their watershed.

Invasive water chestnut


Elizabeth Gooding

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Stingrays and Skates

Atlantic Stingray
Some people are scared of stingrays, some people like them, and then there are those very few people who live for stingrays. We had the opportunity to meet one such researcher from the University of Rhode Island and his Coastal Fellow who is following in his footsteps. John (Jack) Szczepanski was preparing for a joint meeting of ichthyologists and herbatologists in Minneapolis, when he and his Coastal Fellow, Peter Schooling (Marine Affairs - URI ’13) took a break from their preparations and research to share a brief lunch with us and discuss their interests and research.
Szczepanski gave us some basic details about sting rays to get us started. Stingrays are elasmobranches; like skate rays and sharks they have a skeleton made entirely of cartilage. Certain rays have reinforced jaws which allow them to consume hard species such as crabs, whelks, and snails. Stingrays have strong chemoreception and use their sense of smell to find their food. They store urea in their tissues to control salt intake because unlike most fish they don’t filter out the salt water, rather they store all the nutrients, which makes them taste bad and smell like ammonia. Stingrays are commonly used as lobster bate. They are also sometimes used as faux sea scallops in the Midwest and many species of rays are eaten in certain cultures. Electric rays, which are often found in Rhode Island, appear large and blobby and have an electric organ-muscle. The poisonous barbs on a stingray’s tail (that famously and tragically killed Steve Irwin) can break off and likely do not grow back.
Electric Ray (the red area is the
electric field emitted)
Generally, stingrays move inland during their remarkably long (11 month!) gestation period. An egg case is absorbed in the side of the mother stingray, who eventually gives a live aplacental birth. This type of reproduction is known as ovoviparity; in other words, the ray embryos develop in eggs that are held within the mother until they are ready to hatch. Some rays are rather large when they are born. For example, bull nose rays are generally between 18 and 30 cm at birth. Stingrays do not have a set breeding season. In contrast to stingrays, skates lay eggs, which is one of the major differences between the two otherwise similar species.
Szczepanski with the stingray
that stung him in the hand
on his honeymoon!
Large groups of stingrays (particularly the eagle ray and bull nose ray) migrate north from tropical waters in the summer. They are new but no longer uncommon in RI and have been seen in Narragansett Bay as early as May. Their migration this far north that early in the season may be indicative of climate change. Szczepanski believes their migration patterns may also be indicative of ecological changes because they are generally not commercially fished. Much of Szczepanski’s research takes places in Delaware Bay, which serves as a breeding ground for sharks that are sand-born and then spend the rest of their adult lives offshore. Delaware is very species rich, but comparisons can still be made to RI despite our fewer and smaller populations. Perhaps the most important correlation that can be drawn between the two water bodies is that they are both estuaries – breeding grounds/nurseries for numerous species.
Szczepanski with a stingray
on his honeymoon.
Szczpanski has gone out on many surveys to assess populations of stingrays (including one on July 20, 2010 while he was on his honeymoon and ended up getting stung in the hand!) While out on the boat, he measures the disk width from wing tip to wing tip and length from nose to pelvic fins, determines the sex of the stingray, and then checks for its stomach contents. Szczepanski then weighs and identifies the food from the belly of the stingray. Skates can have their stomach pumped to remove the contents for measurement. Little skates, which are common in Rhode Island eat a variety of food. Among other things, Szczepanski is trying to determine if their diets are more specific in Delaware, where they have a greater variety of food to choose from, than in Rhode Island. Clear nose skates, which are also common in Rhode Island tend to feed on squid, wheat fish, worms, crabs, shrimp, and more. Bull nose rays eat anything from whelks to mud snails and hermit crabs and sometimes even razor clams. Cow nose rays have strong jaws and plate-like teeth which are used for crushing. They, too, eat razor clams. Szczepanski believes that the mechanisms stingrays use to find food are – in order of importance – smell, sight, and electroreception.
Over the course of two years, Szczepanski will perform more than 20 surveys per bay (about one every month) in the Delaware and Narragansett Bays. He hopes to monitor how many stingrays are caught during each trip and their weights and species type. His work takes a serious dedication because he has almost no funding aside from his graduate studies research allowance. Szczepanski says he is grateful to have the cooperation of fishermen who allow him to examine the stingrays caught in their nets.

Elizabeth Gooding


The Changing Water’s Edge - 06/23/2011 – 8:30AM-12:30PM
Simulated LiDAR Survey
On June 23, 2011, experts, researchers, and governments officials came together to discuss the potential effects and implications of sea level rise. Every aspect of sea level rise and its results were examined during the four hour meeting held at Save the Bay in Providence. The meeting was composed of three major sections: maps and resources for local managers, case study presentations and discussions, and a view from the private sector.
Rhode Island does not have a plan to deal with sea level rise; however, it is crucial that one be developed, as the Newport Tide Gauge shows that the rate at which the sea level is rising is increasing. Planning is currently in Phase 1, consisting of data consolidation as well as the identification and quantification of vulnerable assets. Storm surge and spring high tide in Wickford can be viewed as precursors of impacts from sea level rise.
The LiDAR data was collected on May 2, 2011 and the product delivery is expected by the fall of2011. The deliverables should include raw point cloud data as well as classified points that specify ground, non-ground (trees, buildings, etc.,) water, and noise (ie. birds.) The existing data from 1997-2009 consists of maps of different scales, formats, and quality. Those maps have been compiled to make one accurate map available for viewing on ArcGIS. The information derived from LiDAR data can help standardize the accuracy of our understanding of the terrain of Rhode Island. It has such precise resolution, its margin of error is only +/- 6inches. The previous map had a margin of error of greater than +/- 3 feet.Recently a LiDAR(Light Detection and Ranging) survey of RI took place. The data from these surveys can provide a foundation for elevation data of the state, which can allow for predictions of areas that will be most impacted by sea level rise. LiDAR has a number of benefits. First of all, it is very precise, recording over 100,000 points per second. It has the ability to get multiple returns from a single pulse: in other words one pulse could detect a bird, the trees over which it is flying, and the ground beneath that tree canopy. The two major LiDAR products are digital surface models and digital elevation models, the latter of which can create bare earth digital elevation models(DEMs) which are used to calculate the areas impacted by sea level rise. The bare earth DEMshave 10 foot cell sizes and are hydroflattened, showing neither contour lines nor bathymetry.
A one foot sea level
rise in Wickford Harbor
LiDAR data will be particularly useful when examining the state’s tidal marsh areas. The total area and actual location of tidal marshes is important for a number of reasons. Tidal marshes are quite vulnerable to sea level rise and their locations and total area can change as a result of sea level rise. Many roads are blocking their retreat and if those roads are not moved, the marshes will inevitably be inundated. South County is a prime example of where this is likely going to be an issue. In order to model the potential effects of sea level rise, Kevin Ruddock of the Nature Conservatory presented models of how a 1 feet, 3 feet, and 5 feet sea level rise would impact different areas of the state. He depicted the scenarios using SLAMM (Sea Levels Affecting Marshes Model.) This modeling program takes into account inundation, erosion, overwash, saturation, and accretion on the topography of the state. It presents data on a1:12,000 scale.
Following the presentation and discussion of the compelling SLAMM maps, there was a discussion with North Kingstown town officials. After a short break, panelists from Bristol,Newport, and Warwick discussed the potential impacts of sea level rise in their respective areas. Diane Williamson, the Community Development Director in Bristol, discussed concerns regarding storm surge and the infrastructure in the Poppasquash/Hope Street infrastructure where culverts are being blocked by the receding seawall. There is a question of whether or not to repair the road, as it is at such a risk for flooding, it may be a waste of money.
A three foot sea level
rise in Wickford Harbor
In terms of flooding, she succinctly said it “hits you at home because it is your home.” Her talk was followed by a presentation by Newport Planning Director, Paige Bronk. He discussed how storm surge is also a concern in the area, as Newport lies well within a 100-year floodplain. Storm surge threatens retail business on Thames Street; however, due to the historic nature of those buildings, raising them remains controversial. Bronk called for a stronger state building code that will consider flooding. He also encouraged zoning relief for properties at risk of coastal flooding. Finishing this portion of the meeting, Janine Burke from the Warwick Sewer Authority discussed how the floods of 2010 presented a true challenge to the wastewater infrastructure in the city. She provided forceful pictures and statistics about how the Sewer Authority faced an unprecedented challenge from the floods; her office was evacuated on March30th and water levels there rose to six feet. The floods tested pumping stations that were “built like submarines,” completely wiping out six of them. The biggest impact of the floods could be seen in sanitary sewer overflows and electrical system problems. As a result of the floods, the wastewater treatment employees are now actively involved in emergency planning. Burke suggested that in planning for climate change, the following are major points to be addressed:energy efficient initiatives, renewable energy, consideration of future hydrology, and avoidance of construction in floodplains.
A five foot sea level
rise in Wickford Harbor
Finishing up the day, Sandy Taft, Director of US Climate Change Policy for National Grid discussed adjusting to climate change and addressing the risks associated with it. He said we must consider the impact of weather – wind, water, and temperature – on infrastructure. Taft suggested looking at long term threats and prioritizing based on how long each asset will be in place. In terms of flood types, he mentioned four types: coastal/tidal, fluvial/river, groundwater, and flash flooding and that they have been focusing on river flooding. While Federal Emergency Management Agency ranks areas in terms of risk as either low, medium, or high, the maps being used to categorize those areas may be outdated or based on historical events and therein lies several problems which we all face. LiDAR is a very helpful data source but National Grid found that sometimes it is not enough. For example, LiDAR cannot record inside a structure and therefore National Grid has had to conduct surveys of the equipment inside a building to determine if they will be flooded based on their elevation. Once flood implications are understood, several construction alternatives can be deployed which Taft described as avoidance, resistance, resilience, and reparability. Since National Grid is a UK-based company, Taft shared the different data sources that are made available in the UK versus the US and, as a result, the different internal design standards deployed.
Overall, the day was hugely informative for all of those involved. The speakers highlighted the extent to which sea level rise will have far-reaching implications, many of which are often not immediately obvious.
Elizabeth Gooding

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dams, Culverts and Stream Crossings, Oh My!

River Herring (a.k.a Alewife)
Alosa pseudoharengus
their life in the ocean and
travel up rivers to breed.    

Imagine being a river herring. After spending a few years growing up in the Atlantic Ocean, it is time to return to the river you were born in. Your senses bring you back to the mouth of the Pawtuxet River where you swam out into the Narragansett Bay, tasting saltwater for the first time, just a few short years ago. You are ready to return to your hatching grounds with your school so you can repeat the process like so many ancestors before you.
The portion of Pawtuxet Falls Dam you see
here is slated to be removed this summer. The
removal will restore the connectivity of the river
to the Bay, and minimally decrease flooding in the area.

But to your dismay, a huge waterfall pours down in front of you (remember, you are a fish, less than a foot long). You cannot jump over the dam, and you cannot swim around it. Just then a large blue bucket scoops you out of the river. You sit in the bucket, afraid of what lies ahead. Then, without notice, you are dumped back into the river! But now you are upstream of the dam. You have just a short way to go to get back to your spawning ground. But you are not in the clear yet. Just up ahead you sense your way. You must pass through a dark and dingy tunnel, under a large strip of concrete with huge hunks of metal barreling overhead. The culvert you are passing through is a stream crossing, where a road passes over the stream. It has been a wet spring so there is just enough flow for you to pass safely. Had it been a dry spring, this culvert would be full of sticky mud and swimming through it would be impossible.

As you can see, this culvert can pass fish.
(Photos courtesy of NRCS)
Despite the odds, you have made it to your spawning ground! Unfortunately, only a few of your kind made it this far. Your school has decreased in numbers, but you make the best of it, and hope the weather and predators will be kind to your young.
No fish could jump high enough to make it into this culvert!
Your job is done. You follow the flow of the river back out to Narragansett Bay where you meet up with the rest of your school and return to life at sea.

While dams once powered the Industrial Revolution, and culverts allow us to pass safely over streambeds, these man-made obstacles can prevent wildlife from accessing their native habitats. In Rhode Island there are more than 671 dams. While some dams hold back water for us to drink, or maintain the level of a lake or pond, others serve no purpose. In fact, 180 dams in Rhode Island are classified as hazardous to life or the environment in the event of failure. The owner of the dam is responsible for maintaining their dam, however, many of the historical dams in Rhode Island have no identified owner because the mills they once powered are long gone. Despite the difficulties of ownership and strained fiscal situations, the watershed organizations and associations continue to work toward restoring the natural flow and environmental connectivity of the rivers. In some cases this means building a fish ladder, or installing a bypass channel that will allow fish and other animals to move upstream without having to leave the river. But when possible, the dam is just removed. By removing a dam all together, we not only re-establish the connection between the river and the Bay, but we eliminate maintenance cost.
If the culvert in the red square is repaired it would
open more than 17 miles of habitat in the
Pawcatuck River watershed to fish and wildlife.

The culverts that carry the streams under our roads were not always designed with fish and wildlife in mind. There are more than 2,780 miles of river within the Narragansett Bay Watershed. This does not include the streams or brooks that may flow through your backyard or neighborhood. Nonetheless, these streams and brooks play a significant role in feeding the rivers, connecting habitats and providing food and shelter to our fish and wildlife. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has identified 4,353 stream crossings in Rhode Island. They have inventoried more than 950 stream crossings in 12 watersheds in Rhode Island so far.  The inventory identifies the characteristics of the crossings and assesses the quality of the crossing based on standards developed by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Extension program in the College of Natural Sciences. Within the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed alone, more than 150 culverts are classified as severe barriers, meaning they do not support the needs of fish and wildlife.

As part of this project, NRCS is working with landowners and other organizations to identify potential restoration projects. Landowners with culverts on their property are encouraged to apply for grants under the Wildlife Habitat and Incentives Program to fund the restoration of their ineffective culverts. To learn more about this project visit the Rivers and Streams Continuity Project at UMass Extension.
Lesley Lambert