2016-08-18 / Nature

Glimpsing the Future of the Bay

By Jack Kelly


Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium is an interactive marine science center. August is Tropical Travelers month at the hands-on center, giving visitors a chance to learn about the fish that normally live in warmer, more tropical waters. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium is an interactive marine science center. August is Tropical Travelers month at the hands-on center, giving visitors a chance to learn about the fish that normally live in warmer, more tropical waters. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium, located at Newport’s Easton’s Beach, has opened a dynamic and thought-provoking display entitled, “The Bay of the Future: What Will Narragansett Bay Look Like in 1,000 Years?”

This new permanent display, contained in a donated tank holding 350 gallons of water and measuring 12 feet long, 7 feet deep and 2.5 feet wide, exhibits a wide range of tropical fish that have been captured in Narragansett Bay or in nearby coastal waters. It is the largest warm water tank exhibit at Save The Bay.

According to Save The Bay’s aquarist, Adam Kovarsky, “We have received our tropical fish residents from the Norman Bird Sanctuary, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Fish and Wildlife Division, Save The Bay staff and volunteers, and local fishermen. At this time of year, we are adding new fish every week, but at the present time the display includes striped burrfish, crevalle jack, scamp grouper, pinfish, spotted butterfly, short big eye, and smooth trunkfish.”


Scamp grouper Scamp grouper The shape of Narragansett Bay and its proximity to the Gulf Stream allow for millions of tropical fish eggs to float into Rhode Island waters, along with young tropical fish. These denizens of the Caribbean and other warm water regions have been captured in the Sakonnet River, Newport Harbor, salt marshes, and coastal waters around Aquidneck Island.

“The fish we capture are brought here and to other aquariums because they would not survive the cold winter waters,” Kovarsky said. “We give them a long life and use them as educational exhibits. We donate the larger species to other aquariums when they grow too large for our displays.”


Pinfish Pinfish The main culprit for the increase in tropical fish in local waters appears to be the effects of climate change.

“Climate change is causing the temperatures of our oceans to rise, and Narragansett Bay waters have risen four degrees in the past 100 years,” Kovarsky explained. “Due to these rising temperatures, we have caught tropical fish in the bay. We call them Gulf Stream orphans or tropical strays. This exhibit will show how rising temperatures can cause fish to travel from their natural habitats. It will also demonstrate how strays will become more frequent and how they may not be strays one day if the bay warms enough to support them.”

Kovarsky hopes this permanent exhibit will demonstrate the need for an aggressive stance on climate change and the effects it is having on marine life native to Rhode Island.


Short big eye Short big eye “People should care about climate change because it is caused by humans. If our planet keeps getting warmer, and life continues to go extinct at the present rate, which is actually faster than the rate when dinosaurs went extinct, where will that leave our bay?” he pondered. “Animals can only travel so far north or south on our planet for cooler waters. As they move north, they displace our own local species.”

The Exploration Center and Aquarium is open daily from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. through Labor Day weekend. During the fall and winter, its schedule will be Friday-Sunday 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. and school vacation days. For more information, visit savebay.org or call 401- 364-6020.

Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others.


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