Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Thanks, and Signing Off

As of December, 2011, I am no longer working for Save The Bay. After 18 years as your Narragansett Baykeeper, I have accepted a new position as Director of Ocean and Coastal Conservation at the Rhode Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

Words cannot express how grateful I am for having had this opportunity to serve you as Baykeeper. My time with Save The Bay has been extraordinary in every respect. I look forward to continuing this important work from my new post.

Together, we have accomplished so much to clean up the Bay and rivers and return them to their rightful owners- the people who love them- to use safely and with peace of mind. And while we've come so far, the job is never done.

Below, I am re-posting the Providence Journal story by Richard Salit on my job change. I do this not just because the story is flattering, but because I think Rich tells the story better than I ever could.

Thanks. And please stay in touch. Love, JT



Torgan moves to Nature Conservancy

He’ll join conservancy as director of ocean and coastal conservation efforts


John Torgan had been with Save The Bay for only two years when a stormy January night
in 1996 brought him out to Point Judith in the early hours of the North Cape oil

Coast Guard crews were scrambling about in oil-smeared clothing. The governor arrived
to deal with the unfolding crisis. And the media was in a frenzy covering the
chaotic scene.

Reporters looking to interview experts turned to the 26-year-old Torgan, the lone Save The
Bay official present at that point.

“I had to do it by myself,” recalled Torgan. “The next day I was on TV around the

Ever since, Torgan has remained one of the most visible advocates for the marine
environment in Rhode Island. Only now, 18 years after joining Save The Bay, is
he stepping down from the high-profile Baykeeper post that he has held for most
of his time at the environmental organization.

“It’s the greatest job in the world for the right person,” said Torgan, 42. “But it’s
not all fun. It can be very contentious. I am Save The Bay’s front line. Being
the point of a spear can be a difficult place to be.”

But Torgan isn’t giving up on his passion for the water a
passion inspired in his youth fishing with his dad on the Bay and taking summer jobs on
charter fishing boats, in a fish-processing plant and on Block Island. On Dec.
5, he’ll begin working in Providence for the Rhode Island chapter of The Nature
Conservancy, serving as its director of ocean and coastal conservation.

“It’s a global organization, and there are amazing offices and amazing people all around
the world,” Torgan said. That stature, he said, will allow him to elevate his
pursuits “to a new level and look beyond Narragansett Bay to coastal waters and
the ocean and neighboring states and the region.”

His departure, announced last week, gave him an opportunity to reflect on the
accomplishments he took part in at Save The Bay over the years.

The North Cape oil-barge tragedy spurred Save The Bay to lead a successful drive to
toughen Rhode Island’s oil-shipping laws, which remained in effect until federal
standards caught up with them, Torgan said.

Torgan also waged a campaign to force the Brayton Point Power Station to minimize its
impact on Mount Hope Bay, resulting in a cooling system that relied not on Bay
waters but a new pair of $600-million towers. He advocated for combined
sewer-overflow improvements to reduce raw sewage from being dumped into the Bay
during heavy rains.

And he fought efforts to create a deep-water port at Quonset Point and a liquefied
natural gas (LNG) terminal in Fall River.

Despite being the Baykeeper, Torgan sought to broaden the agency’s Bay-oriented focus to
include inland rivers, the ocean and coastal waters. Since they are all
connected, he said, “you are only shoveling against the tide” when you try to
improve one without addressing the others.

That’s why he helped establish a Coastkeeper staff in Westerly to monitor the South
County coastline and why Save The Bay has been addressing storm-water runoff
that carries pollutants into local waters.

“He really embodies the mission of Save The Bay. When I think about John, I think
about this great combination of knowledge and passion for protecting
Narragansett Bay,” said Christopher “Topher” Hamblett, a longtime Save The Bay
staff member who now serves as a policy director. “He loves to share that
knowledge with staff and volunteers.”

Hamblett also credited Torgan with working well with coalitions on very contentious

At The Nature Conservancy (where he replaces Kevin Essington), Torgan expects that he
and his staff will concentrate on developing strategies and programs to prepare
for climate change, sea-level rise and proposals for renewable-energy projects.
Another priority is protecting marine life, including the shellfish-restoration
project the Conservancy administers with funds from the North Cape spill.

“What I am doing with The Nature Conservancy is an expansion of what I do with Save The
Bay,” said Torgan. “It’s a natural and graceful transition ... that allows me to
stay true to my values.… Change is good for organizations and individuals.”

In fact, he said, he has been assuring colleagues at Save The Bay and elsewhere in the
environmental community that he is not going away.

“I’m going to be here with you,” he tells them. “We are going to work together. I’m
not disappearing.”


(401) 277-7467
Save The
Bay’s baykeeper, John Torgan, shown holding a blue crab in August 2010, will
broaden his concerns beyond the waters of Narragansett Bay as a director of The
Nature Conservancy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Stormwater Videos

Yesterday, we had a good northeaster blow through Rhode Island, and it gave me an opportunity to dash out and grab some video of stormwater- the polluted runoff from paved surfaces that occurs during rainstorms- as it enters the Providence River.

While the Narragansett Bay Commission's Combined Sewer Overflow tunnel has done a great job eliminating sewer overflows and capturing and treating lots of stormwater, pollution from stormwater remains a major challenge to water quality and habitat in the Upper Bay.

Animal waste, oil and grease, plastics, litter, trash, and other pollutants wash in to the Bay. It's among the top environmental problems in the watershed.

This video is from a stormwater outfall near the Community Boating Center in Providence, at the head of Providence Harbor. Note the oily sheen and small particles washing into the River, and the goose poop near my (soaked) feet...

Here's another one, located near the old Shepard's Warehouse Building off Allen's Avenue near the Port of Providence. This one is just a stream caused by the rainstorm- no pipe involved. Lots of trash just washing right into the Bay.

Addressing stormwater pollution is challenging and complex, because there are so many sources, and no centralized control as in wastewater. Often the best solutions involve the use of vegetation, open space, and minimizing paved or impervious surfaces. Vegetated buffers and coastal marshes and wetlands help to naturally slow the flow and filter the pollution out before it reaches our waterways.

Save The Bay works closely with the various state and municipal agencies across Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts to encourage low-impact development practices, habitat restoration, and stormwater education initiatives such as storm drain marking and shoreline cleanups. -JT

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Wild Turkey in Save The Bay Center Parking Lot

It's amazing to see the diversity and abundance of wildlife we have right here at the Bay Center in Providence, especially considering it was a landfill before 2005, when we opened the center. It's surrounded mostly by pavement and concrete, but a few acres of vegetation is all it takes to attract foxes, coyotes, bald eagles, osprey, falcons, and much more (not to mention all the fish and Bay creatures on the Providence River side).

Here's a youtube I made yesterday, July 6, 2011, of a wild turkey hen in our parking lot:


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thanks and Credit Where Due for LNG Victory

Dear Friends,

The news of Hess/Weaver Cove LNG's withdrawal of their Fall River proposal spread quickly yesterday, and our phones rang off the hook with media calls and messages from friends and supporters. Thank you all so much for your support of Save The Bay throughout this 8 year battle.

While there are way too many individuals and organizations to thank without this blog sounding like an academy awards speech, Save The Bay wishes to recognize a few of our strongest allies:

RI Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse: You are champions of our environment and your work on this issue was outstanding! Rhode Island is so lucky to be represented by you.

Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline: Thank you for your strong support and unwavering commitment!

Congressman Patrick Kennedy, we remember your work on this and we are grateful.

Massachusetts Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown: Your constituents are proud and we are all honored by your work on this issue. Your bipartisanship and passion for the Bay are exemplary.

Senator Ted Kennedy, this outcome honors your memory. We wish you were here to see this day.

Massachusetts Congressmen Frank, McGovern, and Delahunt: Your work in Congress and on the streets of Southeastern Massachusetts was extraordinary and brilliant. Rhode Island owes you a debt of gratitude.

Governors Chafee, Patrick, and former RI Governor Carcieri: Thanks and congratulations for your work on this.

Attorneys General Kilmartin and Coakley and former RI Attorney General Patrick Lynch: Excellent work, and thanks for putting the public's interests ahead of corporate interests.

The City of Fall River: Mayor Flanagan, former Mayor Lambert, the City Council and attorneys Dianne Phillips and Steve Torres: Thanks for leading this fight and for giving Fall River a reason to be proud of its waterfront. There's a bright future ahead for your great city.

The Town Council of Bristol: Bristol was a leader in this from the beginning, with an exceptional wealth of smart, active, and engaged citizens. Yours was a shining example of what a town can do when it calls on its best people and resources.

Representative Ray Gallison: Rep Gallison, thanks for all you've done for Rhode Island's environment. Your leadership on LNG in the assembly was admirable. Thanks!

The Town of Jamestown: Jamestown was another exceptionally effective municipality at many levels in this fight. The LNG Threat Committee was top-notch. Jamestown has great leadership in the General Assembly, including Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed and Representative Deb Ruggiero among others, and great citizens working at the grassroots level. You know who you are! We salute you!

The City of Newport: Newport was another great ally in this fight, recognizing early on that economic development can only work here if it is consistent with our values and respects the Bay and all who enjoy it.

The Fall River Coalition for Responsible LNG siting: Joe Carvalho, Gordon Carrolton, Everett Pearson, and everyone there: You were the heart and soul of Fall River. You gave everything, and served on the front lines of this with relentless committment and energy. Fantastic job!

Save Bristol Harbor: You are an amazing and highly effective group. This outcome proves that. It was really great getting to work with you on this, and I know we will continue to work closely together into the future.

Kickemuit River Watershed Council: Ann Morrill, Linda Brunini, and the rest of you are awesome! You never let us take our eye off the ball. Thanks and congratulations!

The Congress Of Councils: Dick Lynn and the organizers of the Congress did a great job keeping this issue in the public's eye and demanding hard facts and top-level research. Yours was another great example of how citizens can affect public policy.

Jamestown Working Group: Ellen Winsor and the rest of the group, you have always been our strong allies and we appreciate your work and your support. Well-done!

The Taunton River Coalition and the Wild and Scenic Rivers folks: This is a big win for the Taunton. Thanks for your vision for that great river, and for all the help and support on this over the years.

The Rhode Island Marine Trades Association: RIMTA knows that this LNG project would have been bad for business. Thanks for taking a courageous stand against this ill-conceived project.

Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association: Thanks to Steve Medeiros and the other great anglers who stood up to fight this. You guys are the best!

I know I have overlooked many important players in this message. I cannot overstate the value of what each and every one of you contributed to this. Your support, encouragement, and action really made a difference. If it were not for you, we might be looking at a very different outcome.

It was truly a privilege to work with all of you on this! Thank you. -JT

Monday, June 13, 2011

Hess LNG Pulls The Plug

Today, Hess LNG finally withdrew its ill-conceived proposal for an LNG terminal in Mount Hope Bay. This is welcome news, and good for everyone who loves the Bay.

That project was wrong from the start. Thanks to the efforts of so many of you, we convinced the world of that. This outcome is a credit to patience, persistence, and informed public advocacy. We never stopped fighting for the Bay and we never will.

Now, we turn our attention to the positive and constructive work of restoring water quality, fisheries, and wildlife habitat in Mount Hope Bay and the Taunton River. Here's to a more hopeful future...

Thanks and congratulations to all who had hand in this victory! JT

Monday, May 09, 2011

Mummichog Story

Check out Scott Turner's excellent article on the common mummichog from the Providence Journal: http://www.projo.com/opinion/contributors/content/CT_turner7_05-07-11_18NT6DP_v8.371ef8e.html

Scott Turner: Celebrating the uncommon life of the common mummichog

01:00 AM EDT on Saturday, May 7, 2011

By Scott Turner
In a memorable line from the movie, “Toy Story 2,” Jessie sees Woody and shouts excitedly, “It’s you, it’s you; it’s really you!”

That was how I felt when Narragansett Bay Keeper John Torgan, of Save the Bay, held out his palm to show me a three-inch, flip-flopping olive-green backed, vertically striped fish called the common mummichog.

I contacted Save the Bay after watching something dapple the water’s edge in the Blackstone Park/Swan Point cove on the Seekonk River in Providence.

At first, I thought that I was hallucinating. Then, when the Bay rippled on each side of me, I crouched at the shoreline and thought I saw what looked like little fish.

Even with sunglasses, I couldn’t tell what was jiggling the water.

Torgan was kind enough to meet me at the site a couple of days later. He possesses a fisherman’s eye, which is that well-developed skill of looking at water and seeing what most of us don’t.

With the tide out, we walked across mounds of salt marsh peat that were cloaked in ribbed mussels. Underfoot crackled last year’s hollow stems of spartina, also called salt marsh hay. When I stepped on the mud, a soft-shelled clam squirted up.

Wearing boot-foot fishing waders, Torgan negotiated the lapping tide in places where the mud can suck you in. I stayed atop the peat.

Tall wooden rods anchored each end off Torgan’s seining net. Lead weights held down the material, which was topped by floats.

Torgan gave me one side of the net. He held the other, and tilted the device on a low angle, as we dropped the net into the water.

On our first couple of tries, the fish took off. But on the third seine, we collected a couple of wriggling, white-bellied, silvery barred mummichogs.

Torgan said that mummichogs spend the winter in the Bay but become more active in spring. He called them one of the “most common and important salt marsh fish of Narragansett Bay and New England.”

Mummichogs eat all sorts of shoreline and marsh matter, from plankton and decaying algae to mosquito larvae. In turn, bluefish, striped bass, summer flounder and other fish eat mummichogs, which may reach five to seven inches in length.

Herons, egrets, kingfishers and other birds like to eat “mummies,” too, Torgan said.
A Native American word, mummichog means, “going in crowds,” a fitting moniker for a fish known for its schooling behavior.

Besides having the kind of fantastical name you don’t mind repeating, mummichogs are one the hardiest creatures around.

Adapted to both fresh and salt water, mummichogs tolerate wide variations in oxygen, pollution and salinity.

Mummichogs also possess two other adaptations to life in the shallows. First, as long it remains moist, a mummichog will draw in small amounts of oxygen through its scales, which is a lifesaver for any fish left behind by a receding tide.

Second, stranded mummichogs possess the ability to flip-flop, head over tail from a tidal pool or puddle back into the bay.

The other visible creature caught in the net was a one-inch-long shore shrimp, which is the most common shrimp found in the coastal waters of New England.

Like mummichogs, shore shrimp prefer inshore habitats, such as the brackish waters of salt marshes, where they munch on most anything.

Thirty years ago, the cove’s major flora and fauna included trash, sanitary items and dead fish. The water stank.

Although the Bay still takes in too much sewage and storm water, its waters are improving.
One of the inspiring aspects of a resurrected Narragansett Bay is that any number of little fish might cause near-shore waters in Providence to plink and plop, as if struck by invisible raindrops.

These “bait fish” include common mummichog and its close relative, the striped killifish, as well as sheepshead minnow, silverside minnow, juvenile menhaden, gizzard shad or bay anchovy.
Such richness is a blessing.

“You can’t have a vibrant Rhode Island without a clean Bay,” Torgan said. “You can’t have a revitalized Providence without a clean river.

“A focus on a healthy Bay and ocean is not special interest, it is a common interest.”

Every known life form on the planet relies on water. That the water around us is both getting cleaner and harboring fantastic life is another reason to shout, “It’s you, it’s you; it’s really you!”

Scott Turner ( scottturnerster@gmail.com) is a Providence-based nature writer. His columns appear here each Saturday.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hummel Report on Providence River CSOs

Readers- Check out today's Hummel Report at http://www.hummelreport.com/

and please read Motif Magazine at http://www.motifmagazine.net/ PP. 6-7 for a great story about how the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) abatement project has helped to clean up the Providence River. Enjoy! JT

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Osprey Vs Red Tail Hawk at Save The Bay

One sure sign of spring here at the Save The Bay Center at Field's Point in Providence is the return of the osprey to the nesting platform near our parking lot.

Over the winter, while the osprey were down south, the nesting platform would be used as a roost by red tailed hawks, kestrels, and other big birds of prey. I don't think anything nested there in winter.

However, driving out of the driveway Tuesday evening, I saw a red tail sitting there as the osprey returned. The osprey swooped and dive-bombed the hawk until it moved on. Check out the video:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Narragansett Bay Wins National "Great Waters" Designation


PROVIDENCE (March 22, 2011) – Narragansett Bay has been named one of America’s Great Waters, recognizing its ecological, economic, and cultural importance to the region. Today’s announcement by America’s Great Waters Coalition adds Narragansett Bay and its connected rivers and coastal waters to 10 original “Great Waters” established in 2010.

The designation is part of a nation-wide effort to build support for the nation’s most valuable and threatened waterways through regional ecosystem-based environmental management, coordination, and collaboration across state lines and traditional boundaries. Narragansett Bay and the coastal waters of Southern New England now bridge a gap between Long Island Sound and the Gulf of Maine, which already have Great Waters Designation.

Save The Bay applied for this designation in 2010. Today’s announcement adds Narragansett Bay and eight other “Great Waters” to the original list of 10. The original Great Waters include the Great Lakes, Coastal Louisiana, the Everglades, Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound, the Gulf of Maine, Lake Champlain, the Mississippi River, Puget Sound, and San Francisco Bay. Today’s additions include the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary, the Colorado River, the Delaware River Basin, Galveston Bay, the Missouri River, the NY/NJ Harbor Estuary, the Ohio River Basin, and the Rio Grande.

“Narragansett Bay deserves this distinction,” said Save The Bay Executive Director Jonathan Stone. “More than ever, we need to work closely with our neighboring states and the federal government to see the big picture. We are part of a unique Southern New England ecosystem, and it makes good economic and practical sense to coordinate and collaborate in its management.”

“The addition of Narragansett Bay to the Great Waters Coalition is a strong and significant move, as it solidifies the New England states with their connected Great Waters,” said Peter Alexander, Director of the Northeast Great Waters Coalition. “Rhode Island can now align its plans with its neighbors and build lasting support for clean water infrastructure and habitat restoration. In this budget climate, we need to work harder to underscore the critical needs and the benefits of investment in our waterways.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Introducing Baykeeper Videos

Blogs are always greatly improved by photos and videos, so today, I'm going to experiment with posting a few videos from my new HD Flip video camera.

South County Coastkeeper and Narragansett Baykeeper got these cameras at a deep discount as part of a deal through Waterkeeper Alliance with Flip.

We have a great view of the Providence River and Upper Narragansett Bay here at the Save The Bay Center in Providence. This was the view this morning:

Also, at this morning's staff meeting, a Northern harrier buzzed the windows of the Board room:

The video's grainy, I know- I'll try to get some better shots of it. Still, this is remarkable, as this bird is on the Rhode Island Endangered Species list. We've seen this one here almost daily for the past couple of months.

Here's another quick one of the harrier I grabbed out of my car window later in the day...

I'll bring you more videos as the spring progresses here... Enjoy! JT

Monday, February 14, 2011

Where are all the winter striped bass?

One of the first blogs I ever did back in the winter of 2005-2006 (http://narragansettbaykeeper.blogspot.com/2006_01_01_archive.html) focused on the hold-over winter populations of striped bass in Narragansett Bay.

That year, a few hardy souls who fish around the Point Street Bridge in Providence, and a few other locations in the Upper Bay and tributary rivers were catching lots of stripers right through the winter when water and ice conditions were favorable.

I have caught bass in the Providence River in the winter dating back to the mid 1990's, when I was introduced to the techniques used to catch them. There is a warm water discharge from a power plant (Dominion's Manchester Street Station) there, which may help to encourage bait fish to stick around and keep some small stripers from migrating south to the Hudson and Mid-Atlantic regions before returning in spring.

With or without power plants, rivers throughout New England have supported winter striped bass populations dating back to the earliest records. I haven't done much winter fishing in the past few of years, thanks to the addition of two babies, but I still pop out from time to time and, until this winter, I always managed a few fish. Last winter, 2009-10, was reported to be very poor for winter bass fishing.

This winter, according to the hardcore anglers, has been the worst in recent memory. Check out my friend and fellow blogger Dave Pickering's blog and perspectives on this at http://ristripedbass.blogspot.com/2011/01/winter-striper-fishingwhats-going-on.html . If Dave isn't catching them, there are probably not many there.

So, what are the reasons for the apparent decline? Naturally, there are many possible explanations, some with better evidence than others. One thing we have observed in Narragansett Bay is the lack of juvenile menhaden, or peanut bunker, that used to be much more abundant through the Fall. These little silver dollar-sized baitfish would bring huge blitzes of bluefish and school-sized striped bass late into the season, and some of the bass may have stuck around for them.

In general, striped bass stocks are off the highs we saw around 2003, but they are still in relatively good shape. Coastwide stock assessments used by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and RIDEM still indicate a healthy and sustainable striped bass population overall (see http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/bnatres/fishwild/pdf/bassrpt.pdf).

Could it be that they're just not coming into the Bay in the same numbers? Another theory that has been in the news recently is the role of climate. NPR's Christopher Joyce reported on studies by NOAA researchers in Maryland who suggest that a weather pattern known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), a change in ocean currents that brings warmer water to the Northeast, could play a key role. That story is here: http://www.npr.org/2011/01/25/133183300/atlantic-weather-may-be-key-culprit-in-fish-decline

While the evidence for warming and strange weather patterns afffecting life in the Bay is certainly there (remember the blue crabs last summer?), it's irresponsible to suggest that conservation and strict catch limits have not been important to the striped bass fishery. The recovery of stripers is widely-regarded as a conservation success story.

If environmental conditions are working against the stocks, that is all the more reason to be conservative with catch limits, and conservation-minded about striped bass fishing. After all, spring is right around the corner!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Important MA Stormwater Hearing January 12th CANCELED

The hearing I referenced in this blog is canceled due to the snow forecast for tomorrow. I will post the new details as soon as I get them. Thanks! JT

More than 60% of Narragansett Bay's watershed is located in Massachusetts, and according to USEPA Region 1, more than 60% of the pollution entering state waterways comes from polluted runoff, or stormwater.

Although we have collectively achieved dramatic improvements in wastewater treatment in Narragansett Bay in recent years, the problem of pollution running off of roads and paved surfaces during storms continues to pose a major threat to the health of Narragansett Bay and peoples' ability to use and enjoy it.

In November, EPA issued a draft general permit for small municipal seperate storm systems, or MS4s. These proposed permits would regulate dischargers in the coastal basins of Massachusetts, which include the Blackstone and Taunton River watersheds.

In general, we think the new draft permits represent a major improvement over the existing regulations which date back to 2003. While the details are important, and we will have substantive comments, EPA deserves our strong support for the draft permits, which will result in less pollution flowing into Narragansett Bay. We fully expect industry groups and some of the municipalities to push back.

Our Massachusetts-based partners, the Mass River Alliance, has a great website with simple fact sheets and background information on this issue and what you can do: http://massriversalliance.org/supportpermit/

The public hearing is Jan. 12, 2011 from 11:30-2:00pm at the Leominster Public Library, 30 West Street, Leominster, MA 01453. (The hearing is preceded by a public meeting on the proposed permit from 10-11am at the same location.)

I encourage you to come, or submit comments to EPA by January 21st. Written comments should be e-mailed to Kate Renahan at Renahan.Kate@epa.gov, or sent via postal mail to Kate Renahan, U.S. EPA-Region 1, Office of the Regional Administrator, 5 Post Office Square-Suite 100, Mail Code-ORA01-1, Boston, MA 02109-3912