In Celtic mythology, the dolphin was considered “the watcher of the water” or “protector of sacred water.” So the recent sighting of common dolphins cavorting in a pod just off Barrington Beach could be taken as a sign that Narragansett Bay is getting healthy enough to support the kind of baitfish that will bring Flipper back into the fold here in Rhode Island, where the mermaids and giant sea monkeys left along with the horseshoe crabs back during the 1970s, when the bay was a toxic sewer.
I remember two things about combing the shore along the upper part of the bay back in the early 1970s. For the first couple of years, you could find as many horseshoe crab shells as rocks on the shore. Then they just disappeared. The other vivid memory is a nighttime excursion to the Providence waterfront, near where the big tankers dock now. I looked down into the water and saw a steady stream of electric blue goop going out with the current. Never knew what that blue goop was, but if I were a fish I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have wanted to swim through it.
In the years since, Save The Bay has done a remarkable job of cleaning the water, educating the public, lobbying politicians and fighting industrialists to bring the state’s most important resource back to health. I know this because about the time I moved back to Rhode Island, I began to notice the horseshoe crabs again, swimming along the tide line. Eel runs and bluefish runs frequent the channels. Some former oyster beds are recovering. More places are opening for safe quahogging. So there’s hope for the mermaids and sea monkeys.
It’s good news that bear have returned to our forests and dolphins to our bay. Now that environmental regulation, including legislation for clean water and clean air, has proven to work, and creatures like the osprey – on a fast track to extinction during the 1970s – are thriving once again in Rhode Island, many in Congress want to curtail these programs and put the ecosystem back in the hands of the industrialists. I think the dolphins dropped by to remind Rhode Islanders not to let them do that.
While Narragansett Bay has improved, it still has too much pollution from sewage waste, treatment plants, storm water spill-off, over-development and industrial facilities that violate their permits, resulting at times in the creation of dead zones, beach and shell-fishing closures, fish-kills and clam die-offs. It’s nice that the watchers of the water spent a day at play in Narragansett Bay. But vigilance isn’t just the job of marine mammals. If Rhode Islanders want to preserve the bay for future generations, we can’t expect dolphins to do all of the watching.
Which is why the annual Save The Bay Sale & Exhibit, opening this Thursday at the Save The Bay Center at Fields Point in Providence, is worth a detour for anyone who cares about the bay’s revival. More than 70 artists, most from Rhode Island, will showcase over 200 original works of painting, photography, sculpture and jewelry inspired by the Ocean State’s most prominent landscape. The show, which helps to fund the organization’s KEYS campaign (Keep Educating Young Scientists), continues through Dec. 27. If you’re an art-lover or a bay-watcher, drop by and discover more than 200 ways to see an old friend in a new light.
This week’s question: What was your favorite wildlife encounter in Rhode Island?
Blog on the Half Shell Classic
We didn’t exist as a blog back in 2000, when the movie “Chicken Run” came out. But Rhody-philes might like to rent the stop-animation classic, if only to rank the performance of its protagonist – a Rhode Island Red named Rocky Rhodes – against those of other cartoon Rhode Islanders, including the cast of “Family Guy,” Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head from the “Toy Story” trilogy, and “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.” Just sayin’: The rooster gives the American dysfunctional family, the potatoes and the soldier who takes himself a bit too seriously a real run for their money.