Restoration and resilience on the Narrow River, Rhode Island: Fusing ecology, education, and outreach
The Narrow River and its associated marshes in Narragansett, RI are an important estuary for native flora and fauna. The Narrow River hosts the John H. Chafee National wildlife refuge but is also heavily developed along much of its reach and is intensely used for recreation during summer months by boaters, fisherman, swimmers and paddlers. As is true of salt marshes globally, Rhode Island’s salt marshes are among the state’s most degraded ecosystems, despite their economic and ecological importance. Human impacts are the main drivers of this degradation, ranging from daily use to impending climate change. Narrow River’s salt marshes are plagued by rapid erosion due to increased wave action from violent storms, such as Hurricane Sandy, and human uses, particularly motor boats. Water quality monitoring since the 1970s indicates persistent water quality problems with only minor improvements in the last several decades. The Narrow River has consistently failed state standards for coliform (bacteria) levels. Additionally, some parts of the river have been closed to shell fishing due to algal blooms caused by nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen. Education and outreach efforts are vital steps to increase the resilience of this ecosystem but require investing more resources to further integrate scientific research, management and public support.
While some education and outreach exists, more efforts are needed to mitigate the human degradation of this estuary. One of the main organizations conducting outreach is the Narrow River Preservation Association (NRPA) and their focus is K-12 education. We suggest incorporating experiential learning opportunities such as participating in living shoreline implementation and monitoring for students and volunteers at all educational levels. Such work can be conducted in collaboration with the NRPA, The Nature Conservancy, Save the Bay, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and other state and federal partners. Participation by the user community including residents along the Narrow River, fishermen, and boaters is essential to successfully integrate the social and ecological drivers of estuary conservation. Efforts could include educational trailhead and parking lot information kiosks throughout the publically used areas of the Narrow River, citizen science opportunities and graduate and undergraduate internships and research opportunities. Decreasing erosion caused by motorboat wakes may require additional speed limit and no wake zone signs throughout recreational areas of the river. These efforts will be low cost and low maintenance and potentially provide a high reward for this sensitive ecosystem.