Volunteers keeping watch on Warren’s waters

Volunteers in a joint Warren/URI monitoring program help track the bay’s health and oyster population

By Ted Hayes
Posted 7/29/21

 

CAPTIONS1Andrea Giles collects water samples at the Broken Bridge earlier this month.

2Rowan Smith, shortly after collecting samples one recent Sunday, runs one of several tests that …

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Volunteers keeping watch on Warren’s waters

Volunteers in a joint Warren/URI monitoring program help track the bay’s health and oyster population

Posted

Most people hadn’t woken up yet, but just before 6:30 a.m. one recent Sunday, Andrea Giles rolled up her pant legs, grabbed a small floatie packed with beakers and plastic collection bottles, and waded into the murky brown water just south of the Broken Bridge on the upper Kickemuit River.

Ms. Giles, one of 15 volunteers who monitor the quality of the town’s waterways in a joint program with the University of Rhode Island, took several samples, gingerly covering them with a wet towel to keep the sunlight out — it can be damaging, she said — and waded back out after a few minutes. Stopping with a visitor to pick up some trash that had been left on the shoreline, she walked up the short path to Barker Avenue, hopped in her Prius and headed home, where an hour’s worth of chemistry awaited her.

Ms. Giles is part of an ongoing effort, five years in now, to track the health of Warren’s waterways. For the first five years of its existence, the program had just a handful of volunteers, including Blount Boats’ Julie Blount and former Warren Town Council member Steve Thompson. Now, with additional funding approved by the council this year, the program is thriving. There are seven monitoring sites across Warren, and enough new volunteers to staff each site with two people.

The volunteers work from June through October each year, testing water every other Sunday morning for salinity, temperature, clarity and other data points. Their samples and data are sent to the University of Rhode Island, where biologists with URI’s Watershed Watch program use them in an effort to track the bay’s health and re-establish its historic oyster beds.
Ms. Blount’s late father Luther had long been involved in and fascinated by oysters, and the Blount Shellfish Foundation established after his passing funds several of the sites. The rest are paid for by the town.

Ms. Blount said she was overwhelmed by the boost the project received from the council this year, and she suspects there’s something else to the large number of new volunteers who joined this season, too:

“It’s a great way to get involved, and a lot of people want something like that" in the wake of the Covid pandemic’s worst. “It’s very attractive to a lot of people. Some of them are new to the community, and coming out of the pandemic, it’s a great way to meet people.”

Current testing sites include Jacob’s Point, Bridge Street, the Wharf Tavern, Ginalski’s Marine, Belcher Cove, the Broken Bridge and Touisset Point at the Touisset Yacht Club.

The volunteers range from retirement age to Rowan Smith, 10, who helps his mother and fellow Touisset resident Fred Massie monitor the Touisset site. Ms. Giles, who has a technical background, has proven to be an excellent addition, Ms. Blount said, and soon after starting helped interpret many of the complex instructions given volunteers by URI scientists. Her work has made it easier for the other volunteers to strictly adhere to the testing guidelines provided by URI, Ms. Blount said.

“It’s really difficult for people at first to understand,” Ms. Blount said. “She went through and simplified everything, and it’s made a real difference.”
Though the data they collect is a small part of the information collected across the state every year, Ms. Giles said she enjoys playing a small part in a big, and to her very important, effort.

“It’s very rewarding,” she said.

Ms. Blount also enjoys her twice-a-month hikes out to Jacob’s Point, and she takes the lower, wetter path just south of Locust Terrace. When the tide’s high, the path can be very wet, so she wears waders and treads lightly, taking in the sights and sounds of the morning.

“It’s beautiful there,” she said.

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