The Pettaquamscutt River, known to locals as the Narrow River, is a tidal inlet that opens into Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. It is marked by surf at the opening, strong tidal pulls along the shore, side channels, mud flats and salt marshes. These salt marshes are significant to the health of Narragansett Bay, providing food and shelter to numerous marine and land animals, protecting the water from polluted land based run off and buffering the land during storm based erosion. However boat traffic, loss of surface due to erosion and the major damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2013 raises significant concern. The Chafee Refuge section of the Narrow River, which is the home to threatened and endangered species such as the salt marsh sparrow, has lost more than 15% of its marsh habitat over recent years.
In 1970, a small group of local residents formed the Narrow River Preservation Association. These residents, along with the Nature Conservancy, the state Department of Environmental Management and the University of Rhode Island have been working to reverse the damage. Most recently, The Conservancy with local volunteers installed a pilot “Living Shoreline” to preserve the river’s banks. At three different spots, near where the river opens into the ocean, they have reinforced the shore with “logs” composed of coconut fiber and recycled oyster shells from nearby restaurants. These “logs” should trap sediment and attract a new oyster population, buffer the impact of surf, filter river water entering the ocean and generally protect the shoreline from further degradation.
According to John Torgan, Director of Ocean and Coastal Conservation for the Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island,
“They (the logs) were installed in spring of 2014, so we only have about a year’s worth of data, but we can see that in some areas it’s working well and in other areas it isn’t working as we had hoped. Where it’s working well (Sedge Island), you can see sediment accreting along the coir logs and new marsh grass poking up along and through it. Where it isn’t, coir logs were wrecked by ice and storms last winter and erosion continues. We will use the results of these pilots to inform future work there and in other locations.”
I selected this site because it is where I come from and visit every year. The degradation of the New England coast and the effects of spiraling development have long term and major effects. In this piece I have simply presented the colors and shapes and textures of the land where it meets the ocean, an environment I love and one I grieve for.