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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ten tons of marine debris to be removed from Ninigret Pond

Other coastal ponds will be checked for remaining little presents left by Sandy
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PROVIDENCE - The Department of Environmental Management has received $250,000 through an agreement with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to assess, remove and dispose of disaster debris located in and around Narragansett Bay as a result of Superstorm Sandy.

On October 30, 2012, Superstorm Sandy inflicted severe damage in Rhode Island to communities and coastal resources in Bristol, Kent, Newport and Washington counties, leaving a swath of destruction and large amounts of debris in its waters and marshes. Although some of the debris was removed by the state, municipalities and volunteer organizations, a large amount of debris remains in hard-to-reach places and in sensitive areas in and around Narragansett Bay and Block Island Sound. The debris includes items such as docks, pilings, derelict vessels, and other trash.

"This funding will enable the state to remove debris left in the wake of Superstorm Sandy from Rhode Island's coastline," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "Narragansett Bay and its harbors and coves are essential habitat for many important fish species including mackerel, scup, hake, flounder, and herring. This project will directly benefit these species by improving the overall ecosystem health of the Bay and its coastal habitat."

"Natural disasters can cause significant and unexpected marine debris challenges for coastal communities all over the country," said Nancy Wallace, NOAA Marine Debris Program director. "We look forward to working with Rhode Island DEM on this removal project so that the state's coastal ecosystems can continue to recover."

Debris will be removed from seven locations which have already been assessed. The locations, estimated amount and composition of debris at each site are as follows:

  • ·         Hull Cove, Jamestown - 10 tons of timber, dock pilings, Navy camels, fishing and smaller miscellaneous debris;
  • ·         Potter's Cove, Jamestown - 10 tons of timber, dock pilings and miscellaneous large debris;
  • ·         Ninigret Pond, Charlestown - 10 tons of timber, docks, vessel parts and miscellaneous debris;
  • ·         Common Fence Point, Portsmouth - .25 tons of vessel and miscellaneous debris;
  • ·         Block Island - 36 tons of fencing, metals, lumber and miscellaneous large and small debris;
  • ·         Card, Potter and Point Judith Ponds, South Kingstown - 38 tons of docks, pilings, boat boxes, skiffs, lumber and lawn ornaments; and
  • ·         Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Prudence & Patience Islands - 10 tons of pilings, docks, derelict vessels, timber, construction debris and storage tanks.

In addition, a sonar assessment will be conducted of Winnapaug Pond in Westerly to determine what debris should and should not be removed to preserve this sensitive area. Winnapaug Pond is a coastal pond located across from the Westerly shoreline that is a popular kayaking venue and contains critical habitats for fin fish and shellfish. Although volunteers cleaned up a large amount of debris along the shoreline after Super storm Sandy, town officials believe that a great deal of debris remains submerged. The pond is hard to reach and requires special equipment to assess the amount and type of remaining debris.

The state estimates that there could be more than 100 tons of debris in these areas. By removing marine debris from the environment, the project will eliminate potentially lethal hazards to dozens of fish species, hundreds of bird species, and the sea turtles and harbor seals that frequent the Bay's estuarine habitat. 

The environmental hazards posed to fish and wildlife species by marine debris are well-known: smaller items such as plastics, ghost nets, and lines often injure or kill marine life through entanglement, asphyxiation, or digestive blockages. 

The removal of large items in particular will enable the footprint of habitat once covered by debris to return to its proper ecosystem function. Docks or other floatable, large debris are often re-suspended or set adrift during storm events, posing severe hazards to boaters - and when washed ashore they start the cycle of coastal damage and degradation all over again.

DEM, with funding from NOAA, has managed numerous marine debris removal projects in the past, resulting in the removal of more than 700 tons of marine debris from Rhode Island waters, continuously fostering growth of the native natural habitats in Narragansett Bay. DEM, working in conjunction with the RI Department of Administration, will, through a competitive Request for Proposal process, hire a qualified contractor to complete the proposed project. Ideally, the contractor will be hired by September and then the work can begin in the fall.

For additional information about the project, contact Terri Bisson, DEM programming services officer, 235 Promenade St. Providence, RI 02908 222-2776 (ext. 4402)