Putting Eyes and Ears on the Water (Part Two)

50 Ways We’ve Saved The Bay: Putting Eyes and Ears on the Water (Part Two)

Mackensie duPont Crowley, communications specialist

Save The Bay had made major steps in turning the tide on pollution—both as a political advocacy powerhouse and educational pillar in the community—for 23 years before the staff addition of a Baykeeper. A dynamic, on-the-water presence, our first Baykeeper began patrolling and responding to incidents of pollution in 1993, and continues to be a watchdog to Narragansett Bay, today. You can learn more about the early introduction of the Baykeeper and subsequent establishment of a Waterkeeper Program at Save The Bay by reading Part One.

Early promotion of the Coastkeeper program, featuring Dave Prescott and educator, Rebekah Kepple.


In 2007, Save The Bay announced a South County satellite office opening on the Pawcatuck River in Westerly to serve as a hub for the advocacy, restoration, and education efforts in South County and Coastal Ponds region from Narragansett to the Connecticut border. David Prescott, long time Save The Bay educator, would serve as Coastkeeper, replicating the Baykeeper model as an on-the-water presence to work in the community to protect, restore and promote the stewardship of this important region’s waterways. In 2013, the satellite office was transformed into the South Coast Center, where the public could touch, explore, and learn about marine and freshwater species in Rhode Island.


Coastkeeper Dave Prescott patrols the lower watershed in 2008.

Maintaining the water quality of the Bay has been a priority since the inception of the Waterkeeper program at Save The Bay, with Keepers taking on various projects to monitor Bay health. In the nineties, Baykeeper Rick Wood partnered with the DEM to launch the Narragansett Bay Marine Pump-Out and Giveaway program, aimed at raising awareness of the state’s 30 marine pump-out facilities and encouraging their use to reduce Bay pollution. In 1997, Baykeeper John Torgan and Save The Bay’s restoration team worked with NOAA to transplant eelgrass in the waters off Prudence Island and Jamestown to help restore habitat that was destroyed in the 1989 World Prodigy oil spill that dumped 290,000 gallons of home heating oil into the waters off Newport.

The South Coast Center in downtown Westerly.

Over the past 12 years, Coastkeeper Prescott has led an initiative to test water quality in the Pawcatuck River and Little Narragansett Bay, collecting data on bacteria, nutrients and chlorophyll levels. He used the results of these findings to directly advocate for upgrades to septic systems and treatment facilities; to further public education on environmental harm caused by fertilizers and pesticides; to continue enforcement of illegal waterfowl feeding and shellfish harvesting; and to make improvements to many stormwater outfalls. This useful data has also served to determine Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) levels in support of the Clean Water Act and helped pull EPA funding for both Connecticut and Rhode Island.


Our first Riverkeeper, Rachel Calabro, in the upper watershed in 2016.

Save The Bay’s most recent Waterkeeper program was developed in 2016 to monitor Narragansett Bay’s tributary watershed, including the Blackstone, Ten Mile, Runnins, Palmer, Kickemuit, Cole, Lee and Taunton rivers. Save The Bay’s first Riverkeeper, Rachel Calabro, defined the role by working with many federal, state, and local partners on salt marsh restoration, dam removals, fish ladders and recreation projects, as well as with watershed councils to protect local rivers and streams. Our current Riverkeeper, Kate McPherson, is a steward of this important watershed that encompasses over a million acres of wetlands, rivers, upland forests, towns, cities, roads and infrastructure supporting nearly two million people. 

Coastkeeper Dave & current Riverkeeper Kate McPherson work together to trawl for microplastics in 2018.

Riverkeeper McPherson reviews regulations that protect water quality and, when necessary, advocates for more rigorous, consistent, and transparent enforcement of existing regulations. She assists communities and watershed groups in identifying and securing state and federal grants for restoration, adaptation, and water quality improvement projects. The Riverkeeper seeks to promote a greater understanding of watershed health and its impacts on Narragansett Bay both online and in-person.

Stay tuned for Part Three of the history of Save The Bay’s Waterkeeper program!

Read Part One, a history of the Baykeeper program.
Also, check out our post on the Waterkeeper Alliance, our partner in clean water!