Category Archives: Save the Bay

Ocean State Volunteers Clear Tons of Trash

IMG_1383(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

There’s an old joke that includes the line, “Rhode Island is neither a road nor an island…” While that may be true, the smallest state does, in fact, have an awful lot of coastline, over 400 miles, according to the state’s government, if you include all the bays, coves and islands close to the coast. That makes for an awful lot of land where ocean debris and trash can wash up on shore. Recently, though, environmental volunteers have been making a huge effort to clean up the state’s beaches and coastal areas. This includes more than three tons of trash cleaned up by volunteers of Save the Bay, one of the state’s most prominent environmental organizations. That’s just one of the amazing efforts mentioned in the article linked above. In each volunteer event, local citizens cleaned up hundreds or thousands of pounds of trash, working together to protect and preserve the natural environment along all those miles of coastline.

If you’ve enjoyed the stories on this blog, download my eBook, Being Where You Are: How Environmental Volunteers Impact Their Community and the Planet Every Day




Barnes and Noble


Finding the Time to Volunteer

Foliage Reflected(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

Finally back at the blog today and I’m posting another chapter from my upcoming book. This one features a volunteer who offers some wisdom about how busy people can find the time to get involved in volunteer efforts.


Finding the Time: Bill Dwyer

Bill Dwyer has lived on the coast of Rhode Island for the “vast majority” of his life, having grown up in Bristol, then moving to Warren and Great Barrington. His career as an IT professional keeps him very much indoors during work time. He balances that with plenty of time spent outdoors, volunteering, along with his wife Deb, for Audubon of Rhode Island and Save the Bay. Sitting in his kitchen, Bill, with an endless amount of joyous energy, told me of the many ways he and Deb assist these organizations. Activities range from managing and leading beach cleanups, selling memberships, setting up audio equipment, all the way to dressing up as a red fox during Audubon’s yearly Halloween hike in the woods. The Dwyers are an example not only of the many different ways volunteers can get involved in environmental organizations, but also how busy, working people can find time and opportunities to make a difference. Finding those ways to make a difference is something Bill feels strongly everyone can and should be doing.


“In my generation, kids went outside,” Bill says with a laugh. “I remember going down the fields and playing baseball with the guys and there wasn’t a lot of…there wasn’t a huge amount of organized stuff other than the farm team and the little league. We played in the field that we cut the grass on if we needed to. I think there were forsythia bushes that if you hit it into the bushes it was a double. If you hit it over the bushes it was a home run except for one kid who was so much bigger than the rest of us, for him over the bushes was a double and you had to hit Mrs. Dixon’s roof for a home run. It was baseball and football and basketball. But we did winter stuff to, like we went tobogganing and we went sledding. But that was what you did. You didn’t sit home and watch the television then. You got snowed in, you made a snow fort, you went sledding. I grew up near the water, I grew up in Bristol, the water was three houses down the street from me. The common in Bristol had a basketball court…a bunch of us would bicycle to down near the college, there was a basketball court down there that they let us use. When you’re outside at say five…when you’re seven, eight, nine, it’s just a playground to you; you don’t appreciate where it came from. It’s just there.”

For the past twenty-five years, Bill has been helping Audubon of Rhode Island with the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, an annual event where local residents lead cleanup efforts at area beaches. “I wasn’t there the first year,” he says. “I think I found out about it the second year and I said, ‘I’ll run one of those.’ I think it was somehow or other I saw it in the paper. For the last few years, there’s been over a hundred beaches cause it’s not just beaches anymore, it’s the rivers and stuff like that. If I remember right, the first year, there were only eight beaches in the state of Rhode Island that got done. I was in the second group, so it wasn’t like there were a lot of beaches to sign up and go clean. They needed somebody to lead a beach so I said, ‘ok, I’ll do that.’”

“How does the International Coastal Cleanup work?” I ask.

“You can read more about it on the Ocean Conservancy website…it is literally what it says, an international coastal cleanup,” Bill says. “We’re cleaning in Rhode Island, somebody is cleaning in Florida, somebody is cleaning in France, and somebody is cleaning in the Philippines. All on the same day. If you go to the Ocean Conservancy website, you can actually see the statistics that have been collected all over the world…The International Coastal Cleanup, you document what you picked up, so you know that you picked up 1000 cigarette butts, 300 plastic tabs, this many pieces of fishing line, this many plastic bottles. That makes a huge difference. Years ago, I went to the town council in Barrington, got myself put on the agenda, and I requested that they ban smoking on all town properties and I had the statistic of what we picked up on the beach for the last several years. The town council and I compromised and we banned smoking on the town beach. But that’s how we got smoking banned on Barrington Beach and the same thing happened with the state beaches. It’s one thing to walk in and say, ‘we pick up a lot of cigarette butts.’ It’s another thing to say, ‘we picked up this many cigarette butts.’ It also targets where problems are. Years ago, the rings that six pack sodas came in, those were a major problem. You don’t see them hardly anymore and that is one of the reasons, because you can point out that it’s a problem, we’re picking up this many of these.”

While Bill says he’s managed a lot of different beaches over the years for the annual event, he now focuses on Barrington Beach. “It has become our target. That’s what we do and we do it three times a year. In May, November, with Save the Bay, and it’s almost always the third Saturday in September for the International Coastal Cleanup with Audubon,” he says. “For the Audubon one, for International Coastal Cleanup, I maintain my own list. They’ll put the website up and if somebody signs up on that, they just relay the information to me but I manage it. I take the signups, I keep track of it. Save the Bay, they administer it themselves. It goes to them, if you wanted to sign up with me, I’d have to tell you to go to the website or email them, they maintain the list and they do that part completely. All I have to do is the get my box of supplies and I just have to show up and manage it.”

“When you are managing other volunteers, what’s the process? What’s it like to be a volunteer managing other volunteers?”

“For International Coastal Cleanup, we put up posters that say we’re looking for volunteers. We’ll go to supermarkets and put up signs that say we’re looking for volunteers. I will call the local paper and ask them if they can do something for us and they are always willing to do that. Audubon puts out the thing and what it says is, ‘if you want to sign up, contact Bill and Deb Dwyer,’ and there’s a phone number and an email address. So I have to maintain a list of who I have coming, I have to send them directions on where to go, what to bring. For the International Coastal Cleanup, I also have to manage estimating and getting t-shirts for them, so I try to get everybody to get me a size ahead of time. When we actually go to the beach, my car will be there with sign on it and then we get everybody around and I give them a talk on how to stay safe, what they should be doing. I say, ‘don’t pick up stuff that’s too heavy. If you get something that has fluid in it and it’s sealed, don’t open it up because you could have something very caustic in there. Leave natural stuff alone, if it’s a dead crab or a tree branch, you know, that’s natural, leave it there. If it’s a hunk of pressure treated wood, you can bring that back.’ And then we make sure that we have release forms from everybody. This is the first year that Audubon had to do release forms, it’s the nature of…it’s never been a problem until something happened and so now we do releases. Save the Bay’s been doing it for as long as I can remember. I also, for the international cleanup, have to explain how to tabulate, if we have single people, put them in groups, say there’s three, one to hold the bag, one to pick up trash, one to write down. A lot of times it ends up being twos, one person holds the bag and picks up and the other person writes down. So at the end, you have to take care of getting all the sheets back and making sure that the tabulation sheets…that they put their information on it and stuff like how far they went down the beach and things like that. In general, somebody needs….just kind of administer the whole thing. Nobody has ever said, ‘why should we listen to you?’ Most people are happy they don’t have to do that, all they have to do is show up and pick up stuff.”

Bill and his wife have been managing coastal cleanups every year for some time, but they don’t restrict their involvement to cleanups alone. They are heavily involved in a number of activities throughout the year. Bill says, “I’ve gone to events and presented on behalf of Audubon. We’ve manned booths for them at events where people come by and we talk to them about Audubon or Save the Bay. We’ve done the same for both. The bottom line is you can’t save the whole planet at once so I’m trying to save it a piece at a time. And these are the two organizations in Rhode Island that are the best at saving the planet a piece at a time. Save the Bay is more bay-orientated and Audubon is more nature-orientated but they are both working on saving the planet one piece at a time. For Audubon, I do every event that’s at the environmental education center, and then I do the Halloween hike in Seekonk. For Save the Bay, I do whatever comes up that they need done that we can fit in. We did the eel grass transplant program and we’ve represented them at a number of events. I’m also a photographer for both of them. If you happen to see the raptor weekend poster, all but one of those pictures were from me. Save the Bay, that’s one of the things I do for them. If they need pictures…they had the beach slam in Barrington, for the second year. Both of the years, I’ve been the photographer for half a day of the event.”

Bill adds that his natural talents are put to good use, whether it’s working as a greeter, salesman or audio technician. “At many events, I’m what they label as the greeter, but it depends. It’s morphed because it appears that I have a knack for selling stuff. So as a greeter I was around the front, I’d direct people where to go, answer questions, but I was around the front, where the admissions table was. So the first year that they did the promotion of half price admission, I started talking to people out front and then I never left there. We shattered the record for the most memberships to Audubon sold in a day. It was cool. So now I tend to do some of the sales out front a lot. It depends on what else comes up. They had somebody else who used to do the audio but I can figure out that sort of stuff and there was nobody else around to do that. So this year I ran around setting up the audio.”

Save the Bay and Audubon both put a lot of emphasis on educating the public, something that Bill says he “really likes” about both organizations. As an example, he describes the yearly Halloween hike put on by Audubon. “They do Mother Nature’s Halloween Hike and the kids come dressed up. You can go on any number of Halloween hikes or Halloween events in any number of places and you get to see scary things usually and you get a goodie bag at the end and that’s it. This is a different world. Everything Audubon and Save the Bay do is educational and it’s usually educational towards the environment. So the Mother Nature Hike, we put the people in groups and we lead them out through the trails. There are little lights that light the way and maybe ten stops along the way. Each one of them has somebody dressed up as a character, most of the time it’s an animal but occasionally it’s something else. You stop at each spot and that creature tells you about what they do out in nature. I not only lead the groups or organize groups…first, I run around and take pictures…then, I either organize the groups or lead the groups or troubleshoot stuff. One year I was red fox and another year I was…I found out that was not really the thing for me to do. Because a lot of the people who do it have naturalist backgrounds. So for me to learn about the red fox…there’s a spiel they gave me about the red fox but seeing that I had no background…I had to memorize the thing, you know? Because I didn’t have the background to know that. Some of the people are phenomenal at doing that stuff and we found out that I was better off doing other things. Last year, somebody was a tree with all vines growing all over it and that was an awareness of the invasive species, cause the vine were the invasive species that had been coming in. So it really, really does teach…it’s always, always teaching them something…This is how a whole new generation is getting awareness of what’s going on. Save the Bay does the seal tours, it helps raise money for them but it takes people out and shows them the seals. You don’t just go out and there’s a seal, take a picture. They have a naturalist on board who explains all the information, different types of seals and stuff like that. Everything you do at either Audubon or Save the Bay, you learn something about the environment.”

“How much does it mean to be able to see the results of all your work?”

“That definitely helps but there will be things you do that you don’t see the results of,” Bill replies. “Not direct results, not like, ‘I see the beach has 340 pounds less trash on it.’ That is good, it makes you feel great. But, there are other…working raptor weekend, you don’t see the environment got improved form that but you see that people light up when they see the birds. The kids are so thrilled by the creatures they’ve seen and you know that’s going to stick with them and they’re going to remember that they want those creatures to be around. When you watch in the exhibit hall where the exhibit hall guide will pick up a crab and let the kid touch it, the kid’s just thrilled and now he knows what a crab is, he’s touched it, he knows these creatures are in the water now. He sees the fish in the tanks. Now when he looks at the bay, he’s not just going to see water, they’re going to know that there are these creatures that live in there. Did that environment improve right there on the spot, like taking 300 pounds of trash off the beach? No, but all these people who come through and learn that and learn what’s out there are going to be much more environmentally conscious in the future.”

“You guys keep so busy, with work and all the volunteering, it’s very time consuming,” I note. “How do you make it work?”

“You actually end up with a couple of hectic months,” Bill admits. “The fall tends to be busy. You’ve got the beach slam, you’ve got raptor weekend, you’ve got International Coastal Cleanup, you’ve got the Halloween hike and they all come in a pretty fair space of time. Then you have shows and stuff pop up in between. Some of the retired people are guides in the hall, they’re there one day or two days every week. No, for us, it’s not that bad, we tend to be more of the events and stuff like that. We don’t go and do something every week, we simply do not have the time. It’s nice cause Audubon knows, I tell them to just send me the dates for everything at the environmental center and the Halloween hike for next year and I’ll put it on my calendar.”

Bill adds that one of the most important things for people to remember is that there are many small opportunities and volunteering doesn’t have to be at a large-scale event. He says, “You can go to Audubon and be trained as an exhibit hall guide or a trail guide and you can say, ‘I’m going to do this one four hour shift a month.’ If you get fifty people that will do one four hour shift a month, you’re good. Nobody should be eliminated and nobody should think they can’t do this because they can’t put in twenty hours a week. None of these organizations expect you to put in twenty hours a week. If you can give them four hours a month, this is great. And they’ll train you to do the stuff, too. There’s classes on how to be a guide and stuff like that. Or you can pick what your strength is and what you’re comfortable with. If you like to be an exhibit hall guide and you think that’s what you’d like to do, sign up for that. If you’d like to do a craft table, you want to work with kids and help them draw and make the owl pin or put beads together, sign up for that. If you want to help out in the store, one Saturday for half a day a month, sign up for that. If you want to go to Save the Bay and stuff envelopes, Save the Bay gets people to do envelope stuffing for some of their mailings. If you want to be out of the public eye and sit there at a table and put fliers into envelopes, you can do that. Every little bit helps. If they lost all the people who give them four hours a month, it would be a problem. This is not your full time…if you’re retired and you can put in ten hours or sixteen hours a week, that’s awesome. But if you’re working full time and have chores at home and stuff like that, you can give a few hours a month. That is essential.”

“You can make a difference in a lot of things without having to devote your entire life to it. A lot of people don’t think of it that way,” Bill adds. “I think the biggest thing is you need to be willing to help and willing to give some time. The organizations that need help, anything from the environmental ones to the church…we help out the church, too…I can’t do every event at the church but I did four hours this Sunday and next weekend they’re having the bazar, I’m not having anything to do with that. Somebody else can take care of that. So you know, people need to realize that nobody is going to demand you show up ten hours a week. If you show up four hours a month, they’re just going to say, ‘thank you very much, we really appreciate it, you made a difference.’ And people need to realize that they can make a difference with a few hours a month.”

During all of his volunteer work, Bill has encountered an increasing number of people who are giving those hours and making a huge difference. When we spoke, he had just run another Barrington Beach cleanup, one which saw 118 people pick up 349 pounds of trash. “The good news is people are becoming more aware that the trash and stuff is a problem. Twenty years ago we never would have gotten 118 volunteers. The awareness has been raised a lot and especially in the younger generation.”

Rising Tide of Awareness

IMG_1520(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

Today, I’m posting a third chapter from my upcoming book, which I plan to self-publish as an eBook, hopefully in the next few weeks. Here is one of my favorite chapters, the story of a passionate and inspiring environmental volunteer I met in Newport, RI.


Rising Tide of Awareness: Julie Frost

A self-described “nature and science freak from a very early age,” volunteer Julie Frost grew up in Atlanta where she says she “climbed trees every single day.” Sitting with her on her back patio at her house in Newport, Rhode Island, it quickly became clear that this transplant from Georgia had not lost any of her southern charm. Also clear was her passion for environmental issues and a sincere and powerful desire to really do something about what she sees happening to our planet.

The youngest of four kids, she points to going outside as something that may have been playtime by necessity, a means to keep one’s self occupied at a young age. It’s clear, though, that her connection to and love for nature and the outdoors was something deeper, more than just a way to occupy her youthful free time. After a childhood filled with tree climbing, beach vacations on the coast of Georgia and camping trips, she says she developed an even deeper connection to the outdoors later, on her own, especially at college. At Eckerd College in Florida, she began to study Marine Sciences, a field she was drawn to by the idyllic thought of playing with whales and dolphins, along with her love of the oceans, animals and nature.

“And then I get to college and you realize it’s not all beautiful wonderful swimming with dolphins kind of stuff,” Julie says. “I had to take marine invertebrate biology my freshman year and spend hours drawing a crab shell, you know, getting the design perfectly and go through all the classification. It’s that time in your life when you’re nineteen or twenty and playing with your friends is just as important and you’re getting serious about choosing your career and all of this is coming together and thinking about what the job looks like and the fact

that you’re signing yourself up for just grueling research for years on end and some of it’s not going to be glamorous. So, by the time I was hitting my junior year, I was realizing that this line of work meant signing up for a doctoral program, it meant slugging away, and I just didn’t have the maturity at that time to stick to it, I really didn’t.”

While obtaining her degree in biology, Julie says, she still kept in touch with her “marine side,” taking classes such as marine mammalogy during junior year. “We did some phenomenal stuff. I got to stay pretty tapped in with the marine side because the school that I was at was so strong in marine biology. I don’t regret the decision. My hindsight on it now, I’m forty-one, so I’ve had some time to think about these decisions. In all reality, I just wasn’t mature enough at the time and the idea of not having the flexibility to have jobs that would bring in more income. I grew up with a family that didn’t have a ton of money so as an adult I was just drawn to the idea of having something that would give me a little bit more income.”

Now, Julie works as a scientist for the biotech company Amgen, where she’s been for eleven years. “For some reason, it’s important to me to call it a biotech and not a pharmaceutical company,” she says. It comes after a series of jobs that allowed her to put the biology background into meaningful and important work, especially in the area of AIDS research.

“My senior year I got a job off campus at a children’s hospital and ended up in a lab and this was at a time when the AIDS epidemic was really hitting and I started to get drawn towards that world and I realized that I was really interested in immunology,” she says. “So I didn’t get any more advanced degrees but I took some classes and learned a lot through the jobs I had in that world.” She and her husband moved around a bit after that, with Julie working primarily in laboratories, testing water and soil samples or doing research into AIDS/HIV vaccine development. A move from academia to industry brought her to Amgen and Rhode Island.

After they settled in Newport, Julie began to look for her next volunteer outlet. She says that at that time, it made the most sense to find something that would take her back to the outdoors. Roughly ten years ago, she became involved with Save the Bay, when they were working on eelgrass transplantation in Narragansett Bay. She describes her early involvement with the organization as sporadic over most of those years, working one-off events rather than committing to a long-term program.

“I think slowly over the years I realized I needed to be back in touch with the marine side of things, you know, I needed to fulfill that itch that I had gone away from,” Julie says. “And because of living in a coastal community and so many of our activities are based around water, our love of everything we do, sailing, surfing, kayaking, or just taking a bike ride around Ocean Drive…I genuinely care about the ecosystem and of course I did from an early age identify with spending time at the water. I learned through some early volunteer experiences with birds or with hospice that it’s good to volunteer and do whatever you can do, but you generally don’t stick with it just because it’s a good thing to do. You don’t stick with it unless it really, really hits you. It really means something to you personally.”

Getting back in touch with something that meant a lot to her personally began with helping Save the Bay transplant eelgrass for several years in a row. She describes the project as “an important program for helping to rebuild the base of the ecosystem,” adding that, “eelgrass allows a good place for invertebrates and mollusks and stuff like that. So once you develop that eelgrass bed, you’re really setting the foundation, and it helps with CO2 exchange an also I think trapping some pollutants. I think there’s even some evidence that it helps with the water not overwarming because it will filter the sunlight.”

One of the exciting things, Julie adds, was the ability to see the results of the eelgrass transplanting and the direct impact it had on Narragansett Bay. “For one, I could observe what was going on with areas like that just form my experiences with being out on the water, especially with kayaking. You really see stuff like that up close. You see mussel beds and sea stars and you see how clear the water is or you see trash floating in the water. So, I think doing the eelgrass work made me clue into it even more when I was out. We went, my husband and I, went to a seminar, a couple of different seminars, where we saw the data come back after four years of them doing this kind of program and saw which transplant beds had taken off and done well and which ones hadn’t and water quality data that had paired up with that. That was really neat, to have been part of that program and then see the data that they tabulated. That was really neat, to actually see it come to fruition.”

“I think over the years I’ve matured a little bit to be able to commit more of my time to it,” Julie says of volunteering. “In the earlier days it was just here and there, I’ll do this one little thing or I’ll do that one little thing. Then I actually jumped over to an organization for a couple of years that’s very informal, really just a bunch of surfers that wanted to protect the water quality around the local beaches because surfers were getting sick. They’re called Clean Ocean Access, very small group just based here in Newport but they’re fairly active. One of the things they do is they have a water testing program and it’s a little more extensive and they keep it up all year round. They basically augment the data that the Department of Environmental Management is getting and they give it to the state and they do a full annual report of all their data. So, I was collecting water samples for them for about a year and half right over here at King Park. When I did the water sampling, that was the first time I committed to a program, where on this day, every week, you have to go and do this thing and they’re relying on you and you can’t bail, but it only took me ten minutes to do. It was a baby step. And then from there something clicked and I really wanted to do something more serious with Save the Bay.”

That something materialized into working as a docent at Save the Bay’s aquarium. Julie says it came at just the right time in her life, when she wasn’t dealing with other craziness, knew she wouldn’t be making a career change any time soon, and knew what kind of free time she had. When we spoke, she was heading into her fourth winter as a docent, spending half a day, every other Sunday, educating kids and families about marine life and ecosystems.

“And this goes back to you have to find the right thing. That did it, that was the right thing,” she adds. “First of all, the realization that I was willing to commit my time to it in the winter but not in the summer and I just had to be realistic about that. This is a really good fit for me, I get to sit there and play with animals in the aquarium and I get to work with these little kids and this has become a really important thing for me. Getting in front of families and kids and trying to make that spark happen and trying to make that awareness happen. That is so important and if you hit it with a four year old, you got ‘em, you got ‘em forever, if you really see that light bulb go off. That just gives back to me every single time I’m there.

Julie calls time spent at the aquarium “pretty free-form,” as she works at five stations, including an arts and crafts center, walk-through exhibits and a touch tank that allows kids to directly interact with the marine ecosystem. Her favorite, she says, is the touch tank, where she says, “The kids really tend to go nuts over that stuff.”

Within the last year, Julie has also begun helping Save the Bay with another important project, something she says has really opened her eyes. “One other thing I added on this last year was water rise monitoring and tide monitoring. They have this program to document certain areas around the state, basically by taking pictures, and they give you the times of the full moon high tides. That’s when they want you to take pictures so they can see when they have bad flooding events either due to rain or some other kind of weather event but also just to see year over year where the tides are, where they are hitting. And as I’ve been on my own learning more and more about the changes in the ecosystem and global warming of course, I’ve gotten more interested in understanding what’s happening. And the fact that we own a house that’s two feet above sea level, does kind of make me a little nervous.”

As a tide monitor, Julie goes to the same spot every month and tries to get the same photo at the same angle, from a number of different perspectives. She does this at a couple of area locations, including King Park, Second Beach, and near Third Beach. Taking pictures at each spot allows Save the Bay to see where tides are rising, in relation to fixed points, such as a section of wall along the beach. Describing what she has seen while taking these photos, she calls it “scary, scary stuff.”

“Why is it scary stuff?”

“This has really opened my eyes,” Julie says. “Most of the work that I did was from March through July. They mainly focus on it in the spring but they do it year round for all the full moon high tides. I knew things were changing around here, since we’ve lived in this house in particular. I knew things were changing but that really brought a new awareness to it. When we bought this house in 2000, I don’t remember this ever happening…my husband and I are trying to think of the first times we ever saw this happening and I think it’s been within the last five years. When we get a really high tide, the sea water bubbles up out of the sewers. The first couple of times that we saw it…we saw it happening over the past couple of years but didn’t make big mental notes about it cause I wasn’t doing this program…but when I was taking the pictures and doing it…one of the first times I had documented it coming out of the sewer, there had been this torrential downpour. We had tons and tons of rain, so I thought, ‘oh, ok, big rain event, spring flood tides, then the street’s getting wet.’ It wasn’t raining when it happened but there had been a lot of rain and it was spring, so maybe there was a lot of runoff. And then the next month, there hadn’t been any rain and it was completely dry out and seawater was bubbling up out of the sewers. So that told me this is really changing. Other than big storm surges, we don’t remember ever seeing the water so close to coming over the sea wall over there. And now, just at a really big spring high tide, it looks like it’s about to breach the sea wall.”

While her own awareness has been elevated, Julie is doubtful that her neighbors are as aware of what’s happening. “I’m really, really nervous about that,” she says. “This is Rhode Island, we’re so coastal, all the way up to Providence and people really need to understand this. I feel like our whole planet is threatened right now. For many people, we’re starting to rally because it’s real and it’s very obvious and we’re also nervous about the fact that there are so many people who are either not awake to the fact that this is happening, or there are actually people who think that we are making it all up.”

“Part of me is really pessimistic about it and part of me is optimistic because I think I have seen some shift,” Julie says. “I think the red and blue politics that I’ve seen during my adulthood is really, really scary but despite that…I also see something happening in the middle and something about connections, some people trying to be more connected with each other and some people really concerned about where our society is going. I think part of the key is that those of us who are the early adopters to understanding global climate change, to saying there’s something wrong with our society and we’re too much of that and not enough of this…there’s a small population of us saying all this and being awake to the idea that we’re going to make a little difference and this can change and we have hope. So, if we just keep meeting with each other and keep taking small steps, little by little by little, that spreads. We think that in the last ten years we’ve barely made a dent and then, all of a sudden, everybody’s on board. As a volunteer and a citizen who is concerned about the environment, when I get pessimistic, I think to that incremental process and where you see something that all of a sudden…I think that’s really the key. I guess we have to believe that.”

Julie was one of the few volunteers I spoke with who did have an educational and career background in the sciences, which she brings to the debate and the volunteer work. “Is the chance to keep learning part of the motivation to keep volunteering, and trying to reach people,” I ask her.

“Absolutely,” she responds. “And that’s why it’s a good fit and that’s why I’ve realized it’s important. You know, I don’t think that volunteerism is for anyone, not for many people, as altruistic as it sometimes sounds. You’re looking for something that works for you that you get something out of that makes you feel good. Turning people on to the fact that this is important to pay attention to this stuff, that we need to take care of our animals and our beaches and our waters, that’s important to me. So when I see that light up with somebody, I just feel good, I feel good that I connected. I am one of those people that I just, I want to learn, I am very curious, that’s a huge piece of it. When I’m looking at an exhibit with a family or at the touch tank and they ask a question and I don’t know the answer, for some people they feel very awkward, as a docent they’re supposed to know the answer. But for me, that’s just perfect, because they thought of a question that I don’t know the answer to. It’s definitely an opportunity for me to learn more and just be excited about understanding animals and the marine ecosystems that I was drawn to a long time ago.”

Julie admits that volunteering with Save the Bay is also helping her to plot her future path, build her resume and work towards a possible eventual career change. She adds that at the same time, it’s also given her the chance to be immersed in the issues she’s passionate about, such as the impacts of a changing climate. Many people who come to the aquarium, she says, share her feelings on those kinds of issues.

“It’s interesting the diversity you get because the parents select this as an activity they’re going to do with their kids on a cold, rainy Saturday or Sunday, so the parents know this is a good thing to do and expose their kids to,” Julie says. “Sometimes, though, the parents decide to do it because they got a Groupon or they just can’t think anything else to do with their kid. They’re not necessarily doing it because….they kind of look at it as the same thing as going to the zoo…a lot of people think of it like going to an amusement park. So we do get parents like that but you know, a parent who is spending the money and the time to come up with an activity and take their kid someplace is a parent who kind of already gets it. Generally they fall into that category. Now, you’ll see them be completely stunned about stuff we tell them. They’ll be surprised that there’s this much going on or that something as simple as having a really old leaky lawnmower contributes to runoff that goes into our bay. And so you realize that you get people who have so many different levels of awareness about what we need to do to protect our ecosystem.”

“Even the kids, they already have that awareness or understanding?”

“I think so,” Julie replies. “When they have field trips of school kids that come to the aquarium, and it’s like the whole third grade class, then they probably see more of the population who might not be aware at all or might be more resistant. I don’t do that kind of work with them; I just see the people who just walk in on their own. I think that might be more what I want to do, to work with programs in inner cities where you’re tapping into the kids who have no idea what a beach even looks like. And their parents are working two jobs and don’t have time to tell them how important recycling is or something like that. So that might be where I want to go and I’m sure that’s extremely challenging to get those light bulbs to go on.”

Until then, she continues to work for Narragansett Bay, a place she has a deep, emotional connection to. She says, “So much of my recreational time…but beyond that, my meditative time is spent in that arena. That is where I go when I need to nurture my soul. It is, it’s really, firmly in my heart, that I need that time. It’s what replenishes me, to be outside at sunset, staring at the water, watching waves, watching birds fly around. Every winter we get some harbor seals, watching that. Watching other people be outside, turning off their phones and getting away from their computers and the TV and all that and just having that quiet, real connection with our planet. So, at a surface level, it’s the recreation that’s really fun, I just spent two hours in the morning surfing, it’s really, really fun. But the connection for me is very, very deep because it’s nourishing. It’s nourishing to just spend quiet time outside.”