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Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

Fig:NBNERR NorthThe Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NBNERR) is one of 25 reserves in the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS).

The NERRS was established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in recognition of the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972. NBNERR was established in 1980, making it the first reserve to be designated in New England. The reserve protects a total of 2,533 acres of land on Prudence, Patience, Hope, and Dyer islands and 1,843 acres of water adjacent to these properties. Nationally, the NERRS protects approximately 1 million acres of estuarine waters and upland habitats.

Located in the middle of Narragansett Bay and a short ferry ride from Bristol, Prudence Island offers ample opportunities to study coastal and upland habitats. One of the most interesting and rare habitats on the reserve is the pine barrens at the south end of the island. Although the area has a relatively low amount of biodiversity, the rarity of the species living in this area makes it an interesting place to visit. Within the pine barrens you will find pitch pine forests, semi-barren areas, and dry meadows. The soil found in this habitat is called Poquonock soil. This is an extremely dry, well-drained soil that makes up only 0.4 percent of Rhode Island’s land mass. As an example of the importance of this habitat, the pitch pine forest on Prudence is the only known nesting site for pine warblers on any of the islands in Narragansett Bay. The semi-barren areas are almost dune-like in appearance and support five of the seven species of tiger beetles found in Rhode Island, including the threatened Cicindela tranquebarica. A number of other sand-loving invertebrates live in this area as does the rare sickle-leaved golden aster, Chrysopsis falcata. The dry meadows have a number of uncommon flowers and grasses growing in them that in turn support an array of insects, including the pink-streak moth, Faronta rubripennis. This globally rare moth has never been found at any other location in Rhode Island.

If you are interested in visiting this unique habitat, NBNERR offers tours of the reserve throughout the year, and the Learning Center is open from June to September. For more information on Prudence Island and reserve programs, please call (401) 683-6780. See also page 68.

—By Kim Botelho, Education Coordinator, NBNERR