Narragansett Bay

Narragansett Bay is a medium size estuary located in Rhode Island that covers ten percent of the state. It is 25 miles long and about 10 miles wide with about 256 miles of shoreline. There are two entrances to the bay from the ocean: the West Passage and the East Passage. The main rivers that drain into the bay are the Blackstone, Taunton, and Pawtuxet. The average depth of Narragansett Bay is 26 feet and the deepest part of the bay is 184 feet, located in the East Passage. Narragansett Bay is relatively salty, the average salinity is 29 to 31 parts per thousand and it never goes below 20 parts per thousand even in the Upper Bay where the freshwater enters. The average midday temperature of the Bay can vary from 32° Fahrenheit in the winter months to 68° Fahrenheit in the summer months.

Narragansett Bay provides many different habitats for living things. Species such as the winter flounder, bluefish, striped bass, tautog, and menhaden are representatives of the many fish that occupy the Bay. Commercial shellfishing and fishing are important to the economy of Rhode Island. In the early 1900s, oysters were an important species in the Bay. However, they were heavily harvested and are just now making a comeback. Today, quahogs and lobsters are the most important resource being harvested in the Estuary. Narragansett Bay is also ideal for recreational activities, such as boating, fishing, swimming and beachcombing. However, pollution of the bay has caused some of these recreational activities to be prohibited in contaminated areas. There are parts of the Upper Bay that are closed to shellfishing due to sewage contamination. High levels of bacteria and viruses can also cause closure of beaches to swimming. There are improvements being made to sewage treatment plants (the main source for pollution in the Bay) that will help prevent future contamination of the Bay.

Narragansett Bay Aerial Photo
Courtesy of R.L. Wilke
(Click for larger image)

Narragansett Bay satellite image
Courtesy of Y.Q. Wang, University of Rhode Island

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