Eclectic range of marine life can be seen at Beavertail Aquarium

Cam Chadronet, left, describes marine life in June to visitors at Beavertail Aquarium. The local aquarium showcases sea creatures found and captured off the coast of Jamestown. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN

Cam Chadronet, left, describes marine life in June to visitors at Beavertail Aquarium. The local aquarium showcases sea creatures found and captured off the coast of Jamestown. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN

Carnivorous snails and a red-eared slider turtle are among the species on display this summer at Jamestown’s only aquarium.

The Beavertail Aquarium, located in the former fog-horn building at the lighthouse complex, opened recently for the season. The free attraction is open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. The species on display at the aquarium all are animals found in the waters of Jamestown, and most are released back into Narragansett Bay after being on display.

Cam Chadronet, a local college student who began working as a technical support intern in 2022, said the aquarium has something of interest for all ages and knowledge levels. He describes his job as effectively being a naturalist, and his duties include maintaining the aquarium and engaging with the public.

“Every once in a while, there’s some tough maintenance that has to be done, but for the most part, it’s just giving tours of the aquarium and showing people things they didn’t know,” he said. “Every day is a new adventure.”

To house the creatures, Chadronet and his co-workers create intimate ecosystems in the tanks. The biomes range from simple sandy bottoms to rocky intertidal zones for fiddler crabs.

“It can be so cool,” he said. “It’s really non-routine, which makes it so exciting.”

One of the species on display is a moon snail. Chadronet said a few of these carnivorous mollusks were at the aquarium near the end of last year, but for this season, a specimen has been moved to a more prominent location so visitors can see how big they are. Chadronet said moon snails burn holes into clam shells with acid to eat their prey.

A new species at the aquarium this year is the windowpane flounder. Chadronet said there are two main kinds of flounder normally found in the bay. They are winter and summer flounder, which are discernible depending on which side their mouth is on their face. He described the less common windowpane flounder as “a secret species” that is sometimes found in Rhode Island but is usually found in waters south of the Ocean State. He said it is not even pictured on the wildlife posters created by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which operates the aquarium.

“It’s almost never really recorded,” he said. “Most of the fishermen who have been fishing all their lives don’t seem to recognize the windowpane flounder. It’s a little easter egg for everybody.”

The aquarium also has an American eel on display. Chadronet said a tank had to be “eel-proofed” because they can climb through the hose in the tank and into the filter.

“It’s kind of like baby-proofing, but to a new level,” he said. “We had to cover everything with Plexiglas and we had to stuff sponges in any holes there were and covered both the intake and output of the filter with netting.”

Regular species that are returning from previous years include tautog, black sea bass, blue crabs, fiddler crabs, hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs, anemones, blue mussels, eastern oysters, whelks and seahorses.

Aside from the marine animals, two gray tree frogs are on display that were found when the aquarium was preparing to power wash the wheelchair accessible ramp at the lighthouse. There also are bullfrog tadpoles on display.

The only animal on display at the aquarium that will not be released back into the wild after the summer is over is Archie, who is the pet red-eared slider turtle of Chadronet’s boss, Emily Gamage. Chadronet said Archie is one of the most popular specimens on display.

“She’s here every year since she is a domestic creature,” he said. “She’s become a local celebrity.”

As part of his work for the aquarium, Chadronet collects living subjects to put on display. Finding and learning about unusual marine life has been a hobby for Chadronet since he was young. Over the last few years, even before he was officially an employee of the aquarium, Chadronet has found uncommon species in Jamestown waters such as a sand tiger shark and a sargassum sea slug.

Chadronet said his favorite part of working at the aquarium is that he is being paid to pursue a personal passion.

“I’m able to show people something that I care about, pique their interest and spread my interest,” he said. “I have always been interested in marine biology as long as I can remember.”

The tours at the aquarium are mostly self-led, but Chadronet said he and other employees will help guide visitors and will answer questions about species that interest guests.