On a cool Friday morning last month, a dozen curious Rhode Islanders lay down on the pier at Point Judith Marina to collect some of the squishy and crunchy creatures that were growing on the side of the docks.
Using rusted metal spatulas, they scraped the unknown life into small aquarium nets and saved it in plastic tubs, then spent half an hour trying to identify what they had retrieved.
With the exception of a few blue mussels, almost nothing was recognizable. There were sea squirts and shrimp-like things, seaweeds and green crabs, and just about everything was covered in a mushy yellow-brown mat called a colonial tunicate.
Almost none of it was native to New England waters. In fact, most it came from the other side of the planet.