Smelt

The small white specs are actually fish eggs.

Standing at the point where the salty waters of the Atlantic Ocean mix with the freshwater of the Neponset River, Tom Palmer pointed out the small opaque spheres that are adhered to the slate rocks.

“This year is a good year for eggs,” he said, noting the dozens of eggs, which are about the size of coarse cornmeal.

Palmer, a naturalist and photographer with the Neponset River Watershed Association (NepRWA), comes to this spot in the shadows of the former Walter Baker Chocolate Factory every spring to check that the eggs are again being deposited here by rainbow smelts. They are a small fish that grows to about seven to nine inches long but serves as a key link in the chain of life in the estuary.

Access to the spot requires a descent of a dozen or so feet down a steep bank where the eggs can only be seen at low tide. However, the current running through the gorge is at its strongest at low tide.

At high tide when the water flattens out, the eggs are concealed beneath the brackish water, Palmer explained.

Although he’s unsure whether the large number of eggs exposed to the air at high tide will survive, Palmer said this continuing presence is a sign that the health of the estuary is improving or at least holding steady.

The stretch of the Neponset that runs from Dana Avenue in Hyde Park to the dam at the former chocolate factory is the focus of a study by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The results, which are due out in about a year, will determine if the area, referred to as the Lower Neponset Site, should qualify as a priority location for Superfund clean up funds and support.

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