Baird Sea Grant Science Symposium Proceedings: All Eyes on the Bay

Lobsters with shell disease, fewer crabs, less kelp, a water column seemingly devoid of life. More productivity in the open ocean than in Narragansett Bay. A correlation of this decline with reductions to wastewater treatment plant effluent discharges. Organisms growing prolifically on oyster cages in the bay. Better growth of oysters in the bay than offshore. A fear that warming waters would lead to more disease outbreaks.

CHANGES IN NARRAGANSETT BAY | Proceedings of the 2017 Ronald C. Baird Sea Grant Science SymposiumThe first set of observations and concerns was from fishermen who spoke at the 2017 Ronald C. Baird Sea Grant Science Symposium on changes in Narragansett Bay. The second set was from shellfish farmers.

They came to the symposium seeking answers for the question of how to ensure optimal conditions for their industries to continue to operate in the bay for years to come.

They wondered about what roles nutrient reductions, chemical inputs, and climate change play in the conditions they are seeing.

Scientists from the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, Boston University, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Narragansett Bay Commission, which operates two wastewater treatment facilities on the bay, talked about how climate and nutrients interact to create environments that are more or less hospitable to different species of plants and animals.

They also discussed how wastewater is treated before being discharged into the bay, and how they test for the effects of chemicals in bay life. While much is known, many questions remain.

Temperatures continue to rise; further nutrient reductions are planned; and new chemicals are continually developed for uses such as firefighting foam, and they will make their way into bay waters. Even now, some changes, such as the increased residence time of summer flounder in the bay, defy what is thought to be understood about bay conditions and temperature rise.

Calls for a return to using mesocosms—tanks that replicate bay conditions for testing various scenarios—and coupling those tests with computer modeling; researching why decapods, such as lobsters, are leaving the bay; and studying which sources of nutrients will be the most important for bay productivity now that sewage treatment plants are reducing discharges were some of the questions that emerged throughout the day.

We at Rhode Island Sea Grant will be returning to examine the contributions of all Baird Symposium participants to this discussion, and working with partners and stakeholders—“citizen scientists”—to invest in research to better understand the changes occurring in Narragansett Bay to improve management for all, in particular for those who make their living from its waters.

– Dennis Nixon, Rhode Island Sea Grant Director

 

More information about the Baird Symposium, including links to videos of the morning and afternoon sessions and the PowerPoint presentations, is available online. Results will be used to inform the upcoming Rhode Island Sea Grant research request for proposals and the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council’s Narragansett Bay Special Area Management Plan.

The 2017 Ronald C. Baird Sea Grant Science Symposium was sponsored by the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, Rhode Island Sea Grant, the Coastal Resources Center, and the van Beuren Charitable Foundation

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