Planning Grants



Applied Science

Sea Grant invests in high-priority research, addressing issues such as coastal hazards and development in coastal communities; understanding our interactions with the marine environment; aquaculture; seafood safety; and fisheries management. The results of this research are shared with the public through Sea Grant’s integrated outreach program to bring together the collective expertise of on-the-ground extension agents, educators, and communications specialists.

We work with stakeholders, academics, businesses, non-profits, and government agencies to apply sound scientific, policy, and legal research findings to ensure a collaborative effort and informed decision-making for managing the state’s coastal and marine resources.

The goal is to ensure that vital research results are shared with those who need it most and in ways that are timely, relevant, and meaningful.



Rhode Island Sea Grant provides funding for scientific research both in the natural and social sciences to improve understanding and management of Rhode Island’s coastal and marine ecosystems.

We provide funding on a 2-year cycle using a rigorous and competitive peer-review process. We choose priority research topics through a collaborative strategic-planning process that engages scientists, our advisory board, our partners, and the public. Currently these topics are:

  • Resilient Ecosystem Processes and Responses
  • Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture
  • Resilient Communities and Economies


For more information or assistance, please contact Kim Ohnemus, Rhode Island Sea Grant Workforce Development and Research Coordinator, at

Focus Areas

Coastal Ecosystems

Issues affecting coastal ecosystem health—ranging from coastal development, working waterfronts, and food security to sea level rise and renewable energy.

Resilient Communities

Issues that affect community mitigation and adaptation to anticipated climate changes, as well as societal impacts and use of coastal and ocean resources, including community values and management practices. 

Fisheries & Aquaculture

Issues such as stock abundance, regulatory structure, marine diseases, and consumer safety that impact the economic, environmental, and social sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture.

Current Projects


This current cycle of research focuses on the impacts from rust tides and harmful algal blooms, as well as application of multi-use marine spatial planning tools. Projects will investigate the ecological changes that affect Rhode Island’s ecosystem and public health, and wild and aquaculture industries that are associated with climate change and human-induced activities.

Environmental Triggers of Toxic Algal Blooms




Principal Investigator (PI):
Colleen Mouw, University of Rhode Island 

Co-PI: Audrey Ciochetto, University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography

Narragansett Bay and coastal New England have seen an increase in frequency and expansion in the time frame and species causing harmful algal bloom (HAB) events, which has led to significant shellfish closures.  

Researchers will investigate what environmental factors trigger these blooms and potential toxicity by analyzing a continuous record of phytoplankton and associated toxicity and environmental parameters. Understanding the environmental conditions associated with toxic-producing blooms will help better predict future events that can assist resource managers in making proactive management decisions to protect human health and fisheries.

Multi-Use Opportunities for Coastal and Marine Operators in Rhode Island’s Blue Economy





Principal Investigator (PI):
David Bidwell: University of Rhode Island, Marine Affairs

As new ocean uses (e.g., marine renewable energy) and existing uses (e.g., aquaculture) expand, marine managers are seeking to understand the opportunities and challenges of multiple use. Multiple use of the ocean is understood as two or more users in close geographic proximity, which can range from mere coexistence or “subsequent use” of the same space to interactive arrangements of shared infrastructure and services. The multi-use concept is new and arguably understudied in U.S. waters, and Rhode Island’s waters are ripe for research in this area. 

The goal of this project is to identify successful experiences and future opportunities for small coastal and marine operators in Rhode Island to participate in the blue economy via multi-use. The scope of this study includes small operators utilizing Rhode Island’s salt ponds, Narragansett Bay, and waters of Block Island and Rhode Island Sound. This project will enhance understanding and improve end user application of multi-use marine spatial planning tools by assessing the perceived benefits and costs, as well as the economic risks and opportunities associated with multi-use. 



Harmful Algal Bloom Modeling in Narragansett Bay




Principal Investigator (PI):
David Ullman, University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography

David Borkman, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management

Jongsun Kim, University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography

Lewis Rothstein, University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography

Narragansett Bay is serves as a critical estuary in for fisheries, aquaculture and recreation in Rhode Island and southern New England. Previous shellfish closures from toxic algal blooms present the need for proper resource management to protect commercial fisheries and consumer health. To achieve this, researchers will investigate the biological components of the toxic-producing phytoplankton species and physical processes of circulation within the Bay to better understand what role hydrodynamic factors play in the initiation of a bloom event and it’s distribution in local waters.

Researchers will apply hydrodynamic parameters into an existing ecosystem model (Carbon Silicate Nitrogen Ecosystem) to test as a potential modeling tool for predicting of harmful algal bloom events in Narragansett Bay. 

Impacts of Rust Tides on Rhode Island shellfish farms





Principal Investigator (PI):
Skylar Bayer, Roger Williams University

Roxanna Smolowitz, Roger Williams University

Tim Scott, Roger Williams University

Gary Wikfors, NOAA Northeast Fisheriese Science Center

Temporal and spatial dynamics of rust tide caused by Margalefidinium polykrikoides on Rhode Island shellfish farms and resulting impacts on cultured oysters

Shellfish aquaculture on the East Coast is a $170M industry and is composed of about a thousand small farms in coastal communities. There is great concern that the occurrence of plankton blooms may be on the rise as a result of global weather changes. Rust tides, which are associated with the plankton species Margalefidinium polykrikoides, are becoming more frequent from Chesapeake Bay to Cape Cod–causing mortality of larval and juvenile bivalves as well as declines in growth in adults. When and where rust tides appear are not well understood, especially in Rhode Island coastal lagoons and parts of Narragansett Bay.

To better track and predict rust tides, this project introduces the application of environmental DNA (eDNA) methodologies to better identify plankton species and create a dataset specifically relevant to Rhode Island coastal environmental and economic health issues. The methods developed for environmental DNA monitoring for M. polykrikoides and the results from these studies will be important for strategic, economically feasible and effective mitigation techniques developed by the industry and research partners.

Using World's Longest Plankton Data Series To Predict Harmful Algal Blooms




Principal Investigator (PI):
Tatiana Rynearson, University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography

Co-PI: Patricia Thibodeau, University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography

This project aims to use the Narragansett Bay Long-Term Plankton Time Series database–the longest-running time series of its kind in the world– to examine long-term trends in harmful algal bloom (HAB) events over a 60+ year period, and identify associated environmental conditions. 

Researchers will utilize over 60 years (1959 to present) of weekly phytoplankton count data collected in Narragansett Bay to determine historical trends to investigate species the triggere current HAB events in the Bay as well as those that have the potential to do so in the future. Outcomes include a fully curated 60+ year phytoplankton time series that will be publicly available and accessible for local as well as international collaborators and stakeholders. Aquaculture farmers will inform and test our prediction outcomes. This project will increase understanding issues related to estuarine ecosystems and marine environments by determining long-term trends of HABs as well as provide important context for current and future changes of HABs within a climate context.

Identifying Harmful Algal Bloom Species and Triggers for Toxin Production





Principal Investigator (PI):
Matthew Bertin, University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy

Bethany Jenkins, University of Rhode Island College of Environment and Life Sciences

High-resolution time series for deciphering the Pseudo-nitzschia species and environmental drivers that produce domoic acid in Narragansett Bay

Continuing previously Sea Grant-funded work on harmful algal bloom (HAB) ecology in Narragansett Bay with respect to the phytoplankton species Puesdo-nitzhcia and its production of the neurotoxin, domoic acid, this project builds on previous findings and takes innovative approaches to determine the ecological drivers of bloom events and domoic acid production–a major problem for both environmental health and economic health for Rhode Island stakeholders. 

The development of new genetic tools has allowed identification of distinct phytoplankton species assemblages that recur seasonally and correspond with increases in domoic acid concentrations in phytoplankton samples. These tools will aid researchers in further developing genetic and analytical tools to answer ecological questions with respect to the drivers that lead to specific Pseudo-nitzschia (P-n) species assemblages and trigger domoic acid (DA) production.

Previous Projects

Research Planning Projects

Equitable Coastal Access and Climate Change




Sustained and Equitable Access to Rhode Island’s Coast in a Changing Climate (SEA-C)

Principal Investigator (PI):
Nathan Vinhaterio, University of Rhode Island Coastal Institute

Elin Torell, University of Rhode Island Coastal Institute
Emi Uchida, URI Environmental and Natural Resource Economics
Jesse Reiblich, URI Marine Affairs
Leah Feldman, RI CRMC

Public shoreline access areas lie on the front lines of climate change – the active coastal zone – where storm surge flooding, sea level rise, and stormwater runoff dynamically combine. Researchers from the Coastal Institute will investigate how climate change may lead to the loss of public lands, identify the user groups most likely to be impacted, and establish the local actions needed to minimize climate impacts, especially for underserved communities.

The proposed project will form an interdisciplinary research team and partner with municipal leaders and other stakeholders in Rhode Island to investigate how climate change may lead to the loss of public lands, identify the user groups most likely to be impacted, and establish the local actions needed to minimize climate impacts, especially for underserved communities.

Through a series of pilot studies in Bristol County, RI the project team will (i) develop baseline geospatial data layers that can be used to identify where existing resources may be threatened or lost due to climate change, (ii) quantify human visitation to coastal access sites through (anonymized) cell location records, focus groups, and surveys, and (iii) perform legal research to prioritize areas for public access designation.

Results of the pilot studies will guide the development of a detailed action plan that identifies research needs and positions the SEA-C team to pursue future grant proposals.

Reframing Coastal Fishing Access




More than Recreation: Reframing coastal fishing access in RI as a food security issue for maginalized ethnic and racialized communities

Principal Investigator (PI):
Melva Treviño-Peña, URI Marine Affairs

Patrick Baur,  URI Fisheries, Animal, and Veterinary Sciences
Seray Ergene, URI College of Business
Amelia Moore, URI Marine Affairs
Marta Gomez-Chiarri, URI Aquaculture/Fisheries

In recognition of fishing at coastal access points as important within traditional food networks, researchers from the University of Rhode Island have partnered with the Center for Southeast Asians of Rhode Island and the Refugee Dream Center to better understand the usage and barriers for shore fishers from marginalized racial/ethnic groups.

The proposed project will characterize how marginalized ethnic and racialized (MER) communities seek to improve their food security and overall well-being by fishing public coastal spaces in Rhode Island.

By centering the experiences and knowledge of shore fishers from MER groups, researchers hope to gain a deeper understanding of coastal resource utilization, nutritional and cultural services provided by local coastal fisheries, and barriers to coastal access.

Moreover, this project will identify areas of disconnect between government agencies and MER groups, including fishing regulation and licensing, public health advisories, and community knowledge and perceptions of environmental quality and risks.

The results of this study will open new, equitable policy opportunities that strategically reduce barriers to coastal access for MER groups, recognize the contributions of locally-caught fish to local and regional food security, and foster local food system resilience by highlighting underutilized species and markets.


Sea Urchin Aquaculture




Working towards developing sea urchin aquaculture in Rhode Island: A case study for working towards diversification

Principal Investigator (PI):
Coleen Suckling, URI Fisheries, Animal, and Veterinary Sciences

Emily Diamond, URI Communications/Marine Affairs

Researchers, in partnership with Matunuck Oyster Bar Hatchery and Quonnie Siren Oyster Co., will look at the feasibility of rearing sea urchins to diversify Rhode Island aquaculture, which is primarily focused on oysters and mussels.

Sea urchins are resilient to ocean acidification, have a  low environmental production footprint, are increasingly in demand, and there is emerging interest in the aquaculture industry to grow them.

The project goal of this project is to establish a network that could sustain a regional sea urchin aquaculture industry by initiating production in Rhode Island.

Social and natural scientific approaches will be used to recruit and engage with regulation, aquaculture, consumers and ecosystem management stakeholders in network-building workshops to identify the opportunities, priorities, risks, and challenges for diversification from these broad perspectives.

A case study using a new potential product of sea urchins will contribute to these and comprise of: 1) targeting fishers and divers through surveys, interviews and assisted sampling/dive surveys to find green sea urchin broodstock and; 2) an experimental trial at an oyster farm to determine whether purple sea urchins can be marketable and/or used to reduce shellfish biofouling species.


Northeast Sea Grant Consortium
Regional Research


The Northeast Sea Grant programs and partners are sponsoring research to better understand the interactions of offshore renewable energy and communities

The Northeast Sea Grant Consortium, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office and Water Power Technologies Office, and NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, announces a research funding opportunity to improve understanding of offshore renewable energy interactions with fishing and coastal communities to optimize ocean co-use.

This funding opportunity, first announced in March 2021, seeks to catalyze research for the coexistence of marine energy—including wind, current, tidal, and wave energies—with Northeast fishing and coastal communities. The innovative funding partnership applies the Sea Grant model to connect science and tools directly with communities and ocean users. 

The selected projects were collectively awarded over $1.1 million in federal funds, with each project matching 50% in non-federal funds. The two-year projects have roots across the Northeast:

With a focus on advancing community and economic resilience, funded projects aims to catalyze proactive socio-economic and technology research for offshore renewable energy planning in the Northeast.

The selected projects were collectively awarded over $1.1 million in federal funds, with each project matching 50% in non-federal funds. Although the selected two-year projects have roots across the Northeast, 2 of the 11 are lead by researchers at the University of Rhode Island.

Evaluating Messaging, Communication Networks, and Public Engagement on Offshore Wind Development in Southern New England




Principal Investigator (PI):
Emily Diamond, University of Rhode Island, South Kingstown, RI

This project will analyze public engagement strategies, messages, networks, and sources used to communicate and engage communities and stakeholders in decision-making for proposed offshore wind projects, and incorporate community perspectives to make recommendations for effective and equitable messaging and strategies.



Regional Community Attitudes Regarding Procedural and Distributive Justice Dimensions of Southern New England Offshore Wind Development




Principal Investigator (PI):
David Bidwell, University of Rhode Island, South Kingstown, RI 

This project will assess community concerns and research questions regarding procedural, distributive, and recognitional justice dimensions of offshore wind projects in southern New England, and work to address barriers within and among communities to ensure equity and well-being for a just energy transition.


Rhode Island Sea Grant has funded hundreds of projects over the last 50 years that have resulted in hundreds of more peer-review publications that have helped to advance scientific knowledge of Rhode Island’s coast, as well as help guide state policies concerning ecosystem health, coastal resilience, sustainable seafood, and offshore development.


“Rhode Island’s coastal habitat and fisheries are an essential part of our culture and economy.  The University of Rhode Island is a national leader in ocean research and conservation, and the Sea Grant program has been a vital partner in carrying out cooperative research and strengthening our coastal communities.” 

Senator Jack Reed (RI)
Ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS), and Related Agencies


Search Sea Grant Databases

To find a complete list of our research impacts and accomplishments, visit the National Sea Grant’s website to search by program, year, and topic.


Rhode Island Sea Grant has funded scientific research relevant to the Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound in service of residents who conserve, enjoy, and make these coastal and marine resources.

The funded projects advance scientific knowledge through the publication of peer-reviewed journal articles. 

Publications prior to 2016 can be accessed through the National Sea Grant Library.

National Sea Grant Library

The NSGL is the digital library and official archive for NOAA’s Sea Grant documents from over 30 programs and projects across the United States and Territories.  

This collection includes a wide variety of subjects including oceanography, marine education, aquaculture, fisheries, aquatic nuisance species, coastal hazards, seafood safety, limnology, coastal zone management, marine recreation, and law. 


Sub-monthly prediction of harmful algal blooms based on automated cell imaging
Harmful Algae |  February 2023

Within-region replication of late Holocene relative sea-level change: An example from southern New England, United States
Quaternary Science Reviews January 2023

Emerging harmful algal blooms caused by distinct seasonal assemblages of a toxic diatom
Limnology and Oceanography | October 2022

Do views of offshore wind energy detract? A hedonic price analysis of the Block Island wind farm in Rhode Island
Energy Policy | August 2022

A Decade of Time Series Sampling Reveals Thermal Variation and Shifts in Pseudo-nitzschia Species Composition That Contribute to Harmful Algal Blooms in an Eastern US Estuary
Frontiers in Marine Science July 2022

Detecting population regulation of winter flounder from noisy data
Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences | July 2022

Length, width, shape regularity, and chain structure: time series analysis of phytoplankton morphology from imagery
Limnology and  Oceanography  |   June 2022

The fundamental links between climate change and marine plastic pollution
Science of the Total Environment  | February 2022

Negligible greenhouse gas release from sediments in 0yster habitats
Environmental Science & Technology | October 2021

Beyond Bioextraction: The role of oyster-mediated denitrification in nutrient management
Environmental  Science & Technology October  2021

Nitrogen fixation: A poorly understood process along the freshwater-marine continuum
Limnology and Oceanography October  2021

Spatiotemporal patterns in early life stage winter flounder Pseudopleuronectes americanus highlight phenology changes and habitat dependencies
Marine Ecology Progress Series October  2021

Coastal silicon cycling amplified by oyster aquaculture
Marine Ecology Progress Series | September 2021

A review of how we assess denitrification in oyster habitats and proposed guidelines for future studies
Limnology and Oceanography | August 2021

The fundamental links between climate change and marine plastic pollution
Science of the Total Environment | June 2021

Optimistic with reservations: The impacts of the United States’ first offshore wind farm on the recreational fishing experience
Marine Policy | May 2021

Opportunities and challenges for including oyster-mediated denitrification in nitrogen management plans
Estuaries and Coasts | April 2021

Meta-analysis of oyster impacts on coastal biogeochemistry
Nature Sustainability | November 2020

Seaonsal patterns of benthic-pelagic coupling in oyster habitats
Marine Ecology Progress Series | October 2020

Estimating dredge catch efficiencies for the Northern Quahog (Mercenaria mercenaria) population of Narragansett Bay
Journal of Shellfish Research | August 2020

Abundance and distribution of Atlantic cod in a warming southern New England
Fishery BulletinMay 2020

Northern quahog (Mercenaria mercenaria) larval transport and settlement modeled for a temperate estuary
Limnology and Oceanography August 2019

Sustainability and Tourism: The effect of the United States’ first offshore wind farm on the vacation rental market
Resource and Energy Economics | August 2019

High temperature limits on developmental canalization in the ascidian Ciona intestinalis
Mechanisms of Development | June 2019

Draft Genome Sequence of the Putative Marine Pathogen Thalassobius sp. I31.1
Microbiology Resource Announcements | February 2019