Several years ago, when we at Rhode Island Sea Grant were evaluating the magazine that we publish jointly with the Coastal Institute at the University of Rhode Island, we held a series of focus groups to see what readers liked—and didn’t like—about 41°N.
One message came through particularly clearly: Readers were not interested in a magazine that was a P.R. piece for Sea Grant or our partners. Since our programs have an educational mission, it is entirely appropriate to focus 41°N articles on coastal and ocean topics of interest to readers—such as how Newport is coping with sea level rise, how and why the Scituate Reservoir came into being at the expense of a cluster of small villages, how sometimes “hidden” marine industries are working to attract new talent, and how Rhode Island oysters acquire their unique “meroir” —and not on every proposal, project, and program that Sea Grant has sponsored.
But now that an administration proposal to eliminate the Sea Grant program from the federal budget has been made public, it may be a good time to remind Rhode Islanders what Sea Grant does for them.
Rhode Island Sea Grant, at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, is part of a network of 33 programs around the country—there’s a Sea Grant program in every coastal and Great Lakes state, as well as Puerto Rico and Guam—with a mission to foster environmental stewardship, long-term economic development, and responsible use of America’s coastal, ocean, and Great Lakes resources. Rhode Island Sea Grant receives approximately $2 million in federal funding through NOAA annually, and matches that with an additional $1 million in state and private funding (as well as nearly a million dollars in leveraged funding made possible by the Sea Grant investment) that is spent on research, outreach, and education programs that directly benefit Rhode Islanders.
Here in Rhode Island, our program has long supported research to better understand Narragansett Bay and our Atlantic coastal waters– from mapping the seafloor to characterizing habitats and ecosystems, to deciphering how water flows through the bay and in what patterns. This has led to work that explains the sometimes unexpected impacts of sewage treatment upgrades, that has helped determine how juvenile quahogs disperse around the bay, that has discovered Rhode Island’s largest underwater ship graveyard as well as volumes of offshore sand for potential beach replenishment, and that has helped determine where wind turbines should—and should not—be located in the ocean water off Rhode Island.
Rhode Island Sea Grant’s Extension program, in conjunction with the URI Coastal Resources Center, has worked in all of Rhode Island’s 21 coastal municipalities on projects that have identified where coastal salt marshes—important for habitat and for coastal protection in the event of hurricanes—are threatened so they can be protected; that have mapped where communities are vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding so they can identify and fortify vulnerable infrastructure, homes, and businesses; and that have worked with stakeholders in fisheries, aquaculture, conservation, and resources management to develop Rhode Island’s first dedicated shellfish management plan.
Extension staff led the development, in conjunction with the state Coastal Resources Management Council, of the Ocean Special Area Management Plan that led to the nation’s first offshore wind farm. Extension agents have trained seafood processors in the safe handling of seafood to prevent illnesses. They have taken tools for homeowners to improve their resilience to storms and flooding on the road, appearing on local television, online, and radio programs and giving countless talks and guided walks to help as many people as they can learn about their risks and what they can do. They have held numerous meetings with municipal leaders, businesses, state agencies, and stakeholders to tackle issues in coastal resiliency, fisheries management, aquaculture policy, coastal and ocean planning, and developing green infrastructure. Their work has led to the creation and retention of over 400 jobs in 2015.
The Rhode Island Sea Grant Legal Program, located at the Roger Williams University School of Law, has sponsored law fellows—competitively selected law students who provide supervised legal research at a fraction of the cost of a lawyer—to provide municipal governments, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and others with answers to coastal and marine-related legal questions.
Rhode Island Sea Grant has supported hundreds of college and graduate students over the years with funding, fellowships, and training to further their careers in coastal and ocean science, social sciences, ocean engineering, landscape architecture, communications, and more. Sea Grant has sponsored numerous conferences, symposia, lectures, and hands-on events that share scientific findings with the community and foster an appreciation of coastal and marine resources. And, yes, we publish 41°N, which we distribute free of charge to individuals, libraries, markets, and coffee shops around the Ocean State.
Rhode Island Sea Grant, and the entire Sea Grant program, is the legacy of the late Senator Claiborne Pell, and has been serving the state for half a century. We look forward to continuing that legacy for years to come.