Coastal State Discussion Series


The Coastal State Discussion Series is a forum dedicated to highlighting current scientific research, finding solutions, and building partnerships centered around coastal communities and environments.

These discussions bring together scientists, resource managers, professionals, students, and interested stakeholders to learn about ongoing marine and coastal-related research efforts throughout the state. We aim to find solutions, generate ideas, and build collaborations that utilize science that best serves coastal communities.

All events are free and all are encouraged to join!

This series is sponsored by Rhode Island Sea Grant with the support of the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Institute, College of Environment and Life Sciences, and the Graduate School of Oceanography.






“Can Winter Flounder Survive a Warming Bay
March 2018

Winter flounder dominated commercial and recreational fishing in Narragansett Bay until the 1980s. Populations have since declined to historically low levels. This has raised concerns about what caused this decline, the overall health of the bay, and the future for fisheries in the bay.

Overfishing and predation may be a few reasons why, but new studies suggest warming water temperatures may also be crippling populations.

Joe Langan, a Ph.D. candidate, and Dr. Jeremy Collie at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) presented findings on their research investigating the role temperature plays in winter flounder populations. Their primary focus has been looking at which life stages of winter flounder are most vulnerable.

“We don’t know the answer yet, but at best, winter flounder are an underdog going forward in Narragansett Bay … because there’s plenty of things acting against them as they try to recover,” said Langan. “BUT, this is important work to understand what happened here so colleagues in Maine or Nova Scotia can understand the dynamics that might influence their winter flounder populations as climate change marches on.”

+ Read More: “The Murder Mystery of Narragansett Bay’s Winter Flounder


A Sinking State “
February 2018

Engelhart’s research aims to provide a better understanding of future coastal hazards to help coastal planners make more informed decisions.

Rhode Island’s historic coastal cities, such as Newport and Providence, were built on ground that is slowly sinking and has been for thousands of years. 

Dr. Simon Engelhart at the University of Rhode Island presented findings on his research investigating how Rhode Island’s coasts have responded to past sea level rise changes and the influence of land subsidence from the last glaciation to better understand future implications as sea level rise projections continue to climb.

Although the state is losing only one millimeter of ground annually, it plays a meaningful role in present-day flooding along a coastal state that is mostly at sea level or 10 to 30 feet above, he said. To better understand changes in the past to estimate what might happen in the future, Engelhart looked at salt marshes, he said, are geological archives that show how the coastline has changed over time.

Engelhart’s research to better understand how the land is responding is aimed to better inform resiliency measures by coastal managers.

+ Read More:
“A Sinking State and a Rising Sea: Salt Marshes Provide the Answer ”
Rhode Island is Sinking and Sea Levels Continue to Rise”
“Rhode Island Losing Ground in Battle Against Sea-Level Rise”

span style=”color: #808080;”>+ GOLOCAL LIVE: URI Researcher Engelhart On Impacts Of A Sinking State & Rising Sea Levels


“Quahog Hot Spots in Narragansett Bay”
March 2017

It might seem obvious that microscopic larval quahogs, spawned up into the water column by adult quahogs, would be at the mercy of tides and currents, which would entirely determine where they would land and bury themselves in the sand.

Quahog fishermen working in Narragansett Bay.

But, while newly spawned quahogs—which will spend 8 to 12 days in the larval stage before settling on the bottom and becoming juvenile quahogs—are very much dependent on water circulation to determine where they will end up, they are able to swim, and their behavior, to a degree, factors into where they settle.

Researchers Scott Rutherford (Roger Williams University) and Chris Kincaid (URI Graduate School of Oceanography) discussed their work investigating how current flow through Narragansett Bay influences where quahog larvae go when released from a specific place, combining computer modeling with a hands-on approach creating “drifters” from hardware-store materials, such as PVC pipe and canvas, to follow the path of the quahog larvae.

Rutherford discussed that while larvae have little ability to swim against a current or determine their direction horizontally, they are able to determine their place vertically within the water column, and “where they are vertically (affects) where they go laterally.”

Their research also found that quahogs that spawn in Conditional Area A, an area that is periodically closed due to pollution, is an important source of larvae for the Providence River and a lot of the West Passage, with only 20 percent being lost from the system. Conditional Area B is a source for the West Passage, as is the spawner sanctuary, which researchers—as well as fishermen in the audience—agreed is an effective spot for the sanctuary in terms of the amount of larvae it contributes to the system. Greenwich Bay seeds itself as well as a spot by Jamestown.

What was not considered by the project were other factors beyond circulation and behavior that would affect the number of larvae that reach the bottom and mature—factors such as predation by ctenophores (comb jellies) or menhaden, or whether crowding at spawning areas, such as the sanctuary, reduces the spawning capacity.

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“Mining Offshore for Future Coastal Restoration”
February 2017

Two years after Superstorm Sandy scoured Misquamicut Beach in 2012, the state trucked in 84,000 cubic yards of sand to restore the beach at a cost of $3.1 million in federal relief funds. If it happens again, or as lesser storms cause more gradual erosion, where will more sand come from? And at what cost?

Berm at Misquamicut Beach in Westerly being replenished in 2014.

Geologists John King (University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography) and Bryan Oakley, (Eastern Connecticut State University), discuss their collective research on available offshore sand resources, as well as the amount needed to sustain Rhode Island’s southern shore.

Recognizing that Rhode Island’s beaches are a major economic driver, and that to maintain them will require further nourishment, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council sought an assessment of offshore sand resources for their potential for future beach replenishment.

“The first step is figuring out what’s out there,” says Grover Fugate, executive director of the Coastal Resources Management Council, regarding offshore sand. “Then we move into the discussion phase about who gets impacted, what are the impacts, and should we be doing this?”

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“Perspectives of Aquaculture and the Impacts of Climate Change on Recreation in Coastal Salt Ponds”
April 2016

Dr. Tracey Dalton, professor of Marine Affairs at the University of Rhode Island, shared findings on what influences people to support or oppose aquaculture in Rhode Island waters. Her team’s findings will help to minimize conflict where possible, and help guide aquaculture practices.

Emily Patrolia, graduate student at the University of Rhode Island, has been working with Dr. Dalton to study the various uses of Rhode Island’s coastal salt ponds. She will be discussing the short- and long-term fluctuations in coastal recreation to help state managers and business owners better utilize resources and plan for the future.

+ Watch


“Ship Graveyards & Uncovering Our Maritime Heritage”
March 2016

To date, 29 historic wooden-hulled vessels from the late-19th and early-20th centuries have been discovered off of East Providence’s Bold Point in Providence Harbor. Among the discarded vessels are the remains of Mount Hope and Bay Queen, two of Rhode Island’s most prominent 19th-century steamboats. In addition to the wrecks, the remains of the first floating dry-dock in Narragansett Bay, as well as pier pilings once used to support nearby marine railway operations, have also been identified.

SS Mount Hope

SS Mount Hope, largest passenger steamboat

“Cultural history doesn’t end at the water’s edge. Shipwrecks are not all there are to marine studies,” said Susan Langley,Susan Langley, Maryland state underwater archaeologist, discussing the parallels between Mallows Bay and noting that the National Register of Historic Places is considering adding the concept of “Maritime Cultural Landscape” as an additional category. “A shipyard is the perfect example in that there are wrecks, docks, in [Rhode Island’s] case a dry dock, marine railways, the pickling pond (brining pond), the actual yard itself…they are part of a maritime landscape too. We want to integrate land and shore/littoral and water and look at them as a cultural whole, and Providence is just the perfect … pilot project for this.”

SS Mount Hope, largest passenger steamboat

SS Mount Hope, largest passenger steamboat

David Robinson, a marine archaeologist at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, discussed the historical and environmental values of 29 historic vessels discovered off Bold Point in Providence Harbor – including two iconic steamships, Mount Hope and Bay Queen and the implications for Providence Harbor.

Dr. Susan Langley, Maryland State Underwater Archaeologist, joined the discussion presenting work on the development of Mallows Bay, the largest ship graveyard in the nation and on the table to be listed as the next National Marine Sanctuary. She describes the history of these watercraft and how they ended up in Maryland, as well as how the site serves the area now, which may offer ideas about what could be for Rhode Island.

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+ Watch


“Coming to America: The biology of marine debris from the Japanese Tsunami”
February 2016

The Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011 ejected a vast debris field into the North Pacific Ocean that began drifting toward North America and Hawaii. This allowed, for the first time, to track and study how invasive species may be transported over long distances via rafting on debris.

glass-float-beachSince 2012, over 400 objects including docks, vessels, and buoys with more than 330 living Japanese species have been intercepted from Alaska to California and Hawaii. Searches for new potential invasions from tsunamis have begun in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii.  More than 4 years after the tsunami, living Japanese species on tsunami debris continue to arrive.

Dr. James Carlton,world-renowned expert in aquatic invasive species and professor emeritus of marine science at Williams College and director emeritus of the Williams College Maritime Studies Program at Mystic Seaport, discussed marine life discovered on Japanese tsunami debris along the West Coast, potential bioinvasions from natural disasters, and current invasive issues along the New England coast.

+ Read More:
A Symptom of Modern Times
Species ‘rafting’ via marine debris


“Impacts of Climate Change on Septic Systems”
April 2015

Jennifer Cooper, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Rhode Island, will discuss how increased surface temperatures, changing precipitation patterns and sea level rise impact conventional septic systems and alternative technologies.

Cooper has been working Jose Amador, URI professor of natural resources and the team’s research leader, and George Loomis, soil scientist and director of the New England Onsite Wastewater Training Center at URI, to look at current designs and parameters for septic systems against various climate-change scenarios. Cooper, more specifically, has been investigating two types of alternative systems more commonly used in Rhode Island, which both utilize a pressurized shallow narrow drainfield (PSND) technologies that either applies an advanced treated wastewater using sand filtration or just the surface soil for treatment.

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“Ecological and Economic Benefits of Certified Seafood”
April, 2015

Guest speakers Jeremy Collie, a fisheries ecologist and professor of oceanography at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, and Hirotsugu Uchidaan assistant professor of environmental and natural resource economics at URI, will discuss the status and trends of various fish stocks, an examination of whether certification of fisheries sustainability by an organization, such as the Marine Stewardship Council, affects the sustainability of a stock, and whether a certified product commands a premium price, as expected.

+ Watch

“Does Eco-Certification Improve Resource Status”

“The Economics of Seafood Certification”


“An Ounce of Prevention: Probiotics Hold Potential for Shellfish Disease”
March, 2015

Deep lacerations  scar the shells of lobsters. Entire populations of oysters die in less than 24 hours. These are the results of disease, potentially caused by bad bacteria. And although bacteria may be the cause, in it also lies potential for a solution.

Can something as simple as a probiotic, the good bacteria, like the ones found in yogurt, help prevent, treat, or even cure these diseases?

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URI Pharmacy Professor, David Rowley, studies how probiotics might be able to fight disease in shellfish.

Dr. David Rowley, associate professor of biomedical sciences and pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Rhode Island, has been studying the effects of probiotics — bacteria that promote disease-resistance — for reducing mortality rates in larval oyster.

He will discuss his current work with probiotic applications in oyster hatcheries that could have implications for Rhode Island’s shellfish aquaculture industry.



Dr. Kathy Castro, a fisheries scientist specializing in lobster ecology at the University of Rhode Island and who runs the university’s Fisheries Center, has been studying the effects of lobster shell disease.

She will be discussing ongoing work testing Dr. Rowley’s probiotic hypothesis to fight lobster shell disease that is thought to be linked to a new bacterium found in local waters. If the disease expands as rapidly in Maine as it did in Rhode Island, it could also have a dramatic effect on the iconic Maine fishery.



“The Role of Nitrogen in Ecosystem Functioning and the Impacts of Climate Change”
February, 2015

The nitrogen cycle seems simple. As a gas, it’s the most abundant element in the atmosphere, but can quickly be turned into organic nitrogen, ammonium or nitrate through fixation done naturally in ecosystems by microbes, then used as fuel for plants to grow.

But there’s a catch.

“It’s a lie. A total lie,” Robinson “Wally” Fulweiler says of the readily accepted nitrogen cycle theory.

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+ Watch

WallyRobinson “Wally” Fulweiler, an ecosystems ecologist and biogeochemist at Boston University, will discuss her work with energy flow and biogeochemical cycling of nutrients – specifically nitrogen and it’s impacts on coastal marine ecosystems. Her recent focus has been on how climate change may influence the nitrogen cycle in estuarine and shelf systems, and how anthropogenic impacts alter coastal nutrient cycles.


CELS Faculty & StaffBethany Jenkins, associate professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, will discuss her work in understanding how marine microbes are impacted by nitrogen cycling, and her DNA sequencing technique to characterize the assemblage of genes represented in a particular environment – with respect to nitrogen assimilation gene sequences.



“The Economics of Climate Change”

February 2014

To any economist things are typically broken down into “tradeoffs.” What will I give up and what will I get in return? At least that’s what Robert Johnston, an economics expert from Clark University, said at the Coastal State Discussion Series on February 25, 2014 sponsored by Rhode Island Sea Grant] at the University of Rhode Island’s Kingston campus.

Johnston discussed various ongoing research efforts to look more specifically at the tradeoffs of coastal management in New England communities, and the potential costs associated with climate change. He said we can’t think about hazard adaptation in a box and isolate it from all the other management tradeoffs, noting that some of the key tradeoffs will be related to coastal development regulations.

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