Researchers studied how people are currently using Rhode Island’s salt ponds. Their findings will help inform resources management.

URI researchers discuss their findings April 12

Shellfishing and shellfish aquaculture have historically been a prominent part of Rhode Island’s coastal landscape. Efforts to foster aquaculture in the state have taken off, and the industry is growing, with an influx of proposals for new aquaculture sites prompting discussions concerning the best way for the state to manage these areas.

As part of its support for improved shellfish management, Rhode Island Sea Grant has funded several projects to help the state learn more about how aquaculture might affect Rhode Islanders. These projects examined public opinions of aquaculture as well as current and projected public uses of potential aquaculture sites. The findings of the projects will be presented in as part of the Coastal State Discussion series on April 12 at 4 p.m. at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography.

Tracey Dalton, URI professor of marine affairs, worked with a team that surveyed Rhode Islanders on their viewpoints regarding local shellfish aquaculture, and is sharing results with state resources managers. “The state actually, through a general law in Rhode Island, has to manage [the shellfish farming] industry in the public interest. So they really need to know what the public interest is,” she explains.

Dalton’s team gauged public opinions through a mail survey sent out to 1,300 Rhode Islanders across the state. The survey included questions on general support for shellfish aquaculture, knowledge on the topic, and opinions regarding possible effects of the industry on Rhode Island’s economy and ecosystems. In addition to opinions, the researchers looked at demographics, including where people lived, their proximity to the waterfront, and their occupation. Dalton says that they are trying to understand more about the characteristics of people who support or oppose aquaculture, and why they might feel that way.

Another main focus of Dalton’s surveys involves levels of aquaculture. The surveys asked a series of questions that allowed the researchers to compare attitudes towards different levels of aquaculture activity, and then to compare the results against demographic data. This will be a focus of her talk on April 12. “We’re trying to understand where do people agree or disagree on certain levels of aquaculture … whether the commercial harvesters think differently than the aquaculture farmers or the general population in terms of how much aquaculture is acceptable. And we are finding some differences.”

dalton30Emily Patrolia, a graduate student, will also be presenting results from a complementary project that focuses on understanding public uses of coastal ponds. Researchers collected data on Quonochotaug Pond, Ninigret Pond, and Point Judith Pond through observational surveys and interviews. The aim of this project was to establish baseline data regarding usage of these three salt ponds. “If you’re going to choose an aquaculture place, there are a lot of ecological reasons why it would be good or bad but also you have to show that you’re not taking away space from recreational users,” Patrolia explains. Their interviews didn’t specifically ask about aquaculture, so she said it was interesting to see if, and when, it came up in peoples’ responses.

Patrolia will also discuss her work on how climate change may impact recreation in coastal salt ponds.

“I’m interested in how climate change might change people’s actions,” she says. Using the same data from the study on coastal pond usage, she was able to look at how weather affected different activities on the ponds. She hopes to use this data to predict how uses are likely to change in the coming years as climate change progresses, which in turn may affect attitudes towards shellfishing as recreational uses become more or less compatible with aquaculture.

By Keegan Glennon | Rhode Island Sea Grant Communications Intern


When:   Tuesday April 12, 2016
Time:    4–6 p.m.
Where: Coastal Institute Auditorium at the URI Narragansett Bay Campus


[info]Please RSVP to Meredith Haas at or call (401) 874-6805 to reserve your place. This series is sponsored by Rhode Island Sea Grant with the support of URI’s Coastal Institute, College of the Environment and Life Sciences, and the Graduate School of Oceanography.[/info]

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