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EROSION A P U B L I C AT I O N O F R H O D E I S L A N D S E A G R A N T & T H E C OA S TA L I N S T I T U T E AT T H E U N I V E R S I T Y O F R H O D E 41˚ I S L AN N D spring A /summer S E A G R A N 2014 T I N S T I T U TA ION


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Monica Allard Cox, Editor Judith Swift Alan Desbonnet Meredith Haas ART DIRECTOR


Photographs by John Supancic



41° N is published twice per year by the Rhode Island Sea Grant College Program and the Coastal Institute at the University of Rhode Island (URI). The name refers to the latitude at which Rhode Island lies. Rhode Island Sea Grant is a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and was established to promote the conservation and sustainable development of marine resources for the public benefit through research, outreach, and education. The URI Coastal Institute works in partnerships to provide a neutral setting where knowledge is advanced, issues discussed, information synthesized, and solutions developed for the sustainable use and management of coastal ecosystems. The Coastal Institute works across and beyond traditional structures to encourage new approaches to problem solving. Change of address, subscription information, or editorial correspondence: 41° N, Rhode Island Sea Grant, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett Bay Campus, Narragansett, RI 02882-1197. Telephone: (401) 874-6800. E-mail: 41N@gso.uri.edu Reprinting material from 41° N is encouraged, but we request that you notify us of your intentions, give credit to 41° N and the article’s author(s), and send us a copy of your final publication. Not a subscriber? You can get 41°N free. Sign up at seagrant.gso.uri.edu/41N (click the “subscribe” button) or call (401) 874-6800.

“what makes an authentic, rhode island-style clam chowder?” Chef William Idell posed this question to the audience at the recent R.I. Seafood Challenge chowder cookoff at Johnson & Wales University. “It’s wicked good!” someone answered. Also, of course, it has to have a clear broth. Beyond that, Idell, department chair in the Johnson & Wales University College of Culinary Arts, said the contestants had gotten creative with their recipes. He told the audience, “Keep an open mind.” Those of you who are native Rhode Islanders likely know what that means—people have very … distinct … opinions about what ingredients must or must not be in our iconic chowder. We Rhode Islanders are also famous for giving directions based on landmarks that no longer exist, and holding on to memories of places that used to be (Rocky Point fans, I’m talking to you). It may be in human nature, but it is certainly in our nature, to struggle with change. As I look over this issue of 41°N, I reflect that many of the articles are about change. There are changes to fisheries, both capture and culture, that reflect changes in culture and society: Who eats what? How much alteration, in the form of aquaculture expansion, are people willing to accept in Rhode Island waters? There are also changes to the landscape, past and present, as winds and waves move sand around our shorelines. There are changes to life on the planet from climate change and human activities. There are some changes, of course, that bring perils that we must be aware of, address, and even fight. But one word in particular has been repeated recently in resources management, and that is “adaptation.” It recognizes that some changes are inevitable, and that we must change our own behaviors to maintain our homes, livelihoods, and cultures. We may pursue different fisheries or retreat from threatened shorelines. But as the article on Napatree Point indicates, Rhode Islanders have adapted to major changes in the past. This issue of 41°N certainly does not provide answers to all of the challenges of erosion, global warming, or fisheries management, but it indicates that there are ways to move forward, and there are people who are working to do so. What will happen next? And will we accept it? Keep an open mind. It might be wicked good. — MONICA ALLARD COX Editor

P.S. And if you’d like to find out more about the chowder cookoff, including the winning recipe, be sure to read the next issue of 41N. If you are not on our mailing list, sign up at seagrant.gso.uri.edu/41N. Subscriptions are free!


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Local fisherman leads effort to better understand, manage whelk fishery by rudi hempe

How long can we hold on to the coast? by meredith haas KEEPING WATCH

Researchers study the beach at Napatree Point to understand impacts of climate change by alan desbonnet



An oceanographer talks about getting people to “dive in” and save the planet by leslie smith TAKING STOCK OF CURRENTS AND QUAHOGS

Researchers seek better estimates, understanding of clams in Narragansett Bay by zoe gentes



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R.I. shellfish farms face increasing opposition


Exhibit celebrates 25 years of Visual Arts Sea Grant by meredith haas NARWHALS: ARCTIC WHALES IN A MELTING WORLD BY TODD McLEISH

Reviewed by kelly kittel

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The secret life of whelks Local fisherman leads effort to better understand, manage whelk fishery

by Rudi Hempe Photos by Melissa Devine underwater, whelks are slow-moving

sea snails that like to pry open and devour quahogs. They are also the unlikely focus of a campaign by an energetic woman who catches them for a living to protect her chosen occupation. Katie Eagan is a whelk fisherman, or as she and most of the other 200-plus whelk fishermen in Rhode Island prefer to call themselves, a “conch fisherman,” even though the larger and quite different conchs live in far warmer waters down South (see sidebar). At age 30, Eagan has fallen in love with a job that requires her to get up at dawn seven days a week to cruise parts of Narragansett Bay harvesting creatures that end up on plates in Asia and in the popular “snail salad” stateside. There are two whelk-fishing seasons—spring (April until late June) and fall (October until “the snow flies”) says Eagan. In the dead of winter, whelks burrow into the mud. When the water

Markets for whelk are increasing, and a team of fishermen and researchers is seeking to better understand these creatures.

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Katie Eagan deploys baited traps to catch whelk in Narragansett Bay.

warms up, they emerge to feed. When the water gets too warm, they burrow in the mud again to mate, not coming out until the fall when the water cools. Between seasons Eagan goes lobstering or shore-quahogging with her father. Eagan graduated in 2006 from the uri Marine Affairs program. Soon after she decided to go to Fiji as a Peace Corps volunteer to help small communities with their fisheries management and data collection issues. “It was not in the tourist area,” she laughs, explaining she was based in an area of 11 fishing villages quite distant from the travel-poster version of Fiji. When she planned to return home, “I started to think the best thing for me was to … go fishing with my Dad,” who, she notes, had to figure out whether it was economically feasible to take on a full-time hand. It was—but getting the 4

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necessary commercial licenses was not a simple matter. At the time, management restrictions meant she couldn’t get a lobster or quahog license. She decided to go for a whelk license because it was available. “When I started, the prices were not really high—it was just something we did” between lobster and quahog seasons, she says. But now the picture is different. The market for whelk has grown substantially and the prices are up. New buyers got into the market and started shipping whelk overseas—the majority of whelk meat is sent to China—although the domestic market has increased with the popularity of snail salad, especially around the holidays. The rising whelk market has attracted a lot of fishermen, so much so that Eagan, with her marine affairs educa-

tion, started worrying about the future of the fishery. For the most part, the whelk fishery is unregulated. There is a state minimum size for whelk—2.75 inches for the shell width or 4.75 inches for the shell length. However, Eagan says, those figures were not based on science but rather on market desirability. In fact, there is very little research on whelks— little is known about their growth rate, maturity, migration, diet, and preferred habitats. “It’s pretty amazing how little we know about them,” says Eagan. The most recent study was done last spring by another uri alum, with a degree in fisheries, Steven H. Wilcox, now a biologist at the Massachusetts Department of Marine Resources, who did a master’s thesis at UMass-Dartmouth on the size and age of maturation of chan-


A WHELK PRIMER Technically whelks are gastropod mollusks that are carnivorous (conchs, on the other hand, are herbivorous). In Rhode Island there are three species of whelk: channeled whelk (Busycotypus canaliculatus), knobbed whelk (Busycon carica) and lightning whelk (Busycon sinistrum). The species favored by fishermen and dealers is the channeled whelk. The knobbed whelk, with its thick shell, does not render as much meat per pound and the lightning neled whelk. Wilcox raised the question whether the current market-established minimum sizes are conducive to protecting the fishery. Eagan is concerned about the same thing, so, one day last winter when she heard that Rhode Island Sea Grant had issued a request for proposals for grants to undertake shellfish research to aid management, she decided to apply. The problem was the deadline for the preproposals was two days away. She called on Kathleen Castro, a lobster fisheries researcher Eagan knew from her URI student days, who came to the rescue. “I knew nothing about whelks,” confesses Castro. “But when she called me up and said she and other fishermen were concerned about the future of the fishery, I said I would help her.” The pre-proposal was dashed off, followed by a more detailed proposal, and in September, Sea Grant awarded a $185,000 grant for the two-year research project that began in February. The proposal itself was to conduct research about the biology and ecology of whelk in Rhode Island, as well as the fishery, that would serve as the basis for establishing a management plan. However, Castro recommended that Eagan also form a whelk association, which would have more of a say in the management process than an individual fisherman might. The project will start this winter with meetings with whelk fishermen. Involved will be Carlos Garcia-Quijano, a uri anthropologist who will conduct the sessions designed to obtain local knowledge. Fishermen “are the best observers,” Castro says, adding that they will be involved collecting and

whelk is rarely captured. Whelks are caught using rectangular wire or wooden traps that are baited with horseshoe crabs, quahogs, or fish parts. The traps are smaller and simpler in design than lobster traps. The traps’ sides are lined with rubber, plastic, or wood strips that make it easier for the whelks to climb up to the top. Once there, they fall through a large square opening. A wire rim around the opening prevents them from getting out. The traps, five or more, are usually attached to a line with a special harness. When fishermen winch up the traps, the design of the harness prevents the traps from turning upside down, thus reducing the chance of dumping the catch. Traps are pulled every 2-3 days, depending on weather conditions. understanding the data throughout the project, “and they are going to take that to the management process.” The project will also involve the R.I. Department of Environmental Management. To gather the data, tablet computers, purchased through the grant, will be issued to the 20 participating fishermen, who will upload their data daily to a cloud-based system. A local Wireless Zone firm is providing the tablets at a discount, and will also train the fishermen in their use. Part of the study will even put whelks on camera. Underwater cameras will be attached to at least one trap to capture the whelks in action—their approach to traps, their capture, and perhaps their escape. (Obviously highspeed cameras will not be needed.) Organizing the whelk fishermen is the

task on Eagan’s plate. “Now we have to get people onboard, says Eagan, who will serve as industry liaison, develop meeting agendas, provide input to participating fishermen, and collect local knowledge. “The reality is if we don’t regulate it somehow we won’t be able to fish,” continues Eagan. “I would not say the way it is fished now will become a problem, but it has the potential if not done properly.” “This is an opportunity for the fishermen and the scientists to work together and to use each other’s knowledge to manage this fishery, with a lot of input from the fishermen because we have the practical knowledge and have been following the species for a long time,” says Eagan.

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HOW LONG CAN WE HOLD ON TO THE COAST? by Meredith Haas Aerial Photographs by John Supancic

rhode island is the second most densely populated state, and its 420 miles of coastline are crowded with homes and businesses, residents and tourists. The increasing rate of erosion and sea level rise, and the effects of coastal storms and flooding, are making the state’s coastal landscape ever smaller. For those who think that engineering solutions will hold back the sea, Robert Fairbanks, a Rhode Island-based engineer who designs and constructs hard structures to protect coastal properties, has some bad news. “Everything is temporary,” he said in a recent interview. Fairbanks explained that when built correctly, barriers such as seawalls, revetments, or even dunes can protect an area for an extended period of time, but not indefinitely. “It’s always an educational process explaining to a homeowner who just spent a million dollars and now thinks they’re completely protected forever. I explain to them, that’s not the way Mother Nature works.” While hurricanes and storms such as Sandy can move sand from one place to another—Sandy alone stripped over 1,600 tons of sand away from Narragansett Town Beach and dumped over 18,000 tons onto Atlantic Avenue in Westerly—ultimately, the state is losing land over time. Despite seawall construction, beach renourishment, and other measures, Rhode Island’s coastline has lost over 250 feet of beach in just 50 years. This has been felt most acutely along the more exposed southern shoreline in communities from Point Judith to Westerly. Matunuck, Misquamicut, and South Kingstown Town Beach have lost over 400 feet of beach combined in the last 40 years. Narragansett’s seawall—a mile-long, steel sheet pile seawall capped with concrete—has protected downtown Narragansett since 1933, and Newport’s Cliff Walk has endured since the end of the 19th century. Though they have weathered many storms over time, they were both damaged heavily by Sandy, and required millions of dollars in repairs. Efforts are underway to restore these existing structures and others, as well as to rebuild beaches, an undertaking funded in part by the $61.4 million Rhode Island 8

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Meredith Haas is Rhode Island Sea Grant’s science writer


Brothers Merrick Slade, front, and Seamus Slade, left, play on Matunuck Beach, next to the Ocean Mist bar. © Photo by Gretchen Ertl

received from federal disaster relief programs to help the state recover from Sandy. And many residents and businesses are demanding the right to build new seawalls despite strict permitting regulations in the state that largely prohibit them in many areas. These efforts illustrate the challenges in educating people about the risks of coastal living. Dan Goulet, engineer at the Coastal Resources Management Council (crmc), the state agency responsible for protecting coastal resources, likened the issue to the failed bank bailouts in 2008, and said that coastal communities need long-term solutions that will require a different way of thinking for how people live on the coast instead of continually investing in infrastructure that does not work.

“It’s risky to live on the coast and people don’t get it,” he said, talking about the many oceanfront properties owned by seasonal residents. “They come in the summer and it’s wonderful, but they don’t see when the ocean is lapping at their property.” Rhode Island is one of the few states with a nearban on construction of new hard shoreline protection structures despite the strong push to build. With the exception of preexisiting structures, this ban is primarily along Rhode Island’s southern shore in waters classified by crmc as a Type 1, which abut natural, undisturbed shorelines. The south shore is also exposed to high wave energy, flooding, and erosion. crmc officials say that new construction is banned for all Type 1 waters to protect natural habitats and because 41˚ N spring /summer 2014




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“YOU CAN HAVE A WALL OR A BEACH, BUT YOU CAN’T HAVE BOTH” such structures interfere with natural transportation of sediment and accelerate erosion. Preexisting structures can be maintained but are not permitted to expand. “We’re very concerned about sediment supply and have a limited supply on the south coast. Seawalls block the supply, and that has downstream impacts on beaches. You can have a wall or a beach, but you can’t have both,” said Grover Fugate, crmc executive director, in a public meeting to address the benefits, hazards, and limitations of hard structures. Seawalls are vertical structures made of concrete or timber, and are driven into the soil to deflect oncoming waves. The deflected wave force, however, has to go somewhere and is generally reflected back out. This accelerates erosion in front of the wall, or to the sides, causing scouring to the outside edges and damaging adjacent properties, and ultimately eroding behind the wall and rendering it useless. Revetments are also engineered rock walls, but they follow the natural slope of the beach to break up wave energy and minimize erosion impacts. However, they can still pose scouring problems, and any beach in front of them will be eroded away. This is the case in Matunuck, where a 200-foot long steel sheet pile seawall was approved to protect a portion of Matunuck Beach Road. This proposed structure, currently being appealed, would be an exception to protect public health and safety since the road is the only access to 250 homes, and protects the water supply for 1,600 homes. The total estimated cost of this project would be $1.38 million, which would be funded by the R.I. Department of Transportation. 41˚ N spring /summer 2014




“I’m working with South Kingstown to protect Matunuck Beach road because that area has eroded right to the edge of the road,” said Fairbanks. “We’ve [designed] to limit erosion at the wall by not only using a steel sheet pile structure buried about 8 feet, but also burying stone up against it so if we do lose the sand on top, the stone will be exposed. This will help stop the erosion so it won’t continue to dig the hole deeper and deeper. When the storm is over you can back in and replace the sand, to recreate area.” There was opposition to the town’s original plan, which called for the wall to extend the length of the entire road. Janet Freedman, coastal geologist at crmc, says that construction will not go past the existing revetment at the Matunuck Trailer Association property on Matunuck Beach Road so as not to compromise local businesses and homes beyond. This construction, however, comes at the expense of keeping a beach in favor of protecting the road. Not only can seawalls accelerate erosion, they can also harm the structures they are intended to protect when they are not built adequately to withstand wave forces and instead create harmful debris. The Andrea Hotel, a landmark in Misquamicut for nearly a century, which ultimately had to be torn down and rebuilt due to flooding damages, also suffered structural damage from seawall debris during Sandy. “The stones were not the correct size and were like flying torpedoes,” said Michelle Carnevale, Rhode Island Sea Grant and Coastal Resources Center extension specialist, who is working with Fugate on the R.I. Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan 12

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This stretch of Matunuck Beach Road in South Kingstown is the site of a controversial effort to build a seawall.

(Beach samp)—a management plan being developed to help coastal communities and homeowners adapt to sea level rise, flooding, and erosion. She explained that part of the problem was that the wall was underdesigned because it predated the crmc regulations. “The damage that was done during tropical storm Sandy to the Andrea Hotel shows that an undersize seawall can do as much or more damage as no seawall at all,” said Fugate. Fairbanks believes that there’s a stigma against seawalls, and other hard structures, as a result of poor siting and construction.

“This is where seawalls have gotten a black eye,” he said. “People have gone in places and built things without taking into account what effect their structure was going to have on the adjacent property.” Fairbanks said that when built correctly, hard structures can be very effective. Each structure must be designed and built to withstand the wave energy expected at its location. Structures need to withstand up to tens of thousands of pounds of force from a breaking wave during a storm. Many such structures are sloped with an uneven surface designed reduce the impact of wave energy. 41˚ N spring /summer 2014



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Lifelong South Kingstown resident Mike Couchie looks out over the Atlantic from a window at the Ocean Mist. He remembers when 100 feet of beach lay between the bar and the ocean. Š Photo by Gretchen Ertl

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“I have to understand how big the waves are during storms in order to be able to know what type of structure to use, and what it should look like—height, width, material, slope,” said Fairbanks, explaining that he designs for the so-called 100-year storm, or the storm with a one percent chance of happening in any given year, utilizing flood maps and studies as recommended by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The larger the waves anticipated at a given site, the more expensive the structure. “A 27 percent increase in wave height doubles the amount of force, and that’s all cost,” Fairbanks said. Even designing seawalls to withstand a 100-year storm may not provide the protection the name implies. First, new climate research suggests that such storms may now have a 5 or 10 percent chance of happening in any given year. Second, the coastal zone subject to wave action is determined on federal flood maps according to a set of variables that, for Rhode Island, do not adequately represent true flooding risk, according to Fairbanks, Fugate, and Freedman. Part of the problem is that the new flood maps fail to incorporate flood marks from storms such as Sandy. “We know they’re not accurate because we know we’ve flooded more than what they have mapped. There’s physical evidence,” said Freedman. “We know the Sandy waves were higher than the max wave they modeled for this area.” The new maps, according to Jessica Stimson, floodplain mapping coordinator for the R.I. Emergency

Management Agency, incorporate the last 20 years of data. Work on the maps began in 2009, and was completed prior to Sandy. Still, she said that after Sandy, federal contractors did survey the coastline and felt the data collected did not indicate a need to re-delineate the maps. Fairbanks said he doesn’t trust the maps and that their accuracy has huge implications for the effectiveness of engineered structures if they are not constructed to withstand actual conditions. Freedman said this could also hurt homeowners who believe they are outside the flood zone and yet may find their properties flooded during a major storm without having insurance to compensate them. Even when an adequate seawall or other structure is built, the initial construction expenses are only the beginning—maintenance accounts for a huge part of the overall cost, said Fairbanks. Structures will need repairs from the normal wear and tear of the ocean as well as damages from storms, and dunes will need to be restored and replanted. Many state beaches have maintenance funds incorporated into their budgets, and dole out hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, but not all homeowners have the resources to maintain private shoreline protection over the longterm, which can do more damage. Old timber and stone groins first installed in Buttonwoods, Warwick, in 1962, for example, were not properly maintained, said Fairbanks, ultimately accelerating erosion in the area.


2006 2005 2006

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100 ft



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300 ft

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PUBLIC TRUST The right to beach access explained In some states, more than 99 percent of resi-

of the public trust doctrine as the mean high

dents depend on public beach access points in

tide mark seaward. In Rhode Island, there are

order to exercise their right to enjoy the beach.

236 public beach access points along about 400

Public demand for beach access has continu-

miles of Atlantic Ocean and Narragansett Bay

ally increased since the 1960s. In the advent of

waters presently identified. The state’s Constitu-

unprecedented shoreline development and with

tion ensures that individuals “shall continue to

fewer people able to afford living on the coast,

enjoy … the privileges of the shore.” The right to

beach access has become a necessity in addi-

fish from shore, pass along the shore (horizontal

tion to remaining a legal right. For the public to

access), gather seaweed, and recreation rights

be able to exercise its right to access shoreline

such as to swim to sea from the shore and stroll-

areas held in trust, the public must be granted

ing along the shore are all recognized activities.

reasonable access. Although subject to state police powers, there is an equal protection component to the

This summary of the legal precedents of public

guarantee of public trust resource access. At a

access in the U.S. and Rhode Island was taken

certain point, the deprivation of access to such a

from the research of Elizabeth Blank, a 2013

resource cannot be justified by the state.

Rhode Island Sea Grant Law Fellow. Her project

Generally, the public right to horizontal use

with the Warren Harbor Commission originated

of the beach is enforceable under the legal

from the commission’s objective to identify

theory of the public trust doctrine. The public

public access rights-of-way in the town to pursue

trust doctrine originates from natural law and

opportunities for improving existing and provid-

recognizes the importance of citizens’ use of

ing new areas for public access and conservation.

waters for fishing, commerce, and navigation.

For more information, visit law.rwu.edu/academ-

The state of Rhode Island has traditionally de-


fined the boundaries of the shore for purposes


The potential damages to the shoreline are not the only reason crmc places strict regulations on construction of new hard structures. Those structures can also block public access to the shoreline, which begins at the high tide mark in Rhode Island. “One thing about shoreline structures is that you lose public access,” said Freedman. “As that beach moves, you protect your house, but the public loses that right of access to the shore, and why should we?” Property that’s been eroded cannot be reclaimed and there is no compensation for homeowners. This means as the water rises, it’s taking what used to be private land and turning it into public trust shoreline. “The dry is becoming wet, and public property is becoming bigger, encroaching on private property,” said Susan Farady, former director of the Marine Affairs

Institute at Roger Williams University and of the Rhode Island Sea Grant Legal Program. “The big issue here is private versus public rights.” Farady explains that the dilemma on building structures involves how to weigh the right to protect private property against the public trust to access resources, and also determining who is responsible for the damages incurred to the surrounding properties resulting from a structure. This is one of the many issues the Beach samp will tackle in order to provide consistent management and expectations. “We base our management and property interests on a set of conditions that we’ve assumed are going to be relatively stable, which we know is clearly not the case,” Farady said at the Beach samp public meeting in December, explaining that as these conditions change 41˚ N spring /summer 2014


Sandbags are piled on the beach in Matunuck in an effort to keep the sea at bay. Š Photo by Gretchen Ertl


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“Water is going to do what water is going to do”


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along the coast, management and property interests are going to be changing as well. “Water is going to do what water is going to do. The issue isn’t the ocean. It’s our responses and abilities to manage our own actions.” Current management of coastal resources in Rhode Island is framed around balancing all interests along the coast but not at the expense of public access. “We try to take emotion out of it and be pragmatic to balance it for everybody because you’ve got fishermen, people that just want to walk down the beach, the health of the beach itself, and nobody likes to be told to let [their homes] fall in the ocean. That’s tough,” said Goulet. Many residents in Matunuck are indeed struggling with their limited options, and have petitioned for the shoreline there to be reclassified as manmade in order to allow hard structures. They have also requested that the existing stone revetment be extended, or that the approved seawall be moved seaward to protect waterfront properties. Although these requests have been denied in order to preserve the coastal environment and public access to the shoreline, there are still options remaining. These include soft solutions such as planting vegetation or non-permanent structures, such as coir logs that are biodegradable erosion prevention logs made from coconut fiber to aid in the stabilization and revegetation of hillsides, banks, shorelines, and other areas prone to erosion. These methods, however, may not always be effective in such exposed areas, said Fairbanks. “There’s a general thought that we can go to soft solutions,” he said, arguing that in high energy areas like Matunuck, the beach isn’t wide enough to disperse the forces coming from the ocean. “We just don’t have that kind of width here.” For coastal headlands in Misquamicut and Matunuck, crmc has approved non-permanent experimental erosion control measures, such as marine geomattresses that are rock-filled containers intended to slow or abate erosion without the damages inflicted by sea walls. While some of these methods have been effective in other areas around the country, it is unclear how they will fare on Rhode Island’s coast. As the results of the experimental measures being undertaken in Matunuck and Miquamicut become more apparent, more options for property owners may become viable. Nevertheless, both coastal engineers and resource managers say that all measures are just buying time. The question is, how much? Visit the Beach SAMP website at www.beachsamp.org/calendar/ meeting-documents to watch the livecast of Grover Fugate, Robert Fairbanks, and Susan Farady discussing seawall benefits and limitations for protecting Rhode Island’s coast.

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KEEPING WATCH Researchers study the beach at Napatree Point to understand impacts of climate change by Alan Desbonnet

Alan Desbonnet is the Assistant Director of Rhode Island Sea Grant and a Coastal Institute Senior Fellow

napatree point is a one-and-a-half mile barrier beach stretching from the town of Watch Hill, R.I., out west towards Fisher’s Island, N.Y. A group gathered at Napatree in late August to learn about the pending impact to area beaches from rising sea level and increasing storminess. “In the early 1900s, Napatree hosted a row of houses standing atop the dunes that no doubt gave owners priceless views into Block Island Sound,” Judith Swift, director of the University of Rhode

Sunbathers enjoy the beach at Napatree Point circa 1930, prior to the devastation of the Hurricane of ’38. Photo courtesy of the Rhode Island State Archives


Napatree Point beach Photo by John Supancic

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Homes on Napatree Point prior to the Hurricane of ’38 Photo courtesy of the Rhode Island State Archives



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Island Coastal Institute, told the group of Coastal Institute Senior Fellows. “The hurricane of ’38, however, collected a heavy fee. All the houses were washed away completely and with several lives lost.” The houses were not rebuilt. “Maybe people were smarter back then than they are today,” Swift quipped. Today, there is no option to build on Napatree Point. Managed as a conservation area by the Watch Hill Conservancy in cooperation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the barrier beach hosts low-intensity uses—largely beach strolling and nature watching. Bryan Oakley, a professor of geology at Eastern Connecticut State University says, “The lack of houses or other built structures on the barrier beach is a major asset in attempting to understand impacts on the shoreline from storms.” This is a major reason that he, along with Jon Boothroyd, emeritus professor of geology at uri, and others have

elected to use Napatree Point as a focal point for beach erosion studies. “Conducting research at Napatree allows us to see the entire process play out,” said Oakley. For instance, after Superstorm Sandy came through, researchers, as well as anybody who bothered to look, were able to see the immediate impacts wrought by wind and waves along south shore beaches such as Matunuck. But then the bulldozers and backhoes arrived to remove the sand overwashed onto roads and dump it back on the beach. This type of cleanup prevents researchers from seeing how the beaches react poststorm or to study beach behavior over the long term. Because there are no roads and no structures on the Napatree barrier beach, researchers get the opportunity to watch how the beach responds, over both long and short terms, to storm events. Taking a long-term approach is important, because as sea level rises, the


beaches may behave differently in the future than they do today. Oakley was pointing to a red-dashed line on a map of Napatree Point. By comparing aerial photographs from the late 1930s to those of today, Oakley points out that “The Napatree barrier has moved about 200 feet north. That’s the natural progression of events. The beach is still here and to the casual observer seems about the same as it was decades ago. And it is, except for being relocated a few hundred feet.” While comparing historical to current-day photos shows dramatic change, the researchers need a higher degree of accuracy to best understand the dynamics and the interplay between rising sea level and impacts of storms on beaches. To that end, the research team has set up “sentinel sites”—stainless steel rods driven nearly 30 feet into the sand—that serve as long-term reference points for measuring changes in the beach face within a couple of centimeters. Already, interesting information is emerging. “Steeper parts of the beach, such as that to the east and nearest to town, saw

dramatic erosion during Sandy, while less steep areas to the west saw sand being washed over the dunes, moving them northwards,” Oakley said. Some of the eroded sand will return to the beach, but not all of it. Storms are the major force shaping beaches, according to Oakley and Boothroyd, and the natural reaction is for beaches to move

The Hurricane of ’38 destroyed these homes on Napatree Point. They were not rebuilt. Photo courtesy of the Rhode Island State Archives

The Napatree barrier seems the same as decades ago, except that it’s moved 200 feet north. Photo by John Supancic

inland over time. How fast and how far is determined by the frequency and intensity of storms. Climatologists think that New England could see increased storminess in the future, and seem pretty sure that the intensity of storms will increase as well. “Beaches will overwash the dunes during storms a lot more often,” said Boothroyd. “And it’ll be hard for beach migration to keep pace if both frequency and intensity increase.” There is also no question that sea level is rising, and rising rapidly. The combination may cause beaches to retreat more swiftly than dune grasses and other vegetation can stabilize them, creating a possible endpoint where beaches are lost. Researchers are using Napatree Point to help them better comprehend these processes, but as for what to do about them, there may be no better solution than what Napatree residents decided three quarters of a century ago. Following the Hurricane of 1938, residents of the Watch Hill area, while not understanding the detailed mechanics of beach dynamics or dune migration, certainly understood the futility of having structures on Napatree. 41˚ N spring /summer 2014



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CRUSADE An oceanographer talks about

getting people to “Dive In” and save the planet

by Leslie Smith Leslie Smith is the owner of Your Ocean Consulting, LLC, and Dive into the Ocean, Inc.


Greenhouse gases are making oceans warmer as well as more acidic.

as a child in the late 80s–early 90s, i grew up fascinated by Ranger Rick and Bill Nye, sparking my interest in science and the natural world. There was nothing more terrifying than the hole in the ozone, and nothing more awesome than curbside recycling and composting … or at least I thought so. Looking back on my childhood, I reflect not only on my regrettable wardrobe choices involving neon suspenders, but also on the patience of my parents regarding my militant recycling and building a composter in the backyard. 41˚ N spring /summer 2014



As a native Virginian, I spent my summers playing in the Chesapeake Bay. It was there that my parents taught me what it meant to be a steward of the environment. With them, I watched beaches and banks erode from new development, saw blue crab populations decline, and observed how fertilizer runoff and sewage discharge could harm Bay ecosystems. Along the way, I learned that not only could I make a difference in my small way at home, but that people could make a big difference for the planet. I felt so empowered watching the public and policy makers stand up to say “No” to the ozone hole, through the 1987 Montreal Protocol, arguably one of the most successful environmental treaties ever ratified. Since then, the world has cut the production of ozone-depleting chemicals by 98 percent. Today, more than ever, it is critical for the public to have access to and an understanding of science. Covering over 70 percent of the Earth, the oceans provide over half the oxygen we breathe. In addition, they play a critical role in transportation, food supply, and the global climate. Though there is a lot of amazing oceanographic research occurring around the world, not enough is being done to communicate it to the public. Communicating with the public is not every scientist’s strength, of course, which is why I have made it my career goal to work as a translator of sorts, to communicate complex scientific findings to the public in a clear and concise way, while maintaining scientific integrity.

OCEANS + ACIDIFICATION Ocean acidification will not kill all ocean life. But many scientists think we will see changes in the number and abundance of marine organisms. Many marine ecosystems may be populated by different and fewer species in the future. Roughly 50 percent of the carbon emitted from human activities between 1800 and 1994 has been absorbed by the ocean. One-third of carbon emissions today from automobiles and factories are currently being absorbed by the ocean. Impacts to reproduction and larval development of marine animals have already been shown in a lab setting, but additional possible impacts could include effects on immunity and development at other life stages. Source: riclimatechange.org 28

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It felt like destiny to me to pursue a Ph.D. in oceanography at the uri Graduate School of Oceanography. While in graduate school, in addition to my rigorous course work and research on reduced oxygen (hypoxia) in Narragansett Bay, I sought out opportunities to interact with a variety of audiences to develop my skills translating science for nonscientists. Through working with wonderful mentors, and a lot of trial and error, not only did I learn about ocean science, but also how to communicate that science. In one memorable experience, I gave a presentation to a group at a senior center on the impacts of climate change in Rhode Island. I was very excited as I thought this was a perfect audience; they had lived through all these things I was going to talk to them about. I was also very excited about the shiny new projector I was bringing. My audience, however, turned out not to be excited about the projector, nor the fact that I was lecturing them. After a very awkward twenty minutes talking to a void of disinterest, my shiny new projector broke. That was the best thing that could have happened. After having a good laugh at my expense, the conversation turned around. I sat on the front table and we just talked—about the ocean, about Rhode Island, about their kids and grandkids. They asked me questions about current science and I asked them about lobstering 50 years ago and what things were like before they started to change. Needless to say, I learned my lesson. Not only did I need the ability to distill only the most relevant and important pieces of information from my research, but I also needed to make that information engaging to my audience. I realized that making information engaging is not the same thing as doing a puppet show or pyrotechnics; it is speaking in terms of things the audience relates to and values. After graduate school, while my classmates went on to post-doctoral research fellowships, entered federal employment, or worked at large consulting firms, I took a different turn to further develop my skill set in science communications. As my doctorate was in science, I realized most employers would not feel that I had any experience in communications, so I took a low-paying internship in the field with a non-profit in Washington, D.C., and moved back in with my parents. It was from that internship I learned how to properly run a communications department and how to develop effective communication strategies. Filling a need

Having worked to develop a background in both ocean science and communications, I launched two complementary businesses. The first is Your Ocean


Consulting, llc, a consulting company that works with universities as well as nonprofit and for-profit companies, focusing on oceanographic research and how to effectively communicate that research to non-scientific audiences. The second is Dive into the Ocean, Inc., a nonprofit that teaches elementary school students about the oceans and provides hands-on learning activities to help them understand how important the ocean is and how they are connected to it. For children of the new millennium, there is so much to fear for in the well-being of the environment. Kids have to worry about floating plastic islands, ocean acidification, sea level rise, global temperature increase, and extreme weather events. In order to tackle these global issues, they need to be informed and understand the science behind these phenomena, regardless of their future careers. A college student working at my gym is taking an environmental science course that touches on all these concerns. Knowing I am a scientist, he asked if there was any hope and wondered how I did not get depressed thinking about this every day. When I told him, there is always hope, look what we did with the hole in the ozone, he replied, “The what?”

Melting Arctic sea ice may be accelerating climate change and contributing to colder, snowier winters in parts of the U.S.

At first I was taken aback. But perhaps in a strange way, this is a sign of successful environmental management, as the ozone hole is not something we have to worry about as much now as I did in my childhood. I can only hope that my generation solves these problems of oceans rising, warming, acidifying, and filling with plastic, so that when my children tell their kids about it they will reply, “The what?” In order for that to happen, great science will need to be done, and equally as important, it will need to be effectively communicated and serve as the basis for sound policy. That is my goal and my mission, and one that I know I share with more and more scientists every day. My generation must develop solutions—grounded in science and effectively communicated—for the problems facing the ocean. Because, as writer Elizabeth Kolbert once said, “We have already determined the climate for our children. Now we’re working on the climate for our grandchildren.” 41˚ N spring /summer 2014



Taking Stock of Currents and Quahogs 30

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Narragansett Bay in 2012, supporting a $5.15 million commercial fishing industry, according to figures by Jeff Mercer, principal biologist in marine fisheries for the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (dem). The estimates of clams in the Bay are used to set fishing limits. In Rhode Island, commercial shellfishermen use a bull rake for harvesting clams. The dem, however, uses a hydraulic dredge to collect clams for population estimates. Fishermen say that the dredging method of harvesting is inefficient and inaccurate, and is likely to result in unnecessary limits on the commercial fishing operations. Dale Leavitt, an associate professor of marine sciences at Roger Williams University, is conducting a study that compares the efficiency of dredge gear to that of a bull rake. He is going out on commercial shellfishing boats that are using bull rakes alongside dem dredges to compare the results for clam population numbers. Being able to accurately take stock of clam populations in Narragansett Bay will be important for making more effective management decisions concerning commercial shellfishing. Another aspect of population dynamics researchers are addressing is determining where the clams are coming from within the Bay and how they are dispersed. Understanding dispersal of quahogs, specifically, is of particular interest to researchers because quahogs do not move much once they settle as larvae. They may move only a couple meters in their whole lifetime. To better target their harvesting efforts, “knowing where the quahog larvae move to is incredibly important for fishermen,” says Azure Cygler, an extension specialist from Rhode Island Sea Grant who is leading the R.I Shellfish Management Plan. One management strategy that has been used to a small degree in Rhode Island is to create “spawning sanctuaries” by closing off areas and prohibiting fishing where large numbers of quahogs are located. “The idea is that they maintain a population of reproductively active quahogs where they will spawn and broadcast larvae out for distribution about the Bay,” Leavitt explains. However, if it isn’t known where the larvae will go, it is difficult to judge how effective the sanctuary may be in replenishing the bay with quahog seed.

Also, potential overcrowding at the spawning site may lead to poor conditions and even to low reproduction rates, defeating the purpose of the supposed sanctuary. Leavitt and collaborators are using a hydrodynamic computer model called the Regional Ocean Modeling System (roms) to make an educated guess as to where the quahog larvae may be distributed when originating from a specific area. They are testing a number of locations to see which ones contribute the most seed to the upper Bay. roms has been developed and calibrated against years of detailed hydrographic information with Sea Grant funding by Christopher Kincaid, a professor and researcher at uri’s Graduate School of Oceanography (gso) and David Ullman, a marine research scientist at uri gso, to create a picture of how currents, circulation, and nutrients affect water quality in the Bay. Kincaid, Ullman, and a number of uri students now use roms simulations to predict circulation and transport within the Bay under different conditions. For instance, if they want to see how a certain area of the Bay will circulate and flush without wind, they can select for those parameters. Then they can add the wind back in, and see how the system behaves differently. “Using roms in this way you can hone in on which environmental and manmade factors lead to which response in the estuary,” Kincaid says. By simulating quahog larvae in the Narragansett Bay roms program, including adding a larval behavior component, researchers can predict how the larvae will be dispersed by currents within the estuary under certain conditions. These predictions can help shellfishermen better understand where the quahogs are ending up, and what their populations might be. These efforts are being undertaken as part of the R.I. Shellfish Management Plan, which is being developed to provide comprehensive policy guidance for management and protection measures for shellfish located in state marine waters. “The objective with our quahog management is to have the Bay produce enough quahogs to keep the fishing fleet economically viable,” Leavitt says. “In addition, quahogs are a part of the ecological fabric of the Narragansett Bay and therefore need to be managed in a way that keeps them as a functioning part of the ecosystem.” 41˚ N spring /summer 2014


Raising objections: R. I. SHELLFISH FARMS FACE INCREASING OPPOSITION by Rudi Hempe photographs by Acacia Johnson

Perry Raso founded Matunuck Oyster Farm in 2002 on a 7-acre commercial aquaculture lease on Potter Pond in East Matunuck. Today his operation also includes a restaurant and a vegetable farm.


Perry Raso’s Matunuck Oyster Bar, on the waterfront of South Kingstown’s Potter Pond, is jammed in the summer, and does respectable business year-round, even on a snowy day in January. Raso’s restaurant, however, is only the most visible part of his Matunuck Oyster Farm operation, and his success has not come without challenges in a state that boasts myriad regulatory hurdles amid increasing opposition to the aquaculture industry. Raso’s oyster venture, with well over 100 employees, is considered by many of his peers a sign that aquaculture is flourishing in Rhode Island. But while his diners savor the fresh delectables on their plates, most have no idea what is involved in starting and maintaining an oyster farm in Rhode Island. Raso grew up on the shore, and at age 12 was digging and diving for littlenecks in the salty water of Potter Pond. His oyster operation got its start when he was an aquaculture and fisheries student at the University of Rhode Island, where he graduated in 2002. He obtained two “commercial viability” aquaculture licenses for two small areas in Point Judith Pond. These licenses, issued by the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council (crmc), allow applicants to set up trial operations. That initial venture did not work out—the two 50-by-50 foot areas were in deep water and algae growth on the bagged oysters made it almost impossible for him to harvest them using the small gear-less boat he had at the time. He then decided to shoot for his favorite fishing spot—Potter Pond—and in 2002 filed for a preliminary determination, the first step in the permitting process, to construct an oyster farm there in three shallow acres.

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“I never thought in a million years that I was going to get accepted,” says Raso, noting that nearby residents did not even like to see divers in the ponds, taking what they perceived to be food from their backyards. “People who live on a body of water have a sense of ownership,” he says, recalling the days of his youth when he drove his boat over an oyster farm and he himself questioned “how anyone can own a part of the ocean.” To his surprise, no one objected to his farm proposal. The same was true a few years later when he applied for an expansion of his farm to double its size. However, as aquaculture has grown in the state, so, too, has opposition, says David Beutel, the crmc’s state aquaculture coordinator. “This is a busy year. There are objectors all over the place,” says Beutel, himself a former fin fisherman. By objectors, he explains, he is referring to nearby residents, recreational-use proponents, commercial interests, and at times regulatory agencies. It is to Beutel’s desk in Wakefield where all the applications for new aquaculture farms, farm expansions, and farm ownership transfers are brought. The first step is the “preliminary determination” process, which costs applicants a mere $25. That, however, triggers a barrage of paperwork and involves a slew of agencies and special interests that have the opportunity to comment on the proposal. 34

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Applicants “come in with an idea what they want to grow, how they want to grow it, and have a vague idea of where they want to grow it,” says Beutel. “We do not tell people where to do it but will work with people, trying to determine what the level of conflict will be in the sites that they are choosing, and we do recommend to them that they try to minimize that. Not everyone does that.” If the applicant wishes to proceed, Beutel and the crmc staff send notifications to local fishing associations, both recreational and commercial, notify the town where the farm is to be located, and also alert a host of state and federal agencies. Then a preliminary determination public meeting is scheduled. “The intent is to get any immediate issues out on the table. For example the applicant might not know that the site he wants overlaps a mooring field or that it is heavily used by bullrakers. So we try to work with those groups to relocate the proposal,” Beutel says. Beutel hosts the meeting, describes the regulatory process, explains the proposal (or has the applicant do so) and in the process, “invariably somebody will care about something.” For example, a neighborhood association may point out that their members swim in the area proposed for the farm. “I even had someone tell me they don’t like that spot for an oyster farm because their dog swims there—it goes to that level of absurdity.” After the session, Beutel composes a preliminary determination report based on the information received. He also conducts a shellfish density survey at the site to make sure the area is not already productive for shellfish even if people are not using it. If the site is a potential commercial or recreational shellfish area “we try not to lease that,” he says, noting that policy eliminates a lot of potential opposition. The other ecological hurdle is whether eelgrass is present. Areas with eelgrass are considered ideal habitats for the spawning and breeding of all sorts of marine life. Beutel relies on a set of eelgrass maps that have been devised by the state. If the maps indicate there may be eelgrass present he will inspect the site, but that can only be done in the summer months. The presence of eelgrass is a showstopper. In fact Raso last year applied for yet another expansion of his oyster farm and was rejected because eelgrass, which was not there when he started and expanded his operation, was present now. “Right now there is eelgrass everywhere there,” says Beutel. It might have happened because the oysters enhanced the water quality and the environment, he suggests, adding, “I’m sure the oysters did not hurt the chances of eelgrass.” If eelgrass appears in an established oyster farm, “we acknowledge it but we do not try to take (the permit) away.” Once the preliminary determination is prepared,


Perry Raso grows vegetables as well as shellfish for his restaurant, the Matunuck Oyster Bar.

the applicant can decide not to apply, may make changes to the application based on the recommendations, or can choose to make no changes and forge ahead. Then the application goes to a formal process. Everybody and every agency that was notified before is notified again of a public hearing. Notice is also sent to a host of other concerned parties. A permit is needed from the Army Corps of Engineers. The R.I. Marine Fisheries Council Shellfish Advisory Panel is asked for a recommendation. If that

panel objects, the applicant can ask the R.I. Marine Fisheries Council to hear the matter. In one recent case, the council overrode the advisory group. In addition, there is a requirement for a water quality certification and a letter from the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (dem) that says the impact on indigenous fisheries is acceptable. The Coast Guard will report only if there is a navigation issue involved. Even the state Historic and Conservation Commission has to submit a letter regarding whether or not there

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Raso’s restaurant is popular, along with tours of his oyster farm, but not everyone supports a growth in aquaculture operations in state waters.

is a historical or cultural impact posed by the project. If there are objections, then the matter goes before the crmc for a hearing. Beutel then writes his own opinion on the issues that were raised, and that, too, is sent to the crmc. Usually, Beutel says, there are no lawyers involved unless there is heavy opposition, but the whole process can take months. The fee for this process is between $250 and $500, depending on the amount of capital investment the applicant proposes. Even after a lease is granted, Beutel’s job is not over. He visits every aquaculture operation in the state (there are 51) annually to make sure the terms of the permits are being followed. This past year was a busy one–10 preliminary determinations in 2012 resulted in six applications. Only two were approved in 2013, as objections are pending on the rest. The state has a so-called 5 percent rule, i.e., that no more than 5 percent of a body of water can be leased for aquaculture. To date, Point Judith Pond has 36

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the highest percent of aquaculture of all of the state’s coastal ponds—3 percent. Interestingly, the 5 percent limitation was adopted from an Australian ecological study based on science that measured the “carrying capacity” of a body of water for aquaculture. While ecological questions and opinions from other fishing interests constitute many of the objections, there is yet another area of objection that is more difficult to analyze and quantify—something called “social carrying capacity.” To try to get a handle on this aspect—which includes the concerns of owners of swimming dogs—two researchers in the uri Department of Marine Affairs will be studying coastal pond uses and perceptions. Associate professors Tracey Dalton and Robert Thompson are planning to embark on the studies with funding from Rhode Island Sea Grant. One of the studies will attempt to quantify public opinions. “We want to look at what people think about aquaculture facilities in Rhode Island, and so we are going to develop a mail survey for residents and target some other more specific groups such as waterfront property owners, commercial wild harvest fishermen, and aquaculture farmers,” says Dalton. “We are going to look at different reasons that people support or don’t support different types of


aquaculture, different sizes of farms, different methods of growing and use the findings to understand what specific types of aquaculture are appropriate in specific water bodies,” she adds. Thompson will be heading up the other study working with dem to map the activities of people in the coastal ponds. This will be an observational study that will also include interviews of the users. “One of the primary reasons for the studies is that people are strongly opposing a lot of projects and it would be useful to understand before someone makes a proposal how it might get received, how much opposition will come about for a particular water body and plan more efficiently. The 5 percent rule is based on ecological factors but is really the result of a political decision. It will be interesting to see through our studies what the carrying capacity is” from social use and perception aspects, Dalton says. All of this research activity is coming about now because Rhode Island Sea Grant issued a request for proposals for shellfish fishery research projects last winter, explains Dennis Nixon, the new director of Rhode Island Sea Grant. While the decision was made before he came aboard, he notes, the chosen theme

is evidence that the shellfishing industry, wild and farmed, is considered to be tremendously important and deserves more study. As for Raso, besides the restaurant and oyster farm, he owns a 6-acre vegetable farm at the head of Potter Pond that includes his home, the 1740 house built by Captain John Potter, a notable historical figure in the South County area and for whom Potter Pond is named. In addition, he leases six acres from a land trust, also for growing vegetables. The two farms, complete with greenhouses, supply “farm-to-plate” offerings at his restaurant and the high-end Ocean House restaurant in Westerly, as well as the Alternative Food Cooperative in Wakefield. Still, Raso is not completely satisfied—yet. “If I am still in business after 15 years I’ll consider it a success,” he says, adding that he is convinced aquaculture will expand in Rhode Island and also globally. He has traveled to Africa and in late 2013 spoke at aquaculture conferences in Vietnam and China. Aquaculture has a place in developing countries, says Raso, and he hopes to take what he has learned in Rhode Island and use that knowledge to help others in need of sustainable food sources.

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Celebrating a decade of culinary expression one

e v e n i n g e ac h s u m m e r f o r t h e past d e c a d e ,

Rhode Island seafood aficionados have turned out to local libraries and community centers to be treated to a demonstration—and taste—of preparations for everything from fluke, bluefish, and black sea bass to scallops and even lobster. Normand Leclair, one of Rhode Island’s renowned chefs and the former owner of the Red Rooster Tavern in North Kingstown and the Pump House in Peace Dale, has demonstrated for rapt audiences how to prepare a wide variety of local seafood at the annual community lecture series sponsored by Rhode Island Sea Grant, the URI Nutrition and Food Sciences Department, the URI College of the Environment and Life Sciences, and the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council. Since he began, Leclair has taught and served over 600 participants using dozens of seafood recipes taken from his cookbook, Culinary Expressions, in which he shares tales of his time in the food industry as well as over 200 recipes and tips for entrees, appetizers, side dishes, and desserts. September marked Leclair’s final seafood cooking demonstration for the series, but for those who have enjoyed his presentations over the years, and for those who have missed them, he shares here one of his preparations for bluefish, along with some tips for selecting and handling seafood.

Chef Normand Leclair encourages his audience to prepare seafood at home.


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Normand Leclair includes tips for selecting seafood in Culinary Expressions. He recommends buying the fish last when shopping, ensuring that it looks firm and passes the smell test, and asking for a small bag of ice from the fish counter to pack along with the seafood when bagging at the register (or bringing a cooler with ice packs in your car).

BLUEFISH WITH SESAME Photo by Matthew Stavro

Bluefish is found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts; it has a fine-textured flesh and can be silver gray in color. Remove the dark oily strip that runs down the center of the filet to prevent the flesh from absorbing a strong fishy flavor. Bluefish ranges from 3 to 10 pounds and should be used within a day of being caught.



1 pound bluefish fillets, skinned, check for bones,

1. Select an ovenproof casserole dish just large enough to

cut into two servings

contain the bluefish side by side. Place skinned fish skin side

2 tablespoons butter

down; spoon sauce on and around fish. Spread sesame seeds

½ teaspoon grated lemon peel (zest),

evenly over bluefish.

save juice from lemon

2. Bake in a preheated 400° oven for 20 minutes.

1 tablespoon peeled minced fresh ginger

3. Remove fish from casserole with a spatula to heated

¼ teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

plates. Spoon sauce on and around fish.

½ teaspoon soy sauce Dash cayenne ¼ cup chopped green onions (scallions) 2 tablespoons sesame seeds

HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS Skin side down: The smoother side with a darker color is usually the skin side. If you have any doubts about what side is the skin side, ask the clerk when you purchase the fish.


Skinning fish: To skin fish, use a long sharp knife, grasp skin

Over medium heat, in a medium skillet,

tightly, and move knife forward, keeping it tight against the

melt 2 tablespoons butter, stir in in grated lemon peel

skin to cut the fish away. (An easier way is to ask the clerk to

and minced ginger and cook for one minute. Stir in

do it for you.)

lemon juice, sesame oil, mustard, soy sauce, cayenne,

This recipe was taken from Culinary Expressions, available at

and green onions. Cool.

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The Art of the Ocean EXHIBIT CELEBRATES 25 YEARS OF 40

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by Meredith Haas

the ocean has long been a source of inspiration and inquiry for scientists and artists alike, so it was only fitting that in 1988, an oceanographer and an art professor from the University of Rhode Island conceived the Visual Arts Sea Grant program to support artists whose work explored marine themes. Artists have used their grants to produce paintings, sculpture, photographs, and other works that have captured the essence of coastal communities, expressed concern about ocean pollution, reflected on the history of maritime culture, and represented microscopic marine organisms in unexpected ways. “I view the sea as our planet’s lifeblood; when disturbances happen in our oceans it slowly pollutes the whole world,” said Brooklyn-based artist Manju Shandler, referring to her recent body of work featured this past fall at an exhibit celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Visual Arts Sea Grant program at


Meredith Haas is Rhode Island Sea Grant’s science writer

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the Main Gallery in the uri Fine Arts Center. “I have become increasingly aware and alarmed about the amount of plastic refuse accumulating in our oceans.” She received a Visual Arts Sea Grant award in 2012 for her piece, Moby Under —a compilation inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and Homer’s Odyssey that explores fictional narratives of ocean lore and contrasts them with the real threats to the ocean today. Boston-based Nathalie Miebach, a 2010 Visual Arts Sea Grant recipient, 42

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created a piece that represents oceanographic data in a three-dimensional installation. Her work incorporates basket-weaving techniques and resembles the type of beaded wooden toy commonly found in doctor’s offices to keep children entertained. Shandler and Miebach were among 19 artists from New York to Maine that participated in the event, which honored the late Visual Arts Sea Grant founders, former Rhode Island Sea Grant Director Scott Nixon, and Robert Rohm, uri professor of art.

For more information on the Visual Arts Sea Grant program, please visit www.uri.edu/artsci/ art/visual_arts_sea_grant.html.


Detail from In a Drop of Sea, 40º 07’ 20” N / 69º 56’ 92” W, shibori on hand-dyed silk organza by Lilla Samson, 2010 ABOVE LEFT

Moby Under by Manju Shandler, 2012 ABOVE RIGHT

Blue Heron by Ana Flores, 1998



Changing Waters by Nathalie Miebach, 2010 Plastic Ocean by Susan Schultz, 2005 and Point of Entry by Richard Keen, 2012

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Narwhals: Arctic Whales in a Melting World by Todd McLeish

Reviewed by Kelly Kittel

In his recent book “Narwhals: Arctic Whales in a Melting World,” Rhode Island native Todd McLeish takes readers on a rare journey to the Arctic to learn about creatures who are at home in one of the planet’s most hostile environments. McLeish sheds light on the narwhal, which spends its winters in 24-hour darkness, while debunking the myths often associated with these “sea unicorns” and their unusual tusks. The unicorn tusk is actually the front left tooth which grows, spirally, to 8 feet long and is one of the reasons the narwhal is hunted, with tusks selling 44

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for up to $150 per foot. The exact purpose for the tusk is unknown, except as a secondary sexual characteristic. “Only males sport tusks,” writes McLeish, “If they were essential, the females would also have them.” Despite the disadvantages tusks prove for swimming, one of the more remarkable characteristics of the narwhal is its ability to dive up to a mile to reach the sea floor, where it feeds primarily on halibut and cod. Narwhals don’t eat in summer, but in winter they make this trip 10 to 20 times a day. Narwhals are difficult to count, but some of the researchers McLeish spoke with believe there are fewer than 100,000 narwhals worldwide. Limited subsistence hunting is allowed in both Canada and Greenland where the animal’s blubber, called muktuk, is an important food for native people. In addition to threats from predators, which besides humans include orcas (or “killer whales”), narwhals, McLeish writes, are among the Arctic marine mammals most vulnerable to threats from climate change. Changes in sea ice may shift where their prey is found, and may make it more difficult for them to find a place to surface for air under large shifting ice floes. Increased shipping, oil exploration, or other human interactions may disrupt the narwhals’ migration and feeding. And narwhals have not proven very well able to adapt to such changes. McLeish made several trips to the far north, living alongside researchers and hunters alike, to provide readers with an armchair tour of the Arctic, in addition to a profile of the narwhal. He concludes by asking leading scientists what the future holds for these animals. One replies, “They live in one of the most hostile environments on the planet, having so much darkness in their world, their access to air covered by ice most of the year, competition for food with commercial fishing, and all the predators literally wanting a piece of them, including man, of course. It’s a credit to the species to be here at all.”

Flood Risk Rhode Island National Flood Insurance Program Facts (see http://www.beachsamp.org/wp-content/ uploads/2013/07/Jul-2nd-Presentation-Turning-Pointwith-graphs.pdf)

39 1 All 39 communities and 1 tribe participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

An estimated 60 percent of R.I. properties in the high-risk floodplain carry flood insurance, leaving 40 percent uninsured. (R.I. Emergency Management Agency).

Currently 16,271 flood insurance policies in Rhode Island (Data as of July 3, 2013) Bristol: 2,128

As sea levels continue to rise, the extent of flood damage and storm surge will increase. The National Flood

Insurance Program estimates that if sea levels rise just one foot by 2100, there will be a 36-58 percent increase in annual flood damage.

Sea Level Rise

Since 1930, sea level rise in Rhode Island has increased an average of 1 inch per decade.

However, between 1970 and 2012, the rate of sea level rise increased; sea level rose an average of 6 inches during those four decades.

Kent : 2,495 Newport: 2,996 Providence: 2,733 Washington: 5,919

Average R.I. premium is $1,303/annually




CRMC estimates projected sea level rise for Rhode Island at between 3 and 5 feet by 2100.

The most eroded portions of the Rhode Island coastline have lost over 250 feet of beach in just 50 years.

Misquamicut headland – approximately 90 feet of total shoreline displacement between 1939 and 2004

Matunuck headland – approximately 150 feet of net erosion along the widest beach since 1963

South Kingstown Town Beach to the Cards Pond barrier – approximately 250 feet lost between 1951 and 2006

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Aerial photographs of coastal southern Rhode Island were taken for this issue in the spring and summer of 2013 and the winter of 2014 by John Supancic, a pilot flying out of North Central Airport in Lincoln, R.I. Supancic has been flying over and photographing Rhode Island’s south shore, on and off, for 20 years.


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