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Oceans & Coasts

Rhode Island is the Ocean State. Narragansett Bay, its rivers, and our coastal waters reach into nearly every community. These waters define and distinguish our culture and shared experience, and they shape both the natural and human history of the region.

The Conservancy’s Ocean and Coastal Conservation program is closely integrated with our Land and Freshwater program, serving the entire state and its watersheds, including the Blackstone and Taunton Rivers that flow in from Massachusetts. We work closely together with our colleagues across the region and the country, developing pioneering marine conservation projects. The Conservancy’s Global Marine program is also based in Rhode Island, ensuring synergy and a long reach of our local efforts.

Using sound science to make good decisions
Rhode Island is a global leader in marine spatial planning, and the Conservancy continues provide expert analysis of state and federal efforts to manage and regulate offshore wind energy facilities and other activities in coastal waters. We were a key partner in the development of the nation’s first federally-approved ocean zoning plan, the Ocean Special Area Management Plan, and we remain active in efforts to protect underwater habitat and promote responsible and carefully-planned development through a transparent and public process.

Bringing back wild oysters
The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island is emerging as a recognized national leader in shellfish restoration and ecology. In 2011 and 2012, our successful “Oysters Gone Wild” program collected more than 60 tons of oyster shells from local raw bars and restaurants, which we used to construct natural reefs in Ninigret Pond in Charlestown. The project was the first of its kind in Rhode Island.

The Conservancy is actively working with universities, the aquaculture industry, and agency partners to better understand the natural propagation of oysters, to measure the water filtering capacity of an oyster reef, and to explore how aquaculture operations can help enhance wild oyster populations. We will expand these efforts in 2013, with a long-term goal of large-scale shellfish and habitat restoration projects in other South County salt ponds and Narragansett Bay.

A new approach to restoring salt marsh habitat
Salt marshes are vital to the overall health of coastal estuaries in Rhode Island and all along the southern New England coast. They filter runoff, provide habitat for fish, birds, and shellfish, and when the tide comes up, our marshes retain flood waters and buffer against storm surges. In the face of sea level rise, however, salt marshes have little room to move inland due to shoreline development. Some of the most severe marsh erosion is occurring on the Narrow River in Narragansett, home to the John H. Chafee National Wildlife Refuge.

The Nature Conservancy is teaming with the US Fish & Wildlife Service to determine whether low-cost, “living shoreline” measures are effective in stabilizing salt marsh habitat. In the coming months, the Conservancy will install coir logs (a byproduct of the coconut industry) and transplanted ribbed mussels to trap silt and reduce wave energy from storms and boat wakes. The thought is that if we can slow the pace of erosion, salt marsh plants and shellfish will soon colonize the area and begin to form a more stable marsh bank. A similar study in Delaware Bay has shown tremendous promise, and we are hoping to replicate that success here at home on the Narrow River

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