Federal funding of $1.6 million toward the Rhode Island Sea Grant Program was announced on April 3, provided by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

This funding will help promote outreach, education and research of national waters and may present important opportunities to students and faculty of the University of Rhode Island, according to Director of the Rhode Island Sea Grant, Dennis Nixon.

For nearly 50 years, the National Sea Grant Program has helped to provide the funding necessary to manage and maintain our coastal resources.

“Where we spend the research money depends clearly on where we see the up and coming problems, in the best efforts of scientists at URI and other universities as well,” said Nixon.  “This year our research program for helping us fill in the gaps, [is] part of the state’s new shellfish management program that our outreach team developed in partnership with the Department of Environmental Management, our coastal resources management council and all of the hundreds of commercial and recreational shell fishermen out there.”

Rhode Island can also anticipate this funding to be spent towards developing a Shoreline Management Plan in order to deal with the reality of raising sea levels, and beach erosion and towards updating the Ocean Special Area Management Plan, which concerns the newly constructed wind turbines off the coast of Block Island.

Though most of the Sea Grant assistantships available to URI students are awarded only to graduate students of marine affairs, oceanography, environmental economics or other similar fields, there are some limited assistantships available to undergraduate students as well.

Of the 33 states that participate in the National Sea Grant Program, Rhode Island was one of the first to participate nationally, thanks to Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, who first imagined the National Sea Grant College and Program Act that became law in 1966.

The university’s Memorial Union Ballroom was the site of the very first national meeting held to establish the Sea Grant Program.

Nixon feels that this grant is testament and recognition to the quality of work achieved by the state.

“There is a recognition, a national interest in the best usage or Narragansett Bay and all of our coastal resources,” said Nixon. “At the end of the day we are little Rhode Island, but we’re part of the United States of America and all of our waters are waters of the United States.”

The funds provided by the Sea Grant have made it possible to fuel a targeted education and research program that quietly strives to improve local waters and a large part of the Rhode Island economy that depends on it.