This staggering number is the distance of the all regions of the nation’s smallest state that come in contact with Atlantic Ocean and its estuaries.
Rhode Island, with a total area only 1,545 square miles, is comprised of one-third water. For its entire history, this fact has created an everlasting, unbreakable bond between it’s inhabitants and the ocean environment. In recent decades, though, with the explosion of industry and expansion in the 20th century and the suburbanization and development of much of the state, the inhabitants of Rhode Island have had an antagonistic relationship with the Atlantic Ocean and its main estuary Narragansett Bay. The upper part of Narragansett Bay, rife with high levels of pollution from industry and runoff, sewage and dumping, and countless other encroachments of humankind, was rendered almost unusable and unfishable during the second half of the 20th century. It is only recently that the waters of Narragansett Bay have become to clear and the effects of these practices, put on hold by the establishment of the Clean Water Act in 1972 and mitigation activities of environmental organizations like Save the Bay, URI research teams, NOAA and the RI DEM, are finally being reversed. But today, as new environmental concerns occur as a result of global warming and climate change, new threats to the coastal ecosystems in the form of rising sea levels, higher temperatures in Narragansett Bay, and increased severe weather events that threaten to break the delicate relationship between Rhode Islanders and their environment.
This in-progress, longterm, personal project attempts to analyze the relationship between Rhode Islanders and the Atlantic through the interface of the sensitive coastal ecosystems. Through the course of this, I hope to blend together the various ways humans interact with the coastal including elements or recreation, tourism, fishing and food production, and conservation, creating a multifaceted outlook on the symbiotic relationship between Rhode Islanders and their ocean. I hope to synthesize the range of voices that have something to say about the unique environment of this state, from visitors to lifetime residents, from researchers and activist groups to fishermen and land owners, from environmental regulators to policy makers, and everything in between. I want to answer the biggest questions of Rhode Island coastal waters; how do we benefit from our oceans without exploiting them as we have in the past and how do we prepare for the effects of climate change?
For the past few weeks, I have been working on a survey of the shellfishing industry, combining the methods of production and consumption with the way these organisms fit into the larger ecosystem and ecology of Narragansett Bay. In each of the posts below, the aspects of shellfishing are explained and analyzed in relation to the environment and public.