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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Impact of URI Marine Affairs program felt around the globe

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

First-of-its-kind program celebrates 35th anniversary


KINGSTON, R.I. -- January 4, 2005 -- When decisions are made about managing fisheries in the Caribbean, marine reserves in New Guinea, submerged lands off New Brunswick, or endangered beluga sturgeon in Khazakstan, chances are graduates of the University of Rhode Island's Marine Affairs program are involved.

In fact, many countries facing questions about the sustainable management of their coastal and ocean areas are being advised by URI Marine Affairs graduates, as is every U.S. government agency concerned with coastal and ocean resources.

"Our department has had a significant impact on marine policy, and it's a long-term, cumulative impact from sending many professionals out into the world,” said Lawrence Juda, professor and chairman of the department. “We don't have just one star graduate, we've graduated many extremely capable people who are helping to make a difference in shaping the future of ocean/coastal governance."

The URI program -- this year celebrating its 35th anniversary -- was the first in the nation to educate students to be conversant in multiple academic fields related to the management of the coastal and marine environment. Its impact is felt globally.

"We established the model for interdisciplinary work in the field of marine policy," said Professor Richard Burroughs.

"Management of the oceans is increasingly important and receiving greater attention worldwide," added Juda. "We've got the science, but how do we apply it? How do we govern human use of the coastal/ocean environment in a manner that will foster the sustainability of natural systems? These are vital questions that our program addresses."

The URI Department of Marine Affairs -- and the field of marine policy -- was launched in 1969 by John Knauss, then dean of the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, and Professor Lewis Alexander, then chairman of the URI Department of Geography. They served on the Stratton Commission, which issued a report recognizing that U.S. oversight of marine resources was fragmented, and that a more comprehensive approach would require educated professionals.

The program's first students were mostly naval officers learning about the law of the sea. But a variety of new domestic laws, like the Clean Water Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, drove demand for new workers in many government agencies. To date, more than 2,000 students have graduated from the program.

"Today, anyone who works in Washington on coastal and ocean matters is going to bump into our alumni regularly," said Juda. "The need for trained professionals is substantial, and our department provides the capable individuals to take these important positions."

Alumni include several top administrators at NOAA, numerous staff members in the National Marine Fisheries Service, a wide variety of officers in the U.S. Coast Guard, a former executive director of the Pew Oceans Commission, and many more.

International graduates of the program have gone on to manage marina development in Egypt, advise the national shipping office in Liberia, serve as a United Nations consultant in East Timor, write coastal management legislation in Indonesia, and manage environmental programs for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Vietnam.

"The Marine Affairs program does a great job of giving students an overall background to marine and coastal issues and management frameworks through its core classes, while allowing students flexibility in determining and pursuing their desired concentration -- fisheries, coastal management, transportation, etc.," said Christine Santora, a research associate at the Pew Institute for Ocean Science who earned a master’s degree from the URI program in 2002 and recently published a paper on the proposed offshore wind farm project off Cape Cod. "I learned about so many issues, from non-point source pollution to coastal hazard regulation to fisheries bycatch. It's this type of broad and comprehensive knowledge that allows students to pursue a range of different career opportunities."

In Rhode Island, graduates hold leadership positions at the Department of Environmental Management, the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, the Coastal Resources Management Council, the Senate Policy Office, and Save the Bay, among others.

The program has graduated students from more than 40 countries, some of whom were Fulbright Scholars. This year's students come from such places as Madagascar, Spain, Costa Rica, South Korea, France and Canada.

"In developing countries that are facing coastal issues, someone who is enormously competent is often nominated to come to URI to study," Burroughs said. "That's the case with our current student from Madagascar. It wouldn't surprise me if he returned home to become assistant to the president of the country."

Paul Philippe Razafinjatovo, who completed his master’s degree this month at URI, is a Fulbright Scholar who serves in the Madagascar Coast Guard. “My country is facing many important marine issues – fisheries depletion, maritime transportation, port development, environmental problems.

The URI program has prepared me for jobs doing almost anything related to the sea. I might return to the Coast Guard, but I could also be assigned to be a policy maker in the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Transportation, or the Ministry of Fisheries.”