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The Nature Conservancy, URI team up to award student research grants

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

KINGSTON, R.I. – June 30, 2006 -- The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Global Marine Initiative and the University of Rhode Island have formed a partnership to award grants to graduate students to study biodiversity in oceans and coasts. The first two $12,000 grants have been awarded to researchers who are examining the warming of Narragansett Bay’s waters and its affects on quahogs; and on how scuba divers may have an impact on efforts to protect coral reefs and marine protected areas (MPAs)
“The Nature Conservancy is pleased to be able to tap into URI’s students and advisors who are working on cutting-edge ocean and coastal issues,” said Lynne Hale, director of TNC’s Global Marine Initiative. “The work produced through the TNC/URI Partnership will inform and advance the Conservancy’s marine conservation efforts both locally and abroad.”

The research proposals that are submitted can cover any biographic area, from local to global systems. TNC is particularly interested in obtaining research information that will provide insights into advancing the conservation and restoration of marine and coastal ecosystems in places where the Conservancy works, which includes Rhode Island and southern New England. The partnership is part of a memorandum of understanding between TNC and URI that will allow for the awards, and subsequent interaction between the non-governmental agency TNC and the university’s faculty and students.

Graduate student Kelly Henry, from Greene, R.I., will use her award to examine the Bay’s warming effects on native shellfish, the quahog, under the supervision of Scott Nixon, professor of oceanography at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography, who is noted for his studies of Narragansett Bay. That the waters of the Bay are warming has been substantiated. What Henry’s research will do is see how the temperature change is affecting the growth of quahogs. The goal is to build on a previous study beginning in 1959 and assemble a continuous record of quahog growth rates spanning a 50-year period, during which the Bay has undergone a marked climate change.

URI Marine Affairs Professor Tracy Dalton will oversee the work of award grantee Drew Sulock of Lafayette Hill, Pa. on the relationship of the scuba industry to marine protected areas. MPAs are used as a tool for protecting coral reefs. The scuba diving industry has been growing, which has a number of ecological and economic impacts on the local community. Sulock’s work will focus on approximately 10 MPAs throughout Belize and the Bay Islands of Honduras. The goal is to analyze how the relationships between the dive industry, the local community and the coral reef environment in regard to the costs and benefits associated with MPAs.

"The partnership between the University of Rhode Island and The Nature Conservancy is a superb example of how institutions of higher education and non-governmental agencies can work together, bringing their own niche expertise to bear on environmental challenges that impact us all," said URI Provost for Academic Affairs Judith Swift.

The Nature Conservancy is leading an international effort with partners to conserve important ocean and coastal areas for the benefit of marine life, local communities and economies. It works to restore degraded habitats and to protect the best and most resilient examples of healthy habitats -- from shellfish reefs, sea grasses and kelp beds to mangroves, fish spawning sites, coral reefs and estuaries. Through its Global Marine Initiative, TNC develops and promotes innovative strategies including marine protected area networks, community-based restoration and a range of market-based approaches. Strong science, adaptive priority-setting and effective political engagement form the foundation for lasting conservation results.