An Ocean State of Mind

Narragansett Bay opening into the Atlantic Ocean

Photo by Ayla Fox ’11

Rhode Islanders are proud of their home’s “Ocean State” designation. What could be more fitting? The state’s iconic Narragansett Bay kisses 256 miles of Rhode Island coastline and covers 147 square miles — from the gilded mansions along Newport’s shores to the hard-working port of Providence.

At URI, we embrace the Ocean State of mind throughout our academics, research, student life, community outreach and partnerships. You might say there is sea salt in our blood, and we consider our oceanic inheritance to be priceless.

Now, the URI Coastal Resources Center, based at the Graduate School of Oceanography, is leading a statewide initiative to reckon its value. The “blue economy” report will measure the breadth and worth of Rhode Island’s multi-billion-dollar ocean economy, which includes recreation and tourism, marine construction and transportation, boat and ship building, offshore energy, commercial and recreational fishing, aquaculture, education and defense. The project will help to promote and enhance this sector and get a better handle on its true worth. 

“Our state recognizes URI as an integral component to our blue economy — whether it be research from ocean engineers to oceanographers to social scientists, to helping with policy development to outreach and education, ” says Jennifer McCann, director of U.S. coastal programs for the Coastal Resources Center and extension director of R.I. Sea Grant, also based at GSO. “Part of our job at the Coastal Resources Center is to provide public service to Rhode Island.”

The study may be one of the first to compile in a single source a comprehensive picture of the state’s ocean economy. The overall goal is to build a thriving network to bolster the blue economy — a network that promotes innovation and cooperation, leveraging the public-private partnerships URI has built over decades of research, education and collaboration. 

“Part of the initiative is to figure out what we have, and as we figure that out we’re also informing people, getting people together, building the network,” says J.P. Walsh, director of the Coastal Resources Center. “Through that process, it highlights the opportunities for growth, integration and collaboration. All of those things that will make the economy which we have – which is great – able to grow even further. And grow it right so it benefits the state.’’

McCann, who is leading the initiative, says that Rhode Island’s blue economy is viscerally connected to the state’s quality of life. “Environmental and social quality are directly related, and all of our efforts, including the blue economy work, emphasize this,” she notes.

The report, to be released in the spring, will build off existing federal, regional and state research as well as industry and trade publications and websites. The team is also meeting with industry leaders, to examine partnership opportunities, identify issues and challenges, verify data and fill in any gaps.