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Friday, April 21, 2017

Killing critically needed ocean research

By ecoRI News staff

Image result for rhode island sea grant fact sheet

A Trump administration proposal to cut the national Sea Grant budget by $30 million effective April 28 would likely mean the elimination of the program altogether, including the Rhode Island Sea Grant program at the University of Rhode Island.

The cuts to Sea Grant and other federal environmental programs are administration proposals to offset costs for proposed increases in defense and border-protection activities. Rhode Island Sea Grant director Dennis Nixon said this is the first time a presidential administration has proposed eliminating Sea Grant in a current fiscal year.

“The administration proposal to eliminate Sea Grant from next year’s budget was troubling to us, but not entirely unexpected,” Nixon said. “But this new proposal to cut Sea Grant with one month’s notice will have major impacts on ongoing research ... as well as work we are doing with a variety of industries that provide Rhode Island jobs. ... We’re hopeful that, thanks to widespread congressional support for Sea Grant, these cuts will not materialize.”

The elimination of the Rhode Island Sea Grant program, which is funded annually by $2 million in federal money and $1 million in match from non-federal sources and brings in nearly $1 million in leveraged funds, would halt research projects that support fisheries, including exploration of ways to reduce lobster-shell disease, which impacts a $11.7 million lobster industry in Rhode Island.

It would also put an end to projects that support the Ocean State’s growing aquaculture industry, valued at more than $5 million, according to Nixon. 

Projects that seek to improve both aquaculture and wild-harvest fisheries would be halted, as well as planned work to better understand harmful algal blooms that cause the closure of shellfish harvesting during outbreaks.

Smaller research projects on better understanding the impact of offshore wind turbines on Rhode Island tourism, addressing beach erosion, and marketing seafood would also end.

Support would also be halted for outreach projects that seek to improve Rhode Island’s resilience to flooding and storms. Funding would be eliminated that supports college students pursuing training in marine and social sciences.

Nine staff positions at the University of Rhode Island and Roger Williams University would be immediately eliminated, and several other positions would see their funding cut dramatically.

Rhode Island Sea Grant, housed at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, is part of a network of 33 programs around the country — there is a Sea Grant program in every coastal and Great Lakes state, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, and in Puerto Rico and Guam — with a mission to foster environmental stewardship and responsible use of U.S. coastal, ocean and Great Lakes resources.