R.I. Summers to Resemble Georgia's

By SARAH SCHUMANN/ecoRI News contributor

KINGSTON, R.I. — Rhode Islanders have seen their fair share of climate change, whether they know it or not. Some of those changes are conspicuous, such as last year’s October snowstorm. Others are less obvious, such as the 10-inch rise in sea level that has taken place on the Newport shoreline since 1931.

According to University of Rhode Island oceanographer Isaac Ginis, speaking at Rhode Island Sea Grant’s Coastal State lecture series Feb. 8, those changes are just the beginning. By the end of the century, sea level is expected to be another 3 to 5 feet higher, and without major cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions, Rhode Island summers will soon resemble those of Georgia.

With late-season storms on the rise, Ginis said, Rhode Islanders may have to get used to events like tropical storm Irene. But too few appreciate the gravity of the situation.

“I’m personally concerned about Rhode Island, to be honest,” he said. “Many people just have no idea.”

Ginis is part of URI’s Climate Change Collaborative, which brings together science, communications and behavioral change analysis to stimulate adaptive responses to climate change. Among other things, the group is encouraging all members of the public to develop evacuation plans for hurricanes.

“When hurricanes come to Rhode Island, they come very fast,” Ginis said. “We really need to know well in advance what we’re going to do when we get that warning.”

The Coastal State lecture series is a four-part series of lectures hosted by Rhode Island Sea Grant during February. Each weekly segment features current research by URI scientists regarding Rhode Island’s coastal communities and ecosystems.

In a second lecture at the Feb. 8 event, fisheries oceanographer Jeremy Collie walked attendees through an ecosystem-based based model for fisheries management on Georges Bank. Ecosystem-based fisheries management is widely described as an innovative approach that incorporates multiple species at once into fisheries management models. But such an approach isn’t as novel as many people think, Collie said.

Collie countered a common myth that fisheries managers “don’t know how to do” ecosystem-based fisheries management and that there is too much uncertainty surrounding ecosystem-based models. Rather, he said, managers have incorporated ecosystem-based measures into management for years.

He also dispelled a notion that managers can’t implement ecosystem-based fisheries management because they haven’t yet succeeded with single-species fisheries management. In fact, he said, management measures have caused many of the stocks depleted in the 1990s to recover, and their recovery makes ecosystem-based fisheries management more urgent than ever.

That is because the growth of fish stocks that eat or compete with others forces managers and fishermen to choose which species they want to promote the most.

“The abundance of a species is always conditioned on the abundance of its predator or prey,” Collie said, explaining that these relationships make it impossible to maximize all species at once. “Figuring out which side of that trade-off we want to be on is a socio-economic concern.”