Marine Life in the Balance: Protecting a Changing Estuary Ecosystem
Course enrollment will be available for this course once it is scheduled.
Eelgrass, seaweed, crabs, fish and seals are part of a large community of plants and animals living in a unique home; Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island’s huge and important estuary. An estuary, where river meets ocean, is the foundation of life in marine systems and is considered to be one of the most productive and biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. Today scientists are discovering that climate change threatens estuaries by causing changes in salt marsh habitat and water quality.
This course will use Narragansett Bay as a living classroom and ask students to become field scientists as they learn about, experience and collect data on the bay. Students will be introduced to the importance of estuaries and the balance that is required to keep the system functioning. Using Narragansett Bay as a case study, students will learn to recognize the effects of climate change on this ecosystem. Students will practice data collection techniques, have access to specialized field equipment, and study relevant research. As part of the academic project, students will research a local environmental issue and complete and submit a grant proposal to fund a restoration project.
In the past salt marshes have been able to increase their elevation to adapt to sea level rise. Today, scientists have found that Rhode Island marsh habitats are not able to increase their elevation fast enough to keep up with the increased rate of sea level rise occurring in Narragansett Bay. Save The Bay’s restoration ecologists conducted a rapid salt marsh assessment at 37 marshes in Rhode Island in 2012 and 2013 to research the effects of climate change on salt marshes. Marshes face the threat of drowning over the next century however, effective action and restoration will help marshes adapt to the changes and withstand the challenges of climate change in order to preserve their ecological value for the future.
Much of this course takes place outside of the classroom. Students must be prepared to be working in the field or on an education vessel on the bay.