Coastal News

WHOI Sea Grant Commits $1.7 Million to Advancing Research in Coastal and Marine Science

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Sea Grant announces funding for five new research projects that address pressing coastal issues in and around Massachusetts, including eelgrass restoration, sewering’s impact on water quality, contaminants of emerging concern in watersheds, collaborative data collection with fishermen, and homeowners’ perceptions of flood risk.

"As a strong supporter of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Sea Grant program, I am excited to see the newest round of funded projects, the findings of which will improve our understanding of our coastal environment and communities," said Congressman Bill Keating. "I commend Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Sea Grant for selecting a group of projects that focuses on a variety of the high-priority issues we face here in Southeastern Massachusetts: the protection of our coastal ecosystems, the expansion of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, and creating resilient communities and economies along the coast of the Commonwealth.”

The projects chosen for funding will explore topics aligned to WHOI Sea Grant’s strategic plan, the National Sea Grant Office’s focus areas, and community concerns. With two years of support totalling $1.7 million from federal and non-federal matching sources, the research will work to advance healthy coastal ecosystems, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, and resilient communities and economies.

“These projects directly reflect the real-world challenges faced by coastal communities, ensuring that the outcomes are not just scientifically robust but also deeply relevant and impactful,” said WHOI Sea Grant Director Matt Charette. He explained the collaborative process to identify research priorities included asking community members to identify pressing coastal and environmental concerns.

Led by scientists based in the Commonwealth, each research project will employ an array of scientific techniques in their quest for new knowledge. The research teams also created an outreach plan to disseminate their findings to the people most connected to the challenges under investigation.

Read more about the five projects recommended for funding from 2024 through 2025, pending congressional appropriations and final approvals by NOAA:

Restoring Eelgrass: Identifying best practices for a seed-based approach

Seagrass plays a critical role in coastal marine environments, like providing fish a nursery habitat. Its significant decline across Massachusetts has been caused by poor water quality. Seagrass can be restored, especially as the state invests in water quality improvements. Researchers Jill Carr (UMass Boston), Forest Schenck (MA Division of Marine Fisheries), and Alison Frye (Salem Sound Coastwatch) will test and identify best practices for planting eelgrass meadows using seeds, enabling large-scale restoration efforts across the state.

Reduce, Restore, Recover: Little Pond ecosystem’s response to sewering

Over the last 70 years, Cape Cod has seen rapid population growth and minimal investment in wastewater infrastructure. This has added significant amounts of nitrogen to the local watersheds. In 2016, Falmouth, MA, installed a sewer system near Little Pond, dramatically reducing the amount of nitrogen reaching the ecosystem. Researchers Ken Foreman (Marine Biological Laboratory), Ketil Koop-Jackobson (Marine Biological Laboratory), and Matt Long (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) will measure and assess how nutrients flow into and through the Little Pond estuary to understand how coastal ecosystems respond to these changes.

Waste to Watershed: How contaminants of emerging concern impact mussels

Amongst the compounds that make their way from septic systems to New England’s coastal embayments are contaminants of emerging concern (CECs), including pharmaceuticals and endocrine disrupting chemicals, which can be removed by newer septic technologies. Researchers Jared Goldstone (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) and Helen Poynton (UMass Boston) will study how CECs impact the biology of blue and ribbed mussels and test how well these innovative technologies prevent CECs from reaching coastal watersheds.

Changing Currents: Collecting data with fishermen to build more sustainable fisheries

Waters off the Northeast US have warmed faster than most of the world’s oceans, with potentially drastic impacts on fishing industries. WHOI researchers Caroline Ummenhofer, Svenja Ryan, and Glen Gawarkiewicz will partner with the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance to collect important catch-relevant ocean data in under-sampled areas off outer Cape Cod. With tools to visualize the data, fishers can make real-time science-based decisions, while the data provides scientists with a better understanding of changing ocean conditions.

To Insure or Not to Insure: How homeowners perceive flood risk

While threats from sea level rise, hurricanes, and winter storms are increasing in coastal communities, Massachusetts flood insurance enrollments are not. In fact, participation in flood insurance policies declined in recent years, particularly on Cape Cod, leaving homeowners vulnerable to the growing impacts of climate change. WHOI researchers Di Jin and Michael Weir will survey property owners to identify factors influencing the decision not to purchase flood insurance, and how to encourage them to consider it as an effective way to manage their financial risk.


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