RWU Welcomes the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program as Official Partner

New partnership will leverage faculty and student expertise and research, while preparing RWU’s graduates for careers in the blue economy and environmental-related work

By Jill Rodrigues '05
Ocean coast at Beavertail State Park in Jamestown, RI.

BRISTOL, R.I. – For its leadership in research and community-engaged work on coastal resiliency and the blue economy, Roger Williams University has been named the new home of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program (NBEP).   

NBEP’s Steering Committee selected Roger Williams to serve as the host institution for the program, which is one of 28 in the country that are part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuaries Program. NBEP is dedicated to the protection and improvement of Narragansett Bay, Little Narragansett Bay and the Rhode Island Coastal Ponds, and their vast watersheds, rich in coastal wildlife habitat, economic opportunities and recreational assets in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.  

RWU has long been a member of NBEP’s Science Advisory Committee and close partner, but the estuary program will now reside at the university, effective Oct. 1, significantly expanding collaboration and leveraging the expertise of NBEP scientists and scholarship of faculty and students to develop solutions for complex problems facing the people and coastal ecosystems of our region. 

“Being home to the Narraganset Bay Estuary Program is one more way that Roger Williams University is creating a more resilient coastal environment and helping the Ocean State and southeastern Massachusetts lead the way in the blue economy,” said RWU President Ioannis Miaoulis. “With our shared values in social and environmental justice, this will be a truly synergistic relationship that will enable greater collaboration on research and advocacy that align with both of our institutions’ missions and will provide additional opportunities for real-world learning experiences for our undergraduate, graduate and law students through research projects, legal policy analysis, and community-engaged scholarship.”  

The timing of the partnership is opportune, as RWU and NBEP both are undergoing strategic planning. The university is looking to deepen its work in the blue economy, drawing upon expertise across multiple fields of study to solve the complex environmental and coastal issues facing us regionally and nationally. At the same time, the estuary program is seeking community input for its Vision 2032 plan, a framework of actions that prioritizes climate resilience, sustainability and equity that NBEP and its partners intend to complete within 10 years. 

“Both RWU and the estuary program are forward-looking. We are focused on creating a better future for the region’s environment and its people – from the region’s small headwater streams in Massachusetts to Rhode Island’s coast,” said Mike Gerel, director of NBEP. “With the power of their dedicated faculty and passionate students, RWU brings to NBEP tremendous opportunities to create new collaborative programs, investments and deep learning experiences that tackle our most challenging environmental quality and environmental justice problems. I view NBEP as a small organization that seeks to deliver big impact, and our partnership with RWU can help us achieve that ambitious vision.”  

RWU was chosen as the NBEP’s home through an exhaustive selection process of EPA and NBEP Steering Committee members representing diverse interests. EPA’s National Estuary Program will provide the university with annual grant funding to administer the program.

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is excited that Roger Williams University will serve as the new host institution for the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program,” said EPA Acting Regional Administrator Deb Szaro. “Narragansett Bay was one of the first estuaries in the U.S. to be approved under the National Estuary Program back in 1987. The work to protect Narragansett Bay and enhance environmental conditions, especially from climate change impacts, is extremely important. We are looking forward to working with RWU to ensure that our work here is a success.”

As advocates for restoring and sustaining southeast New England’s waterways, the members of the Rhode Island congressional delegation were thrilled to learn of the new partnership.  

“Roger Williams University will be a terrific community partner for the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program,” said R.I. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a longtime champion for the National Estuaries Program, which is the major funding source for NBEP. “Working with Roger Williams, the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program will continue its stewardship of the estuaries and watersheds at the heart of Rhode Island’s economy and way of life.”

“I am pleased to see enhanced partnerships between the nonprofit, government, and academic communities as we work to address contamination, coastal resiliency, and environmental protection. It is great to see the increase in collaboration between Roger Williams University and the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program and that this partnership is happening in Rhode Island,” said R.I. Senator Jack Reed, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who spearheaded the creation of the Southeast New England Program (SNEP), which provides funding to NBEP. “I look forward to continuing my support of the SNEP program and the work of Roger Williams University and the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program.”

“I am very excited that the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program will now be hosted by Roger Williams University here in Rhode Island,” said R.I. Rep. David Cicilline. “The new partnership will enable the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program to build on its invaluable work protecting and restoring coastal habitats in the region. Both organizations are committed to improving the lives of future generations through a community-based approach, and I look forward to all they will accomplish together.”

Along with creating internships, project-based courses, and real-world research and policy experiences, this partnership holds the potential for developing interdisciplinary courses and programs across undergraduate, graduate and law programs, as well as certificate programs and microcredentials that uniquely position RWU’s graduates for work in the blue economy and in environmental research, policy work and advocacy. 

“RWU’s coastal location within our thriving estuary system, and our commitment to research, teaching and community engagement in support of sustainable coastal futures, makes this an especially exciting partnership for us,” said RWU Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Margaret Everett. “We look forward to working with the estuary program, and the many regional agencies and organizations it convenes, to protect the environmental resources of the region.” 

The university will explore opportunities for NBEP to collaborate with its key partners, from its state-of-the-art marine science Wet Lab to the innovative hub of partnerships and community work at University College, and at Roger Williams School of Law, which is nationally recognized for marine and coastal law through the work of its Marine Affairs Institute and partnership with Rhode Island Sea Grant. 

“This partnership with the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program aligns really well with the law school’s focus on collaborative research, teaching and service in marine affairs,” said RWU School of Law Dean Gregory W. Bowman. “We are proud and excited to bring our legal expertise to this new partnership.” 

Gerel, the estuary program’s director, affirmed that RWU Law’s legal expertise will be a vital resource to the NBEP’s work. 

“In its work, the estuary program often faces complex legal issues. Having the RWU School of Law as an expert partner for consultation and to bring on interns to help with difficult and pressing legal matters is an exciting new service we can offer to our partners,” Gerel said.

NBEP is a channel for federal funding for watershed projects that help address the consequences of water pollution, climate change, and historical environmental inequities, in addition to its work bringing interests together from across boundaries to find consensus around difficult environmental issues and communicating scientific data on the health of the bay to policy-makers. Some of its recent work included creating a long-term plan to improve the Blackstone River, the second largest tributary to Narragansett Bay that runs from Worcester, Mass., to Pawtucket, R.I.; a study of new ways to restore coastal salt marches by Save The Bay in Rhode Island’s coastal ponds; a stormwater master plan for Mt. Hope High School in Bristol; documenting the positive impact recent reductions in the discharge of nutrient pollution from wastewater treatment facilities is having on the bay; and exploring the consequences of environmental justice across the region.