Meet the Director
We are all stewards of the coastal ocean. For some of us, the connection to the sea is clear and immediate; for others, it is subtle and distant. But whether you live on waterfront property or in a land-locked hamlet, your everyday activities affect this most sensitive and most threatened portion of the world’s oceans.
Oil slicks in our harbors, sewage in our bays, and trash on our beaches provide obvious testimony to our links to the coast. So do the shrimp, salmon and scallops on our dinner plates, and the money in the wallets of the millions of business owners and employees who make their living on the water’s edge. Storm surges can reach hundreds of thousands of buildings along the coasts, and the rising tides linked to climate change have the potential to cause societal, economic and political instability in regions of the world ill-prepared to respond.
The subtle connections to the sea reach hundreds of miles inland. Air pollution from cars, trucks, and factories eventually precipitates into the ocean. Pesticides sprayed on lawns and golf courses run off into rivers, get ingested by fish downstream, and eventually poison shorebirds that never fly near those lawns or golf courses.
The news is not all bad. Coastal waters in some regions are cleaner than they’ve been for decades, thanks to efforts to reduce chemical and nutrient pollution. Marine aquaculture operations are reducing the pressure on wild-capture fisheries. Some states are creating no-build zones in sensitive coastal areas, preventing development that is incompatible with the dynamic nature of the shoreline.
New technologies, new approaches to coastal research, and new collaborations among scientists from different disciplines are setting the stage for scientifically based management of the coastal zone. Resource managers and elected leaders are desperate for ideas and guidance about how to manage our relationship with the ocean. Many of the answers they need require new scientific inquiry, as well as better explanation of what we already know.
This is the mandate of the Coastal Ocean Institute (COI). Established in 1979 as the Coastal Research Center, it initiates new multidisciplinary research ventures that address key coastal research problems. In 1996 long-time Institution supporter and Corporation Member Gratia “Topsy” Rinehart Montgomery made a generous gift of $5 million to endow coastal research at WHOI. The entire WHOI family acknowledged this gift by dedicating the Rinehart Coastal Research Center in her name. Today, the Coastal Ocean Institute builds on the remarkable foundation laid by those visionary scientists and philanthropists.
Through research grants, scientific gatherings, and the development of state-of-the-art facilities, the Institute encourages innovative, interdisciplinary research and technology development that can improve our understanding of the processes at work along our shores. COI also fosters communication efforts to help civic leaders, students, and citizens become better informed about the complexities of this dynamic environment and the possibilities for sustaining and restoring it.
Coastal waters are the ocean’s first line of defense, and that line is showing many signs of stress. The first step in promoting effective stewardship is to recognize and document the problems; as you will read, we are far along in that regard. The challenge now is to move our scientific understanding forward to a point where we can reduce or eliminate some of these problems.
Christopher Reddy is a senior scientist in the Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry. He grew up on Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay and has always lived within a few miles of a coast. He earned a B.S. degree in chemistry in 1992 at Rhode Island College and a Ph.D. degree in 1997 in chemical oceanography from the Graduate School of Oceanography of the University of Rhode Island and came to WHOI as a postdoctoral scholar. Reddy researches how the oceans respond to human-derived chemicals.