CI Senior Fellows learn about monitoring fish as they return to a stream following a dam removal from the MA portion of the Narragansett Bay watershed. Photo courtesy of the Coastal Institute.

Environmental monitoring is observation of any aspect of the environment, including its physical, biological, and chemical characteristics. The data obtained through monitoring takes many forms including quantitative measurements such as observational counts (e.g. number of individuals of a particular species) and laboratory analytical results (e.g. levels of a chemical in water), and qualitative descriptions or geographic information (e.g. mapped locations). Data analysis yields information which is used to support resource management including planning, decision-making and evaluation in various programs operating on the local, state and regional level. Data generated locally may also be shared and contribute to work conducted on a national scale. For example, fishery managers monitor populations to determine if catch limitations are needed and environmental agencies monitor water quality for a number of purposes including developing permits for various wastewater discharges.

Because people and the environment interact in many, diverse ways, monitoring a variety of environmental aspects is needed. Rhode Island is no exception; regulatory agencies need monitoring data to protect the environment and promote sustainable use of natural resources. Effective management of our resources relies on the feedback obtained through monitoring to prioritize management actions, optimize public investments in environmental protection, and develop strategies to adapt to changing climate conditions. Accordingly, monitoring is recognized as a core component of the state’s water quality management framework as noted in the State Guide Plan Element “Water Quality 2035.”

Nutrient pollution into upper Narragansett Bay continues to be a challenge, but improvements are being made. Photo courtesy of Watershed Counts.

Rhode Island’s environmental management objectives promote a healthy environment as the foundation for a strong economy and resilient communities. Safe and beautiful beaches attract visitors from around the world, healthy salt marshes protect coastal communities from the increasing threat of sea level rise and hurricanes, and clean estuarine waters of Narragansett Bay support robust fisheries, aquaculture, and other industries. The Rhode Island Environmental Monitoring Collaborative (RIEMC) reports on twenty “monitoring priorities,” representing Rhode Islanders’ diverse interactions with the environment. These priorities include beaches and rivers, lakes and wetlands, commercial fishery species, non-native “nuisance” plants and animals, and more. Each of these is an essential component to Rhode Island’s monitoring strategy, which will help Rhode Island and its environment to thrive together.