Including a Range of Climate Effects in Planning for Rhode Island’s Coastal Zone and State Waters

Mallory Morgan Rachel M. Gregg
Posted on: 2/12/2017 - Updated on: 10/28/2021

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Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

Special Area Management Plans (SAMPs) have been used for over 30 years in Rhode Island and are now being applied to state waters. Since the 1980s, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) has zoned coastal areas as part of its shoreline management planning. The zoning categories include conservation areas, residential and low-intensity use, marine and high-intensity boating, multipurpose, commercial and tourism-oriented use, and port and navigation.

SAMPs are comprehensive plans comprised of ecosystem-based strategies designed to preserve and restore ecological systems while maintaining sustainable coastal development and economic growth. They consider ecology, fishing, wildlife and habitats, recreation and tourism, cultural and historic resources, and infrastructure.

The Rhode Island Ocean SAMP is a federally recognized, multi-pronged coastal management and regulatory tool. The Ocean SAMP provides a balanced approach to the development and protection of Rhode Island's ocean-based resources using the best available science. In 2008, the state began developing Ocean SAMPs, partly to address climate change and its associated effects. Specific impacts described in the plan include ocean acidification, shifting species ranges and migration timing, habitat loss, diseases, and invasive species. The plan also addresses rising air and sea temperatures, increased precipitation and storm intensity, diminishing wind speeds, and sea level rise. The plan reviews the potential risks and benefits posed by climate change to regional ocean uses, including marine transportation, navigation, and infrastructure; recreation and tourism; and fisheries.

In order to address climate change vulnerabilities in the region, mechanisms incorporated include identifying management areas for most stressed fisheries, guidance for siting of renewable energy sources (e.g., wind farms), providing baseline/future monitoring data through required data collection programs, vulnerability assessments of key coastal infrastructure, and increased public awareness and understanding of climate change. The Ocean SAMP states that the CRMC will be responsible for:

  • Considering climate change impacts on the feasibility, safety, and effectiveness of activities and uses within the SAMP area;
  • Convening a Science Advisory Panel for Climate Change to provide up-to-date advice on climate information and potential effects on management;
  • Prohibiting land-based and offshore development projects that may threaten public safety, not perform as designed, or otherwise cause environmental impacts under projected sea level rise scenarios; and
  • Developing design standards for coastal and marine infrastructure that account for climate-related changes in storms, winds, and waves.

In addition, the CRMC is accommodating a base rate of projected 1 to 7 feet of sea level rise by 2100 in the design and siting of coastal activities, as well as mapping the effects of sea level rise on coastal habitats and infrastructure that may impede landward migration of salt marshes.


Morgan, M. & R.M. Gregg. 2020. Including a range of climate effects in planning for Rhode Island’s coastal zone and state waters [Summary of a project of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council]. Version 2.0. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated July 2020)

Affiliated Organizations

The Coastal Resources Management Council is a management agency with regulatory functions. Its primary responsibility is for the preservation, protection, development and where possible the restoration of the coastal areas of the state via the issuance of permits for work with the coastal zone of the state.


Effort Stage
Scale of Project
Habitat/Biome Type
Target Climate Changes and Impacts

Related Resources

Adaptation Phase
Sharing Lessons
Sector Addressed
Climate Justice
Conservation / Restoration
Culture / Communities
Disaster Risk Management
Education / Outreach
Land Use Planning
Rural / Indigenous Livelihoods
Transportation / Infrastructure
Water Resources
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