Tiffany Smythe

  • Department of Humanities
  • United States Coast Guard Academy
  • Email:
  • Office Location: 31 Mohegan Ave Pkwy
    New London, CT 06320

It is with great enthusiasm that I pursue this opportunity to join the Coastal Institute Senior Fellows program. As an environmental social scientist specializing in ocean and coastal issues, I believe I have a great deal to offer the CI. My qualifications are embodied in my active social science research portfolio exploring timely marine environmental issues, and the practical experiences and professional network I have amassed through my years of work as a marine environmental policy professional, and my experiences teaching and advising students in the Department of Marine Affairs.

I am an interdisciplinary environmental social scientist trained in using the methods and theories of sociology, anthropology, planning and the policy sciences to explore human interactions with the coastal environment and the social structures and governance arrangements through which this environment is managed. In 2011 I completed my Ph.D. in Marine Affairs at the University of Rhode Island, where I focused on domestic ocean and coastal planning and policy. Since that time, I have completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and a visiting professorship at Sea Education Association (affiliated with Boston University), and am in the midst of another visiting professorship at the University of Rhode Island. Through these positions, and through my research position at the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant, I have developed an academic research portfolio and collection of publications through which I investigate a suite of timely coastal issues: ecosystem-based marine spatial planning, offshore renewable energy, and coastal climate resilience. This research explores the dynamics of collaboration, the complexities of environmental governance, and other challenges in marine environmental decision-making.

My doctoral dissertation employed quantitative and qualitative social science research methods, including social network, mental models, and statistical analysis, to investigate how practitioners develop marine ecosystem-based management plans. My post‐doctoral research at USCGA built upon this work, and in particular the methods and theories used to understand social networks, to explore two issues. The first was the emergence of ecosystem-based marine spatial planning in response to changing environmental conditions and new ocean uses such as offshore renewable energy. The second explored planning for coastal storm and climate change resilience, focusing on Hurricane Sandy and the Port of New York and New Jersey, and resulted in multiple papers that explored the role of social capital in storm recovery and resilience. Currently, at the University of Rhode Island, I work with a team of staff and faculty to conduct research and outreach on offshore renewable energy, coastal climate resilience, ecosystem-based marine spatial planning, and aquaculture. For example, I am a co-Principal Investigator on a study funded by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to study the effects of the Block Island Wind Farm on tourism and recreation, and I recently concluded a two-year research effort to document lessons learned from the new practice of ecosystem-based marine spatial planning throughout the United States.

In addition to my academic credentials, teaching, and research, I bring to the Coastal Institute my first-hand professional experiences and the extensive network I have established as a coastal policy professional. I have worked with and for non-profit organizations and state and federal agencies in a variety of capacities on issues including ranging from oyster restoration in New York Harbor to the implementation of the Obama Administration’s National Ocean Policy to the siting of the Block Island Wind Farm, the United States’ first such facility. For example, I was a principal co-author and facilitator of the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP), one of the nation's first marine spatial plans to guide the siting of offshore renewable energy and other future uses of ocean space. As part of the Ocean SAMP team, I specialized in fisheries and renewable energy issues, working regularly with commercial and recreational fishermen, fisheries regulators, scientists, environmental advocates, renewable energy experts, and other stakeholders to identify an area that was appropriate for a wind farm and to write the policies used to permit such a project. This process led to the siting and permitting of the Block Island Wind Farm, which will be operational by late 2016. Through this experience, which involved dozens of intensive stakeholder meetings, hearings, and public review and comment on policy documents, I gained a first-hand understanding of the challenges and complexities inherent in the contemporary coastal policy arena, particularly with regard to new initiatives like renewable energy. Additionally, prior to my career in marine environmental studies, I earned a 100-ton U.S. Coast Guard captain's license and worked as a professional licensed mariner aboard sail training ships, and have sailed the waters of the New England coast for 20 years. These experiences have given me invaluable on-the-water knowledge of the coastal environment and the communities and users who rely on our oceans and coasts and have profoundly shaped my interest in coastal issues.