Richard Delaney

Cape Cod Life  /  Annual Life 2020 /

Writer: Elizabeth Shaw

President and CEO  \\  Center for Coastal Studies

“Our mission is to conduct research to better understand ocean ecosystems and coastal environments, and to make that information and understanding available to decision makers, managers and citizens so that we as a community here on Cape Cod can become better stewards of the ocean and the coast,” says Richard Delaney. That’s been the main goal for the last 44 years since the Center for Coastal Studies’ founding in 1976. While not a native Cape Codder, Delaney grew up spending summers on the Cape, and it’s those summers he credits with sparking his love and fascination with the ocean. He continued with a career-long focus on the ocean and coast, ranging from a leadership role in the clean up of Boston Harbor to running an outdoor education program for kids, but the Cape continued to pull him back. After some time on the board of directors for the Center, Delaney took over in his current role of President and CEO of the Center for Coastal Studies.

What started as a purely Provincetown organization has since expanded to include all of Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts Bay to the Gulf of Maine into Canada. While Delaney and his team are still based in Provincetown, they collaborate with scientists across the world. 

If you plan on visiting the Center, which is open to the public, make sure to say hello to Spinnaker, the 37-foot humpback whale skeleton, and the newest addition to the team. Spinnaker has a long history with the Center; while she was alive, she was untangled by the team three times before a fourth, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt. After being granted a permit from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Spinnaker officially joined the team in their Provincetown office and lab. For those still unsure of the need and importance of the Center’s work, look closely at Spinnaker’s skull to see the remains of the ropes, buoys and lines embedded in her bones. She also serves as a reminder of the Center’s original and special mission from 1984, to help disentangle large marine mammals from fishing gear at sea. Delaney says it’s estimated that 300,000 marine mammals around the world die from entanglement in fishing gear every year; Spinnaker is just one of that tragic number. Delaney and his team started disentangling mammals on the Cape and realized that it’s a global problem, so, in partnership with NOAA and the MA Deptartment of Marine Fisheries, they began training other teams up and down the East Coast to spread the effort. They have since brought in teams from across the world to learn the techniques and to acquire the tools needed. Delaney and his team continue their efforts to create a global disentanglement network and their goal is to continue to expand this network and to bring more awareness to this global issue. 

More recently, the Center and Delaney have shifted their sights to the ongoing global climate crisis. Their research topics run the gauntlet, from testing water quality to monitoring the whale populations to anything else that touches the ocean ecosystem. Delaney attended the 2015 Paris Climate Summit to advocate for the ocean, as it had been neglected in previous climate talks. “I came back to my colleagues and told them to look at the research they’re doing through a climate change lens and understand how it can be used by communities preparing to adapt to climate change.” Delaney gives the example, “our geologists have been mapping the rate at which sand moves along the coast where it’s eroding or building and measuring storm surges. What that means is you’re helping communities prepare and adapt to climate change-caused sea level rising.” They’ve also watched the effects of climate change on the phytoplankton that whales in the area feed on. “We realized that everything we do, in some way or another, helps people understand the impacts that the climate has already had on the Cape. We have stepped up our efforts to make people more aware of how climate change is happening, right here, right now, and how we on Cape Cod have a front row seat.” Delaney explains that one of the two fastest warming bodies of water in the world is the Gulf of Maine, which directly affects the water surrounding Cape Cod.

Delaney also helped establish an international organization called the Global Ocean Forum when he realized that oceans were missing from the climate crisis agenda, despite the fact that oceans drive the climate, and the nexus between the oceans and climate change is inextricable and complex. The Global Ocean Forum has organized Ocean Action Days at the last nine climate meetings, including the Paris Climate Agreement, which incorporated language about the role of oceans in climate change for the first time. At a follow-up meeting in 2019 in Madrid, a detailed report on the state of oceans was released which calls for urgent and immediate action by all countries to reverse the dire impacts that the climate crisis is having on the global ocean. Delaney feels that they are making slow but steady headway now that the ocean has finally been acknowledged for its importance in the climate crisis. But Delaney says we still have a very long way to go. 

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Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth Shaw is a former assistant editor, photographer & videographer for Cape Cod Life Publications. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Elizabeth spent many summers on the Cape, before she and her family moved down full time in 2016. She graduated from the University of Rhode Island as a double major in Writing & Rhetoric and Film Media, and started at Cape Cod Life the following fall. In her free time, she takes as many pictures of her dog, Watson, as possible, in between beach trips.