The Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences awarded a project led by University of Southern Mississippi researchers with $507,000 in data synthesis grants. The two-year grant will go towards a project working to advance marsh preservation and restoration in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) research scientist and associate professor Patrick D. Biber, Ph.D., is the acting program director and will lead a team consisting of fellow GCRL researcher Wei Wu, Ph.D., Deepak Mishra, Ph.D., University of Georgia, and Gregory Alan Carter, Ph.D, The University of Southern Mississippi. The group was awarded a data synthesis grant to continue their project: Understanding the trajectory of coastal salt marsh structure, function, and processes in the face of sea-level rise: A synthesis from historical imagery, biophysical processes, and hierarchical modeling.
“It’s always a pleasant surprise when a grant is awarded,” Biber said. “These funds will allow us to achieve significant science relevant to residents along the Gulf Coast.”
Biber said The Center for Plant Restoration (CPR) is excited to be able to grow their project and continue to lead research into the long-term resilience of coastal wetlands.
The team plans to combine historical aerial photography and satellite imagery with analysis of wetland fragmentation to improve predictions of the health and productivity of coastal wetlands, which are vulnerable to degradation by natural and human-induced changes.
“These projects will add value to earlier investments in monitoring while improving our understanding of Gulf of Mexico ecosystems and communities,” said Gulf Research Program senior program officer Evonne Tang.
The Gulf Research Program awarded data synthesis grants to nine participants, totaling more than $4.4 million. Each proposal was selected after an external peer-review process.
The Gulf Research Program was established by agreements arising from the settlement of the U.S. government’s criminal complaints following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Program seeks to improve understanding of the interconnecting human, environmental and energy systems of the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. outer continental shelf areas, and foster application of these insights to benefit Gulf communities, ecosystems and the nation. The Program funds studies, projects and other activities using three broad approaches: research and development, education and training, and environmental monitoring.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. The Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.
University of Southern Mississippi to serve as lead institution within Mississippi Based RESTORE Act Center of Excellence
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) announced Oct. 15 the Mississippi-based RESTORE Act Center of Excellence (MBRACE) was selected as the RESTORE Research Center of Excellence.
Following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Congress passed the RESTORE Act to direct a portion of Clean Water Act civil penalties collected from responsible parties to the states impacted by the oil spill, and it includes a 2.5 percent funding designation to establish Research Centers of Excellence.
MBRACE is a consortium made up of Mississippi’s four major research institutions: the University of Southern Mississippi, Jackson State University, the University of Mississippi, and Mississippi State University. The University of Southern Mississippi will serve as the lead institution with the MBRACE program administered within the University’s Center for Gulf Studies.
“The Center for Gulf Studies and MBRACE brings together the state’s highest caliber scientists to use respective institutional capacities to address the most critical issues facing Mississippi’s Gulf Coast and its incredible natural resources," said Monty Graham, Interim Director of the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory and Chair of Department of Marine Science.
The Research Center of Excellence in each Gulf state, including Mississippi, will focus on science, technology, and monitoring in the following disciplines:
- Coastal and deltaic sustainability, restoration and protection, including solutions and technology that allow citizens to live in a safe and sustainable manner in a coastal delta in the Gulf Coast Region.
- Coastal fisheries and wildlife ecosystem research and monitoring.
- Offshore energy development, including research and technology to improve the sustainable and safe development of energy resources in the Gulf of Mexico.
- Sustainable and resilient growth, economic and commercial development in the Gulf of Mexico.
- Comprehensive observation, monitoring, and mapping of the Gulf of Mexico’s waters.
“This is a key milestone in the process of repairing the damage done in Mississippi by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the best way to find new solutions for preventing future damage to our Coast,” said Dr. Gordon Cannon, USM Vice President for Research.
CONCORDE, a GoMRI-funded scientific consortium based out of The University of Southern Mississippi, recently completed a large-scale research mission that was actually five efforts rolled into one.
Chosen to coincide with autumn’s low river discharge period, the Fall Campaign included scientists and students from six universities and two government labs, two state-of-the-art research vessels, a scientist sampling from smaller boats, another manning a gliding underwater robot from land, and commercial fishermen collecting data as they went about their routine at sea.
The various teams spent over a week in late October and early November collecting data along transects in the northern Gulf of Mexico from the Chandeleur Islands to the west and the Alabama-Florida border to the east. They simultaneously studied ocean models and satellite data to make sure the scientists continued to find features of interest for the project, such as river plumes.
The goal was to collect data to determine how freshwater outflow from rivers moves through and mixes with the salty water in the northern Gulf when the rivers are traditionally at their lowest volume. This exercise, coupled with a similar campaign in the spring when river stages tend to be highest, will help scientists understand how the interaction with incoming freshwater in the nearshore impacts microscopic marine life such as plankton, and how it could potentially guide the movement of oil or another pollutant in a future catastrophic event.
A number of moving parts made up this carefully orchestrated campaign. The R/V Point Sur embarked the last week in October from Gulfport with a rotating crew of 18 scientists and students to study plankton populations. Shortly thereafter, the R/V Pelican left from Louisiana so nearly a dozen researchers could focus on the water’s physical and bio-optical interactions near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
“Everyone did a fantastic job,” said R/V Point Sur chief scientist Dr. Frank Hernandez. “We collected an unprecedented amount of biological and oceanographic data for this region. Now the challenging but exciting part for us is to start processing these data and do our best to understand how this system works so that we are better prepared for future events like Deepwater Horizon.”
Both ships had cutting-edge sampling equipment on board as well as good, old-fashioned collection devices like plankton nets to cover all their bases. As USM scientists focus on teaching as much as research, many students got their first taste of field work during the expedition.
“Despite a number of challenges that arose during the cruise it was a success,” said R/V Pelican chief scientist Dr. Stephan Howden. “Data were collected that, among other things, will help answer the question about under what conditions will surface flow through the barrier island passes be into the Mississippi Sound, which can bring in surface oil, even though mean flow is out of the Sound.”
The institutions involved in the Fall Campaign were as follows: University of Southern Mississippi, University of South Alabama/Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Mississippi State University, Old Dominion University, Oregon State University, Rutgers University, the Naval Research Lab and NOAA.
The green light has been given to begin work on the Marine Education Center (MEC) at The University of Southern Mississippi’s Cedar Point Teaching Site in Ocean Springs, replacing the J.L. Scott Marine Education Center destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Southern Miss Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) and Lake Flato Architects gave Starks Contracting Co. permission to proceed with construction.
The cost of the project is $16.2 million, with primary funding coming from an $11.2 million Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant administered by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources is providing $5 million in additional funding. Completion of the construction phase is expected to be 18-20 months.
“This project is one of the very best representations of how a University and the state of Mississippi have worked together with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to effectively and responsibly use federal recovery monies to rebuild a storm resilient and environmentally compatible waterfront facility lost during Katrina,” said Dr. Monty Graham, interim director of GCRL and chair of the Department of Marine Science at USM.
The MEC’s programs are designed to increase visitors’ understanding of how coastal sciences and research enhance the quality of their lives, promote sustainability of coastal resources and how individuals can use this knowledge to make responsible decisions concerning coastal resources. Its buildings will be important educational tools - appropriate to the landscape, storm-resistant, and built with environmentally sustainable materials and systems.
“This is another great step in the Hurricane Katrina recovery of the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said MEMA Director Robert Latham. “The new location of this center will ensure a great educational opportunity for students for years to come, and will reduce the risk of damage to the facility from future storms.”
The facility will function as the education and outreach arm of GCRL, and promises to be an all-encompassing emersion experience for participants in a unique and beautiful setting.It will include a mix of public exhibits, classrooms, laboratories, meeting spaces and administrative offices, while also featuring outdoor learning and field experiences through a system of trails, boardwalks and outdoor classrooms.
"The Marine Education Center is another example of the great partnership between the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and The University of Southern Mississippi,” said Jamie Miller, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. “We are proud to be part of this project that will provide educational opportunities for the entire region."
The MEC will be relocated from the high risk velocity zone to a safer, higher elevation site located out of the direct wind field and designed to be as wind resilient, flood proof, energy efficient and coastal hazard resistant as any structure built in the post-Katrina period. It will also serve as a nationally recognized example of how to employ sustainable, green and effective coastal building techniques in harmony with the coastal environment in which it is located.
Chris Snyder, director of the MEC, expects beneficiaries of the facility to include school groups in Coastal Science Camps, college students seeking research experiences, teachers pursuing professional development and community volunteers and citizen-scientists wanting to learn more about and help preserve their natural environment. “This project represents a major step forward in our capability to provide students and all segments of the public with educational opportunities that will both enhance their understanding of how coastal sciences and research enhance the quality of their lives, and how they can use this knowledge to make responsible decisions concerning coastal resources,” Snyder said. “We couldn’t ask for a better location to conduct our educational programs then at Cedar Point.”
An official groundbreaking ceremony is set for August 26 at the GCRL Cedar Point site. For more information about GCRL, visit http://gcrl.usm.edu/.
The last few months have brought changes to the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory’s management team. Dr. Monty Graham has taken over as Interim Director as well as being the Chair of the Marine Science Department at Stennis. “I’m so honored to be a part of GCRL, especially at this particular period when so much attention is drawn to the future of the Gulf of Mexico. The rich history and the sense of community that is the fabric of the lab is a source of pride for the University and the state of Mississippi. Everyone makes a daily contribution to making GCRL the Gulf’s premiere marine laboratory."
Dr. Read Hendon is now serving as the Interim Associate Director of GCRL. Read has been the Director of the Center for Fisheries Research and Development since 2011, where he coordinates research in collaboration with GCRL's state and federal partners. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from USM while studying at GCRL. "I appreciate the opportunity to help direct and promote GCRL's and USM's growth in the fields of marine biology and coastal ecology. We have many of the foremost scientists in these fields, and I'm excited about expanding our research and academic excellence through the many emerging opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico."
Dr. Jeff Lotz has stepped down as Chair of the Department of Coastal Sciences, and Dr. Joe Griffitt assumed the position of interim Chair effective July 1, 2015. Dr. Griffitt was first appointed to the Coastal Science faculty in August 2008. Prior to joining USM, Dr. Griffitt was a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Center for Environmental and Human Toxicology at the University of Florida. He received his PhD in Environmental Health Sciences and Masters in Marine Science from the University of South Carolina. His bachelor’s degree is from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington in Marine Biology. "The Department of Coastal Sciences has a long history of doing innovative and important research. I'm excited to be part of this tradition, and hope to spend the next year as interim chair working to maintain the history of academic excellence, while helping COA move ahead. With two new faculty hires, and a move to four emphasis areas we have a lot of opportunities, and I am looking forward to the challenge."
We would like to take this opportunity to recognize and thank Dr. Jeff Lotz for his many years of service to GCRL as Chair of the Department of Coastal Sciences. Dr. Lotz assumed the role of Chair in 2003 and has guided the faculty through periods of both growth and rebuilding over that time, particularly after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. His dedicated service leaves the Department in prime condition to continue to move forward and expand its research and academic missions. He will now devote his full time to enhancing GCRL’s marine aquaculture operations at Cedar Point as Director of the Thad Cochran Center for Marine Aquaculture and continue his research and academic endeavors as a Professor within the Department.
Our new research vessel is beginning to take shape at the GEO Shipyard in New Iberia, Louisiana.
The 60-foot vessel will be christened the R/V Jim Franks upon its completion and arrival at GCRL in early 2016. As construction progresses, we will provide updates and photos. The keel and decking phases have been completed, and construction of the main level housing is now underway.
The University of Southern Mississippi and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Gulf of Mexico Program (EPA Gulf Program) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will serve to increase cooperation between the two in areas of mutual interest.
USM President Rodney D. Bennett and Diane T. Altsman, EPA Gulf Program Chief of Staff signed the MOU at the University’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) .The agreement formalizes a partnership between Southern Miss and the EPA Gulf Program and will provide environmental education opportunities to students at the GCRL.
This alliance will allow USM and the EPA Gulf Office to offer combined technical skills and research to work toward resolving environmental and natural resource problems within the ecological system of the Gulf of Mexico.
The Blue Crab Management Plan for the Gulf of Mexico was approved by the Technical Coordinating Committee of the Gulf States Marine Fisherie Commission and is now available to the public. Harriet Perry from GCRL was an editor.
The plan is a comprehensive document of the biology of blue crabs and includes a description of the fisheries as well as discussion on the distribution, habitat, and genetics of this species in theGulf. Management authorities, their laws, regulations, and policies are included as well as the sociology and economics of the fishery. Most importantly, the plan includes a stock status based upon the results of Gulf-wide assessment of the blue crab populations in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. The regional assessment was completed through the GSMFC’s Gulf Data, Assessment, and Review (GDAR) process as GDAR01. Each of the five state marine resource agencies provided blue carb experts and analysts to develop abundance indices for use in stock assessment models. Much of this work was influenced by assessments already completed in Louisiana and the Chesapeake Bay.
The GSMFC is pleased to provide the regional blue crab management plan at our website as a downloadable Adobe PDF.
On April 24 a celebration was held at the Port of Gulfport for the newest addition to the USM fleet. Governor Phil Bryant was the guest speaker. The University acquired the vessel in February 2015 through a $1 million grant provided by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. “Today we embark on another great voyage – a voyage into the future with this wonderful research vessel,” said Gov. Bryant. “Remarkable things can come from this great research – research that may be able to help us protect the waters around the world and not just here at home.”
The Point Sur has already been around the block a time or two. It was built in 1980, and was owned by the National Science Foundation until it was sold to the University earlier this year. There are three labs, a 488-square-foot main lab, a 96-square –foot wet lab and a 120-square-foot electronics lab. It can accommodate 13 researchers and technicians, and a crew of eight. For day trips, it can accommodate 40 researchers. The main deck covers 1,100 square feet.
“The Point Sur will provide unparalleled opportunities for our undergraduate and graduate students as they venture into the Gulf of Mexico and gain hands-on research experience,” said University President Rodney D. Bennett. “I am confident that these opportunities will enhance the high quality education we provide as the leading marine science institution in the state of Mississippi.”
GCRL Senior Research Scientist, Jim Franks, recently gave an invited presentation on GCRL’s large pelagic fish research to the Pensacola Big Game Fishing Club. Franks’ presentation included an overview of the biology and life history aspects of yellowfin tuna, marlin and cobia. He spoke about important offshore fish habitats such as pelagic sargassum and the Loop Current. Franks previously gave an invited presentation to the Club in 2014.
“It is always a pleasure to visit the PBGFC and share an evening with club members, some of whom I’ve known for many years. They always extend to me genuinely warm hospitality and friendship. It’s a terrific group of folks who share a love of fishing and deep appreciation for the Gulf of Mexico and its fish resources”.
Since its inception in 1970, the PBGFC has hosted the legendary PBGFC Tournament and been a leader in encouraging and promoting the conservation and scientific study of game fishes in the Gulf of Mexico. The GCRL is deeply grateful to the PBGFC for their support of our fisheries research.
GCRL also received a $2000 donation from the Spraberry –Schankin Memorial Speckled Trout Tournament on May 16th. The donation will go to support research in our brood stock program and scholarships for Sea Camp and undergraduate programs.
December 2014 / January 2015
The entire fifth grade from Ocean Springs Upper Elementary were able to experience the wonders of the Bayou this Fall aboard the Gulf Coast Research Lab’s (GCRL) vessel the Miss Peetsy B. For nearly two full weeks, two classes per day from OS Upper made their way to the campus of GCRL to climb aboard and get a first hand lesson on what marine creatures live in the bayous of South Mississippi. They were treated to an educational cruise on Davis Bayou that included pulling a trawl behind the vessels and examining its catch. The trawl was brought up and the creatures collected were examined and explained in detail by the marine educators who were accompanying the group. While one class was aboard the Peetsy B, the other class would be escorted down to East Beach by another set of educators who would go through a series of educational exercises with the students. They were taught how to test water quality and measure salinity with equipment provided as well as shown how to use yabbi pumps to check out the creatures that live within the sandy bottom in the shallow waters of the sound. The students pulled a seine net in order to catch and compare organisms prevalent along the beachfront with those they saw in the Bayou.
This initial program at OS Upper has been a relationship builder on both sides of the fence. Administrators at the MEC hope this “pilot” program will be repeated many times over with children from schools all over the community. The next group that is in the works for the program is the 8th grade from d’Iberville Middle School. Aaron Lamey, Marine Educator who helped organize the program explains, “There is a high percentage of kids in the coastal community who haven’t ever had the experience of spending time on a boat. Our goal for this program is to reach out to as many coastal schools to participate in the program as possible; to get them out on a boat, to experience the Mississippi Sound and the Bayous and environs, which are truly their 'backyard'.”
In the words of Julie Foster, a teacher at OS Upper Elementary, “Our trip on the Peetsy B was amazing. I watched the faces of our fifth graders as they looked out on the water, and I could see that calmness that I feel when I’m on the water come over them. There is a sense of endless possibility, mystery and calmness that the ocean brings, and it was a great privilege to be able to share this with my students. Many of these students had never been on a boat before, and may not get the chance again soon!
Trawling for marine life was a highlight, of course. We were lucky enough to pull a stingray, many puffer fish, squid, croakers, and jelly fish! The excitement of these discoveries carried on into the classroom later in the afternoon when we drew our ‘snapshot’ moments of the day. Without exception, all of the students drew and captioned their pictures from those moments on the Peetsy B. I am looking forward to offering my students a glimpse into our unique environment as well as introducing the possibility of careers on the water as scientists and educators. Thank you for offering this very special workshop for our students. I know that Ms. Peetsy would be so delighted to see the students using her gift.”The Miss Peetsy B was donated to the GCRL Marine Education Center by Jimmy Buffet and his sisters, Lucy Buffett and Laurie Buffett-McGuane, in honor of their mother who was passionate about education. The vessel's name comes from Mrs. Buffet's nickname - Peetsy B. The Buffet family, originally from Pascagoula, donated the vessel to help educate students about their coastal environment, and ultimately create a more informed citizenry to protect and maintain our local marine habitats.
Jill Hendon, Research Scientist, Center for Fisheries Research & Development, represents GCRL at Leadership Jackson County
Jill Hendon, Research Scientist in the Center for Fisheries Research and Development (CFRD), has been chosen to participate in the Leadership Jackson County class for 2015. The program features a two day retreat followed by one day a month sessions throughout the year offering a focus on community awareness and leadership skill building. Since its inception in 1989, Leadership Jackson County has graduated over 616 community leaders, and this year is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Jill has been with GCRL full time in the CFRD since 2008. She attended the GCRL Summer Field Program as an undergrad in 2000 and 2001 and as a graduate student in 2003. She received her MS in Marine Immunology from USM in 2004. Her current research focuses on shark population assessments in the waters off of Mississippi as well as in shark reproductive, age and growth, and stress related physiological analyses. Jill has also taught a four week Shark Biology course in USM’s Summer Field Program since 2006, which provides students with an overview of elasmobranch (shark, skate and ray) biology, ecology and taxonomy.
Dawn Rebarchik recently retired from the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory after 23 years of service. For the majority of that time she was the Manager of the Microbiology Lab. Dr. Jay Grimes, Professor of Marine Microbiology remarked on Rebarchik’s leaving, "Dawn Rebarchik preceded my arrival to the GCRL in 1997. But it didn’t take me long to discover that she was an integral part of the lab, indeed the State of Mississippi. Dawn and her technical assistants have worked hard to insure the safety of bathing beaches and marketed shellfish in Mississippi. She will be missed but we can all rest assured that she thoroughly trained her assistants to continue this critical work.”
October / November 2014
GCRL – Conservation Award /IFFF
The International Federation of Fly Fishers (IFFF) recently presented The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory with its Conservation Award. The award is given annually to “individuals, groups or organizations that have made extraordinary contributions to the conservation of our fisheries’ resources."
As noted in the nomination form by Kyle Moppert, president, Gulf Coast Council, IFFF, “The GCRL is more than deserving of recognition by the Federation for their 40-plus years of diligently working to restore striped bass along the Gulf Coast and their contributions to basic science and knowledge of striped bass everywhere. Their marine aquaculture program is devoted to developing technologies for environmentally sustainable approaches to marine aquaculture and marine stock enhancement, including cobia, shrimp, red snapper, spotted sea trout and specifically their Striped Bass Restoration Program, which is of reference for this award. For their decades of service to all who believe that native fish should swim freely in the waters of our streams, rivers and marine environments, and to all who benefit from an improved natural environment, the GCRL deserves recognition with this award.”
Once common to coastal rivers and estuaries of the northern Gulf of Mexico, striped bass declined and nearly vanished in the 1960s. GCRL began turning that decline around in 1967 with a program focused on restoring striped bass (Morone saxatilis) in coastal waters along the Mississippi coast. For more than 30 years, GCRL project personnel have annually released 100,000 or more juvenile stripers into Mississippi coastal rivers in early summer. Another 20,000 of the two-inch fish were then placed them into the empty tanks where they grew to about six inches before being tagged and released in the fall. GCRL’s striped bass restoration project was supervised by Larry Nicholson. “It is an understatement to say that I am honored by this recognition,” said Nicholson. “I have thoroughly enjoyed my four-plus decades of working to restore striped bass to the coastal tributaries of Mississippi. Although we didn’t succeed in creating a self-sustaining population, we did succeed in creating a recreational fishery that has made hundreds of anglers happy, and I have had the great pleasure of hearing numerous fishing-stories recounting their landing trophy size stripers. This award is like the icing on a great big cake.”
F.J. Eicke of Coastal Conservation Association, Mississippi, noted in a letter of support for GCRL, “Dr. Nicholson has been the exemplar of this program from the start, has shared his knowledge and excitement with the recreational angling public, and in the process mentored a number of graduate students who have gone on to careers in marine science. When literally destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and nearing the end to his academic/research career, Dr. Nicholson persevered and the program was regenerated and prospered. He remains active to this date, proving that ‘Old Salts’ do not go away but live on.”
In another letter of support for GCRL, Jeff Deuschle, president of the Historic Ocean Springs Saltwater Fly Fishing Club (HOSSFLY) says, “I would like to try to impart the deep sense of conservation that pervades not only their striped bass program, but most everything that they do. It is their involvement and outreach to the community which transforms what might be sterile and esoteric science into usable and actionable participation on the part of the public.”
The IFFF also recognized Jim Franks, GCRL’s senior research scientist with the Center for Fisheries Research and Development. Jim was presented with the Tarpon Fly Plate as a token of appreciation and commitment from the Gulf Coast Council (GCC) of IFFF.
The GCC members, officers, and board hope this serves as a visible reminder of the bond which establishes the GCRL as their primary conservation partner. To this end, the GCC donated 50 percent of the profits from their 2014 Fly Fair to GCRL. This donation will be utilized to help fund marine education programming at the Marine Education Center.
The IFFF is a 46-year-old international non-profit organization dedicated to the betterment of the sport of fly fishing through conservation, restoration and education. The Federation of Fly Fishers and its councils is the only organized advocate for fly fishers on a regional, national and international level. Today the FFF has grown to 16 councils, approximately 225 clubs, and 13,000 individual members. Its goal is to support fisheries conservation and educational programs for all fish and all waters. Anywhere fly fishers have an interest; the FFF can and does play a role. The motto of the IFFF is "Conserving, Restoring, Educating through Fly Fishing," a.k.a. “We are haunted by waters, so we chose to make a difference for the fish that live in them.”
GCRL’s Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center recently hosted a series of tours for Ocean Springs High School (OSHS) students who are part of a unique aquaculture class. OSHS is the first school in the state to offer marine aquaculture as part of its marine biology department. The program began when OSHS teacher Bryan Butler and Tiffany Hodge, director of the OSHS Career and Technical Center, were approached by a representative from the Mississippi Department of Education with the idea of implementing the program on campus. With an initial grant of some $110,000 from the Career & Technology Department of the Mississippi Department of Education, two greenhouses have been constructed and supplies purchased to get this program off the ground.
There are currently three classes taught by Butler. Each class has approximately fifteen students. The curriculum covers a range of topics including the concept of aquaculture and system design and maintenance, fish health and disease, the business and economics of aquaculture, and career opportunities in the field. There was such an interest in these first aquaculture classes that strict criteria had to be put in place to choose which students would get to fill the 45 spots. Only a portion of those who take the first year of classes will be eligible to take the second year of classes, so performance and attention to detail are paramount on the students minds.
Bryan Butler, the Marine Biology teacher who got this program off the ground, is not your ordinary teacher. Butler was voted OSHS Teacher of the Year last year and was asked by the 2014 senior class to be the chosen speaker at their graduation ceremony. His commitment to his students and their success is evident in the interactions with them. He has worked alongside the hatchery personnel at the Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center and worked as an instructor at the Marine Education Center’s Sea Camp during the summer months. In a statement from the aquaculture students about the program and it’s importance, the students say “Ocean Springs high school is attempting to spark interest in the future of our seafood industries, by introducing aquaculture/aquaponics early these students will see the benefits of growing their own fish and plants, and potentially to make a change to significantly impact our whole country’s future.“
The students were treated to an insider's look at the whole aquaculture operation. Employees Michael Lee and David Butler (father of Bryan) explained how the hatchery works and answered the students' questions. Each class enjoyed their time at the Cedar Point campus with the anticipation that they would be returning. Hatchery personnel plan to allow these students to observe and assist during future tag and release events.
GCRL hosted Coast Girls Scouts on Saturday, October 18, for the launch of a new Gulf Awareness Patch. The newly introduced patch is focused on teaching the girls about the importance of preserving the ecosystem of the Gulf Coast. The event was a partnership between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Girl Scouts of Greater Mississippi, and GCRL’s Marine Education Center.
Young scouts from across the state were invited to take part in a series of activities designed to develop an increased awareness of the need for ocean stewardship.
Participants learned various methods of testing water quality and how to use a seine net to collect specimens from the Gulf waters. A lesson on climate change highlighted the difference every individual can make in maintaining the quality of our environment. Upon completion of the day's events, each participant was awarded their Gulf Awareness Patch.
On hand for the launch event were Ben Scaggs, EPA’s Gulf of Mexico Program Office Director; Lisa Frank, Program Director for the Girl Scouts of Greater Mississippi; and Chris Snyder, GCRL’s Marine Education Center Director. "We were pleased to work with the USM graduate students, as they provided great role models for the target audience," said Ben Scaggs. Scouts earned their patches by participating in five activities that taught them how climate change affects water quality and the animals that live there.
The Gulf Awareness Patch will be used as a tool for outreach and education and can be earned throughout the year at a variety of events such as this one. To learn about other events such as this, please visit the events schedule page of the Girl Scouts of Greater Mississippi.
The Marine Education Center will offer a new three-day Saltwater Fly Fishing program next summer that builds on their popular "how-to" fishing series and summer camp programs. The new program will provide students in grades 7 though 12 a complete introduction to the basics of saltwater fly fishing in the Mississippi Sound. The initial session will take place on July 20-22, 2015.
Participants will learn how to rig a fly rod and reel, cast, tie knots, build leaders, and tie their own flies. MEC educators will teach students where to look for fish and how to surf fish, sight cast, and successfully land saltwater species like Spotted Seatrout, Red Drum, and Southern Flounder. The program will include both classroom and on-the-water sessions.
What's Next for Dr. Overstreet?
In July, GCRL's Dr. Robin Overstreet was honored by the American Society of Parasitologists with their Eminent Parasitologist Lectureship Award, which recognizes "Eminence and international visibility for a substantial contribution to parasitology over a substantial period of time." Looking back on Dr. Overstreet's 45-year career in marine parasitology and pathobiology, it's easy to see why he was selected for the honor. His work includes 300 peer-reviewed papers, direct research funding of 20 million dollars, collaborative project funding of 50 million dollars, and service as affiliate faculty or the equivalent at 13 institutions of higher learning around the world. To date, fellow scientists have honored Dr. Overstreet by naming 27 newly discovered species of parasites for him. In addition to parasitology, Dr. Overstreet has conducted research on viruses, cancer, and pathological alterations that afflict humans and fish, as well as aquaculture issues.
Dr. Overstreet retired from GCRL in February 2014 and you might think that he would slow down and take a well-deserved break from work. You'd be wrong. Instead, he's simply altering his path a bit and forging ahead. Dr. Overstreet returned to GCRL this summer as Professor Emeritus, working without compensation and donating his time to GCRL and Southern Miss. With four dozen scientific papers in progress and three Ph.D. students, he shows no signs of reducing his pace. When asked about his plans, he responded, "I'll be focusing more attention on my graduate students and their work, and I want to work on collections I have made throughout the world, including Australia, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. There are about 50,000 specimens that date back to 1963."
Given Dr. Overstreet's intense and wide-ranging curiosity, new projects are certain to be added. "Things just seem to pop up," he says. Parasitology Lab technician Jean Jovanovitch-Avillar observed, "You never know what's going to come through the door. Dr. Overstreet is the "go-to guy" for parasitologists and other scientists around the world. He considers support for other researchers and community service to be innate parts of being a good scientist, and his sense of community is global."
People who have worked with Dr. Overstreet describe him as passionate about science and intensely curious. They admire his problem solving orientation and the way he combines the scientific method with common sense and logic. One interesting example centered on a series of mysterious deaths of brown pelicans in the inner basin of the Ocean Springs Boat Harbor back in 2003. Brown pelicans were rare and endangered at the time, so the deaths were cause for substantial concern. Locals suspected disease, parasites, pathogens, and pollution as probable causes and Dr. Overstreet was asked to investigate. Upon collecting and examining several specimens, he quickly observed that each bird exhibited scorching of the flesh and feathers from one wing to another and other signs of electrocution. A visit to the harbor revealed that the birds were perching on power lines near the fish cleaning station, waiting for scraps from fishermen cleaning their catch. When they flapped away from their perch, the birds' wing tips closed the circuit between two power conductors with fatal results. A call to the power company brought a crew out to separate the wires and the problem was solved.
"Fifty percent of the animals on Earth are parasites," Dr. Overstreet observed, "and essentially all the rest are hosts." Many parasites move from one species of animal to another in various developmental stages of their lives, from marsh snails to fish or crabs to raccoons or birds in which they mature, for example. Some can take multiple paths through host species, depending on conditions in their environment. Hosts often harbor multiple species of parasites; seventy or more occur in local mosquitofish and croakers, for example. Parasites are an integral part of the web of life in any marine or terrestrial community and it's impossible to study and understand parasites without studying and understanding their hosts. That interconnectedness also means that parasites can be used to make conclusions about the biology or health of other animals and even entire ecosystems. Regarding local concerns, Dr. Overstreet has investigated how parasites can serve as indicators of recovery in ecosystems after disturbances such as hurricanes and oil spills.
Any conversation with Dr. Overstreet about his work is almost certain to pique the listener’s curiosity, incite questions, and maybe raise an eyebrow, too. In his quiet way, he casually mentions experiences that could easily form the basis for an hour or two of discussion for each. He might speak of spending a week in Russia finally meeting face-to-face with colleagues that he had had considerable correspondence. Perhaps you'd hear about his correspondence with Masahito, Prince Hitachi, the younger brother of current Emperor Akihito of Japan about tumors in Medaka (a Japanese fish similar to our killifish) and then having him and the former finance minister as tour guides in the cancer hospital where the Prince conducted research; Overstreet was in Japan to present papers in Tokyo and Sapporo. Have you ever wondered how a curious and dedicated parasitologist visiting Finland might bring home a specimen of an eight-meterlong intestinal broadfish tapeworm that can't survive outside its host? Think about it. Or, ask Dr. Overstreet.
One consequence of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is the emerging recognition that the Gulf of Mexico has received far less research attention that the country's Atlantic and Pacific waters. Dr. Overstreet is frustrated by the lack of research and the lack of research funding for the Gulf of Mexico. "With its warm, nutrient rich water, the Gulf and its marine life are extremely interesting, but not yet well understood. And the opportunities and needs are even more significant with parasites than with fish, oysters, and mammals. I have a lot of ideas for student work if we can find funding." Dr. Richard Heard, a former student turned longtime friend and collaborator, said, “He and I both have already solved another lifetime of research problems we'd like to publish."
After 45 years of enthusiastically exploring the interconnected webs of parasites, hosts, and the environment, Dr. Robin Overstreet has a rare and wonderful understanding of the living world. As Jean Jovonovitch-Alvillar reflected, "He's a natural resource of scientific knowledge." Other than shedding a few administrative duties upon his retirement, Dr. Overstreet shows no sign of slowing down. He's still exploring, learning, and asking questions.
GCRL was the starting point for the recent One Coast Olympic Distance Triathlon. Some 500 athletes converged on the campus for this USA Triathlon sanctioned event on Sunday, August 31st. The event was hosted by Run-N-Tri and sponsored by the cities of Ocean Springs, Biloxi, Pass Christian, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis. The day started with a 1.4k swim in the waters of the Gulf right in front of the laboratory and was followed by the bike portion which was a 40k ride from GCRL to the Belle Fontaine Beach and back. The final leg of the event was a 10k run through town ending at Fort Maurepas.
Dr. Eric Powell, GCRL Director, spoke at a recent meeting of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. The meeting was held at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino on August 27 -28. Dr. Powell made a presentation introducing the National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) – SCeMFiS (Science Center for Marine Fisheries). The University partners for the center are University of Southern Mississippi and Virginia Institute of Marine Science with Dr. Powell as the Center/USM site director and Roger Mann as the VIMS site director.
SCeMFiS utilizes academic, commercial, and recreational fisheries resources to address urgent scientific problems limiting sustainable fisheries. In addition, the center seeks to simultaneously achieve sustainability in both fish and shellfish stocks and fish and shellfish fisheries.
The next meeting of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will be October 20 – 24 at the Renaissance Battle House in Mobile, Alabama.
Dr. Robert Griffitt, Assistant Professor of Toxicology at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) has received the inaugural Don Drapeau Mentorship Award, given by the Center for Undergraduate Research. Dr. Griffitt is being recognized for his mentorship efforts with Lyndsay Carrigee and her research project, which was conducted last spring.
Carrigee was among four students from Southern Miss Gulf Coast who were chosen for the Eagle Scholars Program for Undergraduate Research (Eagle SPUR). These students, in collaboration with their faculty sponsors, received funding for independent research, as well as scholarly and creative activity. Students were expected to devote at least 150 hours of work to their projects.
Under the advisement of Dr. Griffitt, Carrigee completed her project entitled, “Effects of Metal Nanoparticulates on the Micrbiome of Zebrafish.” Her research focused on the microflora in the gut of zebrafish and the direct effects that nanometals have on the delicate balance of the environment. Carrigee commented, “Hopefully this preliminary research will prompt further investigation into the usage and effects of nanometals in our environment.”
The Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) was well represented at last month’s American Fisheries Society Conference in Quebec City, Canada. This was the 144th Annual Meeting and was hosted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Northeastern Division, the Atlantic International Chapter and the Canadian Aquatic Resources Section of the American Fisheries Society (AFS). The following presentations were made by GCRL personnel: Jim Franks - Occurrence of Tarpon, Megalops atlanticus, leptocephali in Mississippi coastal waters, Patricia L. Luque -Genetic Variation and Stock Structure of Blackfin Tuna Inferred from Microsatellite Loci, Luca Antoni - Genetic Variation and Stock Structure of Yellowfin Tuna in the Atlantic Ocean, Adrienne Norrell - A Genomic Approach to the Conservation and Management of Red Snapper, a Non-Model Species Candidate for Stock Enhancement and Eric Saillant - An Integrated Multidisciplinary Program to Develop Aquaculture for Stock Enhancement of the Red Snapper.
The following presentations were made at the Larval Fish Conference which was held in conjunction with the AFS Conference: Jesse E. Filbrun – Investigating Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Impacts on Foraging and Growth of Larval Atlantic Bumper and John T. Ransom – Exploring the Effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on Diet, Growth, and Condition of Larval Spanish Mackerel in the Northern Gulf of Mexico.
The theme for AFS 2014 was “From Fisheries Research to Management: Think and Act Locally and Globally”
Blue Crab Aquaculture Ready for Next Step to Commercial Production
Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture, joined state legislators and representatives from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR), USDA, and Alcorn State University on June 20 to discuss an exciting opportunity for commercial production of softshell blue crabs. With support from MDMR, USM and GCRL have invested in basic research that has yielded the knowledge and techniques to successfully produce blue crabs in the laboratory and ponds. Today, Mississippi hosts one of only two facilities in the U.S. with that capability. The June 20 gathering called together the people who can help initiate the next step toward commercial production – a pilot program on a Mississippi farm to provide softshell crabs for the seafood market.
Research Scientist Harriet Perry explained, “The ultimate goal is commercial production of softshell blue crabs on Mississippi aquaculture farms. Softshells are the money crab; they present the best economic opportunity. The demand for softshells far exceeds the supply and retail prices are now $25 to $60 per dozen, depending on size.” The state’s catfish industry has been severely hampered by competition from low-priced foreign imports and many farmers have idle production ponds. Blue crabs can be a means to put idle catfish production capacity back into operation with a readily marketable, sustainable, high-value product.
GCRL, MDMR, and Alcorn have applied jointly for a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support a pilot production program. Under the program, Alcorn State will work with a Mississippi farmer through its extension service and GCRL will provide technical support. Seed crabs will be raised from eggs to juveniles at the GCRL facilities on East Beach and Cedar Point and DMR’s Lyman Hatchery. The pilot project will provide opportunities to investigate commercial production methods and continue research into ways to reduce the cost of production.
State Senator Brice Wiggins summed up the meeting, “Scientists at GCRL, with support from MDMR, have determined how to raise blue crabs in a sustainable way that produces delicious and healthy high-value seafood. The next step is putting the science to work in the real world. It’s a great economic development opportunity for Mississippi farmers and seafood dealers and a great home-grown source of healthy food for America.”
- Dr. Eric Powell, GCRL Director
- Dr. Jeff Lotz, Chair of the Department of Coastal Sciences and Director of the Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center
- Harriet Perry, Research Scientist
- Pam Moeller
- Julia Weaver
- Mississippi Senators Brice Wiggins, Willie Simmons, and Tommy Gollott
- Mississippi Representatives Manly Barton and John Read
- Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture Cindy Hyde-Smith
- Mississippi Department of Agriculture official Stephen Prosse
- Jamie Miller, Director, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources
- Dr. Kelly Lucas, Chief Scientific Officer, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources
- Dr. Dalton McAfee, Alcorn State University
- Wesley Kerr, U.S. Department of Agriculture
- Senator Thad Cochran visited briefly.
Dr. Jay Grimes, Professor of Marine Microbiology, recently moderated The Oceans and Human Health (OHH) session June 10-12 at the Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW) annual event in Washington, D.C. CHOW is sponsored by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and provides marine professionals, government officials, and ocean enthusiasts a venue for networking and advancing policy goals.
The OHH session included panelists from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Marine Mammal Commission, and the pharmaceutical industry. The group explored the linkages between human health and the health of marine environments, in particular the threats posed by pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, marine mammal strandings, harmful algae blooms and pathogenic marine microbes, as well as the means for addressing those threats. The marine mammal discussion focused on mercury in seals, sea lion strandings caused by domoic acid being produced by diatoms growing on urea from agricultural runoff, and antibiotic resistant bacteria, including MRSA, found in many marine mammals.
The panel also discussed recent research programs by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NSF, and the pharmaceutical industry. NSF and NIH's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences have created four centers of excellence on OHH. Pharmaceutical companies have begun isolating bioactive compounds from ocean organisms, including Halichondrin B, found in sea sponges, and used as an anti-cancer agent which is especially active against metastatic breast cancer.
Long-term shark research work by GCRL Research Scientist Jill Hendon was featured in the June 22 issue of the Sun Herald: Coastal Waters Have a Variety of Sharks. The article describes traditional tagging with hand-line, gillnet, and long-line techniques as well as acoustic and satellite tracking, and includes a photo gallery.
View or download the GCRL Shark Identification Guide.