Archive for January, 2017

Scientists track microplastic pollution on the Georgia coast

January 31, 2017

In recent years, the public has become attuned to the problem of trash in the ocean, especially plastic, as images of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have spread through media and the Internet. Now, University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography professor Jay Brandes is leading a team investigating another issue closer to home on the Georgia coast: microplastics.

Jay Brandes

Jay Brandes

These are tiny pieces of plastic—smaller than  five millimeters, or about a fifth of an inch—that have either been manufactured small or have broken down from larger pieces. They can be found in our beaches, water and in the digestive systems of aquatic wildlife.

“Five millimeters is still something you can see with the naked eye, but if you are out at the beach you aren’t going to pick up on it easily,” Brandes said. “So we say anything smaller than 5 millimeters is considered a microplastic.”

A few pieces of microplastic collected from the Georgia coast.

A few pieces of microplastic collected from the Georgia coast.

 

Funded by Georgia Sea Grant, Brandes and UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant educator Dodie Sanders are in the first year of a two-year study to ascertain the extent of microplastic pollution in Georga’s coastal waters.

“Right now we are just trying to get an idea if there is a problem, and if there is, how prevalent it is,” Brandes said.

Microplastics come from several sources. Beginning in 1972, cosmetics manufacturers started adding plastic microbeads to exfoliating body washes and facial scrubs, which often pass freely through water treatment plants. When scientists reported finding these microbeads in rivers, lakes and oceans, it prompted a worldwide discussion on the issue. In 2015, Congress enacted legislation requiring the cosmetics industry to remove microbeads from rinse-off cosmetics by July of this year.

The sun also contributes to the production of microplastics. Plastic exposed to sunlight eventually fades, becomes brittle and breaks down into smaller pieces.

“All of us have probably seen a Styrofoam cup break down and the little beads come out,” Brandes said.  “So there is the physical breakdown of the plastics into smaller and smaller pieces as they grind against each other and sand grains.”

To assess the extent of microplastic pollution on the Georgia coast, the research team makes use of the regular trawls conducted by UGA Marine Education and Aquarium staff. They collect the fish, shrimp, squid and other animals captured in the trawl and take them back to a laboratory where they will dissect them and analyze the contents of their gut.

Students from Pierce County Middle School sort through the results of a trawl as part of an education program at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium.

Students from Pierce County Middle School sort through the results of a trawl as part of an education program at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium.

“The first thing we have to do is to subject the gut contents to some extremely harsh chemicals to destroy the flesh and leave us mostly with the plastics,” Brandes said. “When dissecting even a small fish, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack if you don’t get rid of all the other stuff.”

What is left is examined under a microscope and the plastic pieces identified and counted. The researchers have already found some surprises. Everywhere they look, whether it is beach sand or the contents of a fish’s stomach, they are seeing microfibers, extremely fine synthetic fiber used to create textiles.

According to Brandes, microfibers are pervasive—so much so that when the researchers take samples to the laboratory they have to take special measures to prevent contamination of their samples from microfibers floating in the air. It is not clear, however, if the microfibers are causing any harm to the marine organisms that ingest them.

“We are not finding fish with their stomachs packed with microfibers,” Brandes said. “It’s hard to tell if they are causing any real problems.”

The project also has an educational component. Brandes has taught workshops in which he takes  groups of K-12 teachers to Tybee Island to collect sand and return it to the laboratory for microscopic analysis. He says the teachers are usually shocked with what they see.

“Hey, you thought that sand was clean, and from a tourist standpoint it is,” he said. “But there is still stuff in there and then you start talking about where it came from and what kinds of effects it may have.”

The project is expected to be completed and the results published by early 2018.

New imaging lab in the news

January 23, 2017

There was a nice article in Saturday’s Savannah Morning News regarding a new imaging lab at UGA Skidaway Institute.

http://savannahnow.com/news/2017-01-20/automated-microscopes-aid-crucial-ocean-work-skidaway

UGA Skidaway Institute’s Jay Brandes interviewed on public radio

January 19, 2017
Dr. Jay Brandes

Dr. Jay Brandes

UGA Skidaway Institute’s Jay Brandes was a featured interview guest on Georgia Public Broadcasting this week, talking about his work with microplastics in the marine environment.

http://www.gpb.org/blogs/community/2017/01/17/community-conversations-skidaway-scientist-on-mission-measure-ocean?utm_source=eGaMorning&utm_campaign=b51e5a8395-1_18_17&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_54a77f93dd-b51e5a8395-86742941

UGA Skidaway Institute professor appointed to Ossabaw Island Foundation Board of Trustees

January 19, 2017

University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography Interim Executive Director Clark Alexander has been appointed to the board of trustees of the Ossabaw Island Foundation.

Clark Alexander

Clark Alexander

The Ossabaw Island Foundation is a nonprofit organization responsible for educational, scientific and cultural initiatives on Ossabaw Island, a 26,000-acre barrier island on the Georgia coast.

Alexander is a marine geologist who joined UGA Skidaway Institute as a postdoctoral scientist in 1989 and rose to the rank of full professor in 2003. He was appointed interim executive director in 2016. Alexander earned bachelor’s degrees in oceanography and geology from Humboldt State University in California. He went on to earn his master’s and doctoral degrees in marine geology from North Carolina State University.

As a researcher, Alexander has participated in 63 field programs from New Zealand to Siberia and has been the chief scientist on 29 oceanographic cruises with a total of more than two years at sea.  He has published 86 papers in scientific journals, and, in the past decade, has received more than $5 million in direct research funding. In addition, he is the director of the Georgia Southern University Applied Coastal Research Laboratory on Skidaway Island.

Alexander has been very active on state and regional advisory boards and works closely with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to identify and address pressing coastal management needs. He served on the Georgia Coastal Marshlands Protection Committee and the Georgia Shore Protection Committee from 1998 to 2006. A few of the committees he currently serves on include the Grays Reef National Marine Sanctuary Science Advisory Group, the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve Advisory Committee and the Habitat Protection and Ecosystem-Based Management Advisory Panel to the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council.

 

UGA Skidaway Institute’s Alexander honored by coastal environmental group

January 5, 2017

University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography Interim Executive Director Clark Alexander has been honored by the coastal environmental group One Hundred Miles as one of the group’s One Hundred Miles 100. The list is the first recognition of its kind to honor 100 individuals and organizations for their efforts to support the health, vitality and future of Georgia’s 100-mile coastline. Alexander was selected within the Researchers and Innovators category.

Alexander, a coastal geologist, was cited for his research efforts, which he began on the Georgia coast in 1989 when he first joined UGA Skidaway Institute. He was also cited by the environmental group for helping to advance the work of institutions across the coast. Alexander served on the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve Advisory Board, the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, and the Georgia Coastal Marshlands and Shore Protection Committees.clark-alexander-10-w

“Day in and day out, Clark advances our understanding of critical issues facing Georgia’s coast, including barrier island erosion patterns and the effects of climate change on marsh habitats,” his citation reads.

“Georgia’s coast is extremely fortunate to be under the stewardship of these exceptional leaders, conservationists and individuals who recognize its incomparable character and beauty and the essential role it plays in the well-being of our state,” said Catherine Ridley, vice president of education and communications at One Hundred Miles.

Alexander and the other honorees will be recognized with a reception immediately following the One Hundred Miles’ Coastal Conservation in Action: Choosing to Lead Conference on Saturday, Jan. 7, on Jekyll Island.

A full list of honorees is available at www.OneHundredMiles.org/OHM100.