Archive for the ‘Beaches’ Category

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.

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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’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.

UGA Skidaway Inst scientist talks jellyfish

August 3, 2016

UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography’s Dick Lee was interviewed by the local Fox affiliate yesterday about jellyfish. Here is a link to the story.

http://fox28media.com/news/local/tybee-island-may-see-jellyfish-increase-this-month

Video — UGA Skidaway Institute scientists complete sea level study on Georgia coast

February 25, 2016

Sea level is projected to rise at least one meter by 2100. Where will that water go and how will it change the Georgia coastal ecosystem? University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientist Clark Alexander and Georgia Southern University researcher Christine Hladik are attempting to answer those questions.

https://youtu.be/vNFrxb4cytU

Skidaway microplastics study get’s front-page coverage

January 27, 2016
Samples of microplastic particles collected off the Georgia coast

Samples of microplastic particles collected off the Georgia coast

A “just-starting” research project into the extent of microplastics pollution on the Georgia coast was featured on the front page of this morning’s Savannah Morning News. Hat’s off to Skidaway Institute’s Jay Brandes and UGA Marine Extension’s Dodie Sanders.

http://savannahnow.com/news/2016-01-26/skidaway-researchers-look-plastics-local-shrimp-fish

Jay Brandes interviewed on GPB

January 14, 2016

Skidaway Institute professor Jay Brandes was interviewed on Georgia Public Broadcasting regarding the recent move to ban microbeads and his upcoming project on microplastic pollution on the Georgia coast.

http://www.gpb.org/news/2016/01/13/microbeads-banned-plastic-remains-threat-oceans

UGA Skidaway Institute researchers study sand resources near the Georgia coast

January 7, 2016

If a hurricane hits the Georgia coast, a major priority for coastal communities will be finding sand to rebuild beaches destroyed by erosion. University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientist Clark Alexander has received funding approval from Georgia Sea Grant for a two-year study to collect and analyze new, high-resolution data to identify the sand resources available near the Georgia coast.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused billions of dollars in damages to communities along the east coast of the U.S. Coastal communities in Georgia are vulnerable to future storms, and some have begun to develop strategies to increase their resilience to such storms and to speed their recovery from one. When it comes to restoring storm-eroded beaches, those communities will require a detailed understanding of the locations and characteristics of the available sand resources they will need.

Beaches like Glory Beach on Jekyll Island may potentially benefit from the sand resource study.  Photo Credit: www.GoldenIsles.com

Beaches like Glory Beach on Jekyll Island may potentially benefit from the sand resource study.
Photo Credit: http://www.GoldenIsles.com

“Sand resources are needed to rebuild beach and dune systems to provide the same or better levels of protection to lives and property,” Alexander said. “These sand resources data are critically needed in Georgia, as the sand resources in our state waters are the most poorly known of all the states along the East Coast.”

The study will focus on three developed barrier islands that have not been renourished — Sea Island, St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island. The project will gather new samples and data on seabed sediment texture and composition from the beach out to the state-waters boundary, three nautical miles offshore. The researchers will merge that data with existing samples from the beaches and the sea bed and integrate all the samples to determine where sand deposits are located that would be suitable for beach renourishment.

“Typically, we find a wide range of sand, and not all of it is beach-quality,” Alexander said. “We need to locate sand deposits that have similar size and composition to the natural beach.”

The team will collect beach grain size samples during both the summer and winter to assess the differences in texture and composition in the beach in response to changing storm, tide and wave conditions.

The sea floor in the study region has not been comprehensively surveyed since the 1930s. Another part of the project will be to use an echosounder to collect data on the depth and morphology of the sea bed. This data will be used to create bathymetric maps of the ocean bottom. These maps will also identify regions of thicker sand deposits, which indicate greater volumes of sand.

The researchers will then combine the new information with existing data in a Geographic Information System tool to integrate the sand resource and bathymetry information and model the extent of beach-quality deposits in the Sea Island to Jekyll Island region.

The results of the project will be made available online to government officials, the management community and the general public on a number of Web sites, including the Georgia Coastal Hazards Portal (http://gchp.skio.usg.edu/) developed by Alexander.

Georgia Sea Grant is a unit of the UGA Office of Public Service and Outreach.

Georgia Sea Grant makes awards to Skidaway Institute researchers

December 7, 2015

There was a nice article on the front page of this morning’s, Savannah Morning News. It highlighted three UGA Skidaway Institute research project that have received funding approval from Georgia Sea Grant.

You can read it here.