Posts Tagged ‘coastal georgia’

UGA researchers study microplastics on Georgia coast

December 3, 2015

Images such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have attracted much attention to the problem of large-size marine debris, but another serious issue has garnered less visibility—marine microplastics. University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientists Jay Brandes and Thais Bittar and UGA Marine Extension educator Dodie Sanders are hoping to change that and have received funding from Georgia Sea Grant to examine the extent of the microplastics problem along the Georgia coast.

Samples of microplastic particles collected off the Georgia coast

Samples of microplastic particles collected off the Georgia coast

Microplastics are particles smaller than five millimeters in size (about one fifth of an inch). They have many sources, from manufactured particles like microbeads used in cosmetics and skin cleaning creams to plastic pieces formed from the breakdown of larger debris. Microplastics are often consumed by marine organisms and may cause them significant harm. Until now, there has been no study on the possible extent of microplastic pollution in Georgia estuarine waters and the organisms that live there.

The project has three primary goals: The researchers will quantify the amount of plastics found in the gut contents of shellfish, fish and shrimp; determine the types of plastic pollution ingested by Georgia estuarine organisms; and educate stakeholders, the public, educators and their students about the issue of microplastic pollution.

The research team will collect marine organisms through the trawls routinely conducted by UGA Marine Extension and will separate, identify and measure the microplastics they find in the fish. As a part of its regular K-12 educational programs, Marine Extension conducts nearly 60 trawls annually and collects fish, shrimp and other organisms to assess the composition and health of local food webs.

“With this information, we expect to get a pretty good idea of how serious the microplastics problem is here in Georgia,” Brandes said.

The team will integrate the entire process into the UGA Marine Extension’s ongoing education programs. They will involve regional educators and their students in both sampling and counting efforts as part of overall marine debris educational programs.

Teachers participating in a summer workshop sift through the sand of Tybee Island in search of microplastic particles.

Teachers participating in a summer workshop sift through the sand of Tybee Island in search of microplastic particles.

The trawls will be conducted with the assistance of visiting school groups, composed of roughly 20 students each. During the trawls, the various species will be identified and counted by the students.  In addition, discussions of microplastic pollution and the potential of ingestion by marine life will be incorporated into the year-round education programs at Marine Extension, such as a fish dissection lab, the invertebrate lab and the plankton lab.

The researchers also plan to enhance an existing marine debris exhibit in the UGA Aquarium by adding a microplastic component.

The UGA Aquarium, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant are all part of the university’s Office of Public Service and Outreach.

Skidaway Institute completes merger with UGA

July 3, 2013

Skidaway Institute of Oceanography is now a part of the University of Georgia (UGA.)

The merger of the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography with the University of Georgia, effective July 1, was initiated by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia as part of Chancellor Hank Huckaby’s efforts to streamline operations and was approved by the board in January. It is expected the new alignment between the institute and the university will enhance the research efforts of both the Skidaway Institute and UGA’s marine and coastal programs.

“This historic merger creates new opportunities in research, instruction and outreach while facilitating collaboration among University System of Georgia institutions,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “I appreciate the vision and leadership of Chancellor Huckaby and the board of regents as well as the dedication of Dr. Libby Morris, Dr. Jim Sanders and the many other university officials who have worked to bring these institutions together.”

A land-grant and sea-grant university with statewide commitments and responsibilities, the University of Georgia, is the state’s oldest, most comprehensive and most diversified institution of higher education. With its main campus in Athens, UGA enrolls a student body of nearly 35,000 students in a wide range of academic disciplines.

The Skidaway Institute is an internationally recognized research institution located on a 700-acre campus on Skidaway Island, 16 miles southeast of Savannah. It was created in 1967 by the Georgia General Assembly and operated as a stand-alone institution for four years before coming under the responsibility of the university system. With the merger, the institute’s executive director, Jim Sanders, now reports to the UGA’s Office of the Provost.

“Combining the intellectual and physical resources of the Skidaway Institute with those of the University of Georgia will strengthen an area of research whose impact extends far beyond the coast,” said Libby Morris, interim senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “Our students and the state we serve will undoubtedly benefit from the synergies that this merger has created.”

According to Skidaway Institute executive director Jim Sanders, in addition to strengthening pre-existing collaborations with UGA researchers, the merger creates new opportunities for cross-disciplinary research with faculty in units such as the College of Engineering.

“Also, we expect Skidaway Institute to continue to maintain the historically strong relationships with other university system institutions, such as Georgia Tech and Savannah State,” Sanders said.

UGA already has a strong presence on the Skidaway Institute campus. The UGA Marine Extension Service Aquarium provides educational programs for approximately 18,000 students annually. The Marine Extension Service Shellfish Laboratory is also located on the Skidaway campus.

Nice newspaper article!

July 25, 2012

Mary Landers from the Savannah Morning News wrote a nice article on our marine plastics project.It appeared on the front page of Sunday’s issue. Thanks, Mary!

The reporters who went to Wassaw Island last week. Mary is wearing the straw hat on the far right.

Little help for marsh from eco-friendly dock designs

April 25, 2012

New dock designs intended to reduce damage to salt marshes are not much better than traditional docks, according to a recently completed study by Clark Alexander of Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. Alexander also concluded the compass orientation and height of a dock has more impact on the health of the salt marsh than the dock design or materials.

The problem is the shadow docks cast on the salt marsh vegetation beneath them. The marsh grass (Spartina alterniflora) does not flourish in reduced sunlight.  In recent years, alternative materials and designs have appeared on the dock-building market to try to mitigate this problem. Alexander tested three types of alternative material and designs – ThruFlow fiberglass-impregnated plastic grating; Gator Dock Fibergrate grating; and the DockRider Sundock, which uses a set of wooden rails and an electric trolley in place of traditional wood planking.

“These all sounded good,” said Alexander. “But what we didn’t know was if they actually worked effectively.”

To answer that question, Alexander conducted a three-year, two-part research project funded by a $195,488 grant from the Georgia Coastal Zone Management Program.

The first part of the study was to conduct field-based “before-and-after” studies of salt marshes where some of the new designs were being built. Alexander’s team collected samples and recorded conditions in the marsh before the docks were built and continued to monitor the salt marshes after they were completed.

In the second part of the study, Alexander and his team constructed four dock models, “mock docks”, using alternative materials on high ground at the Skidaway campus. The docks were placed in a field with unobstructed sunlight and were fitted with light meters that measured the amount of sunlight being received above and below each dock. The researchers measured the shadow footprint of the various dock designs over the course of two years.

Clark Alexander (r) and research team member Mike Robinson examine the light meter equipment beneath on of the mock docks.

“Because orientation is an important parameter in light transmission through these materials, we made the mock docks mobile, so we could re-oriented them during the four seasons to see the effects of orientation and seasonal sun angle” said Alexander.

They also adjusted the dock heights to assess the impact of height on light penetration to the ground below.

In the first part of the study, Alexander and his team examined three separate field sites – Turners Creek (ThruFlow decking), Shell Point Cove (Dockrider) and Betz Creek (traditional plank design) They measured the stem density of the marsh grass before the docks were constructed and then monitored it for two years after construction. Stem density in the dock shadow footprint decreased between 44 and 80 percent compared to nearby, non-dock sites.

The team also observed additional dock-related impacts. Some sections of salt marsh transitioned to denuded mudflats due to the marsh wrack that accumulated around the dock pilings.

The results of the field study were supported by the mock-dock project on the Skidaway campus. Seasonal measurements showed a significant reduction of the light needed to support the health of the marsh plants in the areas affected by the docks’ shadows.  At Skidaway Institute’s latitude, the elevation of the sun is high enough to allow sunlight to penetrate through the grated deck material only during the spring and summer, and even then, provides only about 10% more light than traditional plank decking.

The mock-dock project also documented two additional dock-shading impacts.  The compass orientation of a dock plays a significant role in the effect the dock has on the marsh. Docks that are oriented in a generally north-south direction have a much smaller shading impact than those oriented east-west. The height of the dock also has a significant effect. The duration of the shadow under the dock and the total light loss decreases as the height increases, up to 7 feet above the marsh surface, with smaller, less significant decreases above that height.

“The results of the two studies demonstrate that neither current alternative materials nor construction methods effectively negate the effects of dock shading in our region,” said Alexander. “However, the Dockrider system had one half to one third the shading impact of decked walkways in our study.”

“In addition to shading impacts, marsh wrack accumulation around dock and walkway pilings also negatively impacts the marsh and will be a problem with any piling-supported structure.”

The results of the study have been sent to the Department of Natural Resources, which will use these results to better manage the important coastal saltmarshes of Georgia.

Skidaway Institute seeking ‘citizen scientists’ to assist with salt marsh study

February 11, 2011

Skidaway Institute of Oceanography professor Clark Alexander is looking for volunteer scientists to help him assess the problem of marsh wrack.

Marsh wrack is the dead marsh grass that forms large layers on top of the water or the marsh surface. Alexander is seeking volunteers willing to identify and photograph sites where wrack accumulates on at least a weekly basis throughout 2011.

Marsh wrack on Skidaway Island

As part of a grant funded by the Coastal Zone Management program, Alexander is working to assess the distribution and persistence of wrack in salt marshes throughout coastal Georgia. He and his team are using aerial photography to determine how much wrack is present in coastal Georgia and where wrack is found in different seasons.

“One additional issue that we want to address is how long wrack persists in a variety of marsh settings,” said Alexander. “To do that, we want to enlist the interested public to help us in documenting marsh wrack sites.”

The first step for any interested volunteers is to identify a site they are willing to photograph on at least a weekly basis.

“If you have a site you know accumulates wrack each year, but which has not accumulated any yet, you can monitor it for this project,” said Alexander. “Just start taking pictures right away so that we will have documentation of when it accumulates.”

Volunteers should have access to a digital camera and an email account, but no other specialized equipment is required.

Interested volunteers should send an email to Alexander at clark.alexander@skio.usg.edu.  He will provide a specific set of instructions.