Category Archives: marine science

14th Annual Gray’s Reef Film Festival expands to Tybee Island and adds second 3D Night

by Michelle Riley / Gray’s Reef NMS

Moviegoers gave rave reviews to the Gray’s Reef Film Festival’s first-ever “3D Night” last year, spurring Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary to offer two consecutive nights of 3D fun at the Trustees Theater in downtown Savannah for the upcoming festival. The sanctuary also is expanding the event’s reach by adding a daytime slate at the Tybee Post Theater.

“We’re having a lot of fun putting together this year’s festival,” organizer Chris Hines, deputy superintendent of Gray’s Reef, said.  “Our theme this year is ‘Our Community, Our Ocean.’ These beautiful movies highlight the deep bond with nature and the ocean we are so fortunate to experience as a coastal community, and how important a healthy ocean is to preserving our way of life.”

On tap for the 3D showings at the Trustees Theater Feb. 3-4 are “Galapagos 3D: Nature’s Wonderland,” “The Last Reef 3D,” “Wonders of the Artic 3D” and “Secret Ocean 3D.” “Galapagos 3D” is directed by award winner Martin Williams, who is well known for his documentaries with David Attenborough. “The Last Reef 3D” was shot in five countries and is the production of Academy Award nominees Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, while “Wonders of the Arctic 3D” is a sweeping film by David Lickley, who describes himself as a “wilderness environmental-themed filmmaker. “Secret Ocean 3D” is a beautiful jewel of a movie by Jean-Michel Cousteau.

Galapagos sea lion and lava lizard from "Galapagos 3D"

Galapagos sea lion and lava lizard from “Galapagos 3D”

The Tybee Post Theater offerings on Feb. 5 will include a delightful sampling of films from the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival, the premier venue in North America for ocean-related movies, most of which are largely unavailable to the general public.

“Our partnership with the Tybee Post Theater this summer exceeded our expectations, with more than 1,000 attendees expressing their interest in ocean-themed movies,” said Hines. “We are excited to expand the film festival and deepen our engagement with our beach communities.”

Like last year, Gray’s Reef suggests a donation of $10 per day for adults, $5 per day for children, students and military, to benefit the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. The foundation will host a pre-festival party on Feb. 2, with limited tickets available.

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K-12 teachers learn from Rivers to Reefs

by Michelle Riley / Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary

In June, Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary hosted the 13th annual Rivers to Reefs Workshop for Educators in association with the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, the Georgia Aquarium and Gordon State College. Cathy Sakas, chair of the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, and Kim Morris-Zarneke, manager of education programs at Georgia Aquarium, served as the primary leaders of the workshop, with assistance from Theresa Stanley of Gordon State College.  Michelle Riley from Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary served as communications lead.

Rivers to Reefs is an educational expedition for teachers, focused on Georgia’s Altamaha River watershed. During the six-day trip, 16 Georgia science teachers canoed the Oconee, Ocmulgee and Altamaha rivers into the Sapelo estuary, crawled through salt marshes, traveled to Gray’s Reef and trawled the Wilmington River. They learned and explored the connections between the watershed and the ocean.

Teachers Marilyn Kinney (foreground) and Candace Bridges collect water samples in Flat Shoals Creek. Photo: Michelle Riley

Teachers Marilyn Kinney (foreground) and Candace Bridges collect water samples in Flat Shoals Creek. Photo: Michelle Riley

The week was packed with activities that most teachers never experience, beginning with a behind-the-scenes orientation at Georgia Aquarium, and it included an offshore trip to Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary aboard the first working research vessel the educators had ever seen close up, Skidaway Institute’s R/V Savannah. In between, the group explored creeks, waterfalls, rivers and estuaries, and saw an abundance of flora and fauna. They frequently stopped to collect water samples, conduct water quality tests and record environmental factors to determine the overall health of the creeks and streams that flow to the river system. As the week progressed, the teachers developed an understanding of the profound influence the waters flowing through the Altamaha River watershed have on the health of Gray’s Reef and were inspired to teach their students about environmental responsibility and ocean literacy.

Always a highlight of the workshop, the marsh crawl on Sapelo Island was a memorable experience. The group sloshed on their bellies through the thick dark mud to learn why marshes are considered some of the most important and productive habitats on Earth. The estuary that encompasses the salt marsh, where the freshwater from the Altamaha River mixes with the saltwater of the Atlantic, is one of the largest estuary systems on the Atlantic coast.

The teachers on board the Research Vessel Savannah.

The teachers on board the Research Vessel Savannah.

Waters were calm for the voyage out to Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary on the R/V Savannah under the command of Capt. John Bichy, marine superintendent at UGA Skidaway Institute. With extensive assistance from the R/V Savannah crew, the teachers conducted water quality tests at three separate points in the ocean. Meanwhile, the ship’s crew pulled a trawl net through the ocean at midwater depth and brought in many interesting fish, a large pile of Georgia shrimp and a handful of sharks, including a hammerhead and a small Atlantic sharpnose shark. During the trip, the teachers were delighted when they were treated to lessons by professor Marc Frischer of Skidaway Institute on black gill in shrimp and on pelagic tunicates called doliolids. While in the sanctuary, the crew deployed an underwater camera to allow the teachers to see the reef and its sea creatures in real time, without getting wet.

On the final day of Rivers to Reefs, the teachers boarded UGA’s R/V Sea Dawg, a smaller vessel used by the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium, a unit of the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. Capt. John “Crawfish” Crawford and Anne Lindsay, associate director for marine education, conducted a field class during the two-hour trawling voyage in the Wilmington River. The teachers recorded the catch for research purposes and ended their trip with a wrap-up by Frischer and the expedition leaders, before scattering across Georgia with great memories and a treasure trove of experiences to pass on to their students this fall.

Hundreds turn out to raise money for oyster hatchery

An oyster roast on the banks of the Skidaway River drew more than 200 people on a perfect fall night to celebrate and raise money for Georgia’s first oyster hatchery.

Guests used their commemorative Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant shuckers to crack open the wild oysters, served roasted and raw. Local chefs Matthew Roher of Sea Pines Resort and Dusty Grove from Pacci Italian Kitchen roasted Springer Mountain Farms chicken and vegetables.

John "Crawfish" Crawford cooks a  batch of oysters.

John “Crawfish” Crawford cooks a batch of oysters.

SweetWater beer and music by the Accomplices rounded out the evening.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, whose district includes Skidaway Island and Savannah, stopped by to enjoy the food and learn more about the hatchery.

“This is a terrific turnout and I’m encouraged by the support we are getting for the hatchery,” said Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.  “A lot of people don’t know it, but Georgia led the nation in oyster production in the early 1900s. We hope to be back at the forefront in the oyster industry in a few years, which would help the local economy by providing more aquaculture-related jobs.”

Supporters enjoy the oyster feast.

Supporters enjoy the oyster feast.

UGA launched the oyster hatchery on its Skidaway Marine Science Campus last year. There they create baby oysters, or spat, which are given to local aquaculturists with state permits to farm along the Georgia coast. So far, the hatchery has produced 700,000 spat, which have been given to 10 growers. The potential harvest value of those will be between $140,000 and $245,000.

By 2018, the hatchery is expected to produce between 5 million and 7 million spat per year, with an annual estimated value between $1 million and $2 million.

The goal is to attract a commercial hatchery and businesses related to oyster production to the area, which would provide jobs and greater economic development opportunities on the coast.

Program educates students about the impacts of marine debris to the coastal ecosystem

About 80 students and teachers from four coastal area schools know a bit more about microplastics and the impact they can have on sea life, thanks to a program launched by Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and funded by the Landings Landlovers Inc.

Marine Educator Dodie Sanders began the Debris Detectives program to help young people better understand how microplastics, tiny fragments of plastic found in water and sediment, as well as marine debris negatively impact the coast.

Educator Dodie Sanders discusses microplastics with a class from St. Andrews School.

Educator Dodie Sanders discusses microplastics with a class from St. Andrews School.

Microplastics are ingested by organisms, such as fish, oysters and crabs, which then become imbedded in their digestive tracts. Little is known about the damaging effects of microplastics on marine life, though studies focused on this topic are being conducted around the world.

The students and teachers participating in the program went on a trawl aboard the R/V Sea Dawg and collected, sorted, identified and counted the organisms they caught, including shrimp, blue crabs and fish. Sanders discussed how microbeads in toothpaste and cosmetic products can end up in waterways and eventually in the stomachs of these marine organisms. They also collected water samples and took those back to the Marine Education Center lab to examine for the presence and abundance of microplastics.

Nick DeProspero, an environmental science teacher at St. Andrew’s School in Savannah, was with his students for the program. Prior to his position at St. Andrew’s, DeProspero worked at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium as a Sea Grant marine education intern.

St. Andrews' students receive close instruction from teacher Nick DeProspero (right).

St. Andrews’ students receive close instruction from teacher Nick DeProspero (right).e as an education intern at the center, I saw the value in getting kids outside and engaging them in hands-on, interactive activities,” DeProspero said. “It was a great experience, which is why I bring my kids out here. Science is interactive and certainly isn’t best-learned through textbooks and lectures. Getting them out and working as a real scientist, especially right in their backyard, is crucial for them to making a connection between their role as a consumer and the environment.”

Not only does the Debris Detectives program cover subject matter that aligns with the classroom curriculum, it provides scientific sampling experience and teaches how to use scientific equipment to analyze data. This type of real-world application allows for a deeper understanding and awareness of how their daily actions may impact the important and fragile ecosystems along the Georgia coast. It also instills a sense of pride and ownership of these ecosystems, hopefully inspiring them to be environmental stewards of the Georgia coast.

Landings Landlovers Inc. is a nonprofit organization that promotes fellowship through social and cultural activities while working toward the continued improvement of community life at The Landings, a residential community on Skidaway Island, through its philanthropic efforts.

Skidaway Institute adds to fleet

UGA Skidaway Institute has added its newest and smallest research vessel to its fleet. Researcher Clark Alexander’s team is in the process of configuring a new shallow water survey boat to enhance its capabilities for collecting high-resolution bathymetric data. new-boat-1-w

Hydrographic surveys in shallow environments present challenging logistical situations.  The new Hydrographic Survey Launch will greatly extend the range of tides and conditions available for survey missions. The launch is 10 feet long and will be equipped with a Knudsen Mini-Sounder single-beam sonar, a dual head GNSS GPS system, an inertial motion sensor  and a waterproof touchscreen computer.

UGA Skidaway Institute develops cutting-edge microbial imaging laboratory

A team of researchers from the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography has received a $226,557 grant from the National Science Foundation to acquire state-of-the-art imaging equipment to investigate microorganisms from the tiniest viruses to larger zooplankton. The equipment will be housed in UGA Skidaway Institute’s new Laboratory for Imaging Microbial Ecology, or LIME.

Researcher Elizabeth Harvey leads the research team that also includes UGA Skidaway Institute scientists Julia Diaz, Marc Frischer, James Nelson and James Sanders.

UGA Skidaway Institute researchers Tina Walters, Marc Frischer and Karrie Bulski practice running zooplankton samples on the FlowCam, a new instrument that is part of LIME

UGA Skidaway Institute researchers Tina Walters, Marc Frischer and Karrie Bulski practice running zooplankton samples on the FlowCam, a new instrument that is part of LIME

The equipment will improve Skidaway Institute’s capability to conduct field and laboratory experiments by automating many viewing methods.

“Anyone who uses a microscope will tell you that it is both tedious and time consuming,” Harvey said. “This equipment will allow us to enumerate and analyze microbes and other planktonic organisms much faster, and will allow us to do more large-scale projects than we could in the past.”

Microscopic phytoplankton photogaphed in the LIME.

Microscopic phytoplankton photogaphed in the LIME.

Much of the equipment will also have imaging capability so researchers will be able to do more detailed measurements on the size and shape of the tiny organisms and how that might relate to the health of an ecosystem.

Marine microbes are an essential component of all marine ecosystems and they play central roles in mediating biogeochemical cycling and food web structure.

“They are the things that drive all other processes in the ocean,” Harvey said. “They play a really important role in the way nutrients, oxygen and carbon are cycled through the ocean. We care a lot about those processes because they impact our climate, fisheries and the ocean’s overall health.”

The benefits of LIME will be shared beyond Skidaway Institute’s science team. Harvey envisions it as a regional center for microbial imaging, available to any other researchers who need the capability.

“Anyone is welcome to come here and get trained to use them,” she said. “They just need to contact me and we can make arrangements.”

Some of the equipment is already in place, while other pieces have not been delivered. Harvey anticipates all the equipment being functional by mid-2017.

UGA Skidaway Institute associate professor cited for top research articles

University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography associate professor Aron Stubbins is one of just a handful of researchers cited in the journal Limnology and Oceanography for authoring two of the journal’s top scientific papers over the past 60 years.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Limnology and Oceanography is an official publication of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography and is considered a premier scientific journal. In its recently published 60th anniversary issue, the journal collected and republished the 10 most cited research papers for each of the last six decades. Stubbins authored or co-authored two of those papers, one in 2008 and the other in 2010.

“It came as quite a surprise to see two articles show up on the list,” Stubbins said. “I was at a conference and wasn’t really checking my email when one of my colleagues let me know.”

The journal used the number of times a paper was cited in future studies as the yardstick to determine which papers should be included on the list. It is one commonly used method for measuring the impact of a scientist’s work.

“The list isn’t really about popularity,” Stubbins said. “It’s about usefulness. That people have found some of my work useful over the years is rewarding.”

The 2008 paper was titled “Absorption spectral slopes and slope ratios as indicators of molecular weight, source, and photobleaching of chromophoric dissolved organic matter.” The lead author was John Helms. Stubbins was a co-author along with four other scientists. The research team developed a new method for extracting new information from a relatively common and simple test of the color of dissolved organic matter.

Stubbins was the lead author, along with nine co-authors, of the second paper, “Illuminated darkness: Molecular signatures of Congo River dissolved organic matter and its photochemical alteration as revealed by ultrahigh precision mass spectrometry.” The study examined organic carbon carried to the ocean by the Congo River — after the Amazon, the second largest river in the world in terms of carbon and water flow. The research team studied how sunlight degrades organic material, including which compounds are degraded, which are not and what new compounds are created when sunlight shines on river water.

“His inclusion in this seminal volume is quite an honor for Dr. Stubbins,” UGA Skidaway Institute Interim Director Clark Alexander said. “This recognition validates what we have always known, that he is conducting groundbreaking and meaningful research that is recognized around the world.”

All 60 papers can be found at http://aslopubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/.