Fundraising event supports oyster aquaculture in Georgia

By: Emily Woodward
UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant

More than 300 people turned out for the second annual Oyster Roast for Reason to benefit UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

Guests feasted on roasted wild oysters and sampled raw, single oysters on the half shell provided by Savannah Clam Co. that originated at the UGA Oyster Hatchery on Skidaway Island in Savannah. Sponsors of the event came from as far as Atlanta.

“Anything we can do to spotlight what’s happening on our coast is important for growing the (oyster) industry in the state,” said Bryan Rackley, co-owner of Kimball House restaurant in Decatur, Ga., and co-founder of Oyster South, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing aquaculture in the southern U.S. “There’s so much upside across the board to improving oyster aquaculture. From the environment to the economy; everybody benefits.”

Guests received commemorative oyster shuckers and pint glasses. Many watched Georgia defeat Auburn in the SEC championship game, shown on a big screen television set up on the bluff behind the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium. Music was provided by American Hologram, a Savannah favorite.

The event is designed to raise awareness of the hatchery, which has been growing oysters from larvae since 2015. When the spat (baby oysters) grow to roughly the size of a pencil eraser they are given to shellfish farmers on the Georgia coast, who cultivate them to maturity.

Money raised by the roast supports the hatchery.

“Our plan is to purchase additional larval tanks, water storage tanks and other equipment that will allow us to increase production in the hatchery,” said Tom Bliss, director of the Shellfish Research Lab, a part of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

In 2017, the hatchery produced between 1,500,000 and 2,100,000 spat, exceeding the needs of the developing industry. Just over 500,000 spat were planted by shellfish growers, with a potential harvest value of $125,000 to $250,000. Interest in farming oysters continues to rise as changes in regulation are anticipated to occur.

Proceeds from Oyster Roast for a Reason will help the Shellfish Lab move closer to the goal to produce 15 million spat, with harvest valued between $3 million and $7.5 million. Some of the money raised also will support a 12-week internship for a college student, who will work in the hatchery and on research projects focused on testing new equipment and methods to make oyster farming easier for growers.

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NSF grant funds Diaz’s research

Julia Diaz

UGA Skidaway Institute researcher Julia Diaz is the lead scientist on a $852,906 three-year grant from the National Science Foundation titled “Collaborative Research: Assessing the role of compound specific phosphorus hydrolase transformations in the marine phosphorus cycle.” Diaz and her colleague, Solange Duhamel from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, will study how phytoplankton cope with shortages of phosphorus in the ocean, and if phytoplankton in phosphorus-rich environments also exhibit some of the same strategies. Skidaway Institute’s share of the grant is $296,831 and the funding began on Sept. 1, 2017.

UGA Skidaway Institute’s 76-year-old Roebling House gets a makeover

One of the oldest buildings on Skidaway Island, the Roebling House at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, recently received a facelift courtesy of Lowe’s community service program, Lowe’s Heros.

The Roebling House today at the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography

Long before there was The Landings and thousands of residents on Skidaway Island, the Roebling family operated a cattle farm named Modena Plantation on the north end of the island. Robert and Dorothy Roebling and their family arrived on the island in 1935 on board their three-masted schooner, the Black Douglas.

The Roeblings were part of a prominent and wealthy New Jersey family. Robert’s great-grandfather, John A. Roebling emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1832. An engineer by profession, the elder Roebling became one of the first developers of what was called “twisted wire cable,” which is used in the construction of large suspension bridges. The John A. Roebling’s Sons Co. manufactured cable and built bridges. Roebling’s most famous project was the Brooklyn Bridge, considered an engineering marvel at the time of its construction.

Advancing several generations to the 1930s, Robert and Dorothy Roebling wanted to move their family away from the Depression-era, crime ridden Northeast, and purchased a several-hundred acre hunting preserve, Modena Plantation, from a friend of theirs, Ralph Isham, and turned it into a cattle breeding operation.

Shortly after their arrival, they constructed the structural framework for the Roebling House. However, the family continued to live on the boat, and the building remained a skeleton for several years. In early 1941, the family sold the Black Douglas to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, forcing the couple and five children to obtain new quarters.

“There was a mad scramble for plywood and building materials to finish the house before the start of the war, which everyone knew was coming,” according to W.R. “Rip” Roebling, one of the Roebling’s sons.

When completed, the building had four bedrooms on the southern side and baths on either end. The only insulation was some sheetrock on the ceiling. Foldout windows on the upper landing provided a fair amount of circulation during the summer months. Heating came from a wood furnace at the east end of the living room. It was connected to a stovepipe that ran the entire length of the building, as Roebling said, “to squeeze every last BTU out of it.”

“Unquestionably, it was spartan but you probably wouldn’t have known it by the time Mother finished decorating the place with cozy couches, tapestries, Persian rugs and game trophies that surrounded two side-by-side grand pianos in the center of the room, creating a lodge effect,” Roebling recalled.

World-famous composer Johnny Mercer (far left) visits with Robert (seated with pipe) and Dorothy Roebling in the Roebling House.

The Roeblings were heavily involved in the Savannah social scene and entertained at their island home. One notable visitor was world-famous composer Johnny Mercer.

In 1968, the Roeblings donated their land to the state to create the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. The Roebling House was the site of the institute’s administrative offices until a laboratory and administration building could be built a couple of years later. In recent years, the institute has used the building for meetings, group meals and social events. The years have taken a toll on the building, however, and a kind description would have been “rustic.”

In stepped Lowe’s Heros, spearheaded by Molly and Owen Riggs from Lowe’s Abercorn Street store. Lowe’s Heros is a program by which the company and its employees reach out to their communities through each individual store.

“The couple said they have done annual projects around town including the Ronald McDonald house, but this year they wanted to look around for a new recipient,” Chuck Hartman, Skidaway Institute’s director of land and facilities, said.

“With the assessment we made of the Roebling House, we saw that the kitchen area needed some updating, and the paint inside the building was needed,” Owen Riggs said. “Also, we decided to do some work in the restrooms to bring them to more of a comfortable atmosphere.”

Riggs assembled a team of 20 volunteers from the store. They included colleagues from management, sales and the delivery staff. In addition to the associates, the team also had two of Lowe’s plumbing installers help.

The volunteers replaced the kitchen cabinets, counters, sink and installed new vinyl flooring. Upstairs they installed lauan plywood to the railing to screen from below. They also replaced flooring in the bathrooms, installed new toilets and added a fresh coat of bright white paint on the downstairs walls that brightened the room. The work was completed over two days, with all the materials supplied by Lowe’s.

Along with other improvements, Lowe’s Heros installed new cabinets, counters and flooring in the Roebling House kitchen.

“Each store is given a grant through our corporate headquarters,” Riggs said. “If a contractor were to do this type and amount of work, the labor costs alone would reach $5,000 to $6,000.” Adding the cost of materials – roughly $2,500 – would have brought the total price tag close to $8,000. However, the project was free to Skidaway Institute.

“No charges were given to the Skidaway Institute, because this was the project we wanted to work on,” Riggs said.

According to Riggs, the project was a bit of an eye opener. Many of his volunteers had visited the campus in the past, but they had never seen the Roebling House.

“Learning about it and its history from Chuck Hartman was very interesting,” he said.

Environmental group honors Skidaway campus employees

The environmental group One Hundred Miles recently honored three campus employees by inducting them into their second class of the One Hundred Miles 100: Individuals and Businesses Making a Difference for Georgia’s Coast.

Jay Brandes

UGA Skidaway Institute researcher Jay Brandes was recognized for his research and efforts on plastics and microplastics in the coastal environment.

Each of the first 50 nominees was asked to choose someone they wished to honor to complete the second set of 50. Brandes chose his partner on the microplastics project, Dodie Sanders from the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

“I can honestly say that I would not have been able to ramp up this work without her encouragement, assistance and wisdom about the coastal environment here,” Brandes said. “Dodie is a relentlessly positive, innovative educator who has taught me a great deal about working with the public, K-12 teachers and students.”

In addition, Becky Shortland from Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary was also honored. Sapelo Island Manager Fred Hay nominated Shortland “for her pivotal role in bringing the Coastal Management Program to Georgia.”

One Hundred Miles hosted a reception to celebrate the honorees on January 13th following their Choosing to Lead Conference on Jekyll Island.

Evening @ Skidaway launches UGA Skidaway Institute’s 50th anniversary celebration

Since 1968, when the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography was founded, the science of oceanography has grown by giant proportions. Now a part of the University of Georgia, Skidaway Institute has been in the middle of that growth, conducting marine research from the coast of Georgia to sites all over the world.

The story of that growth and how UGA Skidaway Institute contributed to it will be the focus of a special Evening @ Skidaway program on Tuesday, Feb. 20, in the McGowan Library on the University of Georgia Skidaway Marine Science Campus. (10 Ocean Science Circle, Savannah, GA 31411) The event will begin with a reception at 6:15 p.m., followed by the program at 7 p.m.

Herb Windom

In a talk titled “50 Years of Science at Skidaway Institute: People, Platforms and Partnerships,” Skidaway Institute scientist Herb Windom will look back at the amazing progress of marine research and the way it has opened mankind’s eyes to the wonders and mysteries of the ocean.

In 1968, Windom was the first faculty scientist hired at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. As he conducted his own research, he also watched the science grow as new researchers and technology allowed scientists to answer questions they hadn’t known to ask years earlier. Windom also served as director of the Institute for several years in the 1990s. He retired in 2001, but remains active as an emeritus professor, conducting research and advising other scientists.

The program is open to the public, and admission is free. Space is limited. To reserve a seat, please call (912) 598-2325 or email mike.sullivan@skio.uga.edu.

The Evening @ Skidaway program will kick off a year-long series of special events to celebrate the Institute’s 50th anniversary.

March 13 — Dr. Bill Savidge / So how much is a salt marsh really worth?
April 10 – Dr. Dana Savidge / Ocean Forces in the Graveyard of the Atlantic
May 15 — Open Lab Night / Visit informally with researchers in their labs.
June 12 –Dr. Catherine Edwards/ Exploring the Ocean with Underwater Robots
July 10 — Open Lab Night
August 14 — Dr. Cliff Buck / Ocean Acidification: The Other Carbon Problem
September 11 — Dr. Clark Alexander / Sea Level Rise and What It Means to Coastal Georgia
October 9 —  Dr. Jay Brandes / Microplastics: The New Pollution
November 13 — Dr. Elizabeth Harvey / The Magnificent World of Plankton

Gray’s Reef’s Michelle Riley wins national award

NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) has awarded Michelle Riley the Sea to Shining Sea: Excellence in Interpretation and Education Award for her project “Georgia Public Broadcasting Live Exploration of Gray’s Reef.”

Michelle Riley

According to a statement from ONMS, “Michelle and the Live Exploration of Gray’s Reef through Georgia Public Broadcasting are recognized for the creation of a livestream, virtual dive event featuring Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary that engaged more than 45,000 viewers from 44 states as well as internationally.”

The program was streamed live from the UGA Aquarium on May 10, 2017. During the event viewers were introduced to Gray’s Reef NMS through video, heard from scientists and had the chance to submit questions to be answered live. This program directly introduced tens of thousands of mostly elementary and middle school students to the wonders of Gray’s Reef and the challenges it faces.

GPB host Ashley Mengwasser, GRNMS Superintendent Sarah Fangman and UGA research scientist Scott Noakes, Ph.D. discuss Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary during the livestream. Photo M. Riley/GRNMS

This is the fifth year that ONMS has recognized outstanding achievement in the fields of interpretation and environmental education. This annual award is given to employees, contractors and volunteers for their demonstrated success in advancing ocean and climate literacy, and conservation through national marine sanctuaries, as well as for their innovation and creative solutions in successfully enhancing the public’s understanding of the National Marine Sanctuary System and the resources it protects.

Michelle received the award at the National Association for Interpretation’s annual conference in Spokane, Wash. in November. It was presented in conjunction with several other agency awards including the U.S. Forest Service’s “Gifford Pinchot Award” and the National Park Service’s “Freeman Tilden Award.”

“It is fitting for sanctuaries to be at the forefront of interpretation and education alongside some of the country’s best interpreters,” said John Armor, Director of Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

UGA Skidaway Institute scientist visits China

UGA Skidaway Institute researcher Julia Diaz recently returned from a visit to Nankai University in Tianjin, China, where she gave a guest lecture and an invited talk.

Julia China 1 650p

Julia Diaz at Nankai University

Diaz was invited by a Nankai University faculty member who had been a colleague of hers when they were both post-docs at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

“It was my first time in China,” Diaz said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

She visited Beijing and the Great Wall of China.

“I was surprised how few people speak English there,” she said. “My friend set me up with a tour guide, so I had my babysitter. She told me what to eat, where to go, how to dress, everything.”

Diaz said that teaching the class was a challenge because of the language difference. She presented in English, and, while most of the students knew some conversational English, specialized technical terms presented a difficulty.

She delivered a guest lecture on “The global phosphorus cycle” and an invited talk on “Marine polyphosphate: linking the global phosphorus cycle over modern and geologic timescales.”

“It was a challenge, but a very interesting experience,” she said. “I learned a lot and will probably go back again.”