Annual open house attracts large crowd

More than 2,400 visitors attended Skidaway Marine Science Day on Saturday, October 13. This campus-wide open house event was sponsored by UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The free event included a wide range of displays, tours and activities for children and adults.

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UGA Skidaway Institute student receives national fellowship

Recently graduated Skidaway Institute graduate student Christine Burns has been awarded a prestigious John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship.

The Knauss Fellowships are sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Sea Grant. The National Sea Grant College Program provides one-year fellowships to work in federal government offices in Washington, D.C. Burns is one of 66 finalists in the class of 2019.

The fellowships are open to students finishing a master’s, doctorate or law degree program with a focus or interest in marine science, policy or management. The applicants undergo a rigorous selection process at both the state and national level. Burns traveled to Washington, D.C. this fall to interview with several executive and legislative offices. She has been assigned to the NOAA Office of Coast Survey as the Precision Navigation Fellow.

Burns successfully defended her master’s thesis in November and received her degree in December. Her faculty advisors were Clark Alexander and Merryl Alber. Burns received her bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

UGA Skidaway Institute scientists publish two papers on Arctic processes

The Arctic is experiencing the effects of climate change faster than anywhere on the planet, yet it is one of the least understood regions, due largely to the difficulty of making observations and collecting samples there. With the support of National Science Foundation funding, two University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientists are studying the biogeochemical processes in the Arctic and recently had their research published in two peer-reviewed science journals.

Postdoctoral researcher Christopher Marsay and assistant professor Clifton Buck have been participants in the international GEOTRACES program which aims to improve the understanding of biogeochemical cycles in the ocean, focusing on important trace elements. Trace elements are present in the ocean in very low concentrations, however some of those elements are essential for marine life and can influence the functioning of ocean ecosystems while others are potentially toxic to plants and animals.

Cliff Buck works with deck equipment during a GEOTRACES cruise in the Pacific Ocean.

“The Arctic part of the GEOTRACES program is particularly important because the region is already showing significant changes as a result of climate change and is relatively poorly studied with respect to many trace elements,” Marsay said.

Marsay is the lead author on both papers, which are the result of analysis of samples he collected on a 64-day GEOTRACES cruise from Dutch Harbor, Alaska to the North Pole and back from August through October 2015.

“On this cruise, our research goals were to describe the chemistry of atmospheric deposition to the region,” Buck said. “These data will then be shared with the scientific community to help better understand biogeochemical cycling of trace elements in the Arctic Ocean.”

The first paper, published in the journal Chemical Geology, describes the concentrations of 11 trace elements in atmospheric samples that Marsay collected during the cruise by pumping large volumes of air through filters. The sources of this material could include natural material from land surfaces, smoke and soot from burning vegetation, and emissions from industrial activity.

“We compare the results to other ocean regions and speculate as to the sources of the material reaching the Arctic,” Marsay said. “An important part of the work is that we used the concentration data to estimate how much of these chemicals settle from the atmosphere to the surface of the ocean.”

In addition to Marsay and Buck, co-authors included David Kadko from Florida International University, William Landing and Brent Summers from Florida State University, and Peter Morton from the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.

The second paper was published in the journal Marine Chemistry. In it, Marsay and his co-authors examine trace elements in Arctic melt ponds. Melt ponds are a widespread feature of the sea ice in the Arctic during the summer months. As snow melts it forms ponds on top of the ice which eventually drain into the surface ocean.

Chris Marsay collecting samples at the North Pole.

“Melt ponds are an important intermediate step in atmospheric deposition to the surface ocean that is unique to the polar regions and not very well studied,” Marsay said. “Ongoing climate change in the Arctic will change this pathway, and we want to know how that may affect distribution and biological availability of trace elements in the surface ocean.”

The paper brought together measurements of several trace elements made by different research groups involved in the GEOTRACES project. It showed that the chemistry in melt ponds is also influenced by material in sea ice and the seawater beneath the ice, which modifies the chemistry of material deposited from the atmosphere before it reaches the surface ocean.

Additional co-authors on the paper included Ana Aguilar-Islas from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Jessica Fitzsimmons, Laramie Jensen and Nathan Lanning from Texas A&M University, Mariko Hatta from University of Hawai’i at Manoa, Seth John and Ruifeng Zhang from the University of Southern California, David Kadko from Florida International University, William Landing from Florida State University, Peter Morton from the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Angelica Pasqualini from Columbia University, Sara Rauschenberg and Benjamin Twining from the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Robert Sherrell from Rutgers University, and Alan Shiller and Laura Whitmore from the University of Southern Mississippi.

The two papers can be accessed through the UGA Skidaway Institute website at: https://www.skio.uga.edu/research/research-publications/.

Wooninck appointed as acting superintendent at Gray’s Reef

Lisa Wooninck began as acting superintendent of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary in September 2018. Lisa has a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of California Santa Barbara. Her interest in policy and marine resource management stems from her time as a 2000 Knauss Sea Grant Fellow in former Congressman Sam Farr’s office. She began her NOAA career as a research fishery biologist at NOAA Fisheries headquarters and Santa Cruz lab. Her passion for using science to inform policy however was awakened and she jumped at the opportunity to join the sanctuary team in 2008. She initially worked at Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary as a policy analyst, and then joined the West Coast Regional team in 2010 as the policy coordinator for the five sanctuaries on the west coast.

Lisa has experience in policy and planning. She has also worked to coordinate conservation and user groups, and state and federal partners to develop integrated ecosystem-based management systems, and ecologically and economically sustainable practices. She has represented sanctuary interests to fishery managers and educated them on the common goals shared by sanctuaries and fisheries management. She has also led an Office of National Marine Sanctuaries team to highlight the world-class recreational activities, such as whale watching and sport fishing, offered by thriving ecosystems of national marine sanctuaries.

Lisa is guided by “malama,” a Hawaiian concept that expresses care, respect and stewardship for the environment and humans, and our obligation to care for both. Lisa also believes strongly in team work and looks forward to working with the GRNMS team, their partners and friends.

Mare Timmons retires after 23 years at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant

Mare Timmons, a long-time educator at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium, retired at the end of August after 23 years of service to UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

During her years as a marine educator, Timmons provided marine science programming to thousands of students from pre-k to college, visitors and teachers. Her energetic approach to teaching others about the marine world has left lasting impressions on the those who benefited from her institutional knowledge and expertise in marine science.

“Mare’s impact on marine education in the state and on a national level is immense,” said Anne Lindsay, associate director of marine education at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “Her fearless, all-in teaching style, and laughter served as the heart of our work here for so many years. We are grateful for her investment in the Georgia coast and the world’s oceans.”

Mare in a Georgia salt marsh.

Timmons is best known for overseeing the Georgia Sea Grant marine education internship, a nationally recognized program designed for recent college graduates who spend a year on Skidaway Island gaining teaching experience in marine science and coastal ecology. Since 1999, more than 100 interns have participated in the program and many have gone on to professional careers in natural resource management, marine policy, classroom and environmental education, marine research and animal husbandry.

“Mare was such a source of inspiration for me as a budding marine science educator. She always encouraged me to stretch the limits and reach my full potential while maintaining my professionalism and adventurous side,” said Jaclyn Miller, a 2011-12 intern, who is now a middle school science teacher in Williamsburg, Va.

Mare teaching a Women in Science summer camp program.

In 2003, Timmons helped designate Skidaway Island as one of the sites in the NOAA Phytoplankton Monitoring Network. As part of this citizen-science initiative, participants collect water samples from the Skidaway River every Thursday and analyze them for the presence of harmful algae that may create water quality issues for fish and other aquatic organisms. For 15 years, Timmons served as site supervisor, coordinating the volunteers who participated in the program.

Timmons focused on reaching new audiences through programming targeted towards underserved demographic groups in marine science. She launched the Women in Marine Science summer camp for girls 12 to 14. She also provided specialized programming for deaf and hard of hearing students at Hesse Elementary in Savannah for several years. She has been instrumental in bringing the work of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant to the forefront of the national and international marine education community by sharing programmatic accomplishments and seeking out new collaborative opportunities at state, regional and national conferences.

Prior to her role at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Gant, Timmons spent the early part of her career on the west coast in California, serving as a teaching assistant and research instructor at California State University Long Beach. She also worked as a marine biologist instructor at the San Pedro Science Center in California.

UGA Skidaway Institute scientist participates in congressional briefing on plastic pollution

UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography researcher Jay Brandes was invited to participate in a congressional briefing titled, “The Ocean Plastic Pollution Problem: Solvable with Science Innovation, and Education.” The briefing was sponsored by the Coalition for Ocean Leadership in conjunction with the House Oceans Caucus and was held in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, June 12.

UGA Skidaway Institute scientist Jay Brandes (left) discusses marine plastics at the congressional briefing. He was joined on the panel by John Racanelli, president and CEO of the National Aquarium (center), and Scott DeFife, vice president of government affairs of the Plastics Industry Association.

Brandes has been studying the presence of microplastics in Georgia’s coastal waters and represented the research community on a three-person panel. He was joined on the panel by John Racanelli, president and CEO of the National Aquarium, and Scott DeFife, vice president of government affairs of the Plastics Industry Association.

Trash in the ocean is a growing problem. House Oceans Caucus Co-Chair, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, said that the equivalent of one garbage truck of trash enters the ocean every minute. Plastic trash in the environment is particularly detrimental due to plastic’s inherent durability and resistance to biological break down. Plastic products may also release potentially dangerous chemicals as they break down. Current estimates project 155 million tons of plastic in the ocean by 2025.

The three experts agreed that plastics in the environment is not entirely an industry issue but also a consumer problem resulting from bad behavior, such as littering, lack of recycling and the overuse of single-use plastics. It often enters the ocean from overflowing trash and recycling bins, or because waste containers are not readily available.

Brandes reported that microplastic pollution varies widely, with high concentration areas often adjacent to low concentration areas, and cautioned that understanding dynamics in one area does not translate across the globe. He stressed that including citizen scientists — engaged citizens trained by scientists to collect samples — in research could help gather more data across the world.

He pointed out that plastics are not totally resistant to biological breakdown. “If we can cut down on the source of plastic into the environment, nature will do a good job cutting down on the presence,” he said. “We’ve seen that bacteria can break down some plastics.”

Audience questions ranged from health impacts and how to talk about the issue in non-coastal states to a reduction in consumer recycling and plastic alternatives for the fishing industry. Racanelli said, “everyone is downstream from someone,” explaining that plastic in the environment effects everyone.

All panelists agreed that while more time, money and research is needed to understand the problem, the solutions should start now and involve everyone. Tiny pieces of plastic are so pervasive in Georgia’s coastal waters, researchers estimate there are more than a trillion microplastic particles and fibers in the top foot of the state’s inshore waterways.

Skidaway Institute of Oceanography: 50 years of marine research and education

The Skidaway Institute of Oceanography was born in 1968, but the story of the institute began several years earlier with a dream of some local and state leaders to give Georgia a foothold in the burgeoning field of oceanography. In 1964, the Georgia General Assembly formed the Georgia Science Technology Commission with an Oceanographic Task Force. Two years later this task force proposed that an oceanographic research laboratory be established on the coast. That same year, the U.S. Environmental Science Services Agency decided to establish an east coast facility. State and local leaders wanted to attract the federal facility to Georgia. To that end, in 1967 the General Assembly created the Ocean Sciences Center of the Atlantic Commission (O.S.C.A).

During this same time period, two property owners on the island offered to donate land to provide a home for the facility. Robert and Dorothy Roebling, and their family had lived on the island since the mid-1930s and operated a cattle breeding facility they called Modena Plantation.

Dorothy and Robert Roebling in 1967

Skidaway Institute’s current main campus is on the former Modena Plantation. Much of the remainder of the island was owned by the Union Camp corporation, which had previously used the property to grow pine trees for wood pulp to supply their paper plant in Garden City. Union Camp donated several hundred acres, which now includes Skidaway Institute’s Priests Landing dock on the Wilmington River. Union Camp also donated the land to accommodate Skidaway Island State Park.

In the end, Georgia did not win the prize for the federal facility. It was eventually established in Miami, Fla., but the idea of an oceanographic research institution on Skidaway Island was carried forward. Skidaway Institute of Oceanography was established as part of O.S.C.A. in 1968. In 1972, Governor Jimmy Carter dissolved O.S.C.A. Skidaway Institute was then assigned to the Board of Regents as an autonomous unit of the University System of Georgia (USG.)

Skidaway Institute officially opened on July 1, 1968. The former dean of Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering, Thomas Jackson, was the first director. He hired Herb Windom as the first faculty scientist. Windom had just completed his Ph.D. at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego. Soon others followed, including Howard Yen, who was finishing up a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech, and Jim Andrews, who was completing his doctoral work in animal nutrition from UGA.

Lee Knight, Thomas Jackson and Jim Andrews walk near the under-construction Roebling Laboratory and Administrative Building.

The early support staff was very small. Jackson brought Lee Knight with him from Georgia Tech to be assistant director. Richard Buchner handled the business office, and Bonnie Zeigler was hired as a bookkeeper and secretary.

In those first days, Skidaway Institute relied heavily on the infrastructure inherited from the Roeblings, including a sophisticated firefighting system, farm buildings and dwellings, and a machine shop with equipment still in use 50 years later.

The Roebling House today

Initially, the director and all other staff had offices in the Roeblings’ two-story schoolhouse/gymnasium now called the Roebling House.

Work began fairly quickly on the first modern office and laboratory building, later named the Dorothy R. Roebling Laboratory Building. That building was completed in 1970.

In late 1969, Skidaway Institute received a new director who would play a dominant role in shaping the course of the institute over the next 23 years. David Menzel had wide-ranging experience as a marine scientist and took the reins of Skidaway Institute after a six-year tenure at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He brought an instant visibility to Skidaway Institute with his research reputation in oceanography, and his national and international connections. Soon after his arrival at Skidaway, he started hiring several young scientists from various oceanographic graduate schools. Whether a biologist, chemist or physicist, scientists were expected to approach questions in a multidisciplinary fashion and in cooperation with others, so they looked at an issue across all the disciplines. His aim was to establish an oceanographic research group capable of addressing interdisciplinary research topics, particularly those focused on coastal oceanographic processes. Through Menzel’s efforts, the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography became one of the true pioneers of interdisciplinary coastal oceanography.

Because of his stature and connections, and the quality of the faculty he hired, Menzel was able to integrate the faculty into national and international research programs, workshops and meetings. This allowed them to network and make connections with colleagues, which often led to research collaborations that lasted decades.

Skidaway Institute research has covered the world, including sites as distant as Antarctica.

During the 1970s, much of Skidaway Institute’s research was focused on understanding biogeochemical processes and their relationship to circulation on the continental shelf, a true interdisciplinary endeavor. This has remained an underlying theme of Skidaway Institute’s research to the present day. Early research benefited from large block grants from the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), later the Department of Energy (DOE). The AEC/DOE was interested in knowing the potential impacts of all things related to energy production and exploration.

Skidaway Institute scientists deploy a sediment trap.

The National Science Foundation declared the International Decade of the Ocean from 1971 to 1980. Skidaway Institute and Menzel took the lead in one major international project, the Controlled Ecosystem Pollution Experiment (CEPEX), the results of which spun off a second program — Vertical Transport and Exchange (VERTEX). These two projects provided funds that supported Skidaway Institute scientists for several years. CEPEX studied the responses of pelagic marine food chains to low and chronic levels of various contaminants. It originated with concerns about the potential impact of fossil fuel exploration and energy production, along with nuclear power production, on the marine environment. VERTEX’s goal was to determine just how much carbon in the form of phytoplankton detritus sank to the sea floor over a given period of time, aimed at a better understanding of the global carbon cycle.

In 1993, Menzel retired. Skidaway Institute’s first faculty scientist, Herb Windom, moved up to the director’s office. He began a campaign to significantly upgrade Skidaway Institute’s research fleet. The former fishing trawler, the Research Vessel Blue Fin, had limited capability and was aging. Eventually, the institute ordered the construction of the 92-foot, 300-ton R/V Savannah, which was built in Maine and arrived at Skidaway Institute in September 2001.

R/V Blue Fin

The R/V Savannah is part of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) fleet and has been utilized by Skidaway Institute scientists as well as scientists from other institutions to conduct marine research in regions as far-flung as Chesapeake Bay, the western Gulf of Mexico and the coast of South America.

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Tricia Windom christens the R/V Savannah.

R/V Savannah at the fuel dock on the Skidaway Institute campus.

In 2001 Windom retired, and Rick Jahnke was appointed acting director until Jim Sanders, who years earlier had been a graduate student at Skidaway, took over the leadership of the institute. During Sanders’s first several years as director, the institute was challenged by funding issues as the recession of 2002-3 and the “great recession” that began in 2008 cut into the institute’s state and federal funding. The reduction in funding resulted in a reduction of support staff and the elimination of Skidaway Institute’s engineering department.

During this time, however, the institute also saw an expansion of its facilities and evolution within its faculty. The long-awaited Marine and Coastal Science Research and Instructional Center, a modern laboratory research structure, was funded through a $5 million appropriation by the Georgia General Assembly in 2006 and was completed in 2009.

Marine and Coastal Science Research and Instructional Center

It provided much needed office and laboratory space. In 2008, the General Assembly approved a $1.2 million capital appropriation to replace the institute’s aging wooden main dock with a modern concrete pier and floating docks, and to renovate two other  docks. Finally, in 2015, the state approved a $3 million appropriation to extensively renovate the Institute’s iconic, circular cattle barn (a legacy of the Roebling era) into a modern space designed to provide meeting areas, teaching spaces and exhibits for the interested public—in essence, a new “front door” for Skidaway Institute.

The 2000s also saw a transition of the Skidaway Institute faculty. In addition to Windom, a number of faculty scientists who had long been the core of the institute’s research retired, including Dick Lee, Gustav Paffenhöfer, Stuart Wakeham, Rick Jahnke and Jack Blanton. (Windom, Lee and Paffenhöfer continue to be active at the institute in an emeritus status.) These retirements, along with the death of Peter Verity, created space for an influx of new and younger researchers. During Sanders’ tenure as director, 10 new members joined the Skidaway Institute faculty. Five of those new hires were women.

In 2012, after nearly 40 years as an autonomous unit of the USG, Chancellor Hank Huckaby directed that Skidaway Institute be merged into the University of Georgia. That merger became official on July 1, 2013. The director of Skidaway Institute now reports to the university’s provost’s office. Currently the faculty are all part of the Department of Marine Sciences. The merger created a fresh set of challenges, from combining accounting systems to differences in culture and mission. The educational component of Skidaway Institute’s mission grew with the acquisition. Skidaway faculty have UGA graduate students working in their labs each year, and planning is underway to provide other unique learning experiences for graduate and undergraduate students.

In 2015, Sanders announced he would be stepping down as director in 2016. Long-time faculty member Clark Alexander was appointed interim director, and in 2017, that appointment was made permanent.

Since 1968, Skidaway Institute and its scientists have shown leadership outside of academic settings as well, providing valuable guidance to state and regional planners, resource managers and industrial stakeholders. Skidaway Institute scientists have served on national, regional, state and local advisory boards for organizations such as the EPA, National Science Foundation, NOAA-Sea Grant, NOAA-National Marine Sanctuaries, Governors South Atlantic Alliance, Georgia Coastal Management Program and the Chatham County Planning Commission.

After 50 years, nearly all the faces have changed. The technology is vastly different. The challenges are different too. Yet the mission of Skidaway Institute remains the same, to create and communicate a deeper understanding of our world through leading-edge research in the marine and environmental sciences and by training tomorrow’s scientists.