Tag Archives: uga

Grad student Kun Ma receives Georgia Sea Grant funding

Kun Ma SquareUGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography graduate student Kun Ma has received $25,000 in research funding as part of the Georgia Sea Grant Research Traineeship Program. Ma will use the funds to support her work studying microplastic pollution in Georgia’s marine ecosystem. The project is titled “Determining photodegradation rates and products of textile-derived plastic microfibers in aqueous environments.”

Because the study of microplastics in a marine environment is still very new, there are many basic questions about microplastic distribution, environmental effects, and the sources and sinks of the microplastics. Ma’s focus with this research program is to examine one loss pathway, the degradation of microplastics and microfibers by sunlight in estuarine and marine environments. There are at least 50 trillion microplastic particles in the global ocean and up to one trillion microplastics in Georgia’s waterways alone.

“Knowledge of microplastic degradation pathways is essential to water management of coastal ecosystems, and many types of larger plastics can be degraded by exposure to light,” Ma said. “However, there are no published studies on the rate or degradation products of plastic microfibers in aquatic environments. My study will serve as an initiative to fill this knowledge gap.”

Sea Grant Research Trainees undertake research projects that advance the goals and objectives in Georgia Sea Grant’s strategic plan. Ma’s project will address two goals, maintaining a healthy coastal ecosystem and promoting environmental literacy.

The research will form part of Ma’s thesis research. The results will be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal and will be presented at regional and national conferences. In addition, an educational poster summarizing results of the project will be showcased at public special events reaching diverse audiences, such as Skidaway Marine Science Day, Savannah Earth Day Festival and the World Oceans Day Celebration.

Ma is a Ph.D. student in the UGA Department of Marine Sciences. Her faculty advisor at Skidaway Institute is Jay Brandes. Her professional mentor on the project will be UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant educator Dodie Sanders. The funding is for one year, beginning August 1.

UGA Aquarium’s Genell Gibson receives award for service

PSO_Gibson_Genell-240x300The administrative assistant and manager of the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium, Genell Gibson, received a Staff Award for Excellence on April 1 at the university’s 28th annual Public Service and Outreach Meeting and Awards Luncheon. Gibson was one of eight faculty and staff members recognized for outstanding service to the state and UGA.

Gibson has been a staple at the aquarium since 1994. She greets incoming visitors, manages fees and admission, maintains the education resource center and directs incoming calls and requests.

Gibson excels at all of her listed duties, but it is her other contributions that set her apart. During her 24 years as a member of Marine Extension and Sea Grant, she has transformed the role beyond its regular office-based duties by serving as a teacher, historian and friend to everyone who visits and works at the facility.

Born and raised in the local community of Pin Point, Gibson picked blue crab for a living as a young adult, a skill she now shares with visitors in the Saturday Explorations at the Aquarium programs.

Gibson also discusses her unique Gullah/Geechee heritage, providing people with a special perspective on the life, work and history of the Georgia coast.

Gibson serves as the face of the UGA Aquarium, where she is often the first person to interact with the more than 20,000 visitors each year. She acts as the intermediary between staff and visitors, exemplifying Marine Extension’s “each one, teach one” principle. Her role is critical to understanding how visitors view the facility and how to improve their experience.

“Genell Gibson is the heart and soul of the Marine Education Center and Aquarium,” said Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Sea Grant. “She teaches us daily what is means to be thoughtful, helpful and courteous humans. She reminds us all how fortunate we are to work and live on Georgia’s coast.

“Genell is our historian,” Risse also said. “She is our link to the human history of Skidaway Island during the Roebling era, our link to the long-retired workers who hail from her community of Pin Point, our link to oyster and crabbing culture, our link to the fine folk who love this coastal area and choose to live and work here.”

Barn renovation progressing

The renovation of the Roebling cattle barn at UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography is progressing with the expectation the project will be substantially completed by August 22.

Work began in late 2018 to transform the show barn a into usable laboratory and classroom space. The renovation got the green light in 2016 when the Georgia General Assembly appropriated $3 million to fund the project.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The building will house two state-of-the-art classrooms and a one large teaching lab, all capable of distance learning. There will be two faculty offices, a reception area, two student group offices and generous open collaboration space.

The ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for October 22.

The concrete and steel beam structure was built in 1947, when the Skidaway campus was known as Modena Plantation, and Robert and Dorothy Roebling raised black angus cattle there. In 1968, the Roeblings donated their land to the state of Georgia, a move that spurred the establishment of Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. The Roeblings constructed the barn after World War II. It was the site of the plantation’s annual cattle auctions. Roebling’s daughter, Ellin Cochran Roebling, was married there in 1950.

Since then, the barn has served a variety of purposes. In recent years, it was used primarily for storage. Because it was not heated or air conditioned, it was not suitable for classrooms or laboratories. The renovations will allow UGA Skidaway Institute to repurpose the 14,000-square-foot facility to include research laboratories, a teaching laboratory and lecture space for students and community groups.

The renovation was designed by Cogdell & Mendrala Architects. New South Construction is the general contractor.

UGA Skidaway Institute gliders improve hurricane predictions

The models hurricane forecasters use to predict the paths of storms have become much more accurate in recent years, but not so much the models’ ability to accurately predict a storm’s intensity. Now, underwater gliders, operated by researchers at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, are part of a national effort to use marine robots to improve the accuracy of storm forecast models.

UGA Skidaway Institute research technician Ben Hefner launches a glider into the ocean. Photo courtesy MADLAWMEDIA

Two storms from the 2018 hurricane season provide examples of how quickly storm intensity can change. Hurricane Florence was predicted to be a Category 5 storm, but she weakened significantly before making landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm on September 14. On the other hand, a month later, Hurricane Michael grew from a Category 1 to a Category 5 storm in just two days and hit the Florida panhandle on October 10.

Hurricanes feed off of heat from warm ocean waters like that found in the Caribbean, and in the Gulf Stream and shallow waters off the southeast United States, known as the South Atlantic Bight. This can be a tremendous source of energy for developing storms. Heat is transferred between the ocean and atmosphere at the ocean’s surface, but it is important to understand the amount of subsurface heat as well.

“Places where warm waters near the surface lie over cooler water near bottom, winds and other factors can mix up the water, cooling the surface and limiting the heat available to the atmosphere,” UGA Skidaway Institute researcher Catherine Edwards said. “Satellite data provides a nice picture of where the surface ocean is warm, but the subsurface temperature field remains hidden.”

UGA Skidaway Institute researcher Catherine Edwards examines the tail assembly of a glider.

This is where autonomous underwater vehicles, also known as gliders, can collect valuable information. Gliders are torpedo-shaped crafts that can be packed with sensors and sent on underwater missions to collect oceanographic data. The gliders measure temperature and salinity, among other parameters, as they profile up and down in the water. Equipped with satellite phones, the gliders surface periodically to transmit their recorded data during missions that can last from weeks to months.

“This regular communication with the surface allows us to adapt the mission on the fly, and also process and share the data only minutes to hours after it has been measured,” Edwards said. “By using a network of data contributed by glider operators around the world, the U. S. Navy and other ocean modelers can incorporate these data into their predictions, injecting subsurface heat content information into the hurricane models from below.”

The 2018 hurricane season provided Edwards and her colleagues a fortuitous opportunity to demonstrate the value of glider data. Edwards deployed two gliders in advance of Hurricane Florence. One was launched off the North Carolina coast and the other further south, near the South Carolina-Georgia state line. The gliders discovered the models’ ocean temperature forecasts were significantly off target. Edwards points to charts comparing the predictions from ocean models run in the U.S. and Europe with the actual temperatures two days before Florence made landfall.

On the south side of the storm path, the models predicted that the ocean had a warm, slightly fresh layer overtopping cooler, saltier water below, but the glider revealed that the water column was well-mixed and, overall, warmer and fresher than predicted. On the north side of the storm, the models predicted warm, well-mixed water, but the glider detected a sharp temperature change below the surface, with a much cooler layer near-bottom. However, the most surprising part was just how stratified the water was.

“There is almost a 14-degree Celsius (approximately 25 degrees Fahrenheit) error that the glider corrects in the model,” she said. “The model and data agree near-surface, but the models that don’t use the glider data all miss the colder, saltier layer below. The model that incorporated glider data that day is the only one that captures that vertical pattern.”

Not only can gliders provide a unique view of the ocean, they fly on their own, reporting data regularly, before, during and after a hurricane, making them a powerful tool for understanding the effects of storms.

“The glider data is being used in real time,” Edwards said. “These real time observations can improve our hurricane forecasts right now, not just in a paper to be published a year from now.”

Edwards and collaborator Chad Lembke, at the University of South Florida, had a third glider deployed in August before Florence as part of a glider observatory she runs for the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (SECOORA). While it was recovered about a little over a week before Florence made landfall, the glider helped define the edge of the Gulf Stream, which is an essential ocean feature that is very hard for models to get right.

“So it’s possible that the data from that glider already improved any tropical storm predictions that use ocean models and take that glider data into account, because the Gulf Stream is so important in our region,” Edwards said.

Edwards works with colleagues from other institutions through SECOORA. Together they are making plans for the 2019 hurricane season. Funded by a $220,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, they plan to pre-position a number of gliders in strategic locations to be ready for deployment in advance of incoming storms.

“Gliders are like the weather balloons of the ocean,” Edwards said. “Imagine how powerful a regular network of these kinds of glider observations could be for understanding the ocean and weather, and how they interact.”

Former UGA Skidaway Institute director Jim Sanders retires

Former UGA Skidaway Institute executive director Jim Sanders retired last summer. Sanders led the institution from 2001 until 2016, when he stepped back from his executive directorship, but remained active in a faculty post. During his 15 years as director or executive director, Sanders guided Skidaway Institute through two recessions and the 2013 merger with the University of Georgia.

Sanders earned his bachelor’s degree in zoology from Duke University and followed it up with a master’s degree and doctorate in marine sciences from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. His first exposure to Skidaway Institute came as a graduate student with Herb Windom in the 1970s.

Prior to his arrival in Savannah in 2001, Sanders was on the faculty and served as director of the Academy of Natural Sciences’ Estuarine Research Center in Maryland. He then was chairman of the Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Old Dominion University in Virginia.

Sanders is known for his interests within the area of nutrient and trace element biogeochemistry, especially how trace elements are transported through coastal zones, transformed by chemical and biological reactions during transport, and how they influence growth and species composition of autotrophic organisms.

Sanders has been very active as a consultant to federal and state science agencies, and industrial groups in the U.S. and Europe. He is a member of numerous scientific societies, was president of the National Association of Marine Laboratories, and was a trustee and officer of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership. He is the author of over 75 scientific publications.

Shortly after taking the helm at Skidaway Institute, the nation was hit with an economic downturn sparked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and maintaining adequate funding for research and operations was a challenge.

“The most effective way to deal with it was to hire innovative and interdisciplinary faculty members who would come up with important research questions and then find funding to pursue those avenues,” Sanders said.

Looking back, Sanders said he has always been amazed at the extent to which Skidaway Institute fosters an interactive, collegial work experience.

“I have been at a number of other institutions, large and small, many with a similar focus on oceanography, but I have never felt the interconnections that Skidaway has offered, both to me and other staff, over the past 42 years,” Sanders said.

As Sanders looks back over his time at Skidaway, he is most proud for what he, the faculty and staff have done together.

“In the end, I measure my success through my colleagues and our interactions,” he said. “Really, my career has not been defined by the grants written, or the publications, or even the research that I have performed, but that I was in a position to help others achieve their goals, and perhaps even reach a bit higher in some cases.”

Sanders remains at the institute as a professor emeritus.

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.

Devotion to the Ocean: Savannah YOCS 2017

By: McKenna Lyons
Georgia Sea Grant Intern

The University of Georgia’s third annual Youth Ocean Conservation Summit took place earlier this year at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on Skidaway Island. Thirty students between the ages of 12 and 17 heard from engaging keynote speakers, participated in skill-building workshops and created their own initiatives to tackle current conservation issues.

Marine Extension educator Mare Timmons works with a summit student.

This event had been many months in the making, organized by me and the three other Georgia Sea Grant interns at the Marine Education Center and Aquarium. I can’t say I was surprised by the vast number of logistics that had to be tackled in order to pull off this event. However, several things did catch me off-guard. First and foremost was the task of creating a project that would challenge the students to think critically and enthusiastically about conservation issues that were important to them. In turn, making a worksheet with guided questions challenged us to think about the important components of creating a conservation initiative. There was a good deal of mentally stimulating work to be done, which was a facet of the project that I greatly appreciated. Challenging ourselves to create a thorough program led to a successful event in which students not only learned how to make change, but also took the first steps towards doing so. Their projects addressed issues such as marine debris, deforestation and coral bleaching caused by sunscreen. It was extremely rewarding to see the students tackle what we had prepared for them with such enthusiasm.

Participants respond to a discussion.

A welcome surprise was the overwhelming amount of support we received as we were planning the event. Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant employees, both from Skidaway Island and from Brunswick, were invested in our project and happy to help. They did everything from advertising to presenting on the day of the workshop. Their help was essential to the successful implementation of the summit, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have such dedicated people supporting us. We also received outside support in the form of donations from Stream2Sea, the Tybee Island Marine Science Center and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The donations were given to participants, not only as goodies, but as a way to familiarize and connect them with these other outstanding organizations. The scientific community in Georgia is a close-knit network of people who support one another to advance change and make positive impacts. I’m pleased that we were able to introduce the summit participants to this community.

All of our planning and preparation culminated in a successful summit, ripe with creativity, dedication and inspiration. Keynote speakers included Clayton Ferrara, the executive director of IDEAS For Us, and Olivia and Carter Ries , the founders of One More Generation. Our colleagues, along with speakers from One Hundred Miles, Leadership Savannah and Savannah State University led science workshops and skill-building activities. The day ended on a spectacular note, with groups of students presenting well-developed and creative plans to undertake conservation initiatives of their own design. I speak for all of the Georgia Sea Grant marine education interns when I say that we couldn’t have hoped for a better event. Everyone that participated in this summit was inspiring, and the involvement of so many young people was a testament to the fact that anyone, at any age, can make a difference.