Graduate students from the University of Georgia’s Department of Marine Science gathered at UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography on the weekend of May 27 for a program aimed at improving graduate student retention, inclusion, well-being and a sense of belonging.
The marine science graduate students are split between the UGA Skidaway Institute and the main campus in Athens. Given the 250-mile distance between Athens and the Georgia coast, these two groups of students typically only interact during online instruction, webinars, meetings or on an occasional research cruise. They rarely gather in-person in a casual setting.
“It was a really great experience,” said UGA Skidaway Institute assistant professor Sara Rivero-Calle. “Because they are split between the two campuses, many of these students had never met in person. They had worked together remotely on assignments and seen each other through the computer screen, but this was the first time they could relax and enjoy each other’s company in real life.”
The event included a guest speaker, Virginia Schutte, who led a workshop on science communication and the best ways for students to market themselves. The students also organized a clean-up of some of the trails on Skidaway Island, utilizing bags from UGA Marine Extension’s trawl-to-trash program.
“The UGA marine science students had a wonderful event supported by the UGA Marine Science Department and the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography,” said Frank Mcquarrie, president of the marine sciences graduate student association. “Meeting in person was invaluable, and it reminded us that we are stronger together.”
The program was funded by a $5,000 grant from the UGA Graduate School.
After two years of delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, University of Georgia Skidaway Institute scientists participated in the first cruise of their four-year project to study how dust in the atmosphere is deposited in the ocean and how that affects chemical and biological processes there. The team of Daniel Ohnemus and Chris Marsay, along with graduate students Charlotte “Charlie” Kollman and Mariah Ricci, joined the University of Hawaii Research Vessel Kilo Moana on a cruise out of Oahu. They collected samples at the Hawaii Ocean Time-Series Station Aloha – a six-mile wide section of ocean approximately 122 miles from Oahu – where oceanographers from around the world study ocean conditions over long time spans. The cruise was the first of six planned during the four-year project.
Ohnemus is one of two chief scientists on the project along with fellow UGA Skidaway Institute researcher Clifton Buck, who did not join this cruise. He called the cruise a success.
“Everything we put in the ocean, we got back, and that’s a good thing in oceanography,” he said. “And also, most importantly, it all worked.”
The overall goal of the project is to look at the rate at which dust is deposited into the ocean and what happens to it once it is in the water column. The chemistry of the ocean can be changed by the introduction and removal of elements, including trace elements which are present in low concentrations. In some cases, these elements are known to be vital to biological processes and ocean food webs. After waiting for two years for the pandemic to ease, the science team still had additional waiting once they arrived in Hawaii. They were required to quarantine in a hotel for six days before being allowed to board the ship.
“We flew in about a week before we were expected on the ship. We got tested multiple times,” Ohnemus said. “We tested at the airport. We got a PCR test mid-quarantine. And we were tested again before boarding the ship.
“We knew we definitely did not have COVID.”
“The hardest part is that we were out there for five days and four nights, and all of our research and sampling took place in the last eight hours of the cruise,” Ohnemus said.
For the students Charlie Kollman and Mariah Ricci the cruise was a new experience. It was Ricci’s first research cruise ever. Ironically, she and Ohnemus both took their first cruise on the RV Kilo Moana, only their cruises were 15 years apart.
For Kollman, the best part of the cruise was participating in all the work necessary to conduct the science activity from the planning process all the way through to the end and then seeing the fruits of her labor.
“It was a great experience,” she said. “It is really rewarding to see all the different things we had to do like all the mechanical work.
“I think people often think of science as being constantly high value or in the lab doing really complicated stuff, but a lot of times it’s running to Home Depot four times because you don’t have the correct pipe fitting.”
Ohnemus sings the praises of his collaborators at the University of Hawaii. “They are excellent. It was great to be able sail with them after all this time,” he said. “We first wrote the proposal in 2018, and to actually get to sail together four years later was very rewarding and time well spent.”
When the Slocum glider known as NG645 was deployed about 80 miles south of New Orleans on Oct. 10, 2021, it became one of the most closely watched ocean-observing instruments in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s because it was a small robot with a big mission – to investigate features of the Loop Current and Loop Current Eddies in the Gulf as part of the Hurricane Glider Project – then navigate on a mission never attempted by an unmanned glider before.
“Our goal with this project was to deploy a glider in the Gulf of Mexico and then navigate it through the spatially variable currents of the Loop Current and into the Gulf Stream all the way around the bend of Florida up to the coast of South Carolina,” said UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography researcher Catherine Edwards, one of the glider team leaders and who was responsible for the glider once it rounded the tip of Florida.
The trip was a test to see whether the glider could successfully navigate around Florida and up the East Coast while gaining information about multiple marine systems – all during a single mission. With no propeller or motor, it would have to do so using minimal battery power and only buoyancy to travel.
Slocum gliders, also known as autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), are torpedo-shaped underwater robots about six feet long and eight inches in diameter that carry instrument packages to gather data on water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and other ocean parameters, depending on ocean-observation needs. The gliders use buoyancy to move throughout the water column in a vertical yo-yo pattern, taking in water to move down through the water column and expelling water to return to the surface. The wings on the glider then give it lift that allows it to move forward. When the glider surfaces, it sends data to a satellite, which beams it back to scientists in the lab. Back in the laboratory, glider pilots can update and adjust glider trajectories to ensure they remain on course, or even change their paths.
NG645’s initial mission was to gather information on the Loop Current and Loop Current Eddies, major oceanographic features in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The Loop Current is sort of an arm of the western boundary current that eventually becomes the Gulf Stream,” Edwards said. “That’s one of the major features that this project seeks to capture. Just like we’re monitoring the edge of the Gulf Stream with our gliders, these are areas where the models need the most improvement, and where our observations can have the greatest impact.”
The glider was a part of the Hurricane Glider Project, a series of gliders monitoring the ocean in the Gulf, Caribbean Sea and Atlantic that are programmed to collect information on ocean parameters from areas where tropical storms and hurricanes typically form or strengthen. Gliders gather temperature and salinity readings from throughout the water column, not just at the surface, and send it back to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in near-real time to improve the accuracy of upper ocean models used to create hurricane intensity forecasts. This was the first-time glider operators attempted such an ambitious mission.
“There were so many firsts during this mission,” said Kerri Whilden, a researcher from Texas A&M University, who led the collaboration in the Gulf before handing it off to Edwards as it rounded Key West and navigated up the East Coast. “It would be the first time we started piloting a glider in the Gulf and then sent it through the Gulf Stream around the tip of Florida, then on to South Carolina. It involved coordinating a lot of different organizations to deploy the glider, to pilot it and then to retrieve it at the end of its mission. It was a big team collaboration for sure.”
In addition to UGA Skidaway Institute and Texas A&M, other partners in the project included the Naval Oceanographic Office, the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System, the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System, the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association, the Underwater Glider User Group, the University of Southern Mississippi, NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.
Planning is under way for a repeat mission in 2022.
The fall semester 2022 marks a major milestone in the growth of the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute’s education mission beyond its historical role as a research laboratory. The Semester@Skidaway domestic field study program is a significant part of the UGA Department of Marine Sciences new undergraduate ocean sciences major. A small cohort of ocean sciences majors are spending the entire fall semester in residence at UGA Skidaway Institute taking classes and learning how to conduct marine research.
The Semester@Skidaway serves, essentially, as a capstone type experience for students before they graduate,” said Semester@Skidaway program director Clifton Buck. “The students have the opportunity to take a number of courses that are taught here, but also they have the chance to take courses that are much more immersive and hands on.”
The research-based activities include field surveys, collecting samples from the environment, returning them back to the laboratory and analyzing them for chemical, biological and physical parameters.
“They make a scientific journey from actually being out in the field and then into the laboratory, to analyze the data and think about it critically” Buck said.
The students take five three-credit courses that cover a wide range of marine science topics including data analysis techniques and marine science field methods. They also study the unique South Atlantic Bight system located off our coast under the instruction of associate professor Catherine Edwards. A highlight of the semester will be a cruise aboard the Research Vessel Savannah. Professor Jay Brandes teaches a course that focuses on the planning and preparation needed for a successful research cruise.
“They’ll go on a two-day cruise just offshore and collect samples, apply some of the things they’ve learned in the laboratory class and bring those samples back and work with them,” Buck said. “And so again, they will take it from the planning stage through the execution, through the sample analysis and data interpretation.”
The fall 2022 group consists of just a handful of students. As the ocean sciences major grows, Buck expects later cohorts to include about 24 students.
“The Semester @ Skidaway program brings highly motivated ocean science majors to the Skidaway campus to experience hands-on and research-based instruction,” UGA Skidaway Institute Director Clark Alexander said. “This influx of young, enthusiastic students enhances the programs at Skidaway by their presence, and we are excited to be teaching tomorrow’s scientists and informed citizens.”
– Beginning in 1970, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources built a series of artificial reefs to provide habitat for marine life. However, until recently, there were gaps in some of the key information about those reefs, such as the precise locations of the materials placed on the bottom and water depth over the materials. Now, researchers at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography are using cutting-edge bathymetric side-scan sonar and high-resolution geographic positioning systems (GPS) to provide coastal managers and fishermen a detailed picture of the location and condition of reef materials.
Georgia’s shelf is relatively shallow and extends approximately 80 miles offshore before dropping into the deep ocean. Most of the shelf bottom consists of shifting sand, which does not provide the kind of conditions to develop and support diverse reef communities.
“Much of the continental shelf is like a vast sandy desert,” UGA Skidaway Institute scientist Clark Alexander said. “So, what we need is more hard substrate, because that is really the most important thing for establishing stable live-bottom communities.”
Over the past 50 years, the state has placed hard-surface materials in 18 sites, each about 15 square kilometers in size. Eight of the sites are located along the coast approximately 10 miles off shore and another eight approximately 25 miles off shore. There are also two “beach reefs” that are closer to shore and accessible to fishermen with smaller boats. The reefs are made up of a wide range of materials, including old ships, battle tanks, pieces from the original Talmadge Bridge, retired subway cars from New York City, concrete pipes and pilings, and purpose-built, concrete tetrapods.
“The materials that were placed on the bottom in the 1970s and 1980s were sunk in place or deployed from barges using Loran-C, a radio-based navigation system that was significantly less accurate than current GPS, or dropped from Army helicopters, so their precise locations are not always exactly known,” Alexander said. “In addition, we have had a number of hurricanes and winter storms come through or offshore Georgia, and we don’t know whether some of the material has been moved from its original location.”
Alexander proposed a program to survey the reefs and develop a more accurate set of data on their locations and characteristics, which was subsequently funded through the Georgia Coastal Management Program, administered by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division.
“Our goals were to document the status of what is on the bottom, and to give more precise locations for the objects we identify,” Alexander said. “We used real-time kinematic GPS, so we know within a few centimeters where things are on the bottom.”
Alexander’s team began field work in 2018 and continued into 2021, using the 28-foot RV Jack Blanton. They spent an average of six days surveying each reef. They started with the beach reefs to work out any kinks in the planned survey approach and then moved on to the reefs 10 miles off shore. Along with high-resolution GPS, the team used an interferometric side-scan sonar that gives the depth and co-registered side-scan sonar imagery that provides images of the seafloor and objects sitting on it.
“Based on an object’s general location, and existing location data, we were able to make some good guesses as to ‘Oh, that must be a certain barge or ship’ and so on,” he said. “And we found a few objects that were not on existing maps and several others that had fragmented into several pieces since being placed.”
Another important parameter the team measured was the amount of clearance between the various structures and the ocean surface.
“You don’t want to have to worry about anything you put down being a hazard to navigation,” Alexander said. “Ten kilometers off shore, you are in about 10 meters of water or so, about 30 feet. So, if one of these sunken vessels was sticking up a significant height above the bottom, that is something you need to know.”
Alexander and DNR are making plans to survey the eight reefs that are about 25 miles off shore. They present a greater challenge than the reefs closer to shore. The longer distance means greater transit time and less time on-station actually conducting the survey. The team would also be constrained by the weather. Conditions must be very good and forecast to remain calm throughout both the transits and survey.
“Because when you are that far offshore, you are at the mercy of sea conditions, which can change quickly” Alexander said.
The data Alexander’s team collected is now being added to the DNR’s marine artificial reef fishing website. These new data products enhance the data available to anglers, and now allows users to zoom in to the individual features, see what they look like, and how they are distributed in relation to other features on the bottom. The data collected by the project can be found on the DNR’s artificial reef website:https://coastalgadnr.org/HERU/offshore
For 30 years, John “Crawfish” Crawford has regaled campers and school children on field trips to the UGA Aquarium, guiding them on nature walks through the salt marsh and introducing them to the many creatures that call coastal Georgia home.
His tenure officially ended Dec. 1, when Crawford retired from the University of Georgia. But his legacy will continue through an endowed educator position at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, funded by a generous estate gift made by longtime supporters.
The John “Crawfish” Crawford Public Service and Outreach Faculty Fellowship will generate incentive for a leading naturalist to fill a faculty educator role at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium and provide the resources to support traditional naturalist practices that maintain an emphasis on exploration, curiosity, field interpretation and personal connection to the world.
A new film by Motion House Media tells the story of Crawford’s impact through interviews with individuals who have been inspired by the larger than life conservationist over the years. Watch it here.
The endowed funds will also enhance the faculty fellow’s ability to make a difference in the lives of students and help fulfill the university’s public service and outreach mission—as Crawford has.
“Someone who gets the endowed fellowship will need to know who John is, what he cared about, and what he’s like,” says Ruth McMullin, who, with her husband Tom, made the gift. “We want to make sure the way (John) teaches, his enthusiasm, and his methodology remain when he’s no longer here.”
McMullin, who lives on Skidaway Island, has been volunteering at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium for 23 years. She is inspired by Crawford’s curiosity, enthusiasm and ability to mold minds and develop stewards of Georgia’s coastal environments.
“He’s just so special,” McMullin said. “I was really happy to volunteer because I knew I would get to spend more time learning from him.”
“I have learned an awful lot from watching how he interacts with children and adults and how he shares his excitement with other people. You can’t be somebody you admire, but you can copy them.”
Crawford grew up in Savannah, where he explored the coast’s mud flats and maritime forests, discovering corn snakes, fiddler crabs and other animals that often found their way into his house. At age 15, he had dozens of pet snakes, all of which he kept in his room.
He cultivated his knowledge of coastal resources at Armstrong State College and Florida Keys Community College in the late 1960s and early 1970s. After his time in Florida, he made his way back to the Georgia coast where he continued to make his mark on the conservation and environmental education community.
He joined UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant in 1990, where as a marine educator he has spent 30 years sharing his knowledge with K-12 students, teachers, education fellows, coastal residents and conservation professionals.
“He has taught hundreds of professional educators, tens of thousands of students, and changed the landscape of environmental and marine education along the coast,” says Anne Lindsay, associate director of marine education at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “He knows boats, plants, animals and people and a little about every other natural science or coastal topic you can think of.”
Lindsay, who was mentored by Crawford when she was hired at what was then the UGA Marine Extension Service in the 1990s, explains how he laid the foundation for the education programs that are still offered at the facility today.
“He has helped us expand our reach, establish new collaborations and partnerships, nurture long standing relationships with educators, scientists and citizens,” Lindsay said. “He has cemented the reputation of the Marine Education Center and Aquarium as an institution with a standard of educational quality that we aspire to uphold.”
Learn more about Crawford and the importance of this endowed position in a short film by Motion House Media, a video production company based in Athens, Georgia. The film tells the story of Crawford’s impact through interviews with individuals who have been inspired by the larger than life conservationist over the years.
As farmers and food distributors struggle to get their products into the hands of consumers, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has teamed up with UGA Cooperative Extension and the Georgia Department of Agriculture to generate business for the seafood industry.
Photo credit: Pete Frey
The Ag Products Connection, a partnership between UGA Extension and the state agriculture department’s Georgia Grown program, is designed to connect farmers and seafood producers with customers around the state looking to source local food products. Businesses can sign up to have their companies promoted through the online platform, which lists local businesses by county.
Photo Credit: Peter Frey
“The resource was developed for producers who had a glut of product. Some were selling to school systems or restaurants, but now they don’t have those avenues of customers,” said Tori Stivers, seafood and marketing specialist for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “With this program, they can market directly to consumers who can serve as new source of revenue for them.”
Stivers is working with fisheries specialists in UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant to promote the resource to seafood professionals, many based on the coast, who are dealing with a surplus of product during the pandemic. She recently shared the resource with a list of more than 150 seafood wholesalers in Georgia, encouraging them to sign up.
“My hope is that it provides some income to those who have seen their business drop during this time so they can keep as many employees on the payroll as possible,” Stivers said. “If they can supplement their business by going directly to consumers, it might help them stay open.”
Some seafood businesses, like Southside Shellfish in Savannah, have already signed up for the program.
“We’ve seen a decline in clientele, but we’re still here and we’re still operating,” said Hope Meeks, owner of Southside Shellfish. “That’s why I think this resource will be so good because people keep calling and asking if we’re open, which we are.”
Meeks’ business has been involved in commercial crabbing since 1991. The retail business began in 2007, with the opening of a market in south Savannah. In addition to local blue crabs, they sell black sea bass, snapper, flounder and other seafood native to the east coast.
Photo Credit: Peter Frey
“I’m hoping that this will bring in our regular customers as maybe new customers that don’t already know we’re here,” she said. “We have raw and cooked seafood, so for those who are skeptical about eating out, this is great way for people to source shellfish and fish products you can catch in our area.”
Georgia’s seafood producers and wholesalers who are keeping regular hours, providing curbside pickup, home delivery or e-commerce sales during the COVID-19 crisis can join the program by visiting the Georgia Grown Ag-Products Industry Promotion or Georgia Grown E-Commerce Promotion pages and filling out forms that will add their information to the statewide database of producers that is being shared with consumers and buyers.
Consumers can find seafood resources listed by county HERE.
Georgia Grown — a state membership program designed to help agribusinesses thrive by bringing producers, processors, suppliers, distributors, retailers, agritourism and consumers together — is waiving all membership fees for the service until July to help producers affected by the crisis.
The University of Georgia has granted tenure to UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography / Department of Marine Sciences scientist Catherine Edwards. Edwards was also promoted from assistant professor to associate professor, effective Aug. 1.
Edwards is a physical oceanographer, with broad interdisciplinary interests in marine sciences and engineering. She earned a B.S. in physics with highest honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and worked as an ocean modeler at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory before earning her Ph.D. in physical oceanography from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She joined Skidaway Institute in 2010.
Edwards’ research focuses on answering fundamental questions in coastal oceanography and fisheries sciences with autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). Using AUVs, also called gliders, she and her team are developing novel ways to optimize their use with engineering principles and real-time data streams from models and observations.
While at UGA Skidaway Institute, Edwards has been awarded more than $2 million dollars on 12 projects totaling more than $12 million from NOAA/Navy sources, the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative and four different programs within the National Science Foundation. As the founder of a regional glider observatory, she serves as the lead scientist in a new project that places gliders in the paths of hurricanes to better predict their intensity at landfall. Edwards is a co-primary investigator in a large $5 million observational program studying exchange between the coastal and deep ocean at Cape Hatteras. In an effort funded by NSF’s Smart and Autonomous Systems program, Edwards is also working with researchers from Georgia Tech and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary to utilize gliders and acoustic tagging to track fish migrations.
UGA 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.
The 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.”