Note: If you've reached this page using a "Read more" link in an issue of GCRL News prior to the July 2013 issue, you'll find the article in the archive.
GCRL Dazzles Visitors at Peter Anderson Festival
The Marine Education Center (MEC) and other groups from GCRL maintained the tradition of interesting and educational exhibits at the 2013 Peter Anderson Festival on November 1 and 2. The two-day art festival, named for noted Ocean Springs potter Peter Anderson, attracting thousands annually for a weekend of art and entertainment. GCRL's new location on the lawn of the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center, offered a wonderful shady location for our brand-new booth packed with visually appealing displays showing visitors what the Lab is all about. Three stunning photo panels forming the back wall of the booth were especially effective at drawing in visitors.
The MEC displayed a variety of marine artifacts and specimens to introduce the public to some of the local creatures from the Gulf of Mexico and our coastal waters. Several marine educators explained MEC programs for the public, including the ever-popular Sea Camp and Shark Fest, and introduced new programs for educators and an exciting Angler Camp for the summer of 2014. Angler Camp will teach campers the “ins and outs” of finding, catching, and cooking local gamefish favorites. A video kiosk showed youngsters catching and tagging sharks during Shark Fest, our COAST Team of citizen scientists at work, and a virtual tour of the Marine Education Center complex being designed for construction at Cedar Point.
Sharks are always a popular topic with the public. Sarah Ashworth from GCRL's Center for Fisheries Research and Development wowed children and adults alike by challenging them to touch a preserved shark specimen or imagine the power of several pairs of big shark jaws. Sarah also explained GCRL’s shark tagging program with amazing images showing how bull sharks and others are captured for tagging using a longline technique and how whale sharks are tagged by divers using hand spears. Sandra Huynh and John Ransom represented the Fisheries Oceanography Lab with an informative poster explaining the larval stages of different marine organisms. A popular interactive electronic matching game let visitors try to match adults of common fish to their larval stages.
GCRL's aquaculture group demonstrated first hand how fish are tagged with uniquely-coded tags which can be detected by an electronic “wand” when the fish is recaptured. This enables scientists to learn about the fish's movement and growth during the time after it was released. Several tanks of live spotted sea trout at different stages of growth illustrated the “grow-out” of fish raised in the GCRL's closed-loop aquaculture system.
A series of short presentations were conducted by MEC staff and Dr. Joe Griffitt. Dr. Griffitt kicked off the presentations with an oil/dispersant demonstration and other information from his research funded by a Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, titled “The combined effect of environmental and anthropogenic stressors on fish health.”
MEC Director Chris Snyder led visitors through the future new home of the MEC using aerial photography and computerized architectural renderings. Lee Trebotich, marine botanist, described the ongoing site monitoring that is documenting the plants and animals on the undeveloped site. The information will be used to measure the success of efforts to limit the impact of development and preserve the natural assets. He showed images from several trail cameras that have captured owls, foxes, racoons, and deer on the site.
Both the festival and GCRL's displays and programs were huge successes. The perfect weather brought out a record number of attendees and the GCRL staff that manned the booth spread the word about the vital research being performed and the educational programs available to the community and its visitors!
GCRL’s Nancy Brown-Peterson has been awarded a University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Outstanding Staff Award. The awards are presented annually to three USM Gulf Coast staff members who have demonstrated sensitivity to others, exhibited an exceptional commitment to teamwork and efficiency of operation, shown an outstanding ability to skillfully manage his/her unit, and possess a superior commitment to continuous quality improvement. Each award winner received a mounted certificate signed by the Coast Academic Dean and Coast Vice President/Campus Executive Officer as well as a $200 honorarium. Nancy is a research associate who has been with the Lab for more than 18 years. Her area of expertise is fish reproductive biology. Nancy is married to Dr. Mark Peterson, Professor of Fisheries Ecology at GCRL.
Dr. Maxwell Barson, a Fulbright Scholar working with GCRL’s Dr. Robin Overstreet, has been honored with the 2013 Young Scientist National Award from the African Union/The World Academy of Sciences (AU/TWAS) in his home country of Zimbabwe. Dr. Barson is a senior lecturer in the Biological Sciences Department of the University of Zimbabwe, teaching undergraduate Parasitology, Invertebrate Zoology, Cytology, and Histology. He also teaches Biomonitoring and Ecotoxicology to water engineering masters and Fish Pathology to veterinarians. Dr. Barson holds a B.Sc. Honours degree in Biological Sciences (University of Zimbabwe), an M.Sc. in Aquatic Health (University of Johannesburg), an M.Phil. in fish parasitology (UZ) and a Ph.D. in Biology (Catholic University of Leuven). In April 2013, Dr. Barson received the Fulbright African Scholar Award from the U.S. State Department to conduct collaborative research and receive advanced postdoctoral training on fish pathology at GCRL.
Dr. Barson became acquainted with Dr. Overstreet at a conference in South Africa pre-Katrina and had sent samples to GCRL to be analyzed by Dr. Overstreet. Before they could be tested, the samples were destroyed in August 2005 when Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, but the two scientists met again in Italy and continued their professional association. Dr. Barson said it was a natural choice to come and study with Dr. Overstreet when the opportunity arose.
TWAS, The World Academy of Sciences, is an international science academy founded in 1983 in Trieste, Italy and officially launched by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1985. TWAS represents the best of science in developing countries. Its main mission is to promote scientific excellence and capacity for science-based sustainable development.
GCRL graduate student Corey Russo is investigating the morbillivirus, which is being blamed for a rash of dolphin deaths along the East Coast during the end of August. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the death rate for dolphins in 2013 is nine times higher than usual. Virginia was particularly hard hit, with 174 carcasses washing ashore. Such high numbers have not been observed for more than two decades.
Corey has conducted most of his investigation as an intern with Dr. Karen Nelson, the President of the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland. He will be returning to GCRL to complete the project this fall.
Morbillivirus belongs to a family of RNA viruses that cause rinderpest in cattle, distemper in canine species, and measles in humans. In the oceans, viral particles constitute 1 million to 1 billion particles per milliliter of oceanic waters. Dolphin morbillivirus (DMV), specifically, is reported as causing disease in marine mammals. Morbillivirus suppresses the dolphin's immune system, causing infected animals to be susceptible to diseases and infections.
Since its emergence in the marine environment, morbillivirus infection is the most significant cause of mass mortality in odontocete cetaceans (toothed whales and dolphins). DMV exposure in non-immune dolphins leads to central nervous system disease, stranding, and ultimately, death. The first confirmed DMV epizootic (1987-1988) led to the death of approximately 2,500 bottlenose dolphins (BNDs) along the Atlantic Coast of the United States. The first DMV outbreak resulted in a 10-fold increase in average annual mortality rates and a loss of 50% of inshore bottlenose dolphins.
Viral infection in marine mammals is responsible for mass stranding events, unusual mortality events, chronic infection, clinically expressed disease, and inapparent/sustained infections. Virology studies on the bottlenose dolphins are of particular importance as the bottlenose dolphin is a sentinel species. To date, molecular techniques utilizing a specific primer approach have identified viral particles representative of eight viral families in bottlenose dolphin samples. The research at GCRL has focused on a random primer approach, followed by full genomic sequencing of purified viral RNA and DNA from bottlenose dolphin samples. The purpose of this study is to identify and characterize viromes, including dolphin morbillivirus, recovered from apparently healthy bottlenose dolphins. Corey Russo's research involves studying blood serum and blow-hole swab samples from the affected dolphins.
Russo is considering a variety of viruses in his research. According to Dr. Jay Grimes, Russo's advisor at GCRL, "I think this is important because if he only went after morbillivirus it would be a biased hypothesis. This way, he's looking at everything. And he'll be able to determine whether all dolphins carry moribillivirus. And if they don't carry it, are they becoming immune?"
Stories in the media about the dolphin die-off:
- WLOX, August 30, 2013 - Gulf Coast Research Lab student studying dolphin virus
- NBC News, August 27, 2013 - Big Break in Dolphin Die-Off: It's an 'Outbreak' of Measles-Like Virus
- Scientific American, August 29, 2013 - Dolphin Die-Off Tied to Virus Related to Human Measles
GCRL graduate student Alex Fogg has been awarded the Ron Schmied Scholarship which provides a $1,500 grant toward participation in the 66th Annual Meeting of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) in Corpus Christi, Texas in November. Alex's presentation will be titled "Northern Gulf of Mexico Lionfish: Distribution and Reproductive Life History Trajectories." Alex is particularly interested in the meeting due to the strong emphasis on the invasive lionfish, which is extending it's range in the Gulf of Mexico.
GCRL scientists also to attend the conference are Mark Peterson (Fogg's major professor and co-author on this presentation), Nancy Brown-Peterson (co-author), Jim Franks, and Read Hendon.
The Ron Schmied Scholarship supports travel for a qualified graduate student travel to the annual meeting of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute. Since students are the life blood of any educational organization, the intent of this scholarship is to make it possible for the next generation of fishery professionals to experience the benefits that come with participation in international meetings in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean region. The Ron Schmied Scholarship is a GCFI initiative supported by the International Game Fish Association as well as numerous private individuals.
The University of Southern Mississippi’s Staff Council held their monthly meeting on October 1, 2013 at GCRL. The session was one of two meetings held on the Gulf Coast each year; the other ten meetings take place on USM's main campus in Hattiesburg. The group was fortunate to have Jim Franks, Senior Research Scientist with the Center for Fisheries Research and Development, as their speaker. Franks provided a brief history of GCRL, including the effects of Hurricane Katrina, before moving on to his research work on sargassum and the shark tagging program. Following the monthly business meeting, the group enjoyed an hour-long cruise aboard GCRL's Miss Peetsy B, which included pulling a sample trawl to collect marine specimens. Beth Jones, Educational Program Manager at the Marine Education Center, provided insights into inshore ecosystems and guided the group through an examination of the trawl catch.
The University of Southern Mississippi’s Staff Council, established in 1989, serves to provide a voice for staff members throughout the University, from the Gulf Coast to Hattiesburg. The stated purposes of the council are to:
- Facilitate discussion of issues, policies and activities relating to the USM staff;
- Advise and make recommendations as appropriate
- Promote interaction among the staff, faculty and administration in the enhancement of the goals, purposes and functions of the university and
- Promote excellence in service.
GCRL Grad Student Participates in NOAA Survey Cruise
Graduate student Kelsey Kuykendall participated in a NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) Ecosystems Surveys Branch cruise out of New Bedford, New Hampshire, last month as a representative of the Science Center for Marine Fisheries (SCeMFiS). SCeMFiS is the Science Center for Marine Fisheries at The Gulf Coast Research Laboratory and the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences. SCeMFiS provides an academic resource for the fishing industry throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions. NEFSC is the research arm of NOAA Fisheries in the northeast region.
The Ecosystems Surveys Branch conducts surveys that provide consistent, unbiased estimates of relative abundance for many finfish and shellfish species in the Northeast region. The program's bottom trawl surveys have been conducted since 1963 and serve as the basis for some of the longest time series of standardized fishery-independent indices of relative abundance in the world. The scallop and clam surveys began in the late 1970s and the fisheries acoustic surveys were initiated in 1998.
The six-day cruise aboard the 160-foot F/V E.S.S. Pursuit focused on the Atlantic surf clam and ocean quahog to determine the size and distribution of the populations to provide data for setting harvesting regulations for the fisheries. The cruise covered 146 sites in the Mid-Atlantic Bight, Southern New England, and Georges Bank.
According to Kelsey, "My specific duty was to aid in the sorting of surf clams, quahogs, and sea scallops, then to process a sample of each dredge for length and meat weights. Teams of four (two scientists and two volunteers) worked each 12-hour shift, with shifts running from midnight to noon and noon to midnight. I worked the midnight to noon shift; the sunrises were beautiful! The work done and data collected will be used by fishing industries to set harvesting limits and employ area management if needed. The cruise was particularly good for me because not only did I learn about the harvesting of surf clams, I also experienced many new species, including humpback whales and common dolphin."
The latest issue of Coastal Conservation Association's TIDE magazine includes a two-page article about the stock enhancement program at GCRL's Thad Cochran Center for Marine Aquaculture. The operation at Cedar Point and the long term partnership with the Department of Marine Resources are also addressed. Reg Blaylock, Assistant Director of the Thad Cochran Center for Marine Aquaculture, states in the article, “We would love to transfer our technology to the private sector. It’s difficult working with the red snapper, but we’re making positive strides. It’s exciting work.“ Read the article here.
TIDE is the official bimonthly magazine of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA). The mission of the CCA is to advise and educate the public on conservation of marine resources. The objective of CCA is to conserve, promote and enhance the present and future availability of those coastal resources for the benefit and enjoyment of the general public. The local CCA chapters have been long time partners and very supportive of the stock enhancement program at GCRL.
GCRL was featured in the summer 2013 issue of Pointe Innovation magazine as part of the issue's focus on marine sciences in Mississippi. The article focuses on the new National Science Foundation Science Center for Marine Fisheries (SCeMFiS) as well as touching on the Shellfish Sanitation program and the Summer Field Program and other Marine Education Center activities. GCRL Director Dr. Eric Powell is quoted as saying, “All of the activities here are important to the state and to the region. My goal is to utilize academic science to foster job growth and economic development. With the group of people we have here, I know the future is bright.”
The Pointe Innovation article also addressed the USM Department of Marine Science, the Marine Technology Society-Gulf Coast section, the National Data Buoy Center, Jackson State University’s Environmental Cooperative Science Center, and Mississippi State University’s Northern Gulf Institute.
Read the entire article here.
Printed four times a year, Pointe Innovation magazine provides to its readers articles and features telling the story of Mississippi by highlighting the impressive companies, individuals, ideas and products the proudly call Mississippi home.
GCRL’s fall 2013 Science Café series was inaugurated by Dr. Theresa Levitt, associate professor of history at Ole Miss, speaking about the history and science of the modern lighthouse. Levitt literally wrote the book on the subject. “A Short Flash: Augustin Fresnel and the Birth of the Modern Lighthouse” examines the science and history of the invention of the Fresnel lens, an invention that forever changed lighthouses and their function. Levitt is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a master’s degree from Iowa State University and a Ph. D. from Harvard University.
October’s Café will focus on local edible plants and medicinal plants. Our presenter will be Dr. Betty Sue O’Brian. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. on September 24. As always, Science Café is free and open to the public. Refreshments are provided by Coffee Fusion in Ocean Springs. For more information visit the GCRL Science Café webpage or contact Joyce Shaw at 228.872.4213.
GCRL Staff Participates in National Marine Educators Association Conference
Eight staff members from GCRL's Marine Education Center (MEC) attended the 2013 National Marine Educators Association annual conference in Mobile, Alabama during the week of July 22. The event was hosted by the Southern Association of Marine Educators on the picturesque campus of Springhill College. Three of the MEC group made presentations.
Dr. Jessica Kastler, Coordinator of Program Development, provided insights into the MEC's successful COAST program (Community Outreach for Accurate Science Translation) in “Spill Science: Learning from Citizen Scientists.” In his presentation titled “Student Active Watershed Stewardship," Marine Education Specialist Aaron Lamey described how the MEC provided watershed and environmental stewardship education programs for teachers and their students in two 2012 sessions of the B-WET Shifting Baselines Project. Beth Jones, Educational Programs Manager, presented “Using Charismatic Megafauna to Engage Citizen Scientists: a Successful Integration of Outreach into Research.”
The GCRL participants also provided an exhibit displaying information about educational opportunities at GCRL and the MEC.
Conference speakers also included Mark LaSalle, Director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center and bestselling author Richard Louv, whose books Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle explore how children have become disconnected from nature and the effects on their health and education. Field trips helped participants explore the native habitats, eco-tourism opportunities, food, and rich culture of the area. Evening events included sessions at Dauphin Island Sea Lab and 5 Rivers-Alabama's Delta Resource Center.
The National Marine Educators Association (NEMA) is a vibrant and influential professional association that has been in existence since 1975. Through the national office, seventeen regional chapters and international partners, “make known the world of water, both fresh and salt.” The membership consists of about 1,000 classroom teachers, informal educators, college professors, ocean scientists, and outreach and communication professionals at non-profit organizations and government agencies.
The Southern Association of Marine Educators (SAME) is the regional chapter of the NMEA for the northern Gulf of Mexico, and includes Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the panhandle of Florida.
The 2013 NMEA conference was dedicated to Johnette Bosarge, who was instrumental in bringing the 2013 meeting to Mobile. Johnette passed away suddenly in March and will be sorely missed by both the NMEA and SAME organizations of which she was considered in many ways the backbone. Johnette’s family joined conference participants on Monday evening in honoring her memory with a special service prior to the keynote speaker.
Johnette retired from the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory after 25 years of service and returned to work for an additional 10 years on a part-time basis. NMEA past president Craig Strang said, “Johnette held us together as an organization with her keen efficiency and relentless work ethic, but also extended her immeasurable warmth and boundless kindness to us as individuals. We will miss her deeply and for a very long time." The NMEA has created a special award/scholarship in Johnette's name that was presented for the first time this year to Beth Jewell, a high school science teacher at West Springfield High School in Springfield, Virginia.
GCRL researchers, both past and present, are at the heart of the 2013 investigation of whale sharks in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Whale sharks are the largest fish on earth, reaching 45 feet in length with a weight of more than 24 tons. Until recently, little has been known about the movements of the whale sharks in the northern Gulf. A joint project by GCRL, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) is shining new light on these magnificent animals.
The research team includes GCRL staff members Jim Franks, Jill Hendon, Sarah Ashworth, and Jeremy Higgs. Former GCRL employee Dr. Eric Hoffmayer, who cornerstoned the whale shark work at the lab before joining NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service in 2011, and continues to participate in the research. Jennifer McKinney, another former GCRL employee, earned a master’s degree on whale shark distribution from USM's Department of Coastal Sciences in 2010 and now works on the whale shark and other pelagic fish programs at LDWF.
At the core of the research is a multi-year tagging and monitoring effort that places satellite tracking tags on the sharks and monitors their movements for a year or more. A new one-day record for tagging success was established on June 20, 2013 when aerial spotters from On Wings of Care directed a LDWF boat carrying scientists to two groups of twelve whale sharks. Diving over the sharks with snorkeling gear, the team successfully attached satellite tags to ten sharks before depleting their supply of tags. The previous record was five tags in one day.
The scientists also obtained DNA samples and photographically documented the patterns of spots on each of the tagged sharks. The spot patterns provide a unique identifier for individual animals and are tracked in an international database.
Whale sharks come to the northern Gulf during summer and often feed on recently spawned fish eggs floating on the surface near the time of the full moon. The sharks swim slowly on the surface with their oblong mouths open, steadily filtering the fish eggs from the seawater. This surface feeding behavior provides an excellent opportunity for scientists to study the fish first hand in close quarters. The sharks congregate in numbers over Ewing Bank, Sackett Bank, and a few other locations near the edge of the continental shelf where bottom features cause upwellings of nutrient laden waters where pelagic fish like tuna and bonita prefer to spawn. The sharks are sometimes observed much closer to shore. The Florida panhandle produced an unusually high number of whale shark sightings during the summer of 2010.
Members of the public who see whale sharks are encouraged to submit a report to GCRL's Whale Shark Sighting Database by filling out a brief online form or calling 228.872.4257. Details for submitting reports and guidelines on safely observing whale sharks are available in an online flyer. The database documents more than 600 sighting reports since 2003.
Science Center for Marine Fisheries (SCeMFiS) Holds Productive Initial Meeting
The Industry Advisory Board (IAB) of the Science Center for Marine Fisheries (SCeMFiS) met for the first time on June 21-22 at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. SCeMFiS utilizes academic and fisheries resources to address urgent scientific problems limiting sustainable fisheries.
The University of Southern Mississippi is the lead academic institution in SCeMFiS with the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences as the partner institution. SCeMFiS is sponsored by the Industry & University Cooperative Research Program (I/UCRC) of the National Science Foundation. The I/UCRC program brings participants from industry, government, and other organizations in need of science-based solutions into contact with academic scientists capable of providing that expertise. The organizational structure permits participants to set the science agenda in exchange for participant financial support.
Dr. Rodney Bennett, the University of Southern Mississippi President and state Senator Brice Wiggins, Ports and Marine Resources Committee, were on hand to address the group. This was Dr. Bennett’s first visit to the GCRL Cedar Point site and the Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center. He and Senator Wiggins were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour. At the end of the day of meetings a cocktail reception was held in conjunction with a poster session featuring faculty and graduate students from GCRL. The 30+ posters displayed shared ongoing research projects with the group.
The IAB initiated eight projects at this meeting, fully funding four and providing initiation funds for four others. The IAB will review each of these projects at its next meeting that will be held in October at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences.
Fully-funded projects include:
- Optimization of survey methodology for black sea bass
Project leaders: Eric Powell, Jill Hendon, and Darcie Graham (University of Southern Mississippi)
- Breakage in surfclams and ocean quahogs during survey
Project leader: Roger Mann (Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences)
- Independent advisory team for marine mammal assessments
Project leader: Paula Moreno (University of Southern Mississippi)
- Juvenile survey for surfclams and ocean quahogs
Project leader: Roger Mann (Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences)
Projects initiated using seed money include a review of surfclam management options, development of a research program on biological reference points, and design studies for additional research on the biology and sampling of monkfish and yellowtail flounder.
The first SCeMFiS products are expected to be available by mid-August. Two of the surf clam/ocean quahog projects will provide information and gear for the federal survey expected to be at sea during that time. Further products will become available over the coming year.
Local news coverage:
The striped bass is GCRL's fish of the month for July 2013. Read more here.
The Gulf Coast Research Laboratory released more than 170,000 Phase I Gulf strain striped bass fingerlings into the major tributaries of coastal Mississippi during the last week of June and the first week of July. Releases took place in the Pearl River, Jordan River, Biloxi River, Tchoutacabouffa River, East and West Pascagoula River, and Fort Bayou. The fish were raised by the GCRL Striped Bass Restoration Project at the Lyman Fish Hatchery, just north of Gulfport. GCRL scientists have worked in partnership with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources since 1967 to replenish the coastal striped bass population. More than 14 million striped bass have been released into Mississippi waters and striped bass are now caught regularly by recreational anglers.
Another 42,000 fingerlings are being retained for Phase II culture at the hatchery and restocking the ponds. These fish will be reared until they average 150 mm in total length, which should be late October or early November, when 20,000 of them will be harvested and tagged for release. The clearly visible external tags will be located just below the dorsal fin of the fish.
Four students were awarded scholarships to assist with their Summer Field Program (SFP) expenses at the GCRL this summer. Sara Mousel, a student at Northwestern Missouri State University, received the Dr. John S. Sharpe GCRL Endowment. Three students were awarded the Bennie A. Rohr GCRL Summer Field Program Scholarship Endowment: Megan McKenzie and Hannah Bahe, from the USM's Gulf Coast Campus, and Brondum Krebs, a student at the USM Hattiesburg campus.
The Dr. John R. Sharp Gulf Coast Research Lab Endowment provides scholarship money for summer graduate or undergraduate students at GCRL. The Bennie A. Rohr GCRL Summer Field Program Scholarship Endowment provides Summer Field Program scholarships to three students majoring in biology and reside in Hancock, Harrison, or Jackson County.
The SFP has had a record-breaking summer in terms of attendance, with more than 150 students enrolled. These students come to GCRL from 51 affiliate universities in 25 states. The program held classes in the new Field Studies Building completed only days before the start of the first session.
GCRL personnel have had two rather interesting interactions with birds recently.