Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in the News
Scientists at GCRL and Skidaway Institute of Oceanography in Savannah, Georgia, are exploring how oil and dispersants affect the growth of commercially important blue crabs and ecologically important grass shrimp. To help share their conclusions with the public, they have recruited commercial and recreational fishermen, environmental professionals, naturalists, teachers, and other interested members of the public to form the COAST Team (Community Outreach for Accurate Science Translation). These volunteer citizen scientists are now completing their field work and training. They will soon be conducting individual and group presentations for the public. The project is funded by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration.
COAST Team members have devoted six Saturdays to learning about the oil spill from project scientists and educators. Dr. Dick Lee of Skidaway initiated the training with a discussion of his research on the effect of oil and dispersant on blue crabs and grass shrimp. Later sessions included work with GCRL's Harriet Perry and Jim Franks to understand how the life cycles of Gulf residents (specifically blue crabs and bluefin tuna) and ocean currents influenced the vulnerability of those organisms to effects from the spill. Team members have conducted laboratory and field explorations, learned about oil production and how spill research is funded, and sampled the body of published research that is beginning to expand our understanding of the effects of the oil spill. They are currently developing ways to communicate their new expertise to members of the public. According to Dr. Jessie Kastler of GCRL, who coordinated the COAST training program, “We have been helping our citizen scientists recognize the role science plays after an accident with environmental consequences of this magnitude and now they can serve as a resource to share with their communities.”
The culmination of this project will be a public event at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center for Arts and Education in Ocean Springs on June 1, 2013 from 10:00 am until 1:00 p.m.. The event is sponsored by EPA and the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium. COAST team members will communicate specific messages about spill research to the public through oral presentations, informational booths, and demonstrations illustrating the characteristics of spilled oil, why dispersants were used, and what researchers are documenting about the effects of dispersants in the Gulf. Several team members are focusing their efforts on ways to share this information with students.
The Mary C.’s Culinary Arts program will offer a Gulf seafood tasting. Local artists will provide their unique perspectives on the spill. One will paint using comments and input from attendees to create a canvas reflective of the individual attitudes towards the spill and its impact on their lives. The other artist will provide an interactive opportunity for the public to create their own piece of art with unique media.
The Shark Fest day camp at the GCRL’s Marine Education Center (MEC) has much to offer the junior high or high school age camper. It provides a path for former Sea Campers to continue their marine education. For years, campers who had grown too old for Sea Camp had no alternative for a marine-oriented summer camp. Shark Fest fills this need and offers 12- to 18- year olds an introduction to the exciting world of sharks and shark research.
On board a GCRL research vessel, participants visit shark fishing hotspots around the barrier islands, where they catch and tag sharks to contribute to ongoing scientific research. Sharks are weighed, measured, and tagged with a unique number so that if the animal is caught again information about growth and movement can be obtained. After tagging, the shark’s condition is assessed and they are released. One shark tagged during a 2012 Shark Fest program was caught by a recreational fisherman who reported his catch to the Lab. Students involved in the initial tagging were notified that “their” shark had been recaptured.
Beth Jones, Educational Programs Manager at the MEC on the importance of Shark Fest, “This program enables us to take a subject that is appealing (sharks) and use it as a vehicle to convey an array of coastal science information, including sustainable fisheries, habitat change, and ecological principals.” Jill Hendon, research associate in charge of the shark lab at the Center for Marine Fisheries R&D, says, “Shark Fest is a wonderful program that really highlights the importance of sharks to our local ecosystem. It is amazing to see how the participants' perspective of sharks shifts from fear or curiosity to true fascination by the end of the program. It’s great that students get an up-close encounter with these fish and even tag the sharks to aid in our shark movement research. This kind of experience encourages students to understand the importance of the work that we do here at GCRL while observing the amazing diversity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”
The fourth lecture in the Jay and Bev Grimes Distinguished Lecturer series was presented April 22. The featured speaker was Dr. Karen Nelson, distinguished scientist and President of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI). Her lecture was titled "Omics – Insights into Your World and Mine". Her lecture discussed the pioneering work being done on the microbes that colonize the human body of which there are ten times more microbial cells than human cells. In many cases these microbes cannot be grown (cultured) hence the use of ‘omics’ or the identification of microbes based on their DNA ‘fingerprint.’ For example, the JCVI has shown that each tooth in the human body is colonized with a different community of bacteria and they know that the bacteria can activate hormones needed by their human host. Grimes, Nelson and Dr. Andy Evans hope to investigate the omics of sharks, a culture-based project that Grimes worked on in the 1980s before molecular methods had been discovered.
Dr. Nelson has been associated with JCVI for the past 16 years. Prior to her current position as President, she held various other positions at the Institute, including Director of JCVI's Rockville Campus, and Director of Human Microbiology and Metagenomics in the Department of Human Genomic Medicine at JCVI.
Dr. Jay Grimes, marine microbiology professor in the Department of Coastal Sciences and former GCRL director, and his wife Beverly, established the Grimes Distinguished Lecturer Series in 2007. The lecture series brings well-known marine scientists to address topics important to Southern Miss students, faculty and the coast community. The series is supported by the Grimes Distinguished Lecturer Fund through the University of Southern Mississippi Foundation.
The annual Mississippi Marine Fisheries Workshop was held at GCRL on Tuesday, April 30. The workshop featured Dr. Eric Powell, GCRL Director, who spoke about the newly funded NSF Science Center for Marine Fisheries (SCeMFiS). Read Hendon, director of the Center for Fisheries Research and Development (CFRD) at GCRL, provided an update on the Mississippi spotted seatrout fishery and the tag & release program. Darcie Graham, assistant director of the CFRD, addressed GCRL's blue crab research. Jill Hendon, CFRD research associate, summarized the Mississippi shark research program, and Eric Saillant, Assistant Professor in the GCRL’s Department of Coastal Sciences, spoke about the aquaculture of red snapper for stock enhancement. Wesley Devers from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) gave a Mississippi Red Drum status update. The workshop concluded with an open discussion between public participants and presenting researchers. This annual workshop is held in conjunction with and funded by the MDMR through the Sport Fish Restoration Program.
The 2013 Graduate Student Symposium, hosted at GCRL this year, was a great success, with 33 oral presentations, four poster presentations and 71 students in attendance. The annual event is sponsored by the Marine and Estuarine Graduate Student Association (MEGSA) at GCRL, the Graduate Student Group from the Dauphin Island Sea Laboratory (DISL), and the Coast and Environment Graduate Organization from Louisiana State University.
Check-in began on Friday afternoon and lead into a welcome cookout on East Beach, adjacent to the lab. The gnats attempted to break up the party, but a good time was had by all despite them. Saturday began early with breakfast and opening remarks followed by the keynote address by Dr. Wolfgang K. Vogelbein. His address was titled "Pfiesteria: 'The Cell from Hell' or Laboratory Artifact? A Retrospective Look." (Note: Pfiesteria are a genus of tiny dinoflagellates. In conjunction with harmful algal blooms or HABs, they have been associated with fish kills along the coasts of North Carolina and Virginia.)
Oral presentations followed throughout the day and a poster session wrapped up the formal portion of the symposium. Participants were then treated to a social and awards ceremony at the Treasure Oaks Country Club. Dinner was boiled crawfish with locally brewed libations provided by Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company. The group was entertained by GCRL Marine Invertebrate Research Associate Jerry McLelland and his band, the Hound City Ramblers. The award presentation concluded the evening. Chris Manley, from GCRL, won the Student’s Choice award. Whitney Scheffel from DISL won the award for best poster and Andrea Kroetz from DISL was honored for the best student presentation.
Additional photos and details are available here.
Sport fishing research and education at GCRL received a boost from Mississippi Gulf Coast Fishing Tournaments, Inc. in the form of a $2000 check from the proceeds of the Dr. Chris Sprayberry Memorial Trophy Trout Tournament. John Rea, president of the group, made the presentation to Read Hendon, director of the GCRL Center for Fisheries R&D, at the April 28 tournament awards ceremony at The Dock Bar & Grill in Gulfport, Mississippi.
Board members John Rea (left) and Andy Hermitz (right) with Read Hendon of GCRL (center)
In describing the donation, Rea said, “We, as the corporation’s board, have all agreed that not only are we going to fund the Sprayberry Endowment Fund in honor of our dear friend every year, but we are also going to help out with conservation in any way we can. This is what we thought would help the most.” The foundation’s generous contribution will go into the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory Sport Fishing Research Fund to support undergraduate research and Sea Camp scholarships.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Fishing Tournaments, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) corporation founded in 2011. Read more about their objectives here and find them on Facebook. To donate to the GCRL Sport Fishing Research Fund, please contact GCRL or the University of Southern Mississippi Foundation at 601.266.5735 or
GCRL's Cedar Point teaching site will be the location of the second annual Stewardship Summit on May 17-18, 2013. The Stewardship Summit is part of the Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE) program developed under the B-WET Shifting Baselines Project. During the school year, the grant paid for each teacher to bring up to 25 students to GCRL to gain hands-on experience on these subjects. The program teaches watershed concepts, science content, and environmental stewardship using maps, aerial photography, internet resources and field experiences. Participating teachers could invite five exceptional students to return to GCRL for the culminating event of the project, the Stewardship Summit.
Participants at the Stewardship Summit will learn more about watershed connections to the coast and how we can all be better stewards of our natural environment. Teachers and selected students spend a full day in games, presentations, and field experiences that allow them to share their stewardship activities and learn more about those of other students. They interact with natural resource scientists, such as Dr. Keith Mullin of NOAA, who conducts marine mammal research, and with groups working to make Mississippi’s coastal communities more resilient to storm damage. By the end of the Summit each participant will identify and describe an action he or she can take to be a better environmental steward. The teachers and students who will participate are from schools all over Mississippi and Louisiana.
Participating schools and teachers for the 2013 Stewardship Summit were Philadelphia High School (Jim Luke), Philadelphia, MS, St. Stanislaus College (Letha Boudreaux, Dan Munger), Bay St. Louis, MS, St. Thomas More High School (John Dupuis), Lafayette, LA, Blackburn Middle School (Bridget Harkins, Marian Howze), Jackson, MS, St. Martin Middle School (Virginia McLaughlin), Ocean Springs, MS, and Sumrall High School (Jamie Sorrell), Sumrall, MS.
NSF Funds Science Center for Marine Fisheries at GCRL
A grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is supporting the creation of the Science Center for Marine Fisheries (SCeMFiS) at The Gulf Coast Research Laboratory and the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS). The Center is a cooperative venture led by Dr. Eric Powell at GCRL and Professor Roger Mann at VIMS. It will provide an academic resource for the fishing industry throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions. The Center will be be co-located at GCRL and VIMS.
The new Center joins a network of NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers (I/UCRCs). I/UCRC centers are designed to provide the business community with the opportunity to gain access to science to help fulfill their needs. In its 40-year history, the I/UCRC program at NSF has become a model for collaborative research between industry and universities throughout the country.
Powell says SCeMFiS is “unique in being the only federal-industry partnership that permits the fishing industry to retain a leadership role in designing the science program. This assures that sustainable fisheries will remain a focus of project design and that the science products will directly address the issues faced by the fishing industry.”
Mann adds that Center activities will “benefit both the commercial and recreational fishing industries while helping to sustain the nation's fish resources.” Research at the center, he says, “will use peer-reviewed science to help improve sampling methods for fisheries surveys, enhance population-dynamics models, develop new approaches to reducing discard, reveal geographic and biological variations in stock structure and dynamics, among many other benefits.”
Successful management of U.S. fisheries is limited by insufficient information on finfish and shellfish stocks and fisheries and insufficient analytical and modeling applications. The mission of the SCeMFiS is to use academic, recreational, and commercial fisheries resources to address urgent scientific problems limiting sustainable fisheries. The Center seeks to simultaneously achieve the goals of sustainable fish and shellfish stocks and sustainable fish and shellfish fisheries. An Industry Advisory Board (IAB) for the Center will be made up of business and federal partners that have agreed to support the Center. The IAB is expected to meet for the first time on June 21, 2013.
The National Science Foundation’s initial support of SCeMFIS is an initial five-year seed grant of $529,340, with a statement of intent to provide additional future support if funds are available and results warrant. NSF officials say that investment in SCeMFIS and other cooperative research centers is seed money, with the centers expected to gradually become fully supported by university, industry, state, and/or other non-NSF sponsors. To date, more than 80% of the centers established under the program continue as successful centers without NSF funding.
Chris Snyder, Director of the MEC and Beth Jones, MEC Educational Programs Manager recently accompanied a group of students from Vancleave High School to the fourth annual National Student Summit on Oceans and Coasts in Washington, D.C. The four-day summit provided an opportunity for the Mississippi students to share their experiences and conclusions from studying ocean science and coastal environments at GCRL. The summit is sponsored by the Coastal America Partnership, which brings public and private groups to collaborate in addressing the challenges to our nation’s coastal ecosystems. GCRL's MEC is one of 24 Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers across the country which foster awareness and education to promote better management of coastal resources. The group also visited Mississippi's U.S. Senator, Thad Cochran.
Students, teachers, and MEC staff visited Mississippi's Senator Thad Cochran.
Pictured (left to right) – Robert Bawcum (student), Leslie Salter (teacher), Beth Jones (MEC Educational Programs Manager), Christian Davis (student), U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, Chris Snyder (MEC Director), Matthew Summerlin (student), and Micah Longmire (student).
The Vancleave students have chosen to take on the problem of marine debris as a special project. They conduct a volunteer cleanup day on Saturday, April 27, 2013 in Vancleave, the first of its kind in their community. The event will educate residents on the need to be a responsible part of the watershed and how their actions regarding litter and trash have a direct effect on our oceans and streams.
On April 4, GCRL partnered with local agencies to host the 2013 Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Leadership Class at the Cedar Point teaching site. The class’s Environmental Day introduced participants to the diversity of groups, facilities, and programs that focus on environmental issues in and around Jackson County.
The Chamber with the assistance of Mark LaSalle from the Pascagoula Audubon Center, conducted an Environmental Fair that allowed local facilities, organizations, and nature-based businesses to share details about what they do.
Participating organizations included Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge, Grand Bay NERR, Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain, Habitat Stewards Program of the Mississippi Wildlife Federation, Coastal Rivers, NOAA Pascagoula Lab, The Nature Conservancy, Jackson County Soil and Water Conservation District, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Pascagoula River Audubon Center, South Coast Paddling Company, McCoy’s River & Marsh Tours, and Eco-Tours of South Mississippi.
Linh Pham, GCRL graduate student, was honored as the Yarbrough Scholar winner at the 2013 USM Graduate Student Research Symposium on March 21 in Hattiesburg. She was also author of the Department of Coastal Sciences' top paper in Life and Physical Sciences II. Linh's presentation was titled "Seagrass assessment on Northern Chandeleur Islands, LA". Her major professor is Dr. Patrick Biber.
Bayou field trips are available to local schools and community groups. The field trips consist of two 90-minute sessions, one onboard Miss Peetsy B and one in the waterfront classroom. Student programs are aimed at 4th - 12th grade students in groups of 30 to 60 and cost $20 per student. More information is available here. Programs for adults are tailored to suit the group.
GCRL’s Dr. Jay Grimes was recently selected to serve as the new chair of the Committee on Environmental Microbiology of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM.) The announcement came at the annual meeting of the ASM Public and Scientific Affairs Board (PSAB) in Washington, D.C. The Committee on Microbiology, one of ten PSAB committees, promotes the adoption of sound science policies on environmental microbiology by reviewing and analyzing pertinent federal programs.
The PSAB monitors legislation and regulation and develops positions for ASM on public policy issues. With 37,000 members, ASM is the largest life sciences society in the world.
GCRL faculty and staff celebrated the 103rd anniversary of The University of Southern Mississippi with a gathering and commemorative cake in the dining hall. 20-year service pins were awarded to Dawn Rebarchik and Angelia Bone. Chris Snyder was honored for 10 years of service. Kathy Vanderkooy was not in attendance, but has earned her 10-year service pin. Megan Burkes, Manager of Annual Giving and Special Projects for the USM Foundation spoke to the group about the Campaign for Southern Miss and donation opportunities.