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Seven students selected for Sea Grant Research Trainee program at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant

Seven students from universities across Georgia have been selected to participate in the year-long Georgia Sea Grant Research Trainee program. The students will work with faculty and professional mentors to conduct marine research and gain new professional skills.

Research conducted by the trainees will address one or more of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s four focus areas: healthy coastal ecosystems, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, resilient communities and economies, and environmental literacy and workforce development.

“By pairing students with academic and professional mentors, and immersing them in interdisciplinary research experiences, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is helping prepare a diverse workforce for jobs in the future,” says Mona Behl, associate director of Georgia Sea Grant.

The trainees will design research projects that build on their dissertations or theses while connecting with extension and education specialists at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant who will help share their work with coastal communities. Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is a UGA Public Service unit.

Samantha Alvey

Samantha Alvey

Samantha Alvey is a master’s student in biology at Georgia Southern University. As part of her traineeship, she will be studying antibiotic resistance in coastal waters.

Bacteria are able to develop resistance to antibiotics and enter streams and rivers through wastewater discharge and runoff. These bacteria accumulate on river sediments where recreational activities, like fishing and boating, re-release the bacteria into the water where they can cause disease. Alvey will collect water and measure how the amount of antibiotic resistance bacteria changes when sediment is disturbed by human recreation. She will also examine the potential for the resistant bacteria to spread from rivers to the coast, which will be useful to inform water policy aimed at reducing ecological and public health risks.

“This program not only provides essential resources to support my research but also opportunities to communicate my findings to my peers and the public through conferences and public outreach events that I might not otherwise have access to during my graduate program,” Alvey said.

 

Courtney Balling

Courtney Balling

Courtney Balling, a Ph.D. student in the departments of Integrative Conservation and Geography at UGA, is researching the environmental drivers of septic system failure.

Coastal areas are especially at risk of septic system failure in the coming decades due to sea level rise and changes in rainfall patterns. Balling will look at how environmental conditions, like tidal fluctuation and precipitation, impact bacterial concentrations in groundwater near residential septic systems. This research will be shared with officials working in public health, wastewater, and planning to help create sustainable wastewater solutions for the future.

“I would love to be a part of an extension service. I truly enjoy research and community engagement, and extension would allow for both. This traineeship is allowing me to gather more of the skills I’ll need for that kind of work—everything from grant writing and research design to strategic communication and community partnership,” Balling said.

 

Jennifer Dorick

Jennifer Dorick

Jennifer Dorick is a Ph.D. student at UGA studying food science with a focus on food safety. Her project will focus on food safety hazards in aquaponics, a sustainable agricultural practice that integrates aquaculture and hydroponic farming.

Dorick will study a commercial aquaponics system, looking at what pathogens, like E.coli and salmonella enterica, are present and where they are most prevalent within the system. This research will provide more insight into foodborne pathogen risks in the aquaponics industry and will provide valuable information to other commercial aquaponics farms that could prevent the introduction of these pathogens in their systems.

“The traineeship will contribute to my research goals by funding a research field that is creating an innovative and sustainable method to produce fresh food sources to urban, rural, and food desert areas in Georgia,” Dorick said.

 

Monét Murphy

Monét Murphy

Monét Murphy is an undergraduate student pursuing a double major in marine science and environmental science at Savannah State University. Her project will involve studying benthic foraminifera in the Savannah River Estuary. Benthic foraminifera are tiny, single-celled organisms that can serve as bioindicators of environmental conditions in marine environments, including natural variability and human impacts. They are generally well preserved in the fossil record.

As part of her project, Murphy will study foraminifera distribution and abundance in samples collected before, during and after the deepening of the Savannah River harbor. This research will determine if the upstream extension of saline waters due to Savannah harbor deepening has impacted foraminifera distribution and if these changes have the potential to be impacted in the sediment record.

“The traineeship program will help me better communicate my results, the importance of benthic foraminifera, and the impacts of harbor deepening to stakeholders and how the study of the fossil record informs us of the range of past climatic, coastal and oceanographic conditions,” Murphy said.

 

Alexandra Muscalus

Alexandra Muscalus

Alexandra Muscalus is a Ph.D. student in the Ocean Science and Engineering program at Georgia Tech. Her research focuses on hydrodynamics and coastal impacts of the wake generated by container ships, which pose public safety hazards and have been linked to rapid shoreline erosion along shipping channels.

Muscalus will study sites in the Savannah River to measure the wave characteristics and energy of ship wake in the main shipping channel as well as nearby secondary channels. Her research will be beneficial in providing new information for coastal managers when it comes to mitigating impacts of low-frequency wakes on shorelines.

“The traineeship will allow me to conclude my thesis work in a way that transforms my previous findings into meaningful and actionable results for stakeholders. At the same time, it will provide a means for me to interact with stakeholder groups and help me decide in which specific direction I would like to take my career,” Muscalus said.

 

Sarah Roney

Sarah Roney

Sarah Roney is a Ph.D. student in the Ocean Science and Engineering program at Georgia Tech. Her traineeship will involve researching how different types of organic compounds identified from predator waste products can improve how oysters defend themselves against predation.

Working with researchers at the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant Shellfish Research Lab, Roney will introduce two organic compounds in a hatchery system that have been shown to induce defensive responses in oysters. The goal is to produce a stronger, well-defended oyster that can increase the success of restored reefs and living shorelines as well as the productivity of farmed oysters, enhancing oyster restoration practices as well as oyster mariculture efforts.

“With the trainee program, I can work with not only my academic and scientific advisor, Marc Weissburg, but also the director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Shellfish Research Lab, Tom Bliss, learning about the ins-and-outs of the shellfish industry in Georgia and the ways scientific research can be beneficial and applicable to the trade,” Roney said.

 

Megan Tomamichel

Megan Tomamichel

Megan Tomamichel is a Ph.D. student at UGA’s Odum School of Ecology researching black gill disease in shrimp. Her project involves developing a stock assessment model of shrimp populations that incorporates black gill transmission and harvesting strategies under ongoing oceanic warming.

The model will account for the impacts of black gill on shrimp, and it can be used to inform management strategies for shrimp harvest under changing environmental conditions.

“I was interested in applying to the Georgia Sea Grant Research Trainee program to support my current research addressing a disease of concern in Georgia fisheries. This program aligns with my goals to use science as a tool to help support the people and ecosystems of the Georgia Coast,” Tomamichel said.

Donations to the UGA Shellfish Research Lab upgrade the facility and allow for expanded operations

The UGA Shellfish Research Lab can increase oyster production, as well as produce more algae to feed the baby oysters, thanks to new water tanks and a concrete pad to hold the tanks donated to Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

The 24 x 24-foot concrete water storage pad was donated by Peeples Industries, Inc., and poured next to the shellfish research facility at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on Skidaway Island.

Photo of tanks at the Marine Extension hatchery

Water collected in the donated tanks will be used to grow algae in tanks outside the lab.

The pad holds three 10,000-gallon water tanks and a 2,000-gallon tank that were donated by the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, also on Skidaway Island.

With the new holding tanks, the Shellfish Research Lab can now bring in up to 10,000 gallons of water daily from the Skidaway River that will be used for the lab’s oyster hatchery. The water in the tanks will settle for 24 to 48 hours before being pumped into smaller tanks in the hatchery where larval algae and oyster seed are kept.

“In the water, we have a lot of fine particulate matter, such as different types of sediments and detritus,” said Tom Bliss, director of the Shellfish Research Lab. “Those tanks allow the water to sit very still and [the sediment] slowly settles down to the bottom, so it’s more efficient for us to do water changes.”

The tanks will also be used to supply water to the algae tanks, which play a crucial role in oyster growth. Extension specialists at the lab started growing algae three years ago to supplement store-bought and natural food used to feed the oysters. The new water tanks will allow the team to expand algae production and increase the amount of food available to the oysters.

Baby oysters in the hatchery rely on water brought in from the Skidaway River. The holding tanks will allow for increased oyster production in the hatchery.

Baby oysters in the hatchery rely on water brought in from the Skidaway River. The holding tanks will allow for increased oyster production in the hatchery.

According to Bliss, the tanks not only give them the flexibility to expand production by using more of their available resources, but they also act as a safety net should storms knock out the lab’s power. The tanks are able to supply almost a week’s worth of backup water supply in the event of a power outage.

Thanks to the donation, the concrete pad and new holding tanks were placed just in time for oyster spawning season, which will allow the lab to produce more oysters and algae this spring.

UGA Shellfish Research Lab expands algae research and production

Raising millions of baby oysters takes a lot of hard work. Just ask Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s aquaculture extension agents based at the UGA Shellfish Research Lab on Skidaway Island. Since 2015, the shellfish team has been producing single oysters and working with shellfish farmers on the Georgia coast who grow them to market size oysters.

A large part of growing oysters in the hatchery requires feeding them a nutritious diet that consists of algae. In the beginning, researchers at the lab would purchase algae food from outside vendors or depend on natural sources of algae coming in from the Skidaway River, but a few years ago, Aquaculture Extension Specialist Rob Hein started experimenting with growing his own algae culture at the lab to supplement the store bought and natural food.

“It’s so much cheaper and better quality,” says Hein, who’s become the lab’s in-house algologist. “I think what prompted it was traveling to other hatcheries and seeing how they operate. I have been slowly expanding every year.”

Large outdoor algae tanks sit outside the UGA Shellfish Research Lab.

Hein’s experimental algae research has since turned into a larger scale algae operation. The lab has retrofitted space at the hatchery to make room for large algae tanks, both inside and outside. Thanks to fundraising efforts through Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s annual Oyster Roast for a Reason, the lab has been able to acquire several flat bottom algae tanks that can hold up to 5,100 gallons of algae. Having larger tanks for algae culture in an environmentally controlled space has greatly increased the reliability of the cultures, meaning they now have a more consistent source of highly nutritious food for the oysters.

“We’ve been able to increase the amount of food that we can provide to the nursery, greatly improving survival and growth while reducing costs,” Hein says.

Hein and the rest of the team are now growing a variety of live algae species that are fed to the oysters at different stages of their life cycle. The Shellfish Lab currently operates the only oyster hatchery in Georgia, but the team hopes to share what they have learned about algae culture with new hatcheries that become established on the coast.

“Every strain, let alone every species, has a slightly different nutrient profile and slightly different habitat tolerances. It is kind of a balancing act to produce complete nutrition for the oysters while maximizing growth rates based on the environmental conditions and water quality that changes throughout the year,” he says. “We are looking forward to using our new algae tanks as we continue to make our hatchery more efficient at producing oyster seed for the industry.”

UGA scientists investigate marine murder mystery

A team of University of Georgia investigators is working on a murder mystery, not your everyday who-done-it, but one in which the investigators are scientists, and the victims are thousands of tiny oyster larvae.

The mystery began the in the summer of 2017 at the UGA Shellfish Research Laboratory, a unit of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on Skidaway Island near Savannah.The shellfish lab is leading a movement to develop oyster aquaculture in Georgia and operates the state’s only oyster hatchery.

One day, as they frequently do, the oyster hatchery team changed the water in the tanks containing oyster larvae. The team pumped water from the Skidaway River behind the lab and ran it through filters before introducing it to the larvae tanks. At this stage in their life cycle the oysters are free swimmers — not having developed a shell or attached to any surface — and they are tiny, only a tenth of a millimeter in diameter. When the team arrived at work the following day, they were shocked.

“We came in the next day and we had lost 80 to 90 percent of our larvae,” Tom Bliss, director of the shellfish lab, said. “The day before, they were perfectly healthy, then overnight they went.”

They quickly concluded the mortality must have been connected to the water change, but they had no idea what substance or organism in the water was responsible. To find some answers, they approached UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography researcher Elizabeth Harvey. Harvey’s research focuses on one likely culprit — microscopic marine algae known as phytoplankton. She and her students regularly and frequently sample and test water from the river.

“We thought this was interesting, because we like algae in general,” Harvey said. “But we also thought we could help the shellfish lab answer some of their questions.”

Sean Anderson, a UGA graduate student and a member of Harvey’s team, was in the middle of a lengthy project to collect and study phytoplankton samples from the Skidaway River on a weekly basis. Coincidentally, Anderson had collected samples the same day as the water change. He observed a large concentration of a particular phytoplankton species, akashiwo sanguinea, which is considered a harmful algal species. Some algae species produce toxins that are harmful to other marine life, and some can produce large blooms, like the red tide phenomena that has closed beaches and caused other problems in Florida.

Armed with that information, Harvey obtained additional data from the Phytoplankton Monitoring Network, a group of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant volunteers who collect and monitor water samples from the Skidaway River for phytoplankton and harmful algal blooms on a weekly basis.

“We were able to match other times when the hatchery has seen similar events with times when the phytoplankton volunteers observed high concentrations of that particular algae,” Harvey said.

Harvey and Bliss are fairly certain they have found the source of the problem, but they are still unclear how the algae are harming the oyster larvae, and, more importantly, how to prevent it in the future. This particular species of algae does produce a toxin. It also produces a sticky substance that has killed birds during blooms on the west coast by damaging the water proofing on their feathers.

“We don’t know if the oysters are ingesting the algae and the toxin along with it, or if the algae is getting broken apart in the filtration process,” Harvey said. “Or if this sticky substance is the problem.”

Identifying the phytoplankton that is the source of the problem is just the beginning. There are many unanswered questions. Does this algae species also affect oysters in the wild? What prompts an algae bloom? What is the actual killing agent affecting the oyster larvae? Is there a pattern to the blooms?

If a bloom can be predicted, the hatchery team can take preventative steps to protect their oyster crop. “If we know there is going to be a bloom, we can avoid bringing in water,” Bliss said. “We need to know if the toxin breaks down after 24 or 48 hours, or if there is a way to filter it out.”

Luckily, oyster consumers are safe. Harvey notes that the algae is not harmful to people who eat oysters that have been exposed to the algae.

Harvey and Bliss plan to continue to research the issue. A graduate student from the UGA Department of Marine Sciences has been added to the research team to work on the project. She is supported by the Friends of the UGA Aquarium. Harvey believes it is important to follow up with additional work, because there is no data about algal blooms in Georgia. “It would be nice to have some baseline knowledge of things that are happening here before it gets to be a serious problem,” she said. “That is the ultimate goal of scientists, to understand a system before we need to understand it, and it’s rare that we get a chance to do that.”

UGA helps sustain the coastal economy

Diversifying and adapting to change with UGA experts to help is key for coastal businesses

Orders come in overnight by emails and through messages left on Charlie Phillips’ phone.

By 7:30 a.m., he’s behind the desk in his cramped office-its walls papered with maps of Georgia barrier islands and marshes-entering orders by hand on a paper spread sheet.

A restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, wants about 1,600 clams, while a regular customer on Long Island orders 3,000 to 5,000. By midday Phillips has taken orders for tens of thousands of clams, all farm-raised in the mud flats adjacent to Sapelo Island.

While he logs in the orders, employees on the dock wash the small clams that have just been pulled from the marsh in their mesh grow-out bags. Other employees gently empty baskets of harvested clams into a machine that will sort and route them by size into color-coded bags that will be packaged in boxes lined with bubble wrap. Then the clams will be shipped to businesses from south Florida to Canada.

Pivoting with the market

A second-generation Georgia fisherman, Phillips began shrimping as a teenager alongside his father, and later captained the boat when he took over the business. When the shrimp industry began to take a hit in the 1980s, he explored other opportunities. He replaced Blackbeard, his shrimp boat that caught fire and sank, with snapper boats.

But then a study showed overfishing had severely diminished the red snapper population in the Atlantic Ocean, and government regulations effectively closed red snapper fishing.

Phillips already had been exploring aquaculture, and had taken UGA Marine Extension up on its offer of grow-out clam seed for fishers looking to diversify their investments.

By 2009, he was in full production, harvesting 500,000 clams annually. Last year, his harvest was 2 million.

Julius Brennon boxes vermillion snapper or beeliners at the Spell Sea Farm dock.

A long history of struggle

Spend time with the boat captains who have worked the waters off the coast of Georgia for decades, and they’ll regale you with stories about the good old days, back in the 1960s and ’70s, when fuel was cheap and shrimp were plentiful. Back then, shrimp sold for up to $7 a pound.

In those days, there were more than 60 shrimp boats working the Georgia coast, bringing in upwards of 6 million pounds of shrimp a year, said Marty Higgins, a marine resource specialist for UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and first mate on the R/V (Research/Vessel) Georgia Bulldog.

The industry struggled in the 1980s, as fuel prices increased and foreign countries began exporting farm raised shrimp that sold for much less than the fresh shrimp from the Atlantic. Boats went out of business, commercial docks closed. Businesses supported by the fishing industry left town.

Captain Charlie Phillips, owner of Sapelo Sea Farms, explains clam farming at one of his clam beds.

From boat repairs to financial planning

Marine Extension became the go-to stop for a variety of needs. Higgins, marine resources specialist Herbert “Truck” McIver and Lindsey Parker, captain of the R/V Georgia Bulldog, sewed holes in fishing nets, welded parts back onto boats, and fixed mechanical issues when they could, so that the shrimpers could get back on the water as quickly as possible.

Marine resources specialists in Brunswick held a net-mending class for shrimpers during the winter.

Consultants from the UGA Small Business Development Center offered workshops to help fishers make financial projections and plan for the future.

Looking toward the future, Bryan Fluech, associate director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, and McIver are working with McIntosh County Academy and Coastal Pines Technical College to develop a career academy program for high school students who want to pursue a career in commercial fishing. The program will address essential subjects that will better prepare participants to serve as crew members aboard commercial fishing boats in the region or possibly work in other maritime-related industries.

New to the menu: Jelly balls

Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant also helps fishers expand into other areas.

For example, Georgia shrimpers, who have boats with sturdy reinforced hulls, can make money by catching and selling cannonball jellyfish, a seafood delicacy in some Asian countries.

In 2002, entrepreneur Terry Chuang decided to take advantage of the abundant cannonball jellies in the south Atlantic, and he opened a jelly ball processing plant in Darien, about 40 miles north of Brunswick.

At 6 cents a pound, the shrimpers have to catch a lot of jellyfish to make money. But it’s fairly easy work. They scoop the jellies up in their nets and drop them off at the dock. An ambitious boat captain can catch 110,000 pounds, earning $6,600, every other day, said April Harper, who manages the plant where they dry and salt the jellies before exporting them to Japan and China.

“A boat that normally would be sitting at the dock for six months is now active 12 months out of the year,” Harper said.

The UGA Food Product Innovation and Commercialization Center (Food PIC) also bought some for product development on a project proposal using jelly balls, said Kirk Kealey, FoodPIC director.

Another option: Oysters

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant offered another opportunity to diversify in 2015 with the launch of an oyster hatchery on Skidaway Island. About 10 people working in the fishing industry were given oyster seed, or spat, created at the hatchery, to grow out to maturity as single shell oysters.

The 5 to 6 million spat, produced as of this year, are expected to have a harvest value of $1 million to $1.2 million.

At Sapelo Sea Farms, Charlie Phillips also is growing oysters. They take more time and effort than clams and so far he doesn’t make much money off it, but he’s open to learning more about.

After all, he found his niche in growing clams when UGA began introducing that option to Georgia fishers in the late 1990s. There was a learning curve then, too. Today, he can buy 1.3 million clam seeds from South Carolina for $15,000. With a 40-50 percent yield, the harvest value is roughly $100,000.

“I diversified, which most people did not,” Phillips said. “If you don’t, you’re toast. I would not be in the clam business if it weren’t for Marine Extension.”

Keeping it Local: Reviving Georgia’s Seafood Heritage

Learn about UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s efforts to grow oyster aquaculture in the state and raise awareness of issues facing Georgia’s commercial fishing industry at “Keeping it local: Reviving Georgia’s seafood heritage.” The event will take place at Cine Cinema and Arts on April 26 from 6 – 9 p.m.

“We’re excited to share the cultural history of Georgia’s seafood industry with the Athens community and shed light on the importance of local seafood and aquaculture to our state,” said Mark Risse, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant director.

The event will feature an art exhibit by renowned artist, Alan Campbell, a book reading by local author, André Gallant, and a showing of the film “Shifting Baselines,” produced by Blue Voyage Productions in partnership with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. Oysters and regional seafood cuisine will be served by The National and Seabear Oyster Bar.

This event is the first in a series of events featuring artwork by Alan Campbell, whose paintings tell the story of traditional shellfish farming in Georgia. Campbell hopes to raise awareness of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s oyster hatchery on Skidaway Island, which has been growing oysters from larvae since 2015. When the hatchery oysters reach a certain size, they are given to shellfish farmers on the Georgia coast, who cultivate them to maturity.

The goal of the hatchery is increase oyster aquaculture production in Georgia, which would provide jobs and greater economic development opportunities on the coast.

Subsequent Keeping it Local events will be held in Savannah and Brunswick later in the summer. Tickets for the Athens event can be purchased here.

 

UGA part of regional collaboration studying oyster farming

Ripples form on the surface of the water as UGA graduate student Shannon Kirk loads her research equipment onto the R/V Marie. Today she’s heading out to her research site in Wassaw Sound to measure the growth of more than 10,000 oysters.

“We’ll measure the length, width and height to determine the overall proportion of the oysters, which will help us understand how valuable they might be in the eyes of consumers,” says Kirk, who is studying aquaculture in the Master of Science program at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

In partnership with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, Kirk is studying ways to reduce the buildup of barnacles, algae and other organisms, called biofouling, on floating cages used by shellfish growers. Her findings could help UGA’s efforts to revive the oyster industry in Georgia.

“When biofouling gets really, really bad it can actually reduce water flow to the oysters,” Kirk said. “Oysters depend on that water flow to feed on phytoplankton and algae in the water. If other organisms are blocking it, they start dying off or they don’t grow as fast.”

This is a problem for growers raising single oysters, a product that’s in demand by the restaurant industry. Biofouling can slow production and decrease the value of an oyster because it doesn’t look aesthetically pleasing.

“Fouling is hindering a lot of advancement in oyster aquaculture because of the amount of time you have to spend tending to the oysters in order to control it,” Kirk said.

Kirk is testing ways to reduce biofouling by spraying floating cages with a coating designed to deter organisms. A second method involves flipping the cages upside down for 24-hours on a weekly, biweekly and three-week basis to interrupt the growth of newly settled organisms.

Shellfish growers typically flip their cages once a week, which dries out the marine life growing on the cages.

“If we figure out that the aerial drying doesn’t need to occur quite as frequently, then those oysters are going to have more time to feed and the farmers won’t need to go out there to tend to them quite as often, which will save them money on gas and labor,” Kirk said.

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant created the state’s first oyster hatchery in 2015. Kirk’s project has allowed UGA researchers to use floating cages for the first time, said Tom Bliss, director of the Shellfish Research Lab at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

“These are already allowed in South Carolina and North Carolina,” Bliss said. “If we can show that this method is successful in our state, hopefully it will pave the way for new permitting and regulations that make farming oysters easier and attract new farmers.”

Last year Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and the General Assembly recognized Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s work with a $150,000 appropriation to help pay for a hatchery manager and aquaculture extension agent to work with oyster farmers.

Kirk’s research is part of a larger, multi-state collaborative project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Southern Regional Aquaculture Center. The project team consists of university researchers, Sea Grant extension agents and industry partners representing seven states across the southern region, from North Carolina to Louisiana. Kirk and Louisiana State University graduate student Ellis Chapman are deploying the same research methods at sites in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

With buy-in from universities and Sea Grant programs, collaborators can tackle the problem by using a two-pronged approach through research and extension.

Julie Davis, living marine resources extension specialist with the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium, is the lead on the project. The regional team hopes to fine-tune growing techniques and further demonstrate the viability of the floating cage oyster production system that’s already in use by farmers throughout the region, she said.

“We have a fairly new industry in the South,” Davis said. “We want to share results of the project with people here who are interested in the business so they’re not just seeing content from other regions, like the West Coast or Northeast.”

“As an extension agent, I can say to farmers, ‘We tried this method in this location and you’re only an hour up the road,’ ” Davis said. “The information is more relevant to the grower and it allows them to make their business decisions with more confidence because the data has been generated locally.”

The team is working closely with oyster farmers over the course of the project. The growing gear is deployed on their farms and they are working with extension agents to handle routine flipping at the sites. At the conclusion of the study, the research team will share results at workshops designed for current growers as well those who have an interest in getting into oyster aquaculture in each state.

Writer: Emily Woodward, ewoodward@uga.edu, 912-598-2348 ext. 107
Contact: Shannon Kirk, shannonk@uga.edu

Fundraising event supports oyster aquaculture in Georgia

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.

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