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Dodie Sanders retires after 20 years of serving coastal communities

For two decades, marine educator and boat captain Dodie Sanders cultivated connections between coastal communities and the natural world by creating science-based educational programming for K-12 students and adults. In November 2022, Sanders retired from her role at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, leaving a lasting impact on thousands of students, educators, coastal residents and researchers.

Sanders began working at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant in 2002. Based at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island, she developed engaging curricula, programming and workshops offered year-round at the facility on topics like oyster restoration, marine debris monitoring and horseshoe crab ecology. She mentored and trained hundreds of marine education fellows and college interns, fostering their growth in environmental education and marine science.

A woman wearing a hat stands in front of a coastal landscape as she speaks to a group of eleven adults all dressed in outdoor attire.

Sanders speaks to a group during a trip to Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge.

Early on, her work brought prominence to UGA on a regional and national level. In 2003 she helped launch G.E.O.R.G.I.A. (Generating Enhanced Oyster Reefs in Georgia’s Inshore Areas), the first oyster shell recycling program in the state. The community-based program focuses on collecting and recycling oyster shell to create new oyster reefs and enhancing public awareness and stewardship of oyster habitat. Its success led to new projects tied to oyster restoration, including hands-on fishing programs for youth that made the important connection between the conservation, restoration and protection of oyster reef communities and coastal fisheries.

a woman looks through a microscope with two children sitting on either side

Sanders looks through a microscope alongside a student during a program at the UGA Aquarium.

Between 2007 and 2014, Sanders developed and hosted a series of workshops for hundreds of educators to support the growing need for teacher training opportunities. Educators traveled from as far as New Hampshire to participate in workshops on the Georgia coast that focused on horseshoe crab ecology and marine debris. The workshops were rooted in field-based explorations that used the environment as context for learning, and teachers were able to gain new skills, knowledge and techniques to take back to their classrooms.

“A day on the water with Dodie is good medicine,” said Anne Lindsay, associate director of education for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. Lindsay shares a 20-year history with Sanders, working alongside her to provide hands-on, experiential learning opportunities at the aquarium.

an old photo shows two women standing in a room

Sanders (left) and Lindsay (right) teach a Summer Marine Science Camp in the early 2000s.

“She has, quite simply, raised the bar on the quality and research content of our field and lab programming and outreach to classrooms and the community,” Lindsay said. “She’s been the link to current research being done along Georgia’s coast and speaks the language of science and education equally well.”

Sanders has been fundamental in bringing science-based information to coastal communities. Her passion for research helped build the connection between Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and researchers at UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. This partnership led to the development of public exhibits at the UGA Aquarium as well as programs and resources designed to make research findings understandable and accessible.

In 2018, Sanders teamed up with professor Jay Brandes at the Skidaway Institute to develop a microplastics monitoring community science program to engage the coastal community in studying the abundance and distribution of microplastics along the coast.

"A day on the water with Dodie is good medicine."

“Dodie was able to entice a series of volunteers to work for us to collect and measure microplastics in the area,” said Brandes. “She also gained funding for supplies, internship funding, and boat trips that greatly expanded our program.”

Between May 2018 and January 2020, volunteers collected 2,880 samples from various locations on the coast. Data they collected generated a map of microplastic abundances and types used by coastal zone managers and municipalities to identify hot spots of contamination for future planning and decision making.

a woman wearing sunglasses and a beige hat sits on a chair and steers a wheel in the cockpit of a boat

Sanders captains the R/V Sea Dawg on a trawling trip on the Skidaway River.

“She made the drudgery of filtering the numerous samples we would get from all the water sampling sites of the microplastics project feel like fun,” said Roger Cayer, a volunteer who participated in the microplastics monitoring program as well as other community-science programs launched by Sanders over the years.

“Working with Dodie helped me realize how much I enjoy being a citizen scientist,” Cayer said.

Sanders incorporated findings from the project into lab and field activities for K-12 students visiting the aquarium and published an article about the program in the 2021 issue of Current: The Journal of Marine Education with the goal of inspiring scientists across the country to use it as a model for engaging communities in research.

“Involving volunteers provided direct experience with all of this, which made a strong impact on them, and all of their friends and families,” said Brandes.

A theme woven throughout the projects and programs Sanders launched over the years is the focus on action-based conservation, education and research efforts that bring diverse audiences together with a common cause and goal.

Sanders has inspired people of all ages to look at the natural world from a new perspective, fueling a passion within others to study, protect and explore it, including her colleagues at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

“Her role with us as captain, educator and researcher lies at the heart of our work,” said Lindsay. “She has inspired thousands of people and mentored a lucky subset, including all of us.”

an old black and white photo showing a group of adults outdoors is shown on the left next to a modern photo on the right with a group of adults smiling together on a dock with water behind them

The education team in early 2000 poses on the bluff outside the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island (left). Current staff pose for a group photo with Sanders on her last day in November 2022 (right).

 

 

Three Georgia artists will offer new perspectives on the value of the state’s coastal resources

Artists from Savannah and Atlanta will explore Georgia’s coastal culture and natural resources through art as part of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Artists, Writers and Scholars program, which launched in 2021.

The program supports projects designed to produce professional-quality art and literature that increases awareness of Georgia’s marine environments, improves understanding of Georgia’s coastal communities, and helps document history, culture, or heritage of Georgia’s coast.

“The Artist, Writers and Scholars program is inspiring new collaborations between marine researchers and the art community, and it’s allowing our organization to educate and inform audiences about the coast in exciting and creative ways,” says Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

This year’s projects will document coastal change through paintings, capture climate impacts at a microscopic level through layered imagery, and explore the use of ceramics in oyster restoration.

The 2022 grant recipients include:

J. Kip Bradley, who has 20 years of community-based arts experience working with Savannah’s underserved populations. For the past 10 years, Bradley has worked locally and internationally, organizing sketching and painting groups and teaching workshops that encourage people to explore a sense of presentness through painting and drawing. As part of his project, Bradley has selected six coastal locations that he will paint four times over the span of a year, capturing seasonal and artistic changes in the marsh. He will share the process of painting each site on his blog, documenting the history and ecology at each site as well as observations of the people utilizing these publicly accessible locations. The final writings and 24 paintings will be made into hand-bound artist books, and the final paintings will be shared at an exhibit at the Kalmanson Gallery at East Georgia State College in Swainsboro in September 2023.

Bradley paints a landscape en plein air on Skidaway Island.


“The [project] will support efforts to immerse myself knee-deep in a muddy adventure to further my awareness and effort to find unity in the patterns of nature and painting through repetitive investigation, in order to share a story of appreciation for life at the marshes edge,” Bradley said. 

 

Dana Montlack, who lives in Atlanta, has been interested in photography since the age of 15 when her grandfather taught her how to take and develop X-rays. Her work, which has been exhibited in museums and galleries around the globe, explores different topics through layered imagery of microorganisms, scientific data, charts or maps as a way of showcasing the natural world and the role humans play in it. She will work closely with Joel Kostka, professor and associate chair of research in the School of Biological Sciences at Georgia Tech, who studies microbial processes in the salt marsh, to visually explore the impacts of a changing climate on the Georgia coast.

Photographic work by Dana Montlack featuring a heron among the landscape of Sapelo Island.

She will photograph specimens and data collected at his research sites on the coast, while also incorporating maps and historical elements in her image layering process. The resulting photographs will be showcased at an exhibition in the summer of 2023.

“What I find exciting about collaboration across disciplines is the opportunity to learn about another’s perspective. I believe there is power in bringing two or more motivated individuals together from various fields. I hope my work can build a bridge to understanding, and, therefore, a willingness to make changes necessary for our environment to thrive,” Montlack said.

 

Savannah-based Casey Schachner is an assistant professor of Art in 3D Foundations at the Betty Foy Sanders Department of Art at Georgia Southern University. She re-configures commodified objects of the tourism industry to create sculptures that exhibit the relationships that exist between materials and place. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, ranging from temporary site-specific installations to permanent public artworks. Schachner will be collaborating with students and faculty at Georgia Southern University to create art using the algal biomass that is produced from algal turf scrubbers. Algal turf scrubbers create algae mats that remove nutrients from the water and improve water quality. Schachner will use the algal biomass to create ceramic objects, including functional ware and sculptures as well as molds that will be used in oyster reef restoration. The pieces will be showcased in several artistic and educational venues to illustrate the value of Georgia’s coastal ecosystems and resources and engage the public on why these resources should be protected.

These bisque-fired test pieces using a clay/algae medium were made by Schachner’s student assistant, Nina Samuels.

“I believe it is critical as a visual artist exploring local environments to explore ways of visually communicating with the public about the places we inhabit. The ethical priorities of this project are to educate the public and provide them with tools to discuss, make plans, and take action for what the future holds in coastal communities,” Schachner said.

Graduate students from Georgia selected as Knauss finalists

Graduate students from the University of Georgia, Georgia Southern University and Georgia Tech have been selected as finalists for the 2023 John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship. The fellowship, sponsored by the National Sea Grant College Program, provides graduate students the opportunity to spend a year in marine policy-related positions in the legislative and executive branches of the federal government in Washington D.C.

Knauss finalists are chosen through a competitive process that includes comprehensive review at both the state Sea Grant program and national levels. The three Georgia finalists will join 83 others selected from a competitive pool of nominees representing 29 of the 34 Sea Grant programs in the coastal and Great Lakes states and territories.

The finalists from Georgia are:

Jeffrey Beauvais

Jeffrey Beauvais, who is wrapping up a Ph.D. in integrative conservation and ecology at UGA. His research focuses on environmental justice issues around access to marshes for coastal residents. Beauvais hopes to work on programs that facilitate people’s ability to make a living from the coast and help their communities thrive. Beauvais holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Georgia Tech. 

 

 

 

Alex Troutman

Alex Troutman, a master’s student in biology from Georgia Southern whose research focuses on the diet of the seaside sparrow, a bird that lives in the tidal salt marshes off the coast of Georgia. Troutman is a member of Black in Marine Science, a nonprofit that amplifies black marine scientists and encourages the pursuit of careers in marine science, and he is passionate about communicating science through social media. Troutman earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Georgia Southern University.  

 

 

Madison Willert

Madison Willert, who graduated from Carleton College in 2014 with a degree in biology and a minor in French. She went on to intern at NOAA and work in marine science labs at both the University of Massachusetts Boston and the New England Aquarium before starting her Ph.D. in biology at Georgia Tech in 2016. Her research involves using stable isotopes to investigate how humans impact marine food webs through stressors like overfishing.  

 

 

This year’s class of 86 finalists comprises students and recent graduates from 62 distinct universities, including 16 finalists from nine minority-serving institutions. Since 1979, over 1,550 fellows have completed the one-year Knauss fellowship program, applying their experience to lasting careers in science, policy and public administration.

Read the full announcement in a press release from the National Sea Grant College Program. 

Student researchers will study issues facing Georgia’s coastal ecosystems

Five graduate students from the University of Georgia, Georgia Southern University and Georgia Tech have been selected to lead year-long coastal research projects as part of the Georgia Sea Grant Research Traineeship. This marks the fourth year of the traineeship, which has supported a total of 26 students from universities across Georgia since its launch in 2019.

“The research traineeship allows students to apply their knowledge and identify solutions to real world issues facing Georgia’s coastal communities,” says Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “The experience of designing and executing their own project prepares them for future careers in a variety of disciplines.”

As part of the traineeship, students conduct independent research projects that address one 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.

The students conduct these projects while being advised by university mentors. They also work with extension and education specialists at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant to collaborate and share their research with coastal communities.

 

Chestina Craig

Chestina Craig is a master’s student in biology at Georgia Southern University where she’s studying stress levels in sharks that are captured or handled.

As part of her traineeship, she will study how capture and handling affects the physiological response and overall fitness of sharks local to Georgia. She will also be looking at the use of cost-effective research devices that can immediately measure blood stress levels in sharks when sampled in the field.

Results from her project aim to inform handling practices and increase the accessibility of this type of research using affordable sampling methods.

“I decided to apply to the Georgia Sea Grant Research Traineeship because it combines my love of research and community outreach into an incredibly rewarding fellowship. I knew that this program would give me opportunities to interact with stakeholders, conduct scientific outreach, and work with researchers that I wouldn’t otherwise have access to during the course of my master’s degree,” Craig said.

 

Jennifer Dorick

Jennifer Dorick

Jennifer Dorick is a Ph.D. candidate at UGA studying food science with a focus on food safety. This will be her second research traineeship and this year’s project will focus on identifying mitigation methods used in aquaculture and aquaponic facilities to control A. hydrophila, a bacterial pathogen that can cause disease in freshwater fish and humans.

Dorick completed a 2-year evaluation of a commercial aquaponics system and found A. hydrophila throughout the system. Now, she will study whether A. hydrophila identified in the system can form biofilm in aquaponic water and on common aquaponic material. She will identify targeted interventions to disrupt A. hydrophila colonization while preserving the nitrifying bacteria critical for nutrient cycling in these systems.

“The traineeship will contribute to my research goals by funding research to develop sustainable agriculture methods to produce fresh food sources for Georgia. By identifying mitigation methods to target A. hydrophila, it will encourage the safety of fish and produce generated by these farms,” Dorick said.

 

Sarah Roney

Sarah Roney, a Ph.D. student in the Ocean Science and Engineering program at Georgia Tech, is studying oyster reef restoration using naturally strengthened oysters to prevent erosion on Georgia’s shorelines. 

Roney, who has been selected for the traineeship program for a second year, will conduct a study that builds on her previous project looking at how chemical cues from blue crabs can increase the shell strength of oysters. Results from her 2021 project show that strengthened oysters on restored reefs have a greater survival against predation than other juvenile oysters. For this year’s project, Roney will use strengthened oysters to restore reefs in high wave energy areas, like the Intercoastal Waterway and South Channel of the Savannah River. She selected these sites based on research by fellow 2021-2022 research trainee, Alexandra Muscalus, whose research shows that there is significant ship wake energy in these areas due to shipping traffic to and from the Savannah ports. 

Roney plans to enhance reefs in this area using strengthened oysters with the goal of preventing future coastal erosion while also restoring important services that oyster reefs provide to coastal ecosystems and communities. 

“Working with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant in the past allowed me to form connections with industry professionals and learn new applications for my research topics, so I’m excited to continue our partnership this year. I hope that by implementing new scientific research to systems that majorly benefit our communities, such as oyster reefs, and making scientific information accessible to the public, we can improve the communication pathways between scientists and citizens,” Roney said. 

 

Conner Simon

Conner Simon is a master’s student at Georgia Southern University where he is studying microplastic contamination in marine and freshwater systems. 

As part of his traineeship project, Simon will examine the abundance of microplastic fibers along the Ogeechee River and use both laboratory and field experiments to investigate the effects of microplastic fiber contamination on zooplankton. Zooplankton are an important food source for larger organisms, like recreational fish and shellfish, in nearly all freshwater and marine habitats. Simon will determine whether the length of microplastic fibers influences how harmful they are to zooplankton, and which zooplankton species are present in the community.

Findings will provide insight into how sensitive these important marine organisms are to microplastic contaminants and can be used to inform water policies that limit microplastic pollution.

“Through this traineeship, I will improve my ability to design, conduct, analyze, and present research on microplastic pollution, which will help me produce important results for scientists and water quality experts. The combination of academic and outreach training will prepare me to translate the results of future research both to a broad audience and into actionable steps towards effective marine conservation and stewardship,” Simon said.

 

Alexandra Theisen

Alexandra Theisen, a master’s student at Georgia Southern University, is studying aquatic species and how they interact with their environment, specifically the two-toed Amphiuma, a large aquatic salamander found in Southeast U.S. wetlands. 

Theisen’s project will compare Amphiuma populations sampled in freshwater wetlands at Fort Stewart Army Base to those sampled in fresh and saline wetlands on Sapelo Island. By comparing the two populations, she will be able to examine how Amphiumas on Sapelo Island are adapting to more saline wetlands. 

Her research has implications for how species in freshwater habitats will respond to rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion. It will also inform planning, research and resource management needs at Fort Stewart Army Base and at Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve where her research sites are located. 

“My professional goal is to work at either a nonprofit organization or at a state level as a wetland ecologist. This traineeship will help me achieve this goal by enabling me to attend networking opportunities and provide the means to enhance my research project with the help of these partners. It also gives me the opportunity to share my research with the community as well as learn from other experts in the field,” Theisen said. 

Rain gardens created to mitigate flooding  

The highest property in the Urbana-Perry Park neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, sits just 10 feet above sea level. Homeowners William and Bonnie Kitts have lived there for nine years.

“This is actually my wife’s father’s grandfather’s home that he grew up in,” William Kitts said. “Most of the neighbors grew up here and know each other.”

Over the years, residential, commercial and industrial development has replaced grass and other porous surfaces. Heavy rains, especially at high tide, flood the area because the stormwater runoff has nowhere to go.

“The residential community hasn’t changed a lot, but the land use around it has been altered over the years,” said Jessica Brown, stormwater specialist at the University of Georgia’s Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

To help communities like Urbana-Perry Park mitigate stormwater flooding impacts, the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant launched the Coastal Georgia Rain Garden program in 2019 with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The program is designed to improve stormwater management by teaming up with residents and small businesses in coastal communities to install rain gardens.

“Working with homeowners to adopt practices and invest in natural infrastructure projects on their properties offers an alternative to overhauling stormwater systems, which can be incredibly expensive,” Brown said.

Rain gardens are shallow, landscaped depressions that capture and filter stormwater and allow it to soak back into the ground. They are a cost-effective tool that can reduce flooding from runoff and treat pollutants before they enter waterways. They also conserve water and provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.

Brown worked with Keren Giovengo, who manages the EcoScapes sustainable land use program at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, to develop a rain garden guide that features information about rain garden design and selecting native plants for coastal environments.

Brown and Giovengo also piloted a program in Glynn County that allowed homeowners or businesses to apply for funding to help offset the cost of installing a rain garden. Six property owners in the Urbana-Perry Park neighborhood, including Kitts, applied for and received funding. Brown and Giovengo provided technical support to each homeowner, assisting with design, maintenance and planting.

Two women stand behind a plot of garden

EcoScapes Program Manager Keren Giovengo (left) talks with Urbana-Perry Park resident Semona Holmes about the rain garden she installed on her property.

Kitts worked with the city to get a permit so he could install his rain garden in a public right-of-way to capture runoff from the road and reduce the burden to mow that area.

“My neighbors who walked by over the last few months and saw the holes in the yard, are now walking by complimenting the beauty of it,” Kitts said. “I’ve got two or three more neighbors interested in installing a rain garden on their properties.”

“If I can encourage not only my neighbors but the city as well to install more rain gardens in our right of way spaces, it could be beneficial to the stormwater system, the city’s budget, and it’ll make the entire city look great.”

Rain gardens installed through the pilot program ranged in size from 25 square feet to several thousand square feet. They treat runoff from over 7,600 square feet of impervious surfaces and filter over 203,000 gallons of stormwater runoff annually.

“This program was meant to help provide and reinforce knowledge, as well as create an opportunity for people and communities to take action,” Brown said. “I really had no idea how empowered communities would be with technical and financial incentives. It has been thrilling to see these residents come together and support one another.”

A man holds a potted plant next to sorted greenery

Homeowner William Kitts picks up native plants that will be installed in his rain garden.

Urbana-Perry Park residents have watched their gardens fill during recent summer rain events. The captured rainwater is cleaned as it slowly seeps into the ground, improving the water quality in Brunswick’s surrounding waterways while mitigating floods in the neighborhood.

Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant hopes to find additional funding to sustain the stipend program and ensure that it remains equitable and accessible to the communities that need it most.

 

Writer: Emily Kenworthyekenworthy@uga.edu
Contact: Jessica Brownjtrbrown@uga.edu

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant funds projects that support Georgia’s seafood and tourism industries

A seafood pitch competition launched by UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant will award funding to seven projects that support Georgia’s working waterfronts and seafood products.

The competition, called What’s the Hook?, is funded by the National Sea Grant College Program and is designed to help individuals and businesses in the seafood industry recover from economic disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, small business owners, university professionals and non-profit organizations presented their ideas to a committee representing diverse businesses, cultures, and communities in coastal Georgia.

One of the awardees, Amy Spinks will use the funding to relaunch a web site for The Darien Social, an online blog she owns and operates to highlight social events and historical places around Darien, Georgia. Spinks says the website will feature six new blogs that spotlight Georgia’s fishing community, seafood industries, local businesses and cultural experiences.

“I love Darien. I want to see the businesses succeed, and with a social marketing platform they have more exposure and can get more business,” said Spinks, who launched The Darien Social after moving there from Atlanta in 2020. After trying and failing to find a central platform for events in the area, she decided to start her own.

“[The Darien Social] has just grown and grown, and to see it go to the next step, I really feel like it’s going to bring financial revenue and impact to the businesses that we support and businesses in the community,” said Spinks.

Bob Pinckney, director of entrepreneurship at the UGA Terry College of Business, also received funding. His project, “Georgia Seafood on My Mind,” will support diverse, off the beaten path businesses and restaurants in each of Georgia’s six coastal counties through the development of marketing content that businesses can use to promote their seafood and tourism offerings.

“In working with startup businesses all the time, one of the biggest challenges is how do you market yourself and how do you do it cost-effectively?” said Pinckney. “This looked like a great opportunity to match up some [university] resources and give some of these restaurant owners a leg up in terms of getting people to be made aware of what they have to offer.”

Pinckney will be working with students at the UGA New Media Institute as well as students in the UGA Entrepreneurship Program on capstone projects to assess businesses and help them come up with strategies for expanding to the next level. They will also create promotional content, like videos and photos, that businesses can use to market themselves on social media or in other materials.

“We’re really excited about this grant and the opportunity for students to have to work with local businesses and promote something that we think is very important for the state of Georgia,” said Pinckney.

The projects selected for funding were awarded based on their ability to promote Georgia’s unique coastal seafood-related experiences, build the resilience of Georgia’s working waterfronts, strengthen Georgia’s local seafood and tourism-related industries, and assist businesses with redefining their operations or business models in response to the pandemic.

The full list of awardees include:  

  • Oyster Trail Development – Patrick Holladay, Georgia Grown Trail 17
  • The Agnes Marie Experience – Don McGraw, Coco’s Tybee Island
  • Coastal Georgia Aquaculture Exhibit & Tours – Charlie Phillips, Sapelo Sea Farms, Phillips Seafood & The Fish Dock Bar & Grill
  • Georgia Seafood On My Mind! – Bob Pinckney, UGA Entrepreneurship Program
  • A Catalyst for Coastal Seafood Eco-Tourism – Alex Smetana, Darien-McIntosh County Chamber of Commerce
  • The Darien Social Relaunch – Amy Spinks, The Darien Social
  • More From the Shore – Marty Williams, God’s Oceans, LLC

More information about the projects, including the videos of the pitches are available at https://gacoast.uga.edu/whats-the-hook/

 

 

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.

2020 Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant Annual Report

Grant boosts development of novel food products from jellyfish

UGA food scientists and marine extension experts received a nearly $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop food products from cannonball jellyfish, which could boost economic growth on the Georgia coast.

Kevin Mis Solval, a food science researcher in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, is principal investigator on the project, along with colleague Jinru Chen, a professor of food microbiology; and Bryan Fluech, associate director, and Tori Stivers, seafood safety specialist, with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit.

The team will use the funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to identify opportunities to diversify the domestic jellyfish industry and elevate its impact in the seafood business.

Harvested off the coast of Georgia, cannonball jellyfish, “jellyballs,” have become a prominent catch for fisheries and a way for shrimpers to diversify their catch during the off-season for shrimp. But history has shown that there has never been a domestically sustainable market for jellyfish food products.

A cannonball jellyfish

“Large amounts of jellyfish are harvested on the coasts of Georgia,” said Mis Solval, a food process engineer specializing in developing novel food ingredients in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “But what is harvested is sold almost entirely to Asian markets. A big challenge in creating a more domestic industry will be building the demand by creating a product that people can use in their everyday lives.”

Rather than preparing whole jellyfish as snacks or packaged meals — which would require a major investment in large-scale processing facilities and could come across as unappealing — Mis Solval had the innovative idea to engineer dry food ingredients that could be used in several food applications and supplements.

The key element is collagen, a naturally existing protein that is found in high concentration in cannonball jellyfish.

“I was incredibly excited when I found out about the amount of high-quality collagen that is in jellyfish,” said Mis Solval. “One of the most important qualities was that jellyfish collagen is edible and can be used to create a diverse grouping of dry food ingredients like stabilizers and thickeners as well as collagen peptide supplements.”

Mis Solval’s experience in the food industry and his expertise in engineering novel foods using modern technologies, and UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s history with the fishing industry in Georgia, created a synergy that made it possible to accomplish common goals, Fluech said.

“Having Kevin as a part of the team as a food engineer is so vital to the entire research effort,” Fluech added.

Workers process harvested cannonball jellyfish on a metal tableCreating a domestic market for jellyfish could be a much-needed boost for the Georgia coast, which has had to adapt over time to natural and man-made changes in the fishing industry. One company, Golden Island International, already invested in a processing facility in McIntosh County, where the jellyfish are dried and salted before being shipped to Asia.

“Developing these new methods for harvesting and production will be beneficial for a variety of working parties — particularly plant employees and fishermen,” Stivers said. “This will allow seasonal shrimpers and companies to develop more year-round objectives and keep their jobs.”

For domestic companies, it also mitigates their risk by limiting the percentage of revenue that comes from overseas business — a dangerous gamble in cases of trade wars or increased tariffs. Generating a domestic revenue stream is beneficial and allows the seafood industry to capitalize on multiple outlets of income.

For more information about the UGA Department of Food Science and Technology, visit foodscience.uga.edu. Follow new developments from UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant at gacoast.uga.edu.

WRITER

Sean Montgomery Social Media & Public Relations Coordinator

sjm17362@uga.edu • 706-542-0944

Message from the Director

Greetings and I hope you all are well. 2020 has certainly been an interesting year. While it has been difficult on all of us, I am extremely proud of our faculty and staff for making sure we continue to conduct research and education in support of our coastal stakeholders.

Our team is working hard to help coastal communities adapt and respond to changing conditions. The National Sea Grant College program recently awarded funds to our fisheries extension specialists who will work with seafood processors to implement COVID-safety training programs for their employees. The funds will also support initiatives to market local seafood through the development of a seafood trail. Our coastal hazards specialists are providing landscape certification training to individuals looking to expand or establish landscape businesses thanks to funding from the UGA Small Business Development Center.

We’re also continuing to engage K-12 and college students through our education and fellowship programs. Our marine educators developed a suite of virtual programs this fall, and the UGA Aquarium has officially reopened for small group visits so that people can safely resume learning about native marine life and coastal habitats in person. We also welcomed a new cohort of more than 30 undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate students who are participating in our research traineeship, State Fellowship, Knauss Fellowship and Marine Education Fellowship programs.

As you can see, we are trying hard to meet stakeholder needs and assist coastal communities.  We appreciate your support and understanding and look forward to resuming some of the activities that we cannot do safely under current conditions.

Please stay safe and take care of yourself and your loved ones.

Sincerely,

Mark Risse
Director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant

 

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