Nine students from universities across Georgia will participate in Georgia Sea Grant’s year-long Research Trainee program. Under the supervision of faculty and professional mentors, each trainee develops an independent research project that addresses 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 research trainee program allows us to address a wider range of questions and issues facing Georgia’s coastal communities. By investing in the program, we can expand our applied research portfolio while providing students experience in studying real-world issues,” says Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.
In addition to designing and executing their own research projects and obtaining material for their dissertation or thesis, the trainees will work with extension and education specialists at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant to share their work with coastal communities.
William Annis, a master’s student studying benthic ecology at Georgia Southern University, will investigate the spatial distribution of ribbed mussels, which play an important role in stabilizing valuable coastal salt marshes.
Annis will study how growth rate, survival, and recruitment of ribbed mussels vary at different locations in Georgia’s salt marshes. His findings can be used to optimize the placement of ribbed mussels for the greatest growth and survival in future salt marsh restoration projects.
“Working with a professional mentor, I will not only learn how to conduct sound research, but how to ensure that the data from my research reaches its intended users.”
Graduate student Kun Ma is working towards a degree in chemical oceanography at the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.
Her project will study how susceptible microplastics are to photochemical degradation. Data collected will provide the first estimate of plastic microfiber photochemical degradation rates in marine environments. Results from the project will be used to develop educational programs and resources about plastic pollution for students and the public.
“I believe that the Sea Grant Research Traineeship Program will provide me with a great opportunity to conduct an environmentally relevant research project, gain valuable research skills, learn new research techniques and instrumentation, improve my public outreach and educational skills, and ultimately better prepare me for an academic career.”
Doctoral student Alex Draper is studying biology and marine ecology at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Draper’s project will investigate the impacts of warming and acidification on behaviors of blue crab and mud crab to better predict how oyster reef communities will respond to a changing climate.
The knowledge gained from this project will be used to educate school groups and members of the coastal community about potential implications of climate change for marine species and how the abundance and characteristics of these species affect coastal ecology and ecosystem services.
“Through the trainee program, I will gain expertise and useful skills in education and outreach beyond the university setting by creating educational activities with the UGA Aquarium and Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. This would connect me with the non-scientific public and bridge the gap between academic and local communities.”
Talia Levine, a master’s student studying conservation ecology and sustainable development at UGA’s Odum School of Ecology, will be researching mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) concentrations in fish and dolphins in the Turtle-Brunswick River Estuary in Brunswick, Georgia.
PCBs and mercury are among the contaminants of concern in this area, which is a Superfund site. Levine is interested in studying contaminant concentrations found in whole-fish samples and comparing those to concentrations in filled-fish samples which is what current advisory recommendations are based on. She plans to use the results of this research to complement the work that work that state agencies and local nonprofits are doing to communicate fishing advisories to Glynn County residents.
“I want to learn how to be an effective liaison between the world of academia and that of regulators, businesses and communities. I know I will gain those skills learning from the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant team. I hope this traineeship will help me to learn how to think about problems at multiple scales and to learn how to best communicate the results of my research to those it impacts.”
Lauren Moniz is a graduate student working towards a master’s degree in biology from Georgia Southern University. Moniz’ research will investigate the biology of several species of stingrays on the Georgia coast that feed on smaller animals low in the food chain and make energy available to larger species at the top of the food chain.
Results of this study can be used to identify dietary changes and nutritional condition of stingrays to further understand resource movement in ecosystems.
“My professional goals include pursuing a doctorate with an elasmobranch physiology related dissertation or conducting research with organizations whose mission is marine conservation. The traineeship will help me achieve these goals not only by aiding my thesis research, but also providing me with opportunities to make professional connections and partner with research establishments.”
Nan Jiang is a graduate student at the University of Georgia in the Department of Food Science and Technology. Her study will focus on developing high-value food applications for Georgia-caught cannonball jellyfish.
Cannonball jellyfish is one of the largest fisheries by landings in Georgia. Normally, cannonball jellyfish is commercialized in a dry salted form and exported to several Asian countries. Jiang will look for alternative ways to develop high-value food products using cannonball jellyfish that would benefit the Georgia seafood industry.
“I have always been interested in studying marine sciences and seafood processing. The award will allow me to improve my research skills, enrich my graduate school experience at UGA, and gain more knowledge and experience in seafood processing and safety.”
Powei Huang, a graduate student studying chemical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology will look at sustainable methods of extracting lithium from the ocean.
A stable lithium supply will play an important role in the development of clean energy technology, but current methods of mining lithium can cause negative impacts to the environment. Huang plans to test new mining methods that involve extracting lithium from seawater, which would have less of an impact on the environment. Results from this research will inform lithium extraction methods and may lead to new opportunities to harvest the ocean’s resources and accelerate progress toward a sustainable future.
“I aspire to work on energy-related research and contribute to the future success of renewable energy. To broaden my research impact, I would like to pursue a Ph.D. after my master’s degree, and Georgia Sea Grant’s Research Traineeship program can help me to carry out the experiments; moreover, achieve my career goal.”
Leslie Townsell is a graduate student studying marine science at the University of Georgia. Her project will involve working with the UGA Shellfish Research Lab to study the impact of ocean acidification on oyster production.
Townsell will monitor the water quality in the UGA oyster hatchery to determine the optimum range of alkalinity and salinity for larvae growth at the UGA hatchery. This project will provide important information for hatchery management and the long-term success of Georgia’s oyster industry.
“I applied for the Georgia Sea Grant Research Trainee Program because I wanted to do my part in helping to increase the economic value in those coastal areas by bringing jobs to the region in the form of oyster farming. Academically, I want to become a role model for under-represented women in my community, who might be apprehensive of entering the STEM fields.”
Kelsey Broich is a master’s student studying landscape architecture at UGA’s College of Environment and Design. Broich will be studying public perceptions of stormwater management practices on the coast.
She plans to develop a photo-based survey to measure how people respond to the seasonal qualities of six bioretention cells located in Georgia’s coastal plain. A bioretention cell is a stormwater management practice that captures and treats runoff using natural materials, like soil and native plants. Results of the research will inform a set of design recommendations to support better management of bioretention cells that can be used by design professionals, extension agents and civil engineers.
“By participating in the Georgia Sea Grant Research Trainee Program, I can complete my graduate research with the additional mentorship from experts in other disciplines, and I am challenged to think about the application of my research through outreach and education. Outreach and education are essential to the management and stewardship of ecological designs.”