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ODU Oceanography Researchers Awarded Grant for Seagrass Study

A research team from Old Dominion University will be awarded $110,999 to develop a tool to help seagrass restorers predict which places will be the best for planting seagrasses, the Virginia Sea Grant has announced.

Seagrasses in the Chesapeake Bay have been in decline since the 1930s because of a wasting disease, and restoration efforts have been ongoing. By combining two models that will predict restoration success based on water clarity and seagrass density, Richard Zimmerman and Victoria Hill of ODU's Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Charles Gallegos of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center believe they can create better predictions of seagrass success than either model could predict alone.

Once the models are tested and combined, the end product could provide resource managers with an accurate, more affordable tool that links seagrass success to decisions on land that affect water quality.

Virginia Sea Grant, based at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, is part of a federal program that facilitates research, educational and outreach activities promoting sustainable management of marine resources. The larger network of Sea Grant programs is housed in 31 colleges and universities around the country.

The ODU project was one of 12 that will receive financial support through Virginia Sea Grant's research program, which focuses on furthering scientific knowledge of Virginia's coastal and marine environments. The funding, to be awarded February 2011, totals $535,899, with about $192,000 going to support graduate students, $233,000 supporting preliminary investigations, and $111,000 supporting large-scale research.

More than 40 proposals were received, and the 12 selected to receive funding came from a variety of Virginia's institutions of higher education, including VIMS, College of William & Mary, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and ODU. Other collaborators include Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Southern Illinois University and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Virginia Sea Grant Director Troy Hartley said he believes that the selected projects will supply critical information that will help Virginians' as they move to address specific management challenges along the coast. "This year's funded research covers a wide spectrum of coastal and marine research needs, directly related to serious issues facing the Commonwealth and are highlighted in Virginia Sea Grant's new strategic plan," said Hartley.

Selected projects addressed issues in sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, seafood safety, or science to support ecosystem-based management. Research contributing to sustainable fisheries and aquaculture include projects investigating new fish species that could be used in aquaculture as well as studying mortality of summer flounder or striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay to get better estimates for how many fish are actually out there. Knowing population sizes of species will help managers and industry to access resources sustainably and reduce the risk of population decline.

Minimizing risk is especially important when it comes to food safety. Some funded projects will look at whether shellfish near different types of buildings are more susceptible to disease; another project will catalogue mercury contamination of different finfish species in Virginia's waters. These studies on the connections between environmental conditions and food safety are just one part of an ecosystem-based approach to management.

To reach the goal of ecosystem-based management, researchers need to answer questions about how one part of the ecosystem affects another. For example, one funded project will measure whether clams affect the water's levels of nitrogen, a nutrient that will be under regulation with the Chesapeake Bay's new Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plan. Other projects cover everything from water quality and restoration, to mapping best places for seagrass beds and the food web within the Bay.

"We are pleased with the diversity of topics that the selected research projects will address," said Susan Park, Virginia Sea Grant Assistant Director of Research, who noted that the next request for proposals will be released in early 2011.

DESCRIPTIONS OF FUNDED PROJECTS

• Clam Aquaculture and Movement of Nutrients -- Iris Anderson (VIMS), Mark Brush (VIMS) and Mark Luckenbach (VIMS). Assessing ecosystem-level effects of hard clam aquaculture on water quality and nutrient dynamics.

• Mapping Important Areas for Struggling Turtle -- Donna Bilkovic (VIMS), Randolph Chambers (W&M), Kirk Havens (VIMS) and Matthias Leu (W&M). Foundation for future development of bycatch reduction strategies for commercial and recreational blue crab fisheries: Diamondback terrapin habitat mapping.

• Understanding Predators before Restoring Bay Scallops -- J. Emmett Duffy (VIMS), Robert Orth (VIMS) and Mark Luckenbach (VIMS). Opening the bottleneck in bay scallop restoration: Impacts of micropredators on recently settled bay scallops.

• Predicting Success of Young Flounder and Bass -- Mary Fabrizio (VIMS) and Ryan Schloesser (VIMS). The role of variation in condition of individual young-of-the-year fish: implications for recruitment dynamics of striped bass and summer flounder in Chesapeake Bay.

• Preventing Shellfish-borne Disease -- Howard Kator (VIMS) and Kimberly Reece (VIMS) -- Study of adenovirus and its infectivity in wastewater treatment plant effluent.

• Using the Fish Food Web to Plan Ahead -- Robert Latour (VIMS) and Andre Buchheister (VIMS). Food web structure in Chesapeake Bay and environmental effects on fish diets in support of ecosystem-based fisheries management.

• Knowing Where the Seagrass Grows Greener -- Karen McGlathery (UVA), Patricia Wiberg (UVA) and Arthur Schwarzchild (UVA). Sustainable seagrass restoration in the Virginia coastal bays.

• Database of Mercury in Seafood from Chesapeake Bay -- Michael Newman (VIMS) and Mary Fabrizio (VIMS). Ecologically-framed mercury database, exposure modeling and risk/benefit communication to lower Chesapeake Bay fish consumers.

• Effect of Algal Blooms on Oysters -- Kimberly Reece (VIMS), Wolfgang Vogelbein (VIMS), Thomas Harris (VIMS) and Ryan Carnegie (VIMS). Assessing the impacts of emerging harmful algal bloom species on shellfish restoration and aquaculture in Chesapeake Bay.

• Developing Protocols for a New Aquaculture Species -- Michael Schwarz (VT), Dan Sennett (VIMS) and Jesse Trushenski (Southern Illinois University at Carbondale). Development of baseline larviculture protocols and juvenile rearing diets for Atlantic spadefish Chaetodipterus faber.

• Effects of Low Oxygen and Disease on Striped Bass -- Wolfgang Vogelbein (VIMS), Mary Fabrizio (VIMS), Richard Brill (NOAA) and David Gauthier (ODU). Physiological impacts of hypoxia on healthy and Mycobacterium-infected striped bass (Morone saxatilis).

• Multiple Tools For Predicting Seagrass Success -- Richard Zimmerman (ODU), Victoria Hill (ODU), and Charles Gallegos (Smithsonian Environmental Research Center). Integrated modeling of SAV habitat requirements: Improving predictions of water quality on a critical marine resource.

This article was posted on: December 21, 2010

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