Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Clam Creek Marsh Monitoring 9/23

Clam Creek Marsh Monitoring-We Return
Will Davis

Clam Creek is a scenic spot for horseback riding, fishing, shell collecting, and just enjoying a day.  It is located on Jekyll Island, one of the eight barrier islands off the Georgia coast.  Jekyll is one of the four barrier islands accessible by car.  In addition to the fun activities, mentioned above, Clam Creek is home to Georgia’s second state bird, the mosquito.  Due to improper drainage and a restricted tidal flow when a non-vehicular bridge was constructed, mosquito larvae flourished in standing water from rain that was of a lower salt content than the water naturally found in the area.  In addition to the abundance of mosquitoes, the normal flora, including Spartina, Juncus, and Distichlis were displaced by less salt tolerant plants.
To solve this issue, the culvert pipes that were restricting flow both in and out of the area were removed and a bridge with a larger non-restrictive opening was constructed.  The types and health of the three marsh plant species needed to be monitored to keep an eye on how the project was progressing.  That is where we came in…. again.

Our fearless crew took the most remote areas to monitor, fighting through mud, water, and marsh plants only to find more mud, water, and marsh plants.  Then we measured plant growth in pre-determined meter square segments.  Spartina, Juncus, and Distichlis were checked for numbers, percentage of ground covered by each, and also the height of the largest Spartina was measured.   The fauna that were found on previous surveys were absent on these segments so we saw no crabs, mussels, or snails.  These segments were also the furthest from the tidal flow.

The salt hardy plants appear to be making a comeback in these areas.  The higher salinity brought about by the better circulation has helped these plants to get a foothold, and with the non salt tolerant plants being removed by the salt, the marsh is regaining lost ground.   The standing water being drained and replaced by a water of higher salinity not only brings the marsh plants back but also reduced the breeding ground for mosquitoes.  Even though some mosquitoes will breed in salt marshes, mosquitoes need still water for the larvae to reach adulthood.  Even the tidal flow of water can disrupt the life cycle.

The results from lessening the restriction on the waters would seem to be less mosquitoes and a more gradual or soft edge for the Spartina growth.  With the path no longer as an edge, the grasses are not met with a severe change between one side of the path to the other.  Further monitoring is required to see if this is the final answer, but after several visits it seems to be working.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Clam Creek Marsh Monitoring - 9/9

Clam Creek – Marsh Monitoring 9/9/2011 By Kari Tracy

On September 9, 2011 our conservation class took a trip to the Clam Creek marsh on Jekyll Island to assist in monitoring an on-going project sponsored by the Georgia DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and the Glynn County Engineers.
So you may be wondering, what is the big deal? Why should we spend our money and time to protect these marshes? Besides the natural enjoyment humans receive from the beauty of the marshes, referred to as biophilia, these coastal marshes provide its local residents with many direct and indirect values. For instance, did you know that 70 percent of the recreationally and commercially important fishes, crustaceans, and shellfish spend part of their lives in the estuary that these marshes inhabit? Also, the marshes create a place for ecotourism. This means money coming into the surrounding communities. Although direct values (the money that comes from them) such as these are nice, sometimes it is the indirect values that we benefit most from. Just a few of the indirect values that the salt-marshes offer are: mosquito control, inland protection from weather forces (such as hurricanes), and even water and air quality control (marshes naturally assimilate nitrogen and pollutants).
The area that our class is working on with Georgia DNR and the Glynn County Engineers is on Jekyll Island where a bike path was constructed through the marsh. As a result, the bike path cuts off the marsh and creates a pocket marsh. In order to allow water to flow from one side of the marsh to the other, large pipes were laid in the bike path foundation. Unfortunately, these pipes have proven to be inefficient for several reasons. The first reason being, they are placed too high and the water is not able to flow through easily. Another reason it did not restore the hydrology is because even when the water level is high enough to flow through, the opening of the pipe is not large enough for the amount of water needed to fill the pocket marsh. This interruption of water flow into the pocket marsh caused a major die-back in many of the natural marsh plant species such as: Black Needle Rush (Juncus roemerianus), Saltgrass (Distichlis spicata), and Salt Marsh Cordgrass or Smooth Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora). Less salt-tolerant species were able to become more prevalent in the area. Additionally, the water in the area was no longer moving due to tidal influence, causing an increase in the mosquito populations growing in the area.
In an attempt to restore the water flow from the marsh to the pocket marsh created by the construction of the bike path, the Glynn County Engineers removed the inefficient pipe and replaced it with an open bridge in hopes of restoring the dying marsh. The open bridge would allow the water to flow freely to the other side and the salt marsh plants and fauna would expectantly be restored. To track the progress of the marsh restoration, it is necessary to designate certain points or areas to consistently monitor. This is what our class partook in: monitoring of the progress after the installation of the bridge.
On September 9th, 2011 our Conservation Biology class completed transects for the pre-designated points in the marsh. We counted the number of live Juncus and Distichlis stems, and also the number of live and dead Spartina stems. Then we recorded the percent cover of each species (including browning and dead species of other plants other than Spartina). Next, we measured and listed the height of the five tallest Spartina plants and noted the color of the plants in the plot. After all the plant species counts were completed, we counted the number of live and dead periwinkle snails and mussels. We estimated crab abundance by counting the number of crab holes larger than five millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser). We also tried to acquire an accurate reading of the salinity of the water per each sampling point. The salinity was taken using a refractometer. A few drops of water collected from a freshly made hole was placed in the refractometer and the salinity then observed. We found that in many places, water did not fill the holes we created. This means that the area did not have recent water flow. The water that was tested from a few of the areas implied that the water had a very high salinity. It was suggested that the drought could be causing a higher than normal salinity. This could affect the vitality of the plant species and also the fauna in the marsh. Many of the pine trees were already losing their pine needles—which could be a possible result of the increased salinity.
Overall I enjoyed myself and so did most of everyone else. The weather was nice for being outside and there were almost no bugs (an uncommon event in the South). It was a great learning experience and we made great connections!

Clam Creek Wetland MonitoringBy Shawn Flanagan
Jekyll Island is a barrier island located in southeast Georgia. In the 1880’s, Jekyll Island was home of the Jekyll Island Club, which was a getaway for many aristocratic families such as the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Morgans, and Pulitzers. They came to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy the peace and tranquility that Jekyll Island offers. Thousands of people still travel here every year in order to enjoy its rich history along with its natural beauty. Jekyll Island is home to an extremely complex and delicate tidal marsh ecosystem. The marsh ecosystem is home to several unique species of fauna and vegetation. Our service-learning project for the semester was to monitor a wetland site in the Clam Creek picnic area, on Jekyll Island.
The site that we surveyed was along the clam creek bike path. Initially, when the bike path was built, a 6 inch in diameter drainage pipe was put into a concrete walkway to allow tidal flow to reach behind the path. Unfortunately the volume of tidal flow was unknown and the 6 inch pipe was too small to allow adequate passage of water. Inadequate water flow to the marshland behind the path caused a change in the pH and salinity within this section of the marsh. This change created a freshwater mosquito breeding ground and altered the flora and fauna in this section of the marsh. A large amount of dieback was observed after the installation of the path. In an attempt to restore this section of marsh, Georgia DNR, along with engineers from the Glynn County Engineering Department, removed the section of path with the drainage pipe and installed a foot bridge. This bridge allows much more tidal flow to enter the marsh, which in theory would restore the area to its previous pH and salinity, eliminating the large amount of mosquitos restoring the flora and fauna. DNR tasked us to record data from this site as a service-learning project.
The area along the clam creek bike path was broken into five transects with varying quadrants in each transect. We used a tool (four pieces of half inch PVC pipe strung together in a square) that measured an area 1 m² and oriented it north in order to create the quadrant itself. We used the same protocol that was previously used by various groups for the marsh-dieback analysis. We recorded specific flora and fauna within the quadrant. The flora that we were specifically looking for in each quadrant were; Spartina, Distichlis, and Juncus. We recorded the approximate percent that each species covered within the quadrant. We paid very close attention the Spartina, because it is a keystone species within the marsh ecosystem. The fauna that we were looking for in each quadrant were; periwinkle snails, holes indicating the presence of fiddler and mud crabs, and mussels. Any other fauna was also recorded. After the vegetation and fauna was recorded, we used a PVC pipe to create a small hole next to the quadrant for water to collect. A small sample of this water was collected and placed on the lens of a refractometer in order to determine the salinity and specific gravity. Finally, we took a photograph of the quadrant so that it could be saved for reference. We repeated these steps for each individual quadrant.

View Clam Creek Site in a larger map
The first time that we surveyed this location, we learned about the protocol and recorded data for three locations on the southwest side of the bridge. This service-learning project is not only important, but also very applicable to what we are learning about conservation ecology. This particular part of Jekyll Island is enjoyed by many people for its scenic view and the opportunity it gives people to interact with nature. This not only gives people a better sense of overall well-being, it also helps drive the economy because people come to Jekyll Island and spend money. The issue then becomes how to allow the area to be viewed and enjoyed, while also preserving its natural state. In conservation ecology, we study how to accomplish this, whether it is through green practices or nature-friendly ecotourism. In this particular case, it is yet to be seen if the addition of the foot bridge will restore the quality of the marsh. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate this last wet season, so the marsh did not get as much as a tidal influx as DNR and the engineers were hoping for. Only time will tell if the restoration effort is a complete success.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Oyster Reef Restoration and Enhancement program and volunteering to bag oyster shells as part of the Living Shoreline Project

Oyster Reef Restoration and Enhancement program and volunteering to bag oyster shells as part of the Living Shoreline Project
By Bobby Canipe

The DNR has set up a program that is promoting the growth and sustainability of Georgia’s oyster reefs. Having a thriving system of oyster reefs provides many benefits: improved water quality (adult oysters can filter 2 ½ gallons of water per hour); oysters create essential fish habitats, the clumps of oysters provide protection for fry and provides food for fish as well as crustaceans and marsh animals; provide shoreline stabilization by preventing erosion; attracting fish which bring in recreational fishing.
The DNR’s program relies heavily on volunteers to bag oyster shells for the project. What this involves is receiving oyster shell donations from local eateries and other places. Oyster spat (baby oysters) attach more readily to hard substrate with lots of calcium – oyster shells are a perfect substrate for them to attach.
At the DNR, they have large piles of oyster shells that are cured. This allows any oyster remains to be decomposed completely and leaves behind only the shell. Once cured for a few months, the volunteers come in and rake the oyster shells into buckets which are then emptied onto a table that allows more volunteers to scoop them into 3 foot tubes with nets attached to the end. The nets allows for the shells to settle and provide plenty of surface area for spat recruitment. They are made out of polyethylene and remain in the water; oysters eventually cover up all of the net so there is no exposed plastic. Once the tubes are filled, the nets are removed and then packed down and tied. The bagged shell is about 1 foot tall and 1 foot in diameter. Once the bags are ready, they are stored and await transport to a site to encourage spat recruitment.
This linked to our lecture this week by being 100% about conservation, biodiversity, and how man plays a role in species decline. The oyster population needs help due to overharvesting by us, our failure to return used shells back to the natural habitat, shoreline erosion, sedimentation build up, and a disease called “dermo,” which attacks oyster tissue. Without our intervention, the oyster population would surely continue to dwindle down to extinction along our coast. Having oysters in a coastal ecosystem increases the biodiversity of the life found living within it. As stated before, oysters cause other animals to come to the area because they provide food and shelter.
This program is entirely dependant on volunteers in order for it to work. Our Conservation Biology class bagged about half of the pile of cured oyster shells in an hour and a half. The staff at DNR were impressed with how quickly and efficiently we bagged the shell, but when one of us took a break, you could tell how our well-oiled machine slowed down. (Short clip of our "well-oiled machine.")
Remember, bagging made possible by volunteers like you. Contact the GA DNR for more information on how to arrange a shell bagging volunteer day for your organization. http://coastalgadnr.org/cm/wet

From Coastal Conservation Through Service-Learning
Recycle your oyster shells!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Welcome to our blog!

Here at the College of Coastal Georgia, we feel that serving our community is really important! As we grow, we hope to become known as "Georgia's College for Service-Learning." Service-learning is a method of teaching that entails integrating experiential learning into an academic course. The service experience itself, then becomes part of the "text" for the course, where students are learning by participating in their community.

CCGA has several Bachelor's programs, one of which is Biology. This class (BIOL4000 Special Topics in Biology: Conservation Biology) is an upper-division elective for Coastal Ecology majors. It is being offered as a service-learning course, as we can learn a great deal from our community partners by participating in real conservation activities in our region.

This service-learning course is centered on conservation of natural lands and restoring degraded habitats in collaboration with our community partner, the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. For many of the weeks, the textbook readings will be enhanced by service-learning experiences in the field. As a part of these field experiences, we will learn about estuarine ecology, focusing on oyster bed habitats, salt marshes, and the living shoreline projects around the region. As a group, we will go out to a restored site and monitor under the supervision of GA DNR. We will also participate in bagging oyster shells. On a few occasions, we will participate in other projects with GA DNR.

After each week that we participate in a service-learning experience, students will post a description of the activity and any good photos or videos. They will also describe how they think the experience linked back to what we have been reading about and discussing in class, as well as addressing other service-learning objectives.

We hope you enjoy learning along with us!

Please contact ktucker@ccga.edu for more information.