Friday, November 25, 2011

Monitoring a Restored Site: Jekyll Island

Monitoring a Restored Site: Jekyll Island
By Brandon Thornton

          For the service project on this field day we applied the protocol for oyster monitoring that we learned on Sapelo Island. We learned this from Daniel, a researcher for the Tybee Island Marine Science Center. We were trying to monitor the success of the population of oysters on Jekyll Island. In this, we had to measure the distance from the vegetation area to the shore. We had to pick three areas to count oysters alive and dead in square meter quadrats. One set of oysters would be close to the vegetation, one near the water, and then one in the middle. We also had to measure 30 oysters out of the samples with calipers. We also made notes of any other mussels, crustaceans, mollusks, or vegetation in the plots. After monitoring the oyster area, we had to monitor the vegetation in front of them.
We mostly had Spartina in this particular area, but we also looked for Distichlis and sea ox-eye daisy (Borrichia). For this part of the monitoring, we had to pick three areas going backwards from the oyster beds. In them we measured the amount of live Spartina, and the tallest five Spartina plants height in centimeters.
Therefore, the monitoring was actually a simple process, but conditions of the day made it slightly more difficult. One thing about doing this field work is that one does not know how the weather will be each week. I think it was chilly only on the days we did monitoring, and this day of monitoring was a windy day, also. Another factor unexpected was the messiness of the area. There was a ton of mud where these oysters lived because they are underwater during the high tides. We learned to be prepared for field biology work. Many of the people with these careers deal with tougher conditions than what the class sampled. It could be bad weather, muddy, long or early hours. Despite the conditions, it is something that people still enjoy by being a part of an effort to conserve the wildlife of the area. It is really something a student in biology or a professional can work together and both get something out of it.
As far as the curriculum learned for the past week, we just finished our second exam over Threats to Biodiversity and Conservation at the Population and Species level. Then, we began a new chapter with a discussion Protected Areas. I am not sure if this oyster monitoring sight is a governmentally protected area, but I do not expect anyone to be walking through there anyway. This was more an application to population conservation by monitoring the number of oysters and plants that grow with them. It seemed to be a healthy area for the oysters to continue growing. So with them increasing their population, hopefully this will balance out the threats and help add to the biodiversity by attracting young fish and other marine invertebrates. 
 This activity for the day did enhance my understanding of practicing conservation. It showed me more on how fun and dirty field biology can be. It also showed me how valuable it is to work together with a team even on an easy task like ours.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Manatee Health Assessment - Crystal River, FL

Manatee Captures for Health Assessment 
By Michael Mock

             On November 9th and 10th 2011, Dr. Tucker selected five students from the conservation biology class to participate in manatee captures for health assessment in Crystal River, Florida.  Students from the College of Coastal Georgia, as well as, veterinary students attending the University of Florida and other Universities and agencies worked alongside scientists from the United States Geological Survey and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
            The Florida manatee is a large aquatic mammal that migrates to the warmer waters of Florida in the winter months of the year to thermoregulate.  Manatees live in a wide variety of environments and can be found in areas as diverse as large urban waterways to freshwater artesian spring habitats with little human interaction and even salt marsh habitats.  Manatees face a number of factors that make them vulnerable to population decline, making their well-being of particular interest to conservation groups.  One of these factors is the manatee’s low reproductive rate, only having one calf every three years and having an 11-13 month gestation period.  Along with the reproductive rate, the calf is usually dependent on the mother for two years which requires significant parental investment.  Florida manatees are also thought to have low genetic diversity which could be the result of the founder effect, suggesting the population was started by only a few individuals or was dropped to a low number at some point in the past.
            The purpose of the captures was to gain knowledge of the health, sex ratio, genetic diversity, and migratory patterns (through telemetry) of the manatees that were present in this area of Crystal River.  With regular assessments, the data that is gathered can be used to show patterns and assess the health of the manatees in the area.  It can be treated as a baseline for future studies as well.  Is the population declining?  Staying the same?  Or is it improving?
            Manatees were initially spotted by a team using a bridge as a good vantage point.  Once spotted, a team on an adjacent beach was alerted and prepared to encircle the passing manatee with a large net being trailed from the capture boat.  Once confined in the net, a team standing on the beach pulled the net in and landed the manatee on the shore.  Lone manatees were targeted as to not separate a cow and calf pair in most cases, yet some pairs with older calves were captured.  Once on the shore, the manatee was moved in a stretcher apparatus carried by 10-12 individuals to a transport boat to taxi the animal around the bend to the data collection beach.  This small beach was outfitted with several tents which held different stations to gather various kinds of data.  Being removed from an aquatic habitat and surrounded by strange people in the terrestrial environment caused the manatees to struggle in some cases, but for the most part were calm and kept as comfortable as possible.  Blood was drawn, all vitals were checked first thing and small tissue samples were taken for genetic and contaminant analyses.  The animals were also weighed and morphometric data was collected by measuring the length and girth of the animal at several points.  The sex was also recorded. The manatees were scanned to see if it had any pit tags indicating it as being an individual that had already been previously captured.  These pit tags are similar to the microchips that they put in your household pets nowadays.  If no pit tag was found, one was implanted in each shoulder area and recorded in a log so the individual could be documented.  One of the more interesting aspects of the captures was the photo identification of each manatee to include in the database of manatees using external features such as scars from boat strikes or any other distinguishing features.  These photos are compiled to have a list of members of a population so identification can be done to recognize manatees if observed or captured at a later point.  The manatees were kept on land for an average of an hour with regular application of water to the body and oxygen supplied to ensure their comfort and their health status.
            This experience allowed me to get an idea of the kind of work and man hours required for the conservation efforts that go into the preservation of one species.  The amount of data recorded in just two days will take a great deal of time to evaluate and used to make management efforts more efficient.  The attention paid to detail, as well as the requirement of consistency were paramount while working with animals that are so important and fragile in an area.  The care for the animal was also of high importance, making sure that conservation efforts do not cause more harm than good.  Respect for the animal while gathering data was balanced well, so I believe that this particular event was successful and will go far in the protection and promotion of this important species.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sapelo Island - DD

Learning the Living Shoreline Monitoring Protocol
 By David DeSalvo

(Photos courtesy of Betsy Kane, CCGA) 

On October 28th, 2011 our conservation class went to Sapelo Island to learn the protocol for monitoring a restored Living Shoreline project site. This is an ongoing endeavor in Georgia headed up by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Nature Conservancy, and other academic and government partners.
The goal of this on-going project is two-fold: “To study the feasibility of alternative techniques to traditional shoreline hardening in tidal wetlands (i.e. alternatives to riprap and bulkheads), and to determine the effectiveness of alternative erosion control methods that will protect and enhance ecosystem function.“ Creating a Living Shoreline, as opposed to a rigid concrete structure, which will provide a natural remedy for erosion occurring on intertidal banks as well as provide a much needed habitat for various marine life. The added vegetation will also stabilize the soil and complete the natural barrier. Additionally, the restored oyster reefs will improve the environment by providing habitat for fishes and be filtering water.
The Living Shoreline sites were restored via two primary methods. One way is through the use of mesh bags filled with oyster shells and arranged at one site in two layers along 370 feet along the creek bank. At another site they have placed Gabions, which are 6 feet by 12 feet, and house compartments made of chain linked steel then filled with a combination of bags of oyster shells, loose shells, and rock. This structure is used on steeper banks and the individual compartments prevent the shifting of the bags due to the sharp incline. The idea behind these are the same, the oyster shell provides a substrate for the oyster larvae or spat to adhere. After some experimentation, it was found that the calcium carbonate found on the inside of oyster shells provides the optimal surface for attachment. As oyster larvae attach, grow, and eventually die, this process repeats. This renews the oyster population, provides habitat for marine life, and prevents erosion as sediment builds up.
Our class helped monitor this process by using a method to assess vegetation and oyster recruitment along two of the banks. At several designated sites we laid three transects. By measuring from the top of the bank to the water line, we established a top, bottom, and middle location for our transects. In those transects we counted the number of both live and dead oysters, as well as, took note of the other species that may have been present. We then measured the length of 30 oysters to find an average size. For the vegetation, we found a mid-point and measured the percentage of different species such as Spartina, Distichlis, and Sea Oxeye Daisy. This protocol is done regularly at nine designated places at this site to monitor the progress being made. This project seems to be successful as recruitment has increased and the banks appear to be stabilizing.
This experience linked with class work as we were learning about the value, both direct and indirect, of environmental resources such as intertidal marshland. Marshes have a unique ability to assimilate nitrogen and other pollutants as well as offer flood protection. They also serve as a large source for food and industry. The seafood industry off coastal Georgia alone stands at an estimated 44 million dollars. However, the value of these environments is not just direct, the indirect benefits can be spiritual, recreational, or just the fact that a healthy environment seems to affect our individual health in a positive way.
Our class had learned about the Living Shoreline project before bagging shell at the GA DNR Coastal Resources Division; however, this trip seemed to tie the whole picture together. Everything from some of the planning done by the DNR, the bagging of the oyster shells, and the creation of a living shoreline, and finally the monitoring activities provides a clear picture of how a project like this is accomplished.
It was a beautiful day and the overall experience was entirely positive. I have found experiences like this help connect what we learn in the classroom to the practical real world application of what some of us may do in the field as biologists. It may also help to instill an appreciation for the environment as well as an understanding of its fragility.

Sapelo Island - EHB

Adventures on Sapelo Island: Learning the Monitoring Protocol
By Ethan Hunter Barnhill

     Our conservation class took a trip to Sapelo Island on October 28, 2011. We took a van from CCGA at 7:15 to catch the ferry that goes over to Sapelo Island only a few times a day. Sapelo Island hosts a large number of government and academic partners that are working on multiple marine and shoreline projects. Scientists on Sapelo are involved in many projects including habitat restoration, oyster reef ecological studies, and invasive species monitoring. Our purpose on this trip was to investigate one of these projects called The Living Shoreline Project. Federal, state and academic partners are working together to provide research about the living shoreline and how beneficial it is. Researchers’ goal for the living shoreline is to provide an environmentally friendly alternative to putting up hardened materials that have traditionally been used to prevent erosion. The goal of our trip was to view and help monitor the two areas that have been restored with living shorelines on Sapelo Island.

     When we first arrived, we had to ride in a van from the ferry dock to the conservatory where they are doing the testing. Most vehicles on the island have been there for a long time and our van was no exception. The age of our van made the trip a bit more exciting! The side door had no handle and the back door wouldn't shut. On the way the guides from the DNR told us about some of the native species and about the people who still live on the island. Nonetheless, we made it there alive and safe.

     The first site that we viewed was the Long Tabby site. The oyster bed at this site was made of gabion baskets which consisted of chain-linked welded steel measuring 6 feet by 12 feet.  These baskets were filled with a combination of bags of shell, loose shell and rock that stretch along a 230 foot area. Gabions were chosen because of the steep slope. Daniel said that they were first very skeptical about the use of gabions due to the concern about how the oyster shells started falling in the baskets causing it to have a ripple look. However the ripples have proven to be beneficial because sediment from the water has collected and only those that protrude out have really seen much growth. In addition, native species of plants have been added along the shoreline to promote a healthier and beneficial environment.

     The Ashantilly site consisted of mesh bags of used oyster shells arranged in two layers along a 370-foot section of the creek bank. This area was far less steep, so it was easy to climb down to measure and get accurate readings for observation. We used a protocol we dubbed "Daniel's protocol". The first part of his protocol was to measure the oyster bed from top to bottom and place a quadrat at the top, middle, and bottom of the bed. Within each of those quadrats, we measured the number of live and dead oysters, the presence of predators and other animals, and the lengths of 30 oysters. We recorded all of the data. The next part of “Daniel's protocol” was to measure the vegetation that was planted behind the restored oyster bed. We did basically the same method as the oysters, except we measured from the oyster bed to the edge of the natural growth. Using the same concept we took three quadrats and placed them at the top, middle, and bottom. From those we counted the amount of Spartina and other native species in each. Then we measured the ten tallest Spartina and recorded their heights. Daniel pointed out that one of the major objectives was to try to get the Spartina to grow through the oyster bed and sprout back up. This would help in building a much stronger shoreline, preventing further erosion.  
     We decided after we completed testing that we would ride over to the beach. The beaches there felt deserted compared to those on Saint Simons Island. We had so much space to ourselves in which to have fun looking for sea shells and sand dollars. It was the perfect ending to a good trip. I believe we must have been having too much of a good time because we had lost track of time and had to rush back to the van and drive to make it to the ferry.  They were about to pull away with the gates closed when we arrived to the docks. Thankfully they allowed us on!
     I learned a great deal from this experience about the conservation of this special and unique environment.  It is important to help conserve Sapelo and other natural habitats for future generations.