OysterFutures project brings industry, managers together to discuss future

Scientists from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science are part of a unique project designed to strategize new ways to manage an old industry. With the fate of the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population in question, stakeholders ranging from watermen to environmentalists hope to look past any differences to reach a common goal—enhance the shellfish resource and fishery.

JaneHawkey_IAN 510x300_0_0This is the OysterFutures project, a five-year undertaking funded by the National Science Foundation that kicked off earlier this year. Its goal is to reach a consensus on strategies for oyster fishing practices and restoration in the Choptank and Little Choptank rivers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Diminishing numbers of the shellfish has sparked some heated debates in recent years between the people who make a living off oysters and the people looking to restore their populations.

The  project brings together a diverse group of stakeholders from the oyster industry, environmental groups, and government agencies to make recommendations on ways to improve the oyster resource while integrating commercial and restoration interests.

Oysters are important to Maryland’s economy and cultural heritage, and for a clean and healthy Chesapeake Bay.

Elizabeth North, an associate professor with UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory, said it’s kind of like drafting a business plan that ensures the future is bright both economically and environmentally speaking.

enorth-1_0“Hopefully with a better business plan, we will have a more profitable and a long-term sustainable industry that is based on rehabilitation and improvement of the oyster resource over time,” she said.

North is leading a group of scientists who are serving as consultants to the stakeholder group, collecting data, developing projection models, and observing the process.

Biologist Mike Wilberg of the UMCES’ Chesapeake Biological Laboratory has been working on a computer model that will be unveiled at the next OysterFutures meeting.

Using simulations and projections from the scientists, stakeholders will examine how various regulations or changes in restoration practices may have different outcomes for oyster population, harvests, and water quality. They will weigh the difference between longer or shorter seasons, having more or different sanctuaries, or changing gear types.

“We’re using the model to bring together all the science about oysters and how they are likely to respond,” Wilberg said. “Building the model in collaboration with the group lets us all learn from each other, which is a very important part of the OysterFutures process.”

The group has already held meetings and a symposium, and will meet a few more times to explore strategies and solutions before presenting its findings to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in June 2017.

Whether the state will adopt any of the group’s recommendations isn’t clear, North said, but the process has already been valuable because of the people involved.

She described the discussions at recent meetings through OysterFutures as both strong and respectful, adding that this process of collaboration and compromise could be the key to creating more sustainable regulations, which in turn could lead to a healthier resource and industry.

“There’s a lot more common ground than I think the different groups are aware of,” North said. “It’s also uncomfortable because I keep seeing how many misconceptions that I’ve had, which are just going by the wayside.”

North expects the next meeting of stakeholders, scheduled Nov. 5 and 6, will be a strong indicator of the progress of those initial discussions.

“We really haven’t gotten to a point where people are trying to rate something, selecting one idea over another, which will start early next year, so that’s when we’ll really see whether this process works,” she said.

For updates on the OysterFutures project, visit oysterfutures.wordpress.com or the OysterFutures Facebook page.

Global warming is causing our oceans to suffocate

Nem_160920_154824_1_0Do you know why bubbles form in a pot of boiling water? It’s the oxygen leaving the liquid. The same thing is happening as a changing climate warms up our oceans. It’s called deoxygenation, or ocean suffocation. When the water warms up, it holds less oxygen for living creatures to use. At the same time, animals’ need for oxygen increases as the temperature rises. A double whammy.

Oceanographer Mike Roman, Director of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory, spent time in Paris last month working with colleagues at UNESCO’s International Oceanographic Commission on ways to tackle the problem of an oxygen-deprived ocean.

“Low oxygen areas in the ocean are expanding at an alarming rate and will affect fisheries and ecosystem diversity,” said Roman. “It’s essential to look at problems that will occur the next decades and to advise governments on ways to coordinate research to solve them.”

The Commission is working on a plan to call nations to arms to coordinate research on deoxygenation around the globe and to educate politicians, managers, and the public about the problem. They expect to release their recommendations in 2017.

A Darn Good Sign: Underwater Grass Bed Can Protect and Maintain Own Health

An expansive bed of underwater grass at the mouth of the Susquehanna River has proven it is able to “take a licking and keep on ticking.” A recent study has found that the submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) bed at Susquehanna Flats, which only recently made a comeback in the Chesapeake Bay, was not only able to survive a barrage of rough storms and flooding, but it has proven a natural ability to protect and maintain itself.

“It’s proof that restored SAV beds have the capability to be resilient,” said study author Cassie Gurbisz of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory. “They can stick around for a while if you give them the right conditions.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 8.46.41 AMSome 40 years ago, Tropical Storm Agnes wiped out the Susquehanna Flats SAV bed, which had already been weakened by decades of nutrient pollution. In recent years, however, the bed made an incredible comeback, and today it is one of the biggest and healthiest in the Bay, spanning some 20 square miles.

It has been projected that climate change will bring increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme storm events, which leads to the question of whether or not these ecosystems can withstand or rebound from such events. Scientists studied how the bed at Susquehanna Flats responded to the one-two punch of major storms in 2011 (Hurricane Irene and the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee) to find how resilient the underwater grasses are in the upper Chesapeake.

Sea grasses are essential to the Bay ecosystem. They pull harmful nutrients out of the water, cause sediments to settle to the bottom so sunlight can reach plants, protect the shoreline by reducing the impact of waves and currents, and provide habitat and food for a host of important organisms, including baby crabs.

The team of scientists looked at time series datasets to explore how extreme events impacted the Susquehanna Flats and to understand the factors that drove loss and resilience in this large, dense and continuous meadow of grasses. They found that the storms in 2011 did some damage to the bed at Susquehanna Flats because the rush of the water from the Susquehanna River tore up plants around the edge of the bed and deposited sediment that blocked the sunlight, limiting photosynthesis.

However, the bed was able to reduce the force of high flows sufficiently to prevent plant erosion at its inner core. In addition, although the floodwaters dumped a lot of sediment onto the SAV bed, it also dampened the waves driven by the winds. This decreased the amount of sediment that was later churned up and, as a result, increased water clarity. In fact, clear water spilled over into adjacent regions during ebb tide, further improving the bed’s capacity for renewal by creating more favorable growing conditions in areas where plant loss had occurred.

“Although there was substantial SAV loss in response to a major flood event, the system was also remarkably resilient, apparently owing to strong biophysical feedback processes carried out by a large, dense, healthy SAV bed,” said Gurbisz.

It’s called a positive feedback process. The plant beds alter physical conditions in ways that enhance their own growth – and it may help plant beds absorb the harmful impacts of storms. For instance, the plants create clear water in the middle of the bed, which promotes more plant growth, further improving water clarity, and so on. When that clear water spills out of the plant bed into the surrounding water, more light is available for new plants to grow. Together, these processes create conditions that allow the bed to resist damage and recover more quickly from the rush of water and sediments from storms.

“The SAV bed modifies its environment in ways that improve its own growth and likely serve as mechanisms of SAV resilience to flood events,” said Gurbisz.

The study, “Mechanismsof storm-related loss and resilience in a large submersed plant bed” by Cassie Gurbisz, Michael Kemp, and Larry Sanford of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and Robert Orth of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science was published in Estuaries and Coasts.

“This study, which is part of Cassie’s graduate student research, is an example of the wonderful scientific  investigations our graduate students conduct to improve understanding of Chesapeake Bay,” said Mike Roman, Director of the Horn Point Laboratory.

Horn Point Laboratory Offers ‘Chesapeake Bay 101’ Science Seminars for Local Residents

The Chesapeake Bay and its rivers are the lifeblood of the Eastern Shore. While many easily recognize the natural beauty Bay country offers, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory is offering “Bay 101 – Science of the Chesapeake for Non-Scientists”. The seminars are designed to make the science of the Chesapeake Bay as accessible as its beauty.

From April 7 through April 28, Horn Point Laboratory researchers will offer free, weekly talks about the science behind Chesapeake Bay on consecutive Thursdays. The forty-five-minute talks will not only shed light into the mysteries of the Bay, but also highlight Horn Point programs working to improve the health of the Bay and its aquatic life.  Questions and participation by the audience will be encouraged.

“Bay 101 – Science of the Chesapeake for Non-Scientists” will be held Thursdays at 4 p.m. in the Aquaculture and Restoration Ecology Laboratory (AREL) Lecture Hall at the Horn Point Laboratory, located at 2020 Horns Point Road in Cambridge, Maryland. To register, contact HPL Volunteer Coordinator Linda Starling at 410-221-8381 or starling@umces.edu.

Sessions include:

April 7: Genetic tools for monitoring and conservation of marine animals in Chesapeake Bay

Dr. Louis Plough will describe how genetic tools are being utilized for improved fishery management for oysters and river herring.

April 14:  Oyster Aquaculture in the Bay and Beyond

Graduate student, Anna Priester, will describe her travels to oyster farms around the country and discuss her own oyster research.

April 21:  Partnering with farmers to scientifically measure win/win scenarios for both nutrient reduction in the water and productive crop yields

Dr. Tom Fisher will speak about his research that enlists Caroline County farmers in solving the challenges of fertilizer use and clean water.

April 28: Sea Level and the Chesapeake Bay

Dr. Larry Sanford will talk about the geological history of sea level and its relation to current climate change.

The Horn Point Laboratory, located on more than 800 acres on the banks of the Choptank River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, has advanced society’s understanding of the world’s estuarine and ocean ecosystems.

UMCES Appoints new Vice President

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 8.41.51 AMThe University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science announces the appointment of Kent Island resident Lynn Rehn as Vice President for Administration. She joins the leadership team at Maryland’s premiere environmental research university, headquartered in Cambridge, Md., as the chief financial and operating officer.

Rehn comes to UMCES from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, where she served as Assistant Vice President/Comptroller since 2009. Previously, she was Comptroller at the University of Maryland College Park, and held the position of Comptroller at UMCES between 2000 and 2005.

“Lynn comes back to us with deep knowledge of both University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and University System of Maryland operations and with a strong commitment to our mission,” said UMCES President Dr. Donald Boesch. “We are excited about having Lynn return in this important leadership capacity. “

Previous Vice President for Administration Erica Kropp retires after more then 40 years serving the University System of Maryland, 11 of those years with UMCES.

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Explore the Bay Through Science at the Horn Point Lab Open House

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory invites the public to a free Open House on Saturday, October 10, 2015, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Located along the banks of the Choptank River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the laboratory is renowned for its study of marine ecosystems.

The theme for this year’s event is “Explore the Bay.” It features exhibits by the laboratory’s scientists of their investigations in the Chesapeake Bay and coastal areas along the Atlantic Coast. This year, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science celebrates 90 years of leading the way toward better management of Maryland’s natural resources and the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.

“This is the best day of the year for the community to learn about the science of the Bay. Everyone at the lab is on deck to explain their research with activities and displays that make it easy to understand,” said Horn Point Laboratory Director Mike Roman. “Our theme this year will ‘submerge’ our visitors in the water to learn how scientists explore the marine world.”

  • See underwater vehicles that can follow a school of fish or take the temperature of the ocean when big storms travel up the coast.
  • See an animation of the travels of oyster larvae as they move from the reef where they spawned to their new, permanent home reef.
  • Match up a DNA sequence to microscopic creatures important to the food chain.
  • Get up close with a sturgeon whose ancestors date to the Jurassic period
  • Meet and talk to graduate students about their environmental career goals.
  • At the children’s activity booth, create animals that live in the water with thumb print art. Play games that teach fun facts about the Bay.

The Open House is designed to interest all ages and will take place rain or shine. The Horn Point Laboratory campus is located 2020 Horns Point Road on Route 343 outside of Cambridge, Maryland.

For more information, visit umces.edu/hpl/openhouse2015 or contact Liz Freedlander at lfreedlander@umces.edu.

Part of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s statewide network of research centers, the Horn Point Laboratory on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, has advanced society’s understanding of the world’s estuarine and ocean ecosystems. Horn Point scientists are world- respected for their interdisciplinary programs in oceanography, water quality, restoration of sea grasses, marshes and shellfish, and investigations of sea level rise and storm surge.

Horn Point Researcher Receives Sloan Foundation Fellowship

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in New York announced on February 23rd that Dr. Alyson Santoro, a faculty member of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Laboratory, is among the winners of the 2015 Sloan Research Fellowships.

alyson_headshotAccording to the announcement, “these early-career scholars represent the most promising researchers working today. Their achievements and potential place them among the next generation of scientific leaders in the U.S. and Canada. Since 1955, Sloan Research Fellows have gone on to win 43 Nobel Prizes and numerous other distinguished awards.” The prize provides $50,000 annually for two years to further Santoro’s research.

“We are delighted that Alyson was recognized by the Sloan Foundation for this award. She is a rising star in the field of ocean science and we are proud to have her on the Horn Point faculty” said Mike Roman, Lab Director.

Santoro’s research focuses on archaea—microbes in the ocean about which very little is known. Their unique status among fundamental biological organisms wasn’t even recognized until 1977. Once thought to live only in “extreme” environments, archaea are now known to be among the most abundant organisms on the planet and vital components of nutrient cycles in the ocean.

Investigating archaea’s contribution to the ocean ecosystem has been especially challenging due to the difficulty growing them in the laboratory setting. That is, until recently, when Santoro’s laboratory developed and described the first laboratory cultures of a type of archaea from the open ocean. When asked about her attraction to this research, Santoro said, “It excites me that it is a field where people are making fundamental, new discoveries. Our view of marine microbiology is completely different than it was even ten years ago. It is amazing to me.”

About the fellowship award, she said, “I am honored to be recognized among such an historically esteemed group of scholars, many of whom have gone on to do great things. It is humbling. From a practical perspective, it is wonderful to receive a pot of money to use for flexible, creative research. I hope that my research path will enable me to discover something within the next ten years that no one now knows.”

Santoro credits her scientific curiosity to growing up in the rural environment of Saranac Lake, NY where she explored the water and forests of the Adirondack mountains. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College and earned both her M.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford University in Environmental Engineering and Science. She resides in Cambridge with her husband, Nick Nidzieko, also a professor at Horn Point.

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Travel the Bay with Science at UMCES Horn Point Lab Open House, Oct. 11

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory invites the public to take part in its annual free Open House from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 11, 2014. Located on the banks of the Choptank River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the laboratory is renowned for its study of marine ecosystems. The theme for this year’s event is “Travel the Bay with Science.” It features exhibits by the laboratory’s scientists of their investigations in the Chesapeake Bay and coastal areas along the Atlantic Coast.

“This is the best day of the year for the community to learn about the science of the Chesapeake Bay,” said Horn Point Laboratory Director Mike Roman. “Everyone at the lab is on deck to explain their research with activities and displays. Our travel theme this year will visually take our visitors to research sites around the Bay from Havre de Grace to Oxford.”

  • Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 10.26.03 PMLearn about research on sea grasses near Havre de Grace, Maryland, and marshes close to Alexandria, Virginia.
  • See demonstrations of water quality research related to lawns and farms outside of Greensboro, located on the Eastern Shore.
  • Experience the story of oysters that are spawned at the oyster culture facility at Horn Point and transported to Harris Creek near Bozman, outside of St. Michaels, Maryland.
  • Investigate how oyster larvae move around the Bay from samples taken from locations like Oxford, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore.
  • See an underwater glider that is deployed from Ocean City, Maryland, to track hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean when the sea is too dangerous for research vessels.
  • At the children’s activity booth, make a sea turtle and play games that teach fun facts about the Chesapeake Bay.

The open house is designed to interest all ages and will take place rain or shine. The Horn Point Laboratory campus is located 2020 Horns Point Road on Route 343 outside of Cambridge, Maryland. For more information, visit www.umces.edu or contact Liz Freedlander at lfreedlander@umces.edu.

Part of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s network of four research centers located across the state, the Horn Point Laboratory on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has advanced society’s understanding of the world’s estuarine and ocean ecosystems. Horn Point scientists are world-respected for their interdisciplinary programs in oceanography, water quality, restoration of sea grasses, marshes and shellfish, and investigations of sea level rise and storm surge.

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Cornell Scientist to Speak on Energy and Climate Planning at Horn Point Lab, May 3

The Horn Point Laboratory will offer a public lecture by Dr. Robert Howarth on Friday, May 3rd at 1:30 p.m. at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s Van Lennep Auditorium in St. Michaels, MD. The event is free to the public, with limited seating. Dr. Howarth is one of TIME Magazine’s 50 people who matter in 2011 and the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University.

Dr. Howarth topic is “Transitioning to a world without fossil fuels by 2050.” He will describe New York State’s forward-looking energy and climate planning and how it may provide a road map for Maryland and the rest of the country. He will explore the idea of shale gas as a bridge fuel in the process of transitioning away from fossil fuel dependency and discuss the future of sustainable energy technologies.

For the past 35 years, Dr. Howarth’s research program has focused on how human activity affects the environment, with emphases on global change and coastal ocean water quality. Howarth also works on greenhouse gas emissions and the ecological consequences of oil and gas development. He was the head consultant for the State of Alaska’s Attorney General on the response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Dr. Howarth was selected as the 2014 “Ian Morris Scholar in Residence” for the Horn Point Laboratory, an honored tradition in which graduate students at the laboratory invite a distinguished scholar to lead scientific discussion during a week of interactive activities.

Horn Point students welcome the public to a reception immediately following the lecture to speak with Dr. Howarth and to visit displays about their research. They are among the approximately 100 young people across the laboratories of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science that are enrolled in a graduate education program to advance their careers as the scientific leaders and problem-solvers of the future.