Six Coastal Projects Receive Woods Hole Sea Grant Funding

A number of the funded projects will help refine the techniques and management strategies for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. (Photo by Taylor Crockford, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

WOODS HOLE – Researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and other Massachusetts academic organizations have received grant funding for six new projects.

The Woods Hole Sea Grant program, which is funded through NOAA and other non-federal sources, has awarded about $1.5 million over two years.

The work will contribute to maintain healthy coastal ecosystems, refine management strategies for fisheries and aquaculture, and help communities be more resilient to the effects of climate change.

A team of biologists and marine chemists from WHOI led by Mark Hahn and Chris Reddy will examine the potential risk to human health posed by halogenated marine natural products (HNPs) in seafood. Some HNPs have been found to be persistent and bioaccumulative and to occur at similar concentrations as their industrial counterparts such as PCBs. 

Preliminary research suggests that HNPs could make a substantial contribution to the total “dioxin equivalents” in marine animals, and thus to the total risk of dioxin-like effects from consuming seafood. This research will help inform decisions regarding consumption of seafood by humans, including sensitive subpopulations such as children and pregnant women.

WHOI oceanographers Steve Elgar and Britt Raubenheimer will examine the resilience of sandy shorelines, and in particular the recovery of beaches after storm-induced erosion or inlet breaching. The work focuses on the shoreline of Martha’s Vineyard, where sediment transport is affecting water quality, shellfish farms, tourism, and homes and structures.

Although focused on the southern shoreline of Martha’s Vineyard, the results will apply to a range of coasts and be of interest to the USGS, Cape Cod Extension, conservation commissions, environmental groups, homeowners, coastal engineers, shellfish farmers, fishermen, and swimmer safety personnel.

Biologists Joel Llopiz and Rubao Ji of WHOI, with colleagues Martha Hauff of Stonehill College and Hannes Baumann of the Univ. of Conn., want to address the dearth of knowledge on the ecological role of the northern sand lance in the Gulf of Maine.

Ecological hotspots off Massachusetts’s shores such as the Nantucket Shoals region and Stellwagen Bank are critical foraging grounds for such iconic marine species such as humpback whales, bluefin tuna, and cod, and the sand lance is one reason these hotspots exist. As management efforts are increasingly directed towards entire ecosystems rather than single species, focused research on the more influential components of these ecosystems, such as sand lance, can provide a major contribution.

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth biological oceanographer Jefferson Turner will use Sea Grant funding to expand the 30-year data collection record ofphytoplankton abundance and community compositionin Buzzards Bay. 

The extended program will focus on patterns of appearance and abundance of harmful phytoplankton species in relation to those of other phytoplankton species that may utilize different nutrients and hydrographic niches. The research may provide the state agency responsible for ensuring the safe harvest of shellfish with new management approaches to predicting and dealing with these harmful blooms.

New England has a decades-old practice of digging ditches in salt marshes to increase marsh drainage and reduce the habitat for breeding mosquitoes. A new project led by WHOI marine chemist Amanda Spivak will be the first to quantify how nearly 90 years of ditch digging and maintenance have impacted marsh elevation, accretion rates, pond density, and carbon storage.

 The information will help wetland managers and restoration practitioners assess the long-term outcomes of ditch maintenance decisions.


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