Maryland Sea Grant to Fund Research in Water Quality, Fisheries, and Community Resilience

February 1, 2018
Submerged Aquatic Vegetation

Maryland Sea Grant has awarded approximately $1,000,000 in federal funding for eight two-year grants to support research on Chesapeake Bay water quality; climate resilience; the diet of commercial fish and oyster populations; and the effects of submerged aquatic vegetation and watershed structure on nutrient transport.

About $63,000 in federal funds plus a 50 percent match from non-federal sources will support each project annually, for an average annual total of $96,000 per project. The funds will support not only research but also scientific training for undergraduate and graduate students from Maryland colleges and universities and outreach efforts to Bay stakeholders and communities. The projects were awarded through a competitive, peer-reviewed selection process.

The science research will be led by experts from Gallaudet University, the University of Baltimore, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the University of Maryland College Park, the University of Maryland Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, and St. Mary's College of Maryland.

The project topics are:

Anacostia River Tunnel: The Anacostia River Tunnel is a multi-billion dollar infrastructure project designed to retain and divert sewage and stormwater pollution and its first phase is scheduled to begin operation in March 2018. This study will test the hypothesis that the tunnel will reduce sewage-associated bacteria in the river and improve water quality by collecting samples of nitrogen and phosphorus, phytoplankton, and bacteria during the summer months and after storm events. The team will synthesize the new data with existing observations of the Anacostia River to better understand changes in water quality over time. The data and results will be shared with the public through social media, a partnership with the Anacostia Riverkeeper, and citizen scientist volunteers of the Anacostia Waterfront Trust.

Investigators: principal investigator, Caroline Solomon, Gallaudet University; co-principal investigator, Patricia M Gilbert, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Laboratory.


Climate indicators: Maryland has made efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop adaptation strategies to increase communities' resilience to the health, economic, and environmental impacts of climate change. But it can be difficult to evaluate their effectiveness. One solution is to use “indicators”: a decision support tool that tracks changes to a set of environmental conditions over time. This research proposes to develop a Maryland Climate Resilience Indicators system through local and regional stakeholder knowledge, identify the best set of indicators for Maryland, and build a prototype visualization tool which can be used and improved with the help of local communities.

Investigators: principal investigator, Melissa Kenney, University of Maryland Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center; co-principal investigator, Michael D. Gerst, University of Maryland College Park.


Fish diet: While zooplankton are critical food for fish, little is known about how different species may impact the productivity of the fishery. The purpose of this research is to develop useful metrics of food abundance and quality in order to improve fisheries management in the Chesapeake Bay.  The team will analyze the abundance, quality and distribution of different zooplankton species as well as what species fish are eating to assess the reliability of using different prey metrics to measure fishery productivity. An important broader impact of this research will be sharing the results and a best-practices document with policymakers, fisheries managers, and other stakeholders from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Investigators: principal investigator, Louis Plough; co-principal investigator, Jamie Pierson, both at University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Laboratory.


Microbes: Some of the most economically productive fisheries of the Chesapeake Bay – oysters, crabs, and striped bass – rely on microbial communities that form the base of the marine food web. These microbes also can harm the Bay through the development of large blooms that decrease the available oxygen in the water for other organisms, which is known as hypoxia. The goal of this study is to understand the role of one particular microbe community – mixotrophic dinoflagellates – that can create their own food through photosynthesis and also consume those typical food producers. Collecting relevant physiological data will permit researchers to include these new results into the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Model Package, which, until now, has only simulated these foodweb environments without these microbes. Improved computer model simulations will further the scientific understanding of the timing of winter blooms by tracking the organic carbon flow through waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

Investigators: principal investigator, Greg Silsbe; co-principal investigator, Sairah Malkin, both at University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Laboratory.


Microplastics: The health of the Eastern oyster, a species vital to the economic and ecological wellbeing of the Chesapeake Bay, may be threatened by the presence of microplastics entering the watershed. The purpose of this research is to quantify the amount of microplastics in the water, sediment, and oysters. New water, sediment, and oyster samples will be collected at many locations and depths across the Bay and compared to historical sediment samples to investigate the change in microplastic distributions over time and space. Partnerships with management agencies and local non-profit and community organizations – Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Living Classrooms, Trash Free Maryland – will provide stakeholders new information about microplastics in the Bay

Investigators: principal investigator, Lance Yonkos, University of Maryland College Park; co-principal investigators, Carys Mitchelmore and Johan Schijf of University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.


Mysids: Marine foragers, such as the shrimp-like mysid crustacean in the Patuxent and Choptank Rivers, are a critical source of food for many commercial and recreational fish species in the Chesapeake Bay.  In an effort to better understand the impact of this food source on fishery species’ well-being, this project will collect data on the abundance of mysids in different seasons as well as data on water quality. The scientists' goal is to uncover any potential patterns between the mysids and their habitat that may indicate how the local water quality could impact the mysids and, in turn, the fish that eat them.

Investigators: principal investigator, Ryan Woodland; co-principal investigators, Hongsheng Bi, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, Elizabeth North, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Laboratory.


Oysters: One potential best management practice for improved water quality in the Chesapeake Bay relies on oyster digestion. These organisms can filter nutrients out of the water and deposit those nutrients along with their other waste products in the sediments, effectively removing them from the water column. To evaluate this potential ecosystem service, this study will measure oyster “bio-deposits” as well as water quality data in a simulated marine environment that mimics the water conditions of a natural environment. The results will be shared with non-profit and community organizations such as the Chesapeake Bay Program's Best Management Practices expert panel, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and the Oyster Recover Partnership in an effort to improve decision-making capacity.

Investigators: principal investigator, Elka Porter, University of Baltimore; co-principal investigator, Lawrence P. Sanford, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Laboratory.


Submerged aquatic vegetation: Reducing the amount of nutrients entering the Chesapeake Bay has long been a management strategy to improve water quality. But submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) may be able to enhance water quality too by trapping nutrients with sediment during different seasons of the year. To better understand the relationship between SAV and nutrient retention, this research will measure sediment deposition and nutrient uptake by plants in and near SAV beds of different size and species composition during different seasons of the year. This new dataset may help scientists better understand nitrogen and phosphorus retention rates across the upper Chesapeake Bay.

Investigators: principal investigator, Cassie Gurbisz, St. Mary's College of Maryland; co-principal investigator, Cindy Palinkas, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Laboratory.


Photo, top left: The effects of submerged aquatic vegetation on nutrient retention in the Chesapeake Bay are one study being funded by Maryland Sea Grant from 2018-2020. Credit: Rona Kobell

- Alex Lopatka


For more information about these new research projects, contact Michael Allen, Ph.D, Associate Director for Research & Administration at Maryland Sea Grant.

Maryland Sea Grant works to preserve and restore the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland's coastal waters by supporting scientific research, education, and public outreach in collaboration with a number of partners. We are jointly funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the State of Maryland. Read more about our mission, and our achievements.

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