Maryland Sea Grant is seeking applications for our Assistant Director for Communications and an Aquaculture Projects and National Extension Coordinator. More details.
Maryland Sea Grant projects have produced significant results that aided fishers, businesses, policy makers, and conservation volunteers in Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay region.
Here are highlights of our program's impacts and accomplishments in 2021. These summaries describe scientific research; extension and public outreach; and education and communications efforts.
The highlights are grouped by these four broad focus areas in Maryland Sea Grant's strategic plan:
A cornerstone of our program is to continually evaluate and report on the real-world impacts of our projects. These projects are drawn from our annual report for 2021 to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (NOAA), one of our major funders. You can read our reports about our impacts and accomplishments in years before 2021 in a searchable database (scroll down) at NOAA's National Sea Grant College program.
Speeding Wetlands Recovery With Native Species Where Invasive Phragmites is Removed. To strengthen wetlands recovery efforts in the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Sea Grant-supported researchers are studying what native plants best thrive in areas where non-native, invasive phragmites is removed. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant Provides Continuing Support for Key Sea Level Rise Research Group. Since 2015, the Chesapeake Bay Sentinel Site Cooperative successfully advanced understanding of sea level rise impacts in the Chesapeake Bay region and shared those findings with multiple stakeholders. In 2021, to continue the work of the cooperative’s coordinator, Maryland Sea Grant fully funded the position. To learn more...
Sea Grant-Funded Research Helps Improve Water-Quality Modeling in Chesapeake Bay. New data gathered by Maryland Sea Grant-funded researchers studying the community ecology of phytoplankton is advancing the accuracy of models used to restore the Chesapeake Bay’s water quality. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant Publishes Book Illustrating Oyster Diseases. Scientists, students, and aquaculturists are gaining advanced understanding of diseases and illness of the eastern oyster, thanks to a uniquely illustrated resource published by Maryland Sea Grant. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant-Supported Program to Grow Land-Based Atlantic Salmon Aquaculture Expands With New Grant. Maryland Sea Grant has been working with a consortium of collaborators to advance US, land-based Atlantic salmon production through recirculating aquaculture systems to help reduce pressure facing wild salmon stocks. After an initial phase to fill knowledge gaps in technology, biology, and systems engineering, a newly-funded phase will build on those findings through research, workforce development, and community engagement. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant Funding Supports the Successful Mapping of the Blue Crab Genome. Maryland Sea Grant helped fund the research that led to the successful mapping of the blue crab genome, providing fisheries managers and researchers a new tool to better understand and manage the Chesapeake Bay’s most iconic and economically important species. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant-Supported Researchers Are Improving Monitoring Methods for Important Shad and Herring Species. Using eDNA as a novel monitoring method, Maryland Sea Grant-supported researchers are developing tools to better assess populations of shad and herring, making it easier to gather needed data about these iconic Chesapeake Bay fish. To learn more...
Sea Grant-Funded Mysids Research Advances Novel Study of Key Forage Species. Maryland Sea Grant-funded research is developing new insights into a key Chesapeake Bay forage species and its unique function in the Bay’s food webs, providing information that can help stakeholders better incorporate forage species into Bay fisheries management. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant Helps Researchers Develop Low-Salinity Oyster Broodstock for Aquaculture. To support the state’s aquaculture industry and its preferred use of fast-growing triploid oysters that can be harvested year-round, Maryland Sea Grant-supported research is developing a native oyster broodstock to grow triploid oysters that survive well and grow quickly in the state’s low-salinity waters. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant Extension Specialist Helps Crabmeat Processors Stay Competitive. Through education, technical expertise, and hands-on support, a Maryland Sea Grant Extension specialist is helping the state’s small, independently owned crabmeat processors compete successfully in a highly competitive global market. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant Helps Coastal Farmers Grapple with Effects of Sea Level Rise. In a workshop series funded by the National Science Foundation and developed and led by Maryland Sea Grant, coastal farmers described how sea level rise is affecting their lands and shared their priorities and capacities for future land use. The information gathered at these workshops has advanced new research, media exposure, and policy to better meet these farmers’ needs. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant Extension’s Septic System Education Improves Water Quality. Maryland Sea Grant Extension specialists are educating residents about how to maintain their septic systems or upgrade to more efficient systems, ultimately reducing the amount of nitrogen and other pollutants entering the Chesapeake Bay’s tributaries and groundwater. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant Extension Helps a Community Advance Residents’ Clean Water Efforts. Maryland Sea Grant Extension watershed specialists help a Chesapeake Bay community advance clean water goals by using social marketing strategies to understand residents’ resistance to restoration projects and developing alternatives to change that behavior. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant’s Research for Undergraduates Program Successfully Innovates in Virtual Space. Facing ongoing pandemic restrictions in 2021, Maryland Sea Grant continued to adapt its Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, expanding its 2020 model to include successful virtual research projects with science mentors and strengthening the students’ skills to prepare them for graduate school and post-graduate STEM jobs. To learn more...
Chesapeake Quarterly Highlights History of Black Marylanders Working in Chesapeake Bay Maritime Communities. An issue of Maryland Sea Grant’s magazine, Chesapeake Quarterly, was dedicated to stories focused on Black Marylanders’ historic and integral role in maritime work and communities in the Chesapeake Bay region. The issue included pieces on seafood entrepreneurship, sailmaking, aquaculture, oystering, and captaining vessels, and launched a companion speaker series. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant Expands Undergraduate Outreach Opportunities With Community Engaged Internship Program. Maryland Sea Grant (MDSG) continued a summer internship program specifically designed to engage undergraduate students from underrepresented and indigenous communities. The 2021 intern supported communication and education efforts by producing a range of materials focused on local ecology, estuarine science, and coastal issues. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant Provides Science Communication Training and Support to SEAS Islands Alliance. As part of the SEAS Islands Alliance, a $10-million, eight-institution grant from the National Science Foundation focused on engaging underrepresented minority students from the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam in marine and environmental sciences, Maryland Sea Grant (MDSG) provides training in science communication and outreach for SEAS students. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant Helps High School Students Gets Hands-On With Unique Symbiosis. Using one of the world’s most unique vertebrate animals, a Maryland Sea Grant-developed protocol is enabling hundreds of Maryland high school students to conduct hands-on, project-based scientific study into symbiosis. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant Supports New Post-Graduate Fellowship to Provide Coastal Law and Policy Experience. In 2021, Maryland Sea Grant (MDSG) launched a post-graduate legal fellowship with the University of Maryland Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI) that provides real-world experience in the areas of state law, policy, and environmental research in Maryland. The first fellow in this position worked with MDSG and ALEI on products related to Maryland commercial shellfish aquaculture leases and federal permitting processes for projects in Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant Supports High Schools With Innovative Water Quality Monitoring Tools. Maryland Sea Grant, working with educators at a Baltimore City school, developed a microcomputer-driven, 24/7 water-monitoring system and accompanying guide to help teachers and students more efficiently and affordably measure water quality in closed aquaculture systems. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant Helps Create a Pilot Collaborative Course Model Addressing Effects of Sea Level Rise. Maryland Sea Grant helped initiate a new coursework model for a Morgan State University advanced undergraduate/graduate-level landscape architecture course by connecting environmental scientists, architects, landscape architects, and engineers to the faculty at this historically Black institution. To learn more...
Maryland Sea Grant Helps Puerto Rico Students Gain Marine Science Opportunities. A Maryland Sea Grant-supported program aimed at increasing education and career opportunities for Hispanic students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and broadening diversity in the sciences is helping undergraduate students in Puerto Rico take a seat at the marine sciences table. To learn more...
Title: Speeding Wetlands Recovery With Native Species Where Invasive Phragmites is Removed
Partners: Smithsonian Environmental Research Center; University of Maryland; University of Maryland Extension; Utah State University
Recap: To strengthen wetlands recovery efforts in the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Sea Grant-supported researchers are studying what native plants best thrive in areas where non-native, invasive phragmites is removed.
Relevance: Invasive, non-native Phragmites australis, also known as the common reed, is ubiquitous in the Chesapeake Bay’s tidal wetlands. Spreading via seeds and rhizomes, it creates dense stands that can—like almost all wetlands—trap sediments, remove nutrients from the water, and slow shoreline erosion by absorbing wave energy. But it is a poor food source for birds and animals, and its rapacious growth out-competes native plants, eliminating habitat for waterfowl and fish and diminishing biodiversity. Maryland has lost nearly 45% of its wetlands, and wetlands restoration is a priority in overall Bay recovery. Controlling phragmites’ spread will support recovery of native plant and animal diversity. However, removing phragmites can have unintended consequences if native plants don’t quickly recolonize, resulting in changes in carbon and nutrient cycling, and even marsh collapse. Learning what native plant species thrive best in areas where phragmites is removed would strengthen restoration efforts.
Response: Over two years, Maryland Sea Grant-supported researchers studied how certain native plants might speed ecosystem recovery in wetlands where phragmites was removed. Working in three mid-Bay areas, they planted seven native tidal wetland species at eight sites of varying salinities. In autumn 2021, researchers harvested vegetation and sampled soils to measure biomass of the planted species and other native species that had become established. They’re analyzing soil samples to quantify below-ground biomass, describe soil profiles, and examine organic matter and carbon content. Data analysis is ongoing, but preliminary results indicate that while all sites demonstrate the potential for native species to recolonize, that potential is greater in lower salinity areas, where native species diversity is higher and more species are available for recolonization. In higher salinity areas, the diversity of native plant species that potentially could colonize is lower, indicating that those habitats could benefit more from planting natives to support recovery. Researchers have expanded the initial work to study more closely the effects of tidal influences on native plant recovery, as well as to determine which species are more efficient in below-ground productivity, leading to more carbon sequestration. This work is being conducted in controlled settings at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
Results: Based on this research, a Maryland Sea Grant Extension Specialist created a peer-reviewed brief, “What Happens After Phragmites is Killed,” describing the study of native plantings to enhance wetlands recovery. Ultimately, researchers hope to provide landowners, NGOs, government agencies, and other stakeholders specific guidance in how to successfully remove phragmites and restore wetlands with native plants.
Title: Maryland Sea Grant Provides Continuing Support for Key Sea Level Rise Research Group
Partners: Sentinel Sites: Virginia Coast Reserve Long Term Ecological Research; Assateague National Sea Shore; Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge; Poplar Island; Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserves–Maryland and Virginia; Smithsonian Ecological Research Center; Virginia Commonwealth University Rice Rivers Center
Recap: Since 2015, the Chesapeake Bay Sentinel Site Cooperative successfully advanced understanding of sea level rise impacts in the Chesapeake Bay region and shared those findings with multiple stakeholders. In 2021, to continue the work of the cooperative’s coordinator, Maryland Sea Grant fully funded the position.
Relevance: The Chesapeake Bay holds tremendous ecological, cultural, economic, historic, and recreational value. It also experiences some of the highest rates of sea level rise on the US East Coast. This strains the coastal zone, as increased flooding frequency and duration jeopardize homes, infrastructure, coastal ecosystems, and adjacent uplands. Understanding how sea level rise affects different geographies within the diverse Chesapeake watershed requires on-the-ground monitoring of indicators such as water levels, ground elevation, and species response. This monitoring helps define what to expect in the future, what immediate threats require prompt response, and how best to invest or prepare for resilient coastal land uses.
Response: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Maryland and Virginia state agencies, and Sea Grant offices recognized that multiple agencies at various sites were collecting similar suites of sea level rise monitoring data. In 2015, they brought together representatives from these sites to take part in NOAA’s national “sentinel site cooperative” program. In the Chesapeake Bay Sentinel Site Cooperative (CBSSC), seven geographic locations—sentinel sites—collected long-term coastal and environmental data that enabled intensive research, outreach, and education on sea level rise and coastal hazards. This group worked together with a full-time coordinator to measure the impacts of sea level rise in the Bay, then worked with partners to apply these findings to help communities prepare for coastal flooding and other effects of changing climate conditions.
Results: From 2015 to 2021, the CBSSC has had great success leveraging the work of a close-knit working group of sentinel site marsh ecologists (the Surface Elevation Table, or SET, Working Group) and a broader network of coastal managers, decision makers, and community liaisons. Key outcomes have included greater collaborations and communications for research, data-sharing, and outreach materials. Stronger cross-agency collaboration has resulted in products that include an interactive map inventory of surface elevation tables located within the CBSSC boundaries, a video highlighting monitoring at a suite of marsh types (viewed 981 times by the close of 2021), multiple joint grant applications to pursue monitoring analyses, and journal publications currently in development. The CBSSC also hosted numerous workshops, among them a Marsh Resilience Summit (a two-day workshop with 200 attendees that produced numerous collaborations and project developments, including a special feature in Wetlands); a Vertical Land Motion in the Chesapeake Bay workshop; and a Coastal Farming Challenges workshop (both funded by National Science Foundation Coastlines and People). The work has been so successful that when NOAA’s funding for the Sentinel Site Cooperative program ended in 2020, Maryland Sea Grant in 2021 chose to continue the CBSSC’s work by supporting the coordinator’s position. With the management and SET teams still in place, the group is now focusing on topics including better quantification of marsh ecosystem services, understanding the impacts of sea-level-rise-induced ecosystem transitions, and equitable ways to empower coastal communities.
Title: Sea Grant-Funded Research Helps Improve Water-Quality Modeling in Chesapeake Bay
Partners: St. Mary’s College of Maryland; University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Laboratory
Recap: New data gathered by Maryland Sea Grant-funded researchers studying the community ecology of phytoplankton is advancing the accuracy of models used to restore the Chesapeake Bay’s water quality.
Relevance: Phytoplankton and their microbial communities form the base of the Chesapeake Bay’s food web and govern the transformation of energy, carbon, and nutrients in the Bay. They are a major driver of water quality, helping cause red tides in surface waters and hypoxia (dead zones) in the Bay’s deeper waters. Single-celled dinoflagellates are among the most ubiquitous of the phytoplankton, but little is known about their productivity during winter months, and not enough data has been available about their overall quantitative role to include them in the primary Bay environmental model—the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Modeling Package (CBEMP). To better inform Bay water quality modeling and, in turn, strengthen Bay restoration efforts based on that modeling, scientists need a broader understanding of the community ecology of these tiny but mighty organisms.
Response: Over two years, Maryland Sea Grant-supported scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) conducted monthly winter surveys in the Bay to study the basic physiology of the winter microbial community including growth rates, loss rates, and photosynthetic rates. While winter is perceived as a time of slow biological productivity, they found the opposite is true, and that phytoplankton growth is remarkably high in winter. They also found that in the Bay’s depths, where light is minimal, large pools of phytoplankton are dominated by slow-growing diatoms, rather than the expected dinoflagellates. Scientists believe that as these decompose, they significantly contribute to the Bay’s seasonal hypoxia. Researchers applied these novel data to inform a “phytotools” product that uses numerical analysis to predict phytoplankton production; the PI has updated it to be numerically consistent with the CBEMP.
Results: Since the phytotools update, it has been downloaded nearly 20,000 times as of August 2021, enabling educators, researchers, and other stakeholders in the Bay’s restoration efforts to refine and improve predictions of phytoplankton production. The Sea Grant-funded work also helped the researchers secure a $228,316 National Science Foundation grant that is supporting a new, state-of-the-art autonomous estuarine phytoplankton observatory on Maryland’s Choptank River. Complementing and enhancing the Sea Grant-funded research, this system provides highly resolved, continuous measures of nutrients and microbial community metabolic activity while identifying all phytoplankton. These data allow a more comprehensive representation of the Bay’s microbial community in water quality modeling, improving the CBEMP’s accuracy.
Title: Maryland Sea Grant Publishes Book Illustrating Oyster Diseases
Partners: Maryland Department of Natural Resources; Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Recap: Scientists, students, and aquaculturists are gaining advanced understanding of diseases and illness of the eastern oyster, thanks to a uniquely illustrated resource published by Maryland Sea Grant.
Relevance: Oyster aquaculture continues to grow in Maryland and nationally. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), US shellfish farmers produced 45 million pounds of oysters in 2018, up from 37 million pounds in 2016, and developing domestic seafood aquaculture remains a strategic priority. Virginia supports the largest oyster aquaculture industry on the East Coast, with 135,093 acres under lease, while in Maryland, 7,539 acres comprise 486 active shellfish leases in the Chesapeake and Maryland Coastal bays. Oyster farms can improve water quality, provide watermen a viable economic option to what remains of the wild harvest, and create opportunities for new industry entrepreneurs. As the industry grows however, so does the need to quickly and clearly identify emerging diseases and illnesses in oysters to mitigate impacts on survival and production.
Response: Working with scientists and authors from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and supported with NOAA National Sea Grant Program aquaculture funding, Maryland Sea Grant (MDSG) helped develop Diseases & Parasites of the Eastern Oyster Crassostrea virginica in Chesapeake Bay, a comprehensive, clearly illustrated guide to known and emerging illnesses in the eastern oyster. Published by MDSG in 2021, the book is illustrated with more than 100 histological figures and images that provide clear visuals illuminating everything from bacterial infections and viruses to diseases caused by protists and parasites. Consistent color and annotation, often with multiple magnifications, help the viewer see the relationship of the condition to oyster tissues and the details of the condition itself. The authors also provide information about disease patterns for each subject, including seasonal and geographic distribution. Although focused on oysters in the Chesapeake and Maryland Coastal bays, the book’s contents are pertinent for those studying and raising eastern oysters throughout the US Atlantic and Gulf coasts, Canada, and Mexico.
Results: Interstate transfer of oysters is a key part of the industry, and this text provides a clear, up-to-date resource to assess if oyster tissue is diseased, helping the industry prevent the introduction of diseased oysters into other waterbodies. It’s also informing the work of faculty, students, extension professionals, and histopathologists involved in oyster aquaculture and research in Chesapeake Bay and beyond. Faculty, staff, and students at Rutgers University’s Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory are using it as a reference work, and the director is contemplating a graduate/advanced undergraduate course around it. Likewise, faculty at the Shellfish Pathology Laboratory at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine report that the book’s text and particularly its illustrations are proving invaluable to students conducting microscopic research on shellfish.
Title: Maryland Sea Grant-Supported Program to Grow Land-Based Atlantic Salmon Aquaculture Expands With New Grant
Partners: University of Maryland, Baltimore County; University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology; University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension; University of Maryland Extension; University of Wisconsin Sea Grant; University of Maine Sea Grant; The Conservation Fund – Freshwater Institute; Morgan State University; Univ. of Wisconsin-Stevens Point; Aquaculture Research Institute and Cooperative Extension, University of Maine; USDA-National Cold Water Marine Aquaculture Center; Superior Fresh LLC; Whole Oceans LLC; Kennebec River Biosciences; Riverence, LLC; SALMA; University of Maryland School of Medicine, Institute for Genome Sciences; Virginia Tech; Marine and Freshwater Research Institute; AquaCon; AquaBounty; Skretting; Benchmark Genetics; Exciton Clean; Introlytix, Inc.; Innovasea Systems Inc.; Nordic Aquafarms; Atlantic Sapphire; BioMar Group
Recap: Maryland Sea Grant has been working with a consortium of collaborators to advance US, land-based Atlantic salmon production through recirculating aquaculture systems to help reduce pressure facing wild salmon stocks. After an initial phase to fill knowledge gaps in technology, biology, and systems engineering, a newly-funded phase will build on those findings through research, workforce development, and community engagement.
Relevance: NOAA Fisheries estimates that 70 to 85% of the seafood consumed in the US is imported, and about half of the world’s seafood comes from aquaculture. With seafood demand rising, researchers estimate that by 2050, twice the current supply will be needed, and depleted wild stocks cannot fill the demand. Americans consume 500,000 tons of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) annually with a value of $3.4 billion. One way to safely and sustainably grow salmon on land is with recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), which clean and re-use water (up to 99% is recycled), maintain a controlled environment to optimize fish growth and health, repurpose waste as fertilizer, and feed fish with sustainably sourced foods. In doing so, RAS can enable domestic salmon production to support local economies and reduce dependence on imported and wild fish. As of 2022, over $2 billion has been invested in domestic salmon RAS production, and an additional $1 billion is expected within the next five years in Maryland alone. However, barriers to expansion remain challenging.
Response: Since 2019 Maryland Sea Grant (MDSG) has been a lead partner with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) in a $1.2-million effort collectively known as the Recirculating Aquaculture Salmon Network (RAS-N). This multi-state consortium includes scientists, economists, biologists, and engineers who are studying how to optimally grow Atlantic salmon and build the domestic industry using RAS, educating the public about the technology, and supporting related workforce, career, and business development. A MDSG Extension specialist hired through the three-year NOAA grant facilitates RAS-N workgroup efforts, and in 2021 the US Department of Agriculture awarded UMBC and the consortium a $10 million grant to build upon that work. This new project, called Sustainable Aquaculture Systems Supporting Atlantic Salmon (SAS2), will continue the RAS-N work with academic and federal research institutions along with industry partners to address specific RAS challenges and hurdles. Maryland Sea Grant supports this effort in a leading role, with MDSG staff and Extension specialists involved in SAS2 research, education, and extension objectives.
Results: Despite continued COVID-19 restrictions in 2021, MDSG staff led and attended virtual meetings with RAS-N and SAS2 collaborators addressing career and workforce development, education, communications, and research. Using 2020 workshop feedback, a survey was developed by a MDSG Extension specialist and sent to stakeholders in spring 2021 to formally prioritize their needs as well as identify top barriers to salmon RAS development. Overall feedback was positive and led to expanding the survey to include more national and international companies and institutes. Another workshop was planned for October 2021, but was postponed to September 2022 due to COVID-19 concerns. The Extension specialist also published an article in Aquaculture Magazine, Vol. 47, No. 1 (March 2021) about the RAS-N project, workshops, and communications work. MDSG’s Assistant Director for Education worked with counterparts in Maine and Wisconsin to identify best practices in formal and non-formal education and workforce development. These results are being aggregated into a broader “roadmap” paper for 2022, and a draft concept paper on building capacity of land-based Atlantic salmon aquaculture in the US is also on track for publication in 2022. The MDSG communications team has continued to assist with website and video work on the projects, providing editing support and content.
Title: Maryland Sea Grant Funding Supports the Successful Mapping of the Blue Crab Genome
Partners: University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology
Recap: Maryland Sea Grant helped fund the research that led to the successful mapping of the blue crab genome, providing fisheries managers and researchers a new tool to better understand and manage the Chesapeake Bay’s most iconic and economically important species.
Relevance: The blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) is culturally iconic in the Chesapeake Bay, a key species ecologically, and Maryland’s largest commercial fishery, with landings around 30 million pounds annually (2015-2019), for a value of about $45 million. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, 50% of US blue crab harvest comes from Chesapeake Bay. Blue crab populations are regularly assessed, but pressures to the species include habitat loss, low-oxygen zones in the Bay, and overfishing. Maintaining a healthy, well-managed fishery with sustainable stocks is a critical goal of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. Successfully mapping the crab’s genome will help researchers and managers accomplish this goal.
Response: Maryland Sea Grant helped fund the research that led to the successful mapping of the blue crab genome, completed in 2021. Led by blue crab biologist Sook Chung, an associate professor for the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET), researchers isolated DNA from a female blue crab specifically grown for sequencing—a process that required more than six months of 24/7 supercomputer processing. They determined that the blue crab has between 40 and 50 chromosomes, nearly twice that of humans, with a rich diversity of genes numbering approximately 24,000, slightly more than humans. The researchers published their work in the September 2021 issue of the journal G3: Genes/Genomes/Genetics, and UMCES will make the genome publicly available to all scientists.
Results: This research will enable scientists to identify genes responsible for blue crab growth, reproduction, and susceptibility or resistance to disease. They can identify which genetic traits make some blue crabs better able to withstand warming water as a result of climate change, as well as how some crabs reproduce more successfully than others. This information can inform actions to strengthen the blue crab fishery while supporting the species’ economic and ecological value. For example, researchers eventually may be able to use genetic information to enable successful aquaculture of blue crabs, reducing pressure on wild stock. It also can be used to determine whether crab meat comes from the Bay or other countries, helping prevent crab meat from being improperly or falsely labeled.
Title: Maryland Sea Grant-Supported Researchers Are Improving Monitoring Methods for Important Shad and Herring Species
Partners: University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; Smithsonian Environmental Research Center; Maryland Department of Natural Resources; Maryland Coastal Bays Program
Recap: Using eDNA as a novel monitoring method, Maryland Sea Grant-supported researchers are developing tools to better assess populations of shad and herring, making it easier to gather needed data about these iconic Chesapeake Bay fish.
Relevance: River herring and shad are key Chesapeake Bay species ecologically, economically, and culturally. But they are difficult to study, in part because populations have crashed so precipitously due to pollution, historic overfishing, habitat loss from river damming and sediment runoff, and warming waters. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) 2020 American Shad Benchmark Stock Assessment found stocks coast-wide to be depleted, and the 2017 assessment for river herring was the same. The commercial fishery has been closed in Maryland since 1980. The ASMFC report notes that too few reliable data are available about these important fish to properly manage them. Developing accurate, accessible methods to monitor populations and assess the abundance of these fish is critical for their restoration and management.
Response: A Maryland Sea Grant fellow and researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) are using eDNA—environmental DNA, which can remain in water from 48 to 72 hours—to measure the presence of alewife and blueback herring (river herring). They are comparing eDNA data from the Choptank and Northeast rivers to results from traditional assessment methods—including gillnet surveys and electrofishing—as well as data from an acoustic device that records specific fish movements. By comparing eDNA concentrations to fish count data from these other methods, they can learn how accurately eDNA can predict fish counts. They’re also expanding this research to American and hickory shad by developing quantitative PCR assays specific to both. These PCR assays measure how much of a species’ DNA is in a water sample.
Results: The researchers successfully developed qPCR assays for American and hickory shad and are beginning to test them in targeted areas in the Bay where the fish are believed to be. Representatives from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission have already asked for the shad assay information, and the UMCES researchers will be testing their samples. Preliminary results show that the river herring eDNA data correlate fairly closely with results from the other monitoring methods, and researchers are now expanding that work to examine how water flow and temperature may affect eDNA concentration. As they hone in on eDNA accuracy for these fish, they intend to develop a model that can predict fish count based on eDNA concentration. This will provide fisheries managers another population and abundance assessment tool that is less labor intensive and expensive than traditional methods, making it easier to gather critical data about these iconic Chesapeake Bay fish.
Title: Sea Grant-Funded Mysids Research Advances Novel Study of Key Forage Species
Partners: University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory; Chesapeake Bay Program Office
Recap: Maryland Sea Grant-funded research is developing new insights into a key Chesapeake Bay forage species and its unique function in the Bay’s food webs, providing information that can help stakeholders better incorporate forage species into Bay fisheries management.
Relevance: Like many of the Chesapeake Bay’s smallest creatures, mysids (Neomysis americana) pack an outsized punch in Bay ecology. A mere 1.5 centimeters long at most, they are key food sources for species including weakfish, summer flounder, and American shad, and they consume organisms like copepods and phytoplankton. Their daily migration up and down the water column—clustering near the bottom during the day and spreading out near the surface at night—makes them a unique delivery system within the water’s food webs. Yet despite their ecological importance, their size and movements make them difficult to study, so little is known about their abundance, behavior, and distribution in the Bay.
Response: Over two years, Maryland Sea Grant-funded researchers undertook the first study of its kind of mysids in two major Chesapeake tributaries, the Choptank and Patuxent rivers. Using a novel hybrid sampling approach, they collected mysids with traditional netting methods near the surface and at mid-depth during the night, and for the first time used a high-resolution ARIS sonar system for daytime mysid swarm surveying on the bottom. They also monitored water quality parameters throughout the water column, and used carbon and nitrogen isotopes to investigate what the mysids were eating, and where. Their research identified previously unknown seasonal mysid assemblage turnover in the Bay, and revealed that their abundance and distribution changes with the seasons. Females in the Choptank consistently carried more eggs than those in the Patuxent, and mysids in the Choptank are eating more benthic material—food on the bottom. While no apparent genetic difference exists between the two rivers’ populations, the Patuxent River experienced lower dissolved oxygen (hypoxic) conditions in its deeper waters in summer. This suggests that poor water quality lowers mysids’ fecundity and disrupts their ability to effectively transport food through the water column. Assessment of the hybrid sampling approach found that while the two methods complement one another, data from one doesn’t extrapolate to the other.
Results: The Maryland Sea Grant-funded work helped the researchers secure a three-year, $896,833 National Science Foundation grant to create a predator-multi-prey trophic model that will enable them to predict what mysids are eating in the Bay at any given time. While mysids are the focus predator, the model framework aims to be flexible enough to be applied to any Bay species. Data from these models can inform an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management, providing a tool to help understand how changes in the abundance of one or more prey groups alters consumption by a predator population. The PI continues to meet with the Forage Action Team, part of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team, providing information to support efforts to monitor and quantify forage species like mysids to improve the accuracy of fisheries modeling in the Bay.
Title: Maryland Sea Grant Helps Researchers Develop Low-Salinity Oyster Broodstock for Aquaculture
Partners: Morgan State University; Johnny Oyster Seed Company; Orchard Point Oyster Company; Madhouse Oysters
Recap: To support the state’s aquaculture industry and its preferred use of fast-growing triploid oysters that can be harvested year-round, Maryland Sea Grant-supported research is developing a native oyster broodstock to grow triploid oysters that survive well and grow quickly in the state’s low-salinity waters.
Relevance: One of the biggest challenges facing Maryland’s oyster farmers is salinity. Ideal salinity for oyster reproduction is more than 15 parts per thousand (ppt), but because Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay is brackish, salinity levels in many areas are lower than ideal. In years of heavy rainfall, it can decline to below 5 ppt, which is lethal to oyster larvae and adults. Developing oyster broodstock that can thrive in lower salinities would help the aquaculture industry overcome this environmental variable. This broodstock, comprised of first-generation, native tetraploid (four-chromosome) oysters derived from low-salinity waters, would be used to create low-salinity-tolerant triploid oysters—sterile, three-chromosome oysters, which pour their energy into growing rather than reproducing, and as such are the aquaculture industry standard.
Response: To develop first-generation native tetraploid broodstock, researchers at Morgan State University’s Patuxent Environmental and Aquatic Research Laboratory (PEARL) created two diploid lines (“normal” oysters with two sets of chromosomes) and three triploid lines derived from wild stock from the lower-salinity Patuxent River in 2020. They deployed these lines at three oyster farms representing varying environmental conditions, and during 2021 recorded their survival and growth rates. Survival rates of all lines was 90 to 95%, and one triploid line showed faster growth than all others. Significantly, during an experiment with acute low salinity at 2 ppt, one low-salinity diploid line showed survival of 94%, compared with other lines at 46% and 31%.
Results: During summer 2022, researchers will breed the diploid oyster line showing the greatest low-salinity survival rate with the triploid oysters that grew fastest. This will create native tetraploid broodstock oysters possessing fast-growing, low-salinity-tolerant traits that will be passed down to triploid oysters that are best for Maryland’s aquaculture industry. Along with the five native Maryland lines researchers developed, they also maintain nine additional lines produced by other hatcheries or states to use as comparisons. They have developed a database, accessible through PEARL’s website and periodically updated, to track and evaluate all of these lines. This will provide growers and hatcheries visual evidence regarding line performance in each region, helping them make decisions regarding the optimal line for their area.
Title: Maryland Sea Grant Extension Specialist Helps Crabmeat Processors Stay Competitive
Partners: Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industry Association; Maryland Department of Agriculture Seafood Marketing Program; University of Maryland Extension; University of Maryland Eastern Shore Center for Food Science and Technology
Recap: Through education, technical expertise, and hands-on support, a Maryland Sea Grant Extension specialist is helping the state’s small, independently owned crabmeat processors compete successfully in a highly competitive global market.
Relevance: Maryland is known worldwide for its crabmeat. According to the state Department of Natural Resources, 50% of US blue crab harvest comes from Chesapeake Bay and blue crabs represent the state’s largest commercial fishery, with a value of about $45 million. Maryland’s seafood processors must meet and maintain extremely high-quality standards to safely process this perishable, ready-to-eat product. Most of the industry is comprised of small, independently owned seafood operators located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore who face an array of challenges, including heavy competition from imported products. Helping them maintain the highest-quality processing standards ensures that they remain competitive and supports this vital industry.
Response: Maryland Sea Grant Extension Seafood Technology Specialist Cathy Liu works directly with the state’s crabmeat processors to provide education and technical support. For new processors, she conducts an on-site crab heat penetration study, which identifies the minimal temperature and time needed for each retort—a steel box in which up to 30 bushels of crabs are cooked—to sufficiently destroy the pathogenic bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. The state Department of Health and federal Food and Drug Administration require this “critical limit” for any new processing license. For existing businesses, Liu provides required annual retort thermometer verification assistance. She also works with the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industry Association (CBSIA) to conduct biweekly sampling to identify any potential problems with the product, as well as troubleshoot the cause. Liu analyzes these samples’ test results and provides regularly updated reports, which processors can use to verify and market their product’s quality, as well as satisfy state and federal documentation requirements.
Results: In 2021, 70 to 80% of the state’s crabmeat processors participated in the voluntary Maryland Crab Meat Quality Assurance Program, through which they can access Liu’s expertise. This collaborative effort among Maryland Sea Grant Extension, CBSIA, and the state helps processors stay on the leading technological edge to ensure the highest quality crabmeat. This, in turn, helps these small, independently owned business stay competitive in the global market. As part of the program’s ongoing outreach efforts, Liu was featured in a state Department of Agriculture video released in late 2021 about the program and her work (https://youtu.be/OFA4PcavSIg).
Title: Maryland Sea Grant Helps Coastal Farmers Grapple with Effects of Sea Level Rise
Partners: National Science Foundation; University of Maryland; University of Maryland Extension; University of Maryland Eastern Shore; University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; Maryland Department of the Environment; George Washington University; University of Virginia; Virginia Coast Reserve; Morgan State University; Old Dominion University; Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve–Virginia
Recap: In a workshop series funded by the National Science Foundation and developed and led by Maryland Sea Grant, coastal farmers described how sea level rise is affecting their lands and shared their priorities and capacities for future land use. The information gathered at these workshops has advanced new research, media exposure, and policy to better meet these farmers’ needs.
Relevance: Sea level rise in the Chesapeake Bay region is exerting chronic stress on coastal agricultural lands. Tidal flooding and saltwater intrusion decrease crop production while increasing the presence of wetland plants and fauna such as sika deer, beaver, and waterfowl. Coastal farmers must decide how to navigate these wet and salty conditions now and into the future. Options include resisting change through flood prevention structures or soil remediation; accepting change by shifting to new crops or working around unproductive areas; or directing change by participating in conservation programs and recreation that transition land from agriculture to a wetland ecosystem. Understanding farmers’ motivations and how feasible these different strategies are for them can help researchers, policymakers, and technical service providers collaborate with landowners to support shared goals for the region.
Response: With funding from the National Science Foundation’s Coastline and People’s program, Maryland Sea Grant led three virtual workshops with 35 coastal farmers and woodlot owners in Maryland and Virginia. The first workshop presented current and projected sea level rise impacts to agriculture productivity, followed by small-group discussions to hear first-hand from farmers how flooding and salty conditions affected their land management. The second workshop included presentations on management techniques—such as alternative, salt-resistant crops or flood control structures—followed by discussions on pros and cons of six such strategies. At the final workshop, policymakers and researchers listened to landowners’ specific concerns. MDSG designed pre- and post-workshop surveys and directly interviewed 11 landowners. Using information gathered from the workshops, surveys, and interviews, MDSG synthesized observed impacts of sea level rise on coastal agriculture, the landowners’ motivations and intentions to resist, accept, or direct change to their land, and their preferences for future research, policy, and communications. These results have been summarized to share with researchers, policymakers, and technical service providers, as well as inform a journal article being prepared for publication.
Results: The workshops helped establish relationships between MSDG and the participants and facilitate further connections between farmers and resources. For example, one workshop participant is now working with a researcher on wetland plants. Virginia Public Radio (WHRO) produced a “Flooding Farmland” video featuring two workshop participants whom MDSG recommended to the journalist. Citing the workshops’ information on observed impacts of flooding on crop production, the Accomack-Northampton Planning Commission submitted a grant for a new rainfall study to help inform flood mitigation in the agriculture sector. Similarly, the US Department of Agriculture National Resource Conservation Service in Virginia is revising its recommended seed mix for the Conservation Reserve Program to include more salt-tolerant species, based off feedback from workshop participants. MDSG continues to participate in relevant working groups and conversations, such as the Maryland Saltwater Intrusion Plan Working Group and Hughes Agroecology Center, to share workshop results and inform future policy and research.
Title: Maryland Sea Grant Extension’s Septic System Education Improves Water Quality
Partners: Maryland Department of Environment Onsite Systems Division; Calvert County Public Works and Health Department; Property Owner Association Chesapeake Ranch Estates; St. Mary’s County Health Department; St. Mary's River Watershed Association; Friends of St. Clements Bay; Maryland Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association
Recap: Maryland Sea Grant Extension specialists are educating residents about how to maintain their septic systems or upgrade to more efficient systems, ultimately reducing the amount of nitrogen and other pollutants entering the Chesapeake Bay’s tributaries and groundwater.
Relevance: Septic systems are frequently out of sight, out of mind for most homeowners. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 40% of systems don’t operate as effectively as they can. Of the approximately 420,000 septic systems in Maryland, 52,000 are located in the Critical Area—within 1,000 feet of tidal waters—according to the Maryland Department of Environment. Conventional systems deliver about 23 pounds of nitrogen per year to groundwater when they work properly, but age, poor maintenance, and effects of sea level rise reduce their efficiency. Many homeowners don’t know how to properly maintain their systems, nor are they aware of the state’s generous grant program that helps them upgrade older, poorly functioning, or failing systems with best available technology, or BAT, systems, which reduce a traditional system’s nitrogen load by half or greater. For instance, St. Mary’s County has had to return hundreds of thousands of dollars designated to such upgrades in recent years because not enough homeowners applied for the program.
Response: Maryland Sea Grant Extension water quality specialists have implemented wide-ranging public outreach to educate homeowners, realtors, and wastewater treatment professionals to broaden public understanding of septic system maintenance and upgrades. For example, Principal Agent Andrew Lazur in 2021 served as education committee chair for the Maryland Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association (MOWPA), co-organizing the group’s 2021 conference and facilitating four training courses. Lazur also conducted septic system training for realtors as well as a public webinar series via Zoom that covered topics including maintenance, landscaping, upgrading, and prolonging the life of septic systems. In St. Mary’s and Calvert counties, Extension specialists partnered with local watershed and property owners’ associations, county health departments, and NGOs to provide septic education via collaborative workshops and webinars on septic system maintenance and upgrading to BATs.
Results: After multiple workshops and webinars over two years, in Calvert and St. Mary’s counties specifically, post-workshop surveys found that 29.7% of respondents pumped their tank (a best practice that represents a newly recognized nitrogen credit of 0.4 pounds per household in the state’s Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan); 11% had their system inspected; 34.2% implemented septic maintenance practices; and 44.7% of attendees shared information they learned with family, friends, or neighbors. Also, the counties reported 51 BAT applications and noted they did not have to return any money to the state.
Title: Maryland Sea Grant Extension Helps a Community Advance Residents’ Clean Water Efforts
Partners: University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension; Nanticoke Watershed Alliance; Cambridge Clean Water Advisory Committee; National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Recap: Maryland Sea Grant Extension watershed specialists help a Chesapeake Bay community advance clean water goals by using social marketing strategies to understand residents’ resistance to restoration projects and developing alternatives to change that behavior.
Relevance: Many nonprofits and local agencies lack the time, staff, and expertise to motivate citizens to participate in projects that help meet the Chesapeake Bay’s clean water goals. In Cambridge, Maryland, the Cambridge Clean Water Advisory Committee needed to advance its 10-year plan to improve the health of the Choptank and Nanticoke rivers and Cambridge and Jenkins creeks. The plan’s first phase, the Cambridge Residential Stewardship Initiative (CRSI), focused on educating homeowners about stormwater and helping them implement projects that naturally manage polluted runoff on their properties.
Response: Maryland Sea Grant Extension watershed specialists employed social marketing techniques to help Cambridge community leaders better understand residents’ motivations and concerns, then strategize how to change behaviors to support water quality goals. They led a focus group of multiple stakeholders to identify questions that fed into a community survey. Among other things, the survey data showed that water quality was not a primary issue of concern among most residents, prompting leaders to adjust their education, outreach, and funding strategies.
Results: By better understanding their audience, community leaders were able to optimize their efforts to drive more engagement in projects that helped achieve water quality goals. The social marketing survey data helped the Cambridge group land an initial $85,000 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) grant that funded phase one of the 10-year plan. That phase included two public workshops, and the survey data was used to focus the second workshop’s messaging to respond to people’s direct concerns and provide advice on how to mitigate them with solutions that simultaneously supported watershed restoration goals. Since the survey was completed, the CRSI has installed 20 rain gardens and conservation landscaping projects on residential properties, as well as received a second round of NFWF funding to continue the work.
Title: Maryland Sea Grant’s Research for Undergraduates Program Successfully Innovates in Virtual Space
Partners: Smithsonian Environmental Research Center; University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Laboratory; University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Chesapeake Biological Laboratory
Recap: Facing ongoing pandemic restrictions in 2021, Maryland Sea Grant continued to adapt its Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, expanding its 2020 model to include successful virtual research projects with science mentors and strengthening the students’ skills to prepare them for graduate school and post-graduate STEM jobs.
Relevance: Summer undergraduate internships are important opportunities for students to gain their first research experience and help determine their initial post-graduate career choices. During 2020, as pandemic shutdowns and restrictions hampered access to facilities and research activities on campuses throughout the country, these opportunities shifted dramatically. By 2021 as some restrictions remained in place, it became even more important to adapt and expand hybrid and virtual programs to ensure that these students could still gain these valuable skills, networking, and career opportunities.
Response: Maryland Sea Grant responded to the 2020 COVID-19 restrictions by adapting its Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU) program to become a six-week, virtual professional development experience. In 2021, with many pandemic restrictions continuing, MDSG built upon its 2020 effort, redesigning and expanding the program to emphasize virtual research projects and professional development for students from across the country. The 2021 program featured a week-long virtual orientation, weekly synchronous professional development activities, and summer-long modeling and data analytic research with a scientist mentor. Intentional peer cohort building activities, peer small-group interaction, and near-peer engagement through workshops, panel discussions, and office hours strengthened student connections to the program. Additionally, a virtual research symposium at the end of the program allowed greater engagement with faculty, peers, and family members than the traditional oral symposium.
Results: As a result of MDSG’s innovative and nimble program development, 15 students from diverse backgrounds and geographies were able to participate in a 12-week virtual REU experience that enabled them to conduct a successful research project with a science mentor. Mentors were impressed with the students’ success in the virtual environment, all noting that their students met or exceeded expectations, and 80% suggesting the student would be involved in a co-authored publication. Nine students presented their research at national conferences. Although students missed aspects of the in-person, hands-on program, the virtual program provided critical research experiences for these students’ careers and offered new initiatives that can be applied to future hybrid or in-person summer programs. The students will be completing their degrees in 2022.
Title: Chesapeake Quarterly Highlights History of Black Marylanders Working in Chesapeake Bay Maritime Communities
Partners: The Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College; Edward H. Nabb Research Center at Salisbury University; Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum; The Mariners’ Museum; Talbot County Historical Society; Staten Island Historical Society
Recap: An issue of Maryland Sea Grant’s magazine, Chesapeake Quarterly, was dedicated to stories focused on Black Marylanders’ historic and integral role in maritime work and communities in the Chesapeake Bay region. The issue included pieces on seafood entrepreneurship, sailmaking, aquaculture, oystering, and captaining vessels, and launched a companion speaker series.
Relevance: The Chesapeake Bay region is central to Black history in America. It was an entry point for Africans brought to the colonies for slavery, and throughout the mid-1800s, the Bay and its tributaries were important pathways along the Underground Railroad. After the Civil War, newly emancipated Black people moved to Chesapeake's shores and throughout Maryland, where they helped build the state's economy and shape its culture.
Response: The issue, titled “Black on the Bay, Then and Now,” highlighted the contributions of Maryland’s Black maritime entrepreneurs throughout the Bay’s history into present day. The issue’s seven articles retraced much of the painful discrimination that Black mariners faced over the past two centuries, and looked to a more inclusive future through the work of a young oyster farmer and University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science graduate student who started a nonprofit to bring more minorities into aquaculture. Readers were introduced to a legacy of Black captains based in Kent Narrows who own and operate fishing boats for the region’s recreational anglers, a charismatic captain who owned and operated a steamboat line and resort in Baltimore in the early 20th century so that Black residents could enjoy going to the beach, sailmakers, seafood company entrepreneurs, and pioneering oyster farmers who helped plant the seeds for the industry today. Built on the ArcGIS StoryMap platform, the issue included multimedia elements and rich archival materials that helped bring the stories to life. To keep the conversation going around the stories, MDSG launched a new Chesapeake Quarterly Speaker Series in October to delve deeper into some of the topics. The inaugural speaker, one of the historians who assisted with the issue, presented his work as an archivist of regional Black history, then took part in a moderated Q & A with viewers and MDSG communications staff.
Results: The issue (https://bit.ly/Black-on-the-Bay), which was published in February, saw high engagement on social media and with readers. Its stories were viewed over 14,000 times in 2021, being accessed by viewers on average more than five times a day, and won a 2021 APEX Award for Publication Excellence in the electronic magazine category. The inaugural speaker series webinar was also well received—pulling in over 50 viewers and positive feedback from attendees—and MDSG plans to continue the series in 2022. Additionally, the issue was used in outside events and exhibits by community partners, including “Black Folks in Maritime–Past, Present, and Future” held at the Corbin Studio and Gallery in Crisfield, Maryland, and by the Chesapeake Heartland Project at the 2021 Sultana Education Foundation’s Downrigging Festival in Chestertown, Maryland.
Title: Maryland Sea Grant Expands Undergraduate Outreach Opportunities With Community Engaged Internship Program
Partners: National Sea Grant College Community Engaged Internship Program; University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension
Recap: Maryland Sea Grant (MDSG) continued a summer internship program specifically designed to engage undergraduate students from underrepresented and indigenous communities. The 2021 intern supported communication and education efforts by producing a range of materials focused on local ecology, estuarine science, and coastal issues.
Relevance: Students from economically or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds can often feel inhibited in their ability to pursue a career in STEM, and increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in coastal and marine science research is an important programmatic priority for MDSG. Taking part in the Sea Grant Community Engaged Internship (CEI) program for undergraduate students, which the National Sea Grant College Program began in the summer of 2020, provided an opportunity for MDSG to recruit, engage, and mentor a student from an underrepresented community over a 10-week internship.
Response: MDSG recruited students from minority-serving institutions and undergraduate science, education, technology, journalism, and communications programs throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia. The top candidate joined the MDSG communications team virtually at the start of the summer due to continued COVID-19 restrictions, working closely with the team online through August, when he was able to join MDSG mentors in person for field work opportunities. The intern assisted with several ongoing projects, including the planning, production, and posting of blogs, images, videos, and interactive elements for the program's website, online education modules, and social media platforms. Communications team members also mentored the intern in production of a personal project—two short films highlighting issues related to saltwater intrusion in rural Eastern Shore communities.
Results: The CEI program intern provided content for several MDSG editorial and education products through participation in a wide range of virtual meetings and interviews, as well as socially-distanced field work including photo, video, and drone shoots. This included writing an autobiographical blog post, producing two short films and two videos for YouTube and social media, researching and writing four posts for the Maryland Sea Grant Backyard Ecology social media campaign, and developing content for two interactive pieces for an education module on salamanders called Symbiosis With Backbone. All work produced by the 2021 intern was shared in an online portfolio (https://bit.ly/2021-MDSG-CEI), and the fall 2021 issue of Chesapeake Quarterly, whose theme was “Equity and the Chesapeake Bay” (https://arcg.is/uzuaO), highlighted the work of both the 2020 and 2021 CEI program interns. MDSG hired the 2021 intern as a student worker to support projects through the fall as he continued his academic studies, and he was selected for the US Department of State Critical Language Scholarship Program for 2022, providing a unique opportunity to live and study abroad in Turkey as he completes his degree. MDSG will continue to offer and grow the CEI program by supporting two science outreach summer interns in 2022.
Title: Maryland Sea Grant Provides Science Communication Training and Support to SEAS Islands Alliance
Partners: University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
Recap: As part of the SEAS Islands Alliance, a $10-million, eight-institution grant from the National Science Foundation focused on engaging underrepresented minority students from the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam in marine and environmental sciences, Maryland Sea Grant (MDSG) provides training in science communication and outreach for SEAS students.
Relevance: Broadening participation and possibilities in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) for underrepresented minority and underserved populations is a national priority. Individuals from these groups hold a disproportionately smaller percentage of STEM degrees and jobs compared to their relative percentages in the US population. This is especially true in the geosciences, where a mere 8% of the geoscience-related workforce is comprised of individuals from these groups. Success in this effort, however, depends on nuanced cultural expertise from within these communities. US territories and US-affiliated islands have some of the country’s most diverse communities, and they are strongly connected to the oceans that surround them. Island students have the potential to close the STEM gap, especially if they are trained through culturally-relevant and place-based pathway programs.
Response: Maryland Sea Grant works closely with faculty at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) as partners in the Alliance. The Supporting Emerging Aquatic Scientists (SEAS) program builds on the success of the Centro TORTUGA (Tropical Oceanography Research Training for Undergraduate Academics) program in Puerto Rico, which was also funded by NSF and led by MDSG with UMCES faculty. Although that grant ended in 2021, its work continues as the Puerto Rico hub of the Alliance. Across the Alliance, MDSG assists in leading communication and outreach efforts to public audiences by maintaining the program’s website, training students in writing blogs to highlight their work, promoting SEAS across several social media platforms, and training students in science communication and multimedia storytelling.
Results: MDSG staff led a kickoff science communications training in June 2021 for all SEAS participants, which included a live virtual session followed by a recording for those who could not attend. The training covered the basics of effective science communication, writing for the web, and how to plan and produce engaging multimedia and social media content for popular platforms. A follow-up training, focused on creating and sharing content for social media was held for all SEAS participants in October. Both trainings were supplemented with quick reference guides and documents that provided additional educational materials and resources. MDSG communications staff served in mentorship roles for SEAS students in the production of a video on the program for the 2021 STEM FOR ALL Video Showcase (https://stemforall2021.videohall.com/presentations/2187), which had over 2,000 views, and five SEAS Stories featured on the website. In the fall of 2021, the MDSG communications team also mentored a SEAS digital communications intern, an undergraduate student from the Puerto Rico hub, who assisted with updating the website, creating social media content, developing an editorial calendar for the program, and providing Spanish language translations for social media posts and video products.
Title: Maryland Sea Grant Helps High School Students Gets Hands-On With Unique Symbiosis
Partners: Carroll County Public School System; Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service; Center for Conservation Genomics, Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute; George Washington University; Gettysburg College
Recap: Using one of the world’s most unique vertebrate animals, a Maryland Sea Grant-developed protocol is enabling hundreds of Maryland high school students to conduct hands-on, project-based scientific study into symbiosis.
Relevance: Maryland is home to the spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum), the only vertebrate known that lives with another organism—in this case a plant—growing inside its cells. The single celled green alga Oophila amblystomatis is only found inside spotted salamander embryos in vernal pools. As a unique example of symbiosis, the spotted salamander provides a powerful science teaching tool through which Maryland high school students can study symbiosis, develop undergraduate- and graduate-level laboratory skills, and advance their knowledge of science in their local environment that extends globally.
Response: Building on existing aquaculture projects with faculty and staff in the Carroll County Public Schools System (CCPS), Maryland Sea Grant (MDSG) Assistant Director for Education J. Adam Frederick helped develop a project-based science protocol for students to study symbiosis in spotted salamander larvae. Salamander eggs are only obtainable from specific vernal pools at certain times in spring. Frederick helped the supervisor of science at CCPS acquire a special permit issued by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife and Heritage Service to collect the eggs that students care for as they hatch into larvae. MDSG communications staff and Frederick developed resource pages on the MDSG website for students and teachers about the spotted salamander, its life history, research into its symbiotic relationship with the alga, and standards-based 5E instructional strategies for student-driven inquiry using the salamander embryo as its focus.
Result: Some 600 CCPS science students over the past six years have hatched, fed, measured, and studied the larvae for 30 days after hatching before returning the larvae to the vernal pool, as required by the DNR permit. Students are encouraged to ask questions, set up investigative procedures, and develop answers. A significant impact of this work is the expertise students and faculty have developed in salamander larvae husbandry. This skill has been recognized by scientists from the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute and George Washington University, who are seeking the students’ help raising larvae for a National Science Foundation-funded project. In 2022, DNR Wildlife and Heritage Services extended the CCPS collection permit to enable this new collaboration, which will bring advanced science into the high school classroom. A MDSG blog post (bit.ly/host-with-most) about the project also connected Ryan Kerney, associate professor of biology at Gettysburg College and the leading researcher in the symbiotic relationship between the salamander and alga, to the students’ work.
Title: Maryland Sea Grant Supports New Post-Graduate Fellowship to Provide Coastal Law and Policy Experience
Partners: University of Maryland Agriculture Law Education Initiative; Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Recap: In 2021, Maryland Sea Grant (MDSG) launched a post-graduate legal fellowship with the University of Maryland Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI) that provides real-world experience in the areas of state law, policy, and environmental research in Maryland. The first fellow in this position worked with MDSG and ALEI on products related to Maryland commercial shellfish aquaculture leases and federal permitting processes for projects in Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas.
Relevance: Providing opportunities to gain experience in legal, policy, and regulatory matters is important for developing scientifically literate professionals who can navigate legal questions in environmental areas such as aquaculture, land use policy, sea level rise impact and resilience, and stormwater management in Maryland. Having legal expertise on the team also provides a valuable opportunity for MDSG scientists and Extension specialists to better understand policy making through a different lens.
Response: Maryland Sea Grant partnered with the UMD Agriculture Law Education Initiative to offer a law and policy fellowship for recent JD (or equivalent) graduates interested in pursuing a career in the areas of public policy, marine and/or coastal environment law, or natural resource management, protection, and stewardship. The opportunity provided one year of financial support for the legal fellow, along with professional development, outreach and research opportunities. The fellow worked under the direction of the ALEI environmental and agricultural faculty legal specialist. ALEI provided legal expertise, while MDSG provided support and connections to coastal scientists and communities in the fellow’s area of interest.
Results: The first fellow hired in the position focused her work on two areas: aquaculture and coastal resilience. On the aquaculture front, she looked at Maryland commercial shellfish aquaculture leases and published an article in the Sea Grant Law & Policy Journal about the standing requirements to present a protest to a new commercial shellfish aquaculture lease in the state (http://nsglc.olemiss.edu/sglpj/vol11no1/sglpj11.1-4-torres-soto.pdf). She also developed an online training program on how to transfer a commercial shellfish aquaculture lease in Maryland (https://bit.ly/MD-shellfish-lease-webinar), along with an accompanying fact sheet, and an additional fact sheet for FAQs regarding the state’s Shellfish Aquaculture Harvester Permit. In the area of coastal resilience, the fellow published a blog about Maryland Sea Grant’s National Science Foundation-funded Coastal Farming Challenges workshop, which brought farmers, scientists, lawyers and regulators together to discuss ways for farmers to adapt to salt water intrusion on their crop and timber farms. She also provided legal advice on definitions of liability for Maryland’s draft "Guidance for Using Maryland's 2018 Sea Level Rise Projections" a manual for local and state government on community adaptation to sea level rise. In addition, the fellow made progress on developing a guide for navigating the state and federal permitting processes for nature-based projects in Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas. The aquaculture fact sheets and guide are in review and are expected to be released in 2022. After completing her fellowship in September 2021, she joined the Washington, DC-based Environmental Law Institute as a staff attorney. MDSG and ALEI will continue the fellowship program in 2022.
Title: Maryland Sea Grant Supports High Schools With Innovative Water Quality Monitoring Tools
Partners: Baltimore Polytechnic Institute High School; Carroll County Public Schools; Sea Grant Education Network
Recap: Maryland Sea Grant, working with educators at a Baltimore City school, developed a microcomputer-driven, 24/7 water-monitoring system and accompanying guide to help teachers and students more efficiently and affordably measure water quality in closed aquaculture systems.
Relevance: Maryland high school students monitoring the water quality of closed aquaculture systems as part of their environmental and science research curricula are limited to using traditional test kits that are expensive, single-use, and narrow in scope. These disposable tests only enable students to measure single-point water quality parameters that produce no visible trends unless many data points are taken and then plotted by hand or with another digital device or probe. Making in-classroom water quality testing more effective, less expensive, and more accurate, as well as engaging students and teachers in developing their own systems using state-of-the-art technology, will enable more school systems to adopt these aquaculture systems as part of their environmental science studies.
Response: Working with Maryland Sea Grant Assistant Director for Education J. Adam Frederick, educators at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute High School developed the PolyPonics System (PPS). This system integrates affordable, off-the-shelf microcomputers and professional-grade sensors with open-source software to independently monitor multiple water quality parameters 24/7 and provide graphical representation of the data. The data can also be transmitted via WiFi. As the educators refined the system, they developed a manual and user guide for teachers and students to set up their own classroom systems, helping engage students in a real-world, systems engineering and software development project. At a four-day workshop in July 2021, MDSG staff, Carroll County Public School teachers and administrators, and partners from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute High School worked to provide feedback and refine the manual. The MDSG communications team then completed final editing, design, and formatting.
Result: The PolyPonics Water Quality Monitoring System for Aquaculture and Aquaponics was published in October 2021. A follow-up professional development workshop is scheduled for summer 2022 at which educators will use the completed manual to set up their systems, with guidance from Frederick and other partners. Teachers will then be able to use the manual to integrate the PolyPonics System into their aquaculture and environmental science programs. The new system and accompanying guide will help teachers and students more efficiently and affordably measure water quality in closed aquaculture systems, advancing the students’ education in environmental and computer sciences.
Title: Maryland Sea Grant Helps Create a Pilot Collaborative Course Model Addressing Effects of Sea Level Rise
Partners: Morgan State University; University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Laboratory; Maryland Sea Grant Extension; Virginia Tech; University of Maryland College Park
Recap: Maryland Sea Grant helped initiate a new coursework model for a Morgan State University advanced undergraduate/graduate-level landscape architecture course by connecting environmental scientists, architects, landscape architects, and engineers to the faculty at this historically Black institution.
Relevance: As communities experience more effects of sea level rise, the need for an environmentally literate workforce is ever-present. Since the issues of climate change cannot be tackled by one group alone, a community’s creative strategies and methods must be cross-disciplinary. To fully understand and respond to what these communities need, stakeholders from all disciplines must work collaboratively to include communities in the decision-making and design of solutions for the complex problems sea level rise creates. Maryland Sea Grant is in the unique position to serve at the nexus of science and community, as well as academia and industry, to help forge these multidisciplinary work groups.
Response: Maryland Sea Grant helped develop and launch a multidisciplinary team to guide and advise a Morgan State University (MSU) advanced undergraduate/graduate-level landscape course focused on developing responses to a community’s challenges posed by sea level rise. Through MDSG’s connections, MSU’s landscape architecture school and Patuxent Environmental Aquatic Research Laboratory worked together to create the team. MDSG helped engage outside lecturers and advisors to provide guidance on the various aspects of tackling a region-wide issue of sea level rise. These advisors included members from University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (coastal geology), Maryland Sea Grant Extension (community engagement, regional planning), University of Maryland College Park (wetland ecology, climate change, and landscape architecture), Morgan State University (land use planning; landscape architecture; engineering, hydrology; landscape ecologist), Virginia Tech (ecology, engineering), and industry (architecture, landscape architecture).
Results: MSU ran an effective class that culminated in a final project presentation that students presented to the advisors and members of the MSU community. Their work focused on the prospect of reframing the challenge of climate change as a community-level opportunity for innovation, inclusion, and collaboration, and creating designs and visions for how a resilient and sustainable coastal community might look and function 100 years in the future.
Title: Maryland Sea Grant Helps Puerto Rico Students Gain Marine Science Opportunities
Partners: University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; Universidad Ana G. Méndez; Para la Natzuraleza; Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources; Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve; Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust; Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve
Recap: A Maryland Sea Grant-supported program aimed at increasing education and career opportunities for Hispanic students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and broadening diversity in the sciences is helping undergraduate students in Puerto Rico take a seat at the marine sciences table.
Relevance: Increasing diversity in the sciences is a challenging national priority, and for Hispanic students, lack of access to undergraduate opportunities in STEM education is a key barrier. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center report, 12% of Hispanic students graduate with a degree in a STEM field, compared with 15% of all college graduates, and while Hispanic workers make up 17% of the workforce across all jobs, they comprise only 8% of workers in STEM jobs. Creating more undergraduate opportunities for Hispanic students in STEM will help them advance into higher STEM degrees and careers, broadening diversity in the sciences.
Response: Supported with a National Science Foundation grant from 2016-2021, Maryland Sea Grant and colleagues from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science collaborated with educators from the Universidad Ana G. Méndez (UAGM) to create Centro TORTUGA. The program’s core goals were to open the doors of marine science to undergraduate students who otherwise may not have avenues to the field, build their confidence as young scientists, and provide a network of peers and mentors to support them during their undergraduate education.
Result: Before TORTUGA was established, UAGM students had no academic or research opportunities in marine science; this program created a new opportunity for them to pursue an education in marine science. Along with academics, networking, conferences, and field and lab research opportunities, TORTUGA helped young college students find and create a sense of place and identity within the world of science. More than 60 students from Puerto Rico were introduced to marine science through school-year course work and summer laboratory and field research, including trips to coastal lagoons, beaches, mangroves, and coral reefs. They met local marine science professionals and participated in activities inside and outside the classroom. Eighteen students conducted research projects, and more than 40 attended in-person or virtual professional meetings, including national conferences where they gave oral and poster presentations. For most of the students, it was their first experience attending a professional society meeting, and for some it was the first time leaving Puerto Rico. More than 10 students completed internships and nearly 20 students graduated with science degrees by the program’s conclusion. As of December 2021, three alums of Centro TORTUGA had either completed, ￼￼enrolled in, or been accepted to STEM graduate programs, and at least 10 have earned internships or fellowships in the field. Funding for the program ended in 2021, but its work continues as the Puerto Rico hub of the SEAS Islands Alliance, a $10 million-dollar, National Science Foundation-funded project, which is advancing collaborations to enable underrepresented minority students in US territories and US-affiliated islands to pursue marine and environmental science careers and increase their sense of belonging in STEM by connecting them across the island hubs of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands.