This research is part of a larger project that addresses how vertebrate communities may change with the loss of salt marshes. You can read more about these vertebrate communities, salt marsh die back, as well as current and future threats HERE.
I am focusing on fish, particularly the fish of the estuaries, some that have a lot of human interest (fishermen like them and I like to eat them) and others have none (who cares about burrfish or pipefish? I do, that’s who!). My research seeks to answer several key questions:
- How can patterns in salt marsh distribution predict where juvenile fish crustaceans (particularly game fish like red drum, spotted sea trout, blue crab and shrimp) are most likely to occur?
- Will juvenile fish habitat be affected if we lose salt marsh or it becomes more fragmented?
- What will a decline of fish (for any reason) mean to the people who rely on the fishery? Who is most vulnerable? And what does that mean for the future conservation and management of the fishery?
In the summer 2012, I moved to Georgia from New Mexico to pursue my PhD in the Forestry and Natural Resources and Integrative Conservation under the advisement of Dr. Nathan Nibbelink at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia. The field season portion of my research began in earnest in the spring of 2013. During this season (March – June), the project was coupled with another student’s project on marsh birds.
What I learned was a lot ways (e.g. minnow traps, fyke nets) that do not work well for catching a large variety of fish in the tidal currents of the estuaries. With the support of Dr. Nibbelink, the machine shop at the University, lots of PVC, duct tape, my industrious and creative uncle, Robert Myers, a one-meter beam trawl was determined to be the best method for catching juvenile fish. In addition, the use of bag seines, a large net with a ‘bag’ in the center, was also considered as a passive sampling technique.
What also became evident by the end of the season was that fish and birds, with wildly different schedules of activity, do not couple well for research. Thus, after the 2013 pilot season, 2014 saw some drastic changes. Rather than a three to four month season it now spans six months (April – September), to capture the beginning, middle and end of the peak productivity of spawning fish. At the moment, we are only trawling, as the bag seines were difficult to manage at the scale that my project is designed. My trawling sites extend in the estuaries from Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge down to Jekyll Island, of which you can see a map on the research design page.
We started our final field season in April of 2015 and will continue through August of 2015.
So, if you happen to be out and see me in my slightly beat up 17′ Boston Whaler, I’m the one in the orange life vest (safety first!). Give me a wave, I’ll wave back if I see you. I likely won’t be able to talk at that moment (tides wait for no woman and I run on a tight time schedule accordingly), but I would be happy to chat with you dockside!