UNCW researchers awarded national grant to study coastal ecosystems

UNCW researchers awarded national grant to study coastal ecosystems
Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 4:58 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A research team at the University of North Carolina Wilmington has been awarded a $400,000 grant to study underwater ecosystems and habitats along the east coast.

Dr. Jessie Jarvis and Dr. Stephanie Kamel at the UNCW Center for Marine Science received the National Estuarine Research Reserve Science Collaborative Grant to study the seagrass necessary for coastal ecosystems to survive.

Climate change has taken a toll on underwater habitats, with large-scale diebacks of seagrass observed in the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. In North Carolina, however, certain types of seagrass have shown to be more resilient to rising water temperatures.

“What we’re looking at are ways to help make sure any restoration efforts that we do with seagrasses are actually able to be adapted to climate change,” Jarvis said.

Jarvis explains along with the right temperature, these plants need light to survive, so anything that reduces water clarity can cause grasses to die out.

“So our end result is we really want to help increase the sort of, the natural resiliency of seagrass meadows so that they can deal better with these stressors,” said Jarvis.

Kamel says to accomplish that end result, research teams have to take an extremely close look.

“We have taken individual seeds, which are very, very small, like two millimeters, and we’ve extracted the DNA from those seeds,” Kamel said. “And now we’re actually asking, ‘What did the seeds look like in terms of their genetic diversity?”

Kamel says observing specific genes could show what makes certain types of seagrass more resilient and, therefore, better for fisheries to survive.

Ken Halanych is the executive director of the UNCW Center for Marine Science. He hopes the grant will give students and staff a chance to recognize the ongoing impacts of climate change.

“For the students, it gives them an opportunity to understand the world around them, to help make a difference in the world around them, and gives them opportunities, in this case, to also go out in the field as well as the lab and grow those skills that are going to only become more and more vital.”

Researchers are in the process of recruiting students to join the two-year project. They hope to start sampling seagrass in April and analyze the genetics by this summer.