If you have traveled through Straits toward Harkers Island, you have probably noticed the strange collection of sticks and net along the shore! After contacting Dr. James Morris of NOAA, he put us in contact with a student working with NOAA and Duke that provided us with a full description of the project, which is explained below.
In the coastal waters of North Carolina, seagrass communities are an essential habitat for many commercially and recreationally important fish, crab, and shrimp species and contribute millions to the state economy annually. The seagrass communities around the Straits are no exception and are well known to support a variety of fish and shellfish that are important to recreational and commercial fisheries.
This summer Dr. Brian Silliman (Duke University Marine Lab) and Dr. Kenneth Riley (NOAA Beaufort Lab) have enlisted the help of a bright summer intern, Anjali Boyd, to study the seagrass communities along the Straits. The study site was selected because it is in an area that will be directly impacted by construction and replacement of the Harkers Island Bridge.
Ms. Boyd, an undergraduate marine science student from Eckerd College in Florida, was recently awarded a NOAA Hollings Scholarship. The distinguished award allows her to spend a summer at the NOAA Beaufort Lab and conduct marine science research that is supervised by Dr. Silliman and Dr. Riley. Ms. Boyd’s research focuses on examining a food-web based approach to seagrass conservation, through the inclusion and exclusion of juvenile pinfish in seagrass beds. For her field experiments, Boyd has set up cages, using bamboo poles and plastic netting, off the Harkers Island Bridge in the Straits. The aim of her project is to better understand how juvenile pinfish affect seagrass health. Currently, little is known about the effect of pinfish on seagrasses. Boyd has two hypothesis, (1) pinfish could directly affect seagrasses by consuming them or (2) pinfish could indirectly affect seagrasses through their consumption of mesograzers, small invertebrates that live on blades of seagrass. Mesograzers are responsible for eating algae that grows on seagrass and threatens their growth. Since pinfish are one of the most abundant fish species in coastal habitats and a common prey for many commercially and recreationally important fish species, it is important to better understand their role in theses coastal environments. Boyd is monitoring her experiments daily through July to better understand the effects pinfish can have on seagrass health and productivity.