CMS News

CMS News

Message from the Executive Director

Dear Colleagues,

Happy new year and welcome back for the Spring 2021 Semester! I hope that you were all able to get some rest during break and are starting the semester with a full reserve of energy and enthusiasm. Although February has just started, the renewal of spring is right around the corner. This year the promise of spring takes on added significance given the ongoing crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic. With any luck, the pace of vaccination will pick up and we’ll be able to put all of this behind us. 

There is much to celebrate in this edition of the Coastal & Marine Science News. Marine research at UNCW continues at a vigorous pace.  Congratulations to all those reporting new grants, publications, and presentations! As a marine science community, we continue to assemble a robust body of scholarship that includes technology development for coastal observations, the discovery of novel parasites that may impact shellfish populations, economic analysis of coastal fisheries, and advances in marine biotechnology in drug discovery and nutrition science. Our educational programs continue to excel and to innovate, delivering high-quality courses and programs in new ways. Our students and alums are making a splash in the world and demonstrating the value of a UNCW education. Please take a few minutes to see what your colleagues are up to.  

I wish you all a very productive and trouble-free semester. 


Chris Finelli

CMS & Partners 

CMS Events: Save the Date!

The next CMS Planet Ocean Seminar (virtual) will be Tuesday, February 9 at 6:00 PM. It will be presented by our very own, Dr. Joe Long, on Understanding Coastal Hazards: Past, Present, and Future. The recording of the November seminar with Dr. Kara Yopak (UNCW BMB) can be found on the CMS Planet Ocean events page.  


During the first week of December, MarineQuest hosted The Future is Intense, a free weeklong virtual family event about climate change. Each of the 87 registered families received their very own STEM kit full of supplies to get hands-on with us as they explored various climate science topics including hurricanes, sea-level rise, ocean engineering, and impacts on marine biodiversity. To further inspire our participants to take action to protect the environment, we capped off this exciting week with our celebration of Youth Climate Action Day. During the event, we were fortunate to have a rousing scientific panel with presentations from Sharla Sugierski (Fogarty lab), Dr. Til Wagner, Dr. Andrea Hawkes, Dr. Ralph Mead, Dr. Narcisa Pricope, and Dr. Sara Rivero-Calle who each shared how their research is connected to climate change. Other highlights included a video presentation of the poem Earthrise read by Amanda Gorman, the Inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate (whom you may recognize from President Biden’s Inauguration), a keynote address on the intergenerational transfer of climate change understanding delivered by Dr. Danielle Lawson a former MarineQuest instructor and UNCW alum, a discussion led by environmental author David Gessner, the chair of the UNCW Creative Writing Department, and his daughter Hadley who started a climate advocacy club at her high school, and finally an exploration of climate inspired art created by UNCW digital arts professor Gene Felice. Families really appreciated the opportunity to learn how mathematicians, geologists, chemists, geographers, physicists, biologists, artists, and writers all play a role in addressing the challenge of climate change.


The Undersea Vehicles Program was in the New York vicinity in November conducting ROV operations for the EPA. On their first day of operations, they conducted two ROV dives looking at an area where 5 whale carcasses were disposed of. The plan was to see how the carcasses were affecting the surrounding sediment. Click "more" to see some of the highlight pictures from that day. (more)


How does local weather impact the movement of sand on barrier islands? UNCW researchers are working to find out on Masonboro Island! Check out the data from the new “MSNB_N” weather station that was installed recently. (more)


The Friends of the Reserve, the non-profit working to support the work of the NC Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve, announces its inaugural NC Coastal Reserve Undergraduate Internship Award. This new award will encourage promising and talented students from traditionally underserved and underrepresented populations to pursue study and careers centered in coastal and estuarine sciences. Through a combination of housing stipend and paid summer internship, this award will fund one student to work with the NCNERR staff on the Masonboro Island Reserve in 2021. Application and additional information can be found at this website or contact Hope Sutton (CMS) with questions.

Outreach, Recognition & Other Notables  

UNCW & NC Sea Grant

Huge congratulations to Troy Alphin, Dr. Martin Posey, and Dr. Wade Watanabe for successfully securing national Sea Grant funding for work that advances aquaculture in the state of North Carolina. Both projects take advantage of UNCW’s longstanding commitment to applications of marine science to solve real-world problems and advance regional economic development. This is a great start for UNCW’s participation in the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). Only North Carolina and Hawaii received multiple awards, and UNCW got both for NC! (more)

Marae Lindquist and Ray Danner of Biology and Marine Biology were highlighted for their continued work on sparrows by NC Sea Grant. (more)

James Hargrove (UNCW alumnus with a M.S. in Marine Science) was featured in a story concerning the NC Oyster Trail in the Sea Grant North Carolina Currents on the NC State website. Written from the point of view of a tourist, the article goes into the hard work that Hargrove has put into the oyster farming industry over the last few years, being one of the first into it and laying the groundwork for today’s farmers as well as those of the future. (more)

Students Soaring

UNCWCMS.student.spotlight.ABELLChelsea Abell is an undergrad Coastal Engineering major working with Dr. Ryan Mieras. Her research focuses on the use of a custom-built, real-time kinematic global positioning system (RTK GPS) survey cart to track and analyze changes on Kure Beach before and after Hurricane Isaias (August 3rd, 2020). Because Kure Beach is an east-facing beach, it suffered several hours of shore-perpendicular winds during Isaias. Preliminary data shows 3-4 feet of vertical erosion of the berm crest because of this storm. Click to read more about Chelsea's research and other student research spotlights from fall 2020. (more)

Devin Fraleigh, a first-year Master of Marine Science Student in Assistant Professor Dr. Alyson Fleming’s lab, is working with museum collections of beluga whale teeth to investigate the changing ecology of the Arctic. Each beluga tooth contains multiple annual growth layers, much like tree rings, that record a year-in-the-life of the animal. Using stable isotope analyses, Devin is using these teeth as time machines to look back at the Arctic of the 1800s, before climate change and anthropogenic impacts had significantly altered these systems. (more) 

Faculty Round-Up

UNCW postdoctoral researcher Mark England in collaboration with Dr. Till Wagner, Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography, had their study on how to represent the breakup of giant icebergs in computer models recently published and featured on the cover of Science Advances. It's not only cool science, this work can also help scientists around the world improve climate models and better predict how the melting ice will impact the global oceans. (more) 

Dr. Jennifer Biddle is leading the development of an online survey to test the explanatory power of traits identified as important for building adaptive capacity in coastal water systems. Positioned at the intersection of technology, policy implementation, and public service delivery, water utility managers function as leaders, followers, facilitators, or obstructers of transitions, with serious implications for adaptive capacity and resiliency. Analysis of water utility manager viewpoints merits attention because of the potentially significant role these individuals play in shaping the water paradigm of the future. (more)

UNCW.Julia.Buck.ScallopsStarting in 2012, bay scallops in North Carolina were observed to be infected by an unidentified microparasite, and the same parasite has recently been observed infecting bay scallops on the west coast of Florida. The critter appears to be a trematode (fluke) in the family Didymozoidae (superfamily Hemiuroidea), which is using the scallop as a first intermediate host, infecting and distorting the afferent vessels of the host’s gill filaments. Because the parasite infects a species of great fisheries interest in a manner that is obvious to the naked eye, but has not yet been described, it might be a recently introduced species, or might have recently jumped into the scallop host. Assistant Professor Dr. Julia Buck and Professor Dr. Ami Wilbur, both in the Department of Biology and Marine Biology, have initiated a collaboration to determine the parasite’s prevalence in wild and cultured scallop populations, its life cycle and population genetics, its effects on host metabolism and fecundity, and its potential impacts on fisheries. (more)

Dr. Catharina Alves-de-Souza and the UNCW’s Algal Resources Collection are using a 1,000L photobioreactor to grow large volumes of a genetically manipulated cyanobacteria that shows increased production of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids aiming its use as a cost-effective, sustainable source of aquafeeds for fisheries. The project is developed in collaboration with Dr. Leslie Poole at the Wake Forest School of Medicine who led the development of the recombinant cyanobacteria. 

Dr. Chris Dumas, Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences has been hard at work on fisheries economics and policy issues. He recently completed a report entitled "Inland Recreational Fishing in North Carolina: Economic Impacts and Angler Benefits" (20-19) for the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. His current project is looking at the "Economic Impact Analysis of North Carolina's Commercial Fisheries", for the NC Division of Marine Fisheries. He is also serving on a National Academy of Sciences panel to review the Marine Recreational Information Program (known as "MRIP"), which collects data on saltwater recreational fishing nationwide, to look at how MRIP might be improved and how the data coming from MRIP might be better used by fishery managers.

UNCW.Thomas.Coombs.LabThe lights are back on in Dobo Hall for the Coombs lab! Blue LEDs and UV mercury lamps (under the cover of eye-protecting foil) light the way to novel synthetic approaches to the cytotoxic and antimicrobial marine alkaloid nakadomarin A, and green chemistry development. Dr. Thomas Coombs, Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry, has a long-term plan to apply these methods to analog synthesis to alter the properties of this alkaloid and other medicinally important compounds.

Dr. Joni Backstrom's lab at UNCW is a dynamic and interdisciplinary group, active in a range of projects. They have recently received grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to evaluate the influence of offshore geology and bathymetry on coastal impacts from Hurricane Florence as well as a Cahill grant to characterize and map two nearshore reefs off Masonboro Island and Fort Fisher, NC.

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Around Campus

Seahawks Return to Dobo Hall Following the Two-Year Renovation Project. While people did start moving things and projects back into Dobo in August, they still were not quite settled but finally, after two long years of renovations after Florence destroyed the building, the professors, graduates, and other staff are finally settled back into their home. (more)