Shellfish Aquaculture Research Team Awarded $673,000 NERRS Grant

Monday, October 17, 2016

Shellfish aquaculture can be a lucrative business in coastal states, and UNCW’s already strong aquaculture program has been awarded $673,397 in grant funding to form a collaborative scientific study for scientists, federal decision-makers and aquaculture industry experts.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through the National Estuarine Research Reserve System Science Collaborative Program has awarded a UNCW research team the three-year grant for their research project “Evaluation of Ecosystem Services Associated with Shellfish Culture Operations in Coastal Regions Served by the National Estuarine Research Reserve.”

The team consists of post-doctoral research associate in biology and marine biology Elizabeth Darrow and assistant professor in biology and marine biology Susanne Brander, as well as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Aswani Volety, Director of the Center for Marine Science Martin Posey and senior research associate Troy Alphin, among others. According to lead scientist Elizabeth Darrow, the project will effectively and clearly outline how a commercial shellfish aquaculture system would affect North Carolina. Not just focused on the science, the project hopes to also predict environmental and economic outcomes.

“Too often scientists present their research to managers, and the managers don’t know what the data means or where to go from there,” said Darrow. “There’s always this disconnect where scientists are uncomfortable telling managers what to do. The partnership is supposed to bring everything together in an iterative way.”

Though commercial shellfish aquaculture has been executed effectively in other coastal states, it is important for North Carolina to do these kinds of initial research projects, because according to Darrow, each coastal marine environment differs depending on location. Even the marine ecosystem of the northern part of North Carolina’s coast is different from that of the southern part.

The project will begin with a manmade shellfish aquaculture hatchery in the waters off of Masonboro Island where researchers will monitor sediment, water quality and the diversity of marine life through each season. The NERRS grant will also fund graduate-level research projects and undergraduate research roles. Data gathered from the study will be analyzed in conjunction with ecological carrying capacity models to be used by state decision-makers about adequate locations for shellfish aquaculture and the extent to which hatcheries should be implemented.

“Some of these studies have been done, but only on a small scale, and they haven’t looked at all the different processes we’re looking at,” Darrow said. “Getting this grant is amazing. It’s my first grant, and I couldn’t have done it without my partners.”

-- Caitlin Taylor