Gazebo Gazette

A University of Southern Mississippi (USM) professor has received funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) RESTORE Science Program for a planning effort she is leading that maximizes the benefits of restoring and managing the Chandeleur Islands in the northern Gulf of Mexico, particularly as it relates to the unique seagrass ecosystems along the islands.

The project, led by USM assistant research professor Dr. Kelly Darnell, is fully funded by the NOAA RESTORE Science Program, with an award amount of $127,065. It is one of 20 projects that were awarded a combined $2.3 million to collaboratively scope and design research that will inform future decisions on how to manage natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico region, including marine mammals, shorebirds, barrier islands, seagrass, and fisheries. Each project, slated to begin this month, is designed to be an investment in the future of applied science, and ultimately, the sustainability of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.

“Our project team brings together experts in island geomorphology, seagrass biology and ecology, and approaches to building resilience with managers from state and federal agencies to tackle important questions for maximizing restoration of the Chandeleur Islands.” Darnell said. “We’re committed to developing a plan that provides practical and useable data that can be easily incorporated into restoration and management decisions for the unique and productive Chandeleur Islands.”

The Chandeleur Islands, which were damaged in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, are a hotspot in the northern Gulf of Mexico for fish and wildlife, and the island chain provides storm protection to coastal Louisiana. The islands are the only location of seagrasses in Louisiana, and all five of the seagrass species that occur in the northern Gulf of Mexico grow along the islands. These seagrasses support a rich ecosystem and are a top fishing destination. This project, which is a collaboration between natural resource managers and researchers, will develop a plan to answer questions about seagrasses and their associated communities and provide useable data that will inform restoration and long-term management of the islands.

Darnell, who also serves as the director of the Mississippi Based RESTORE Act Center of Excellence and is an assistant research professor in USM’s Division of Coastal Sciences at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs within the School of Ocean Science and Engineering, is joined by the Water Institute of the Gulf, University of Florida, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Gulf of Mexico Alliance in collaborating on this project.

“The NOAA RESTORE Science Program aims to fund research that reduces the uncertainty around the management of natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico region,” said Julien Lartigue, director of the Science Program. “The team of resource managers and researchers that Dr. Darnell has assembled will work together to explore the dynamics of seagrass beds near the Chandeleur Islands and design a research plan that will provide the information we need to effectively manage and restore this important habitat. The team submitted a competitive proposal, and we are looking forward to working with them on this award.”

To learn more about the project, click here. A full list of awardees can be found at this link.