Guy Harvey Magazine

WIN 2017

Guy Harvey Magazine is focused on fishing, boating, scuba diving, and marine conservation. Portfolios from the world's best fishing photographers, articles on gear, travel, tournaments, apparel, lifestyle, seafood recipes, sustainable fisheries.

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www.GuyHarveyMagazine.com | 49 With all this NERR experience, I also feel completely qualified to tell you about another site: the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Nestled into the southeast corner of Mississippi, it encompasses about 18,000 acres and is the nation's last and largest remnant of wetland pine savanna. This sprawling landscape just looks "marshy" to the untrained eye, but there is much more to the story. First of all, this is ecologically a very special place, and just like the NERR in my backyard, the Grand Bay location also works hard at both studying this landscape and connecting people to it. I spoke with Grand Bay NERR Director Dr. Ayesha Gray and she confirmed this region is a biological wonderland. "I've studied wetlands my whole career and I can tell you there is nothing else like this. This is a fire-controlled wetland! There is a greater diversity of species in one square meter of pine savanna than in a square meter of rainforest," she says. Let that sink in for minute. That's a lot of living organisms. And there are some unique ones among the bunch, including the sandhill crane, which only lives in this type of environment, as well as some pretty amazing plant life. "It's a longleaf pine forest with a grassland savanna underneath. The water table is close to the surface, so you get a lot of carnivorous plants, like pitcher plants," explains Dr. Gray. And yes, that means plant life that feeds on animal life. "These are bug-eating plants," she says, "but sometimes lizards, too. We like to open the pitcher plants to show the kids what they've been eating and sometimes we'll find a lizard skeleton. The kids absolutely love it." And there it is again, connecting the public to the ecological wonders of nature, even if it might inspire a few nightmares among the little ones. But to be fair, this does fit within the official mission Dr. Gray and her colleagues are tasked with, which is "to practice and promote informed stewardship of the Grand Bay NERR and Mississippi coastal resources through innovative research, education and training." It's a mission the folks at Grand Bay take seriously, and it begins with good science. The NERR System is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office for Coastal Management, and the program is a state-federal partnership. The Grand Bay site is managed by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. Other partners include Mississippi State University, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Southern Mississippi and several other non-profit organizations and universities, like the Gulf of Mexico Alliance. This all allows for a high level of collaborative research. Nearly 200 research projects have been conducted at Grand Bay since it became a NERR in 1999. Those have come from the work of the staff as well as a host of visiting scientists. One of the main research objectives is environmental monitoring, which includes keeping tabs on everything from water and air quality and biological monitoring to atmospheric mercury. Research for Results Top Right: The Grand Bay NERR, designated in blue, covers 18,000 acres at the far eastern edge of the Mississippi coast. Bottom Right: Pine savanna is a habitat naturally managed by fire, which eliminates invasive species and allows native flora to thrive. Though trees may appear blackened, they quickly rebound. Photo: Erika Zambello.

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