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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Page 49 of 83

50 | "Ecosystems are constantly changing, and one of the things that is really important is that we understand what is going on so we can build for the future and allow for that change," says Dr. Gray. A particularly pressing issue is predicted sea level rise and its effect on coastal habitats. Grand Bay staff have installed monitoring equipment to detect changes and also conducted experiments to see what effects rising seas might have. One concern is that as water levels increase, native black needle rush marsh, which is adjacent to the pine savannah, might be drowned out and the marshlands and their important function as a fish and shellfish nursery lost. However, the Grand Bay area has a very gentle slope and it has prompted an idea that is being tested with field experiments. "One of the hypotheses is that if we keep the savanna open, then as sea levels rise, the marsh will naturally move up the slope," says Dr. Gray. "If the pine savanna gets choked up with invasive [plant] species, this won't happen. But if we use prescribed burns, fire is the natural process that creates the savanna, to keep it open, then the black needle rush will naturally move up the slope as the water rises. We've tested this using two small islands, burning one and leaving the other alone, and so far, preliminary data is confirming our hypothesis." That's good news, since it means there may be an effective management tool for helping to preserve valuable wetlands habitat in the future. And in the big picture, that's the goal of research at Grand Bay and other sites in the NERR system—to develop information and tools that can be useful to those managing coastal resources. "We take what we learn and link it into a stewardship program," says Dr. Gray. "It's not just research that gets filed away in academic journals. We apply what we learn to do land management and we also create training programs for those who might need it such as city or state coastal managers. It could be training programs for those near us locally or also on a regional or even national scale." The NERRs don't just do research and develop management tools; they are also careful to set an example of sustainability. One instance of this at Grand Bay is their facility. The location was established in 1999 and for the first 10 years, staff and visiting researchers worked out of portable buildings. A building design was in the works, but then everything changed when Hurricane Katrina hit. "We measured the surge that came through this area and a weather station was completely destroyed," says Dr. Gray. "We found it two miles from its location. But the depth meter measured a surge of about 20 feet over two hours. That means the water level went from baseline up to 20 feet and back in just that amount of time." With that kind of storm impact, the new building design changed. It was raised seven feet higher than originally planned. Stronger windows were put in and the structure was built to withstand 150 mph winds. Of course, a number of other design elements were also important, such as an east-west building orientation to minimize warming in the summer but still allow plenty of sunlight for natural lighting. Recycled building materials were Practice What You Preach Left: The Grand Bay NERR's primary facility is an extraordinary example of green construction and is built specifically to fit within the natural conditions of the habitat— including hurricanes. Right: Bring your kayak or power boat and an arsenal of rods—the Grand Bay NERR is open to fishing and follows the same regulations as the rest of the state. Photos: Erika Zambello.

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