Scientific Cross-Pollination: Southeast Regional Chapter Meeting
The SETAC North America (SNA) Southeast Regional Chapter (SERC) convened its annual meeting 16-17 March 2012 in Pensacola, FL, USA. Attending members included students and professors from University of Georgia (Athens, GA), Kennesaw State University (Kennesaw, GA), Jacksonville State University (Jacksonville, AL) and University of Florida (Gainesville, FL).
Current research at the US EPA's Gulf Ecology Division is focused on three principle research areas:
- Ecosystem services - Sustainability
Researchers are working to quantify ecosystem functions and services, develop methods and decision support tools and estimate the consequences of alternative development scenarios on ecosystem services. Specific projects that contribute to this research area include Tampa Bay Ecosystem Services Demonstration, Wetlands and Coral Reef Services and Functions, and Human Well-Being.
- Water quality - Developing and testing methods and models to predict nutrient and other stressors on coastal systems
Researchers are developing science-based decision support tools for water quality management, models relating human activities to coastal water quality (including Gulf of Mexico hypoxia monitoring and modeling) and demonstrating use of decision tools and methodologies for US EPA program offices and resource stakeholders. These projects contribute directly to provide the scientific knowledge needed to protect and restore water quality in Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean watersheds and their coastal receiving waters.
- Ecotoxicology - Predictive modeling to support hazard and risk assessment for aquatic and wildlife populations
Researchers are creating and exploring methods and models to predict risks to aquatic organisms and wildlife. Approaches include: toxicity databases for predictive model development; molecular approaches for chemical screening; and developing models of known uncertainty to estimate contaminant risks. Advantages of these approaches include discovering the underlying mechanisms of toxicity and other adverse effects and applying this information to advise US EPA's Office of Pesticides and Toxic Substances: rapidly identifying wildlife at risk and reducing reliance on animal testing.
Arrival at the US EPA Gulf Ecology Division Facility. View the SETAC Flickr page
for a full photo gallery.
Following the lab tour we attended the Northwest Chapter of the Florida Association of Environmental Professionals' (NW-FAEP) monthly "Lunch & Learn" series at the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition. The speaker was Elizabeth Benchley, Director of the Archaeology Institute at the University of West Florida. Benchley provided an overview the Native American people who lived in the Gulf coastal region during the last 500-600 years prior to the Spanish explorers who visited the area in the mid-1500s. Numerous shipwrecks dot the bayous and bays, while artifacts of short-lived settlements line the coast indicating that bountiful natural resources afforded sustaining foods to early settlers. An overview of Deadman's Island was incorporated into the presentation to whet everyone's appetite; timely in that we would visit the restoration site the following day and contribute by conducting shoreline and dune native vegetation planting.
After lunch, the conference reconvened at the University of West Florida Dept of Environmental Science, where Greg Schiefer, SNA Executive Director and Bruce Vigon, SNA Scientific Affairs Manager, joined the meeting, both of whom made presentations: Schiefer on SNA activities and Vigon on sustainability within SETAC. The balance of the program was a series of talks on ecotoxicology and environmental chemistry, a poster session, a brief business meeting and student awards. NW-FAEP sponsored a $100 cash prize to the best student presentation.
Presentations were judged by Iris Knoebl, a toxicogenomist and aquatic toxicologist, who works for Matrix New World Engineering, Inc., as a natural resource advisor. Knoebl's background proved invaluable when judging the four student presentations, as they were focused on the molecular and toxicological responses of aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates to anthropogenic contaminants in surface waters and sediments. The judge numerically ranked the presentations based on the following:
- The presenter's eye contact, clarity of speech, conciseness, organization, data presentation and interpretation
- Quality of the science
- Audience attention and retention
- Summary and conclusions
These guidelines were developed and provided by Carl Mohrherr. After the presentations and prior to presenting the award, the attendees and presenters were provided an overview of the judging criteria – so they could learn from the experience. Erica Anderson was awarded the NW-FAEP prize for her presentation entitled, Impacts of androgen exposure on eastern mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) gene expression pattern. The group then headed to downtown Pensacola, where gallery night was fully underway.
The group convened again on Saturday morning (which proved to be foggy and damp) to meet with a boat and head over to Deadman's Island. SETAC charter member Alan Parsons (Matrix New World Engineering, Inc.) agreed to sponsor a dune vegetation planting for the SNA SERC such that individuals actively engaged in the project could add this to their resumes.
Plants included Panicum amarum, Spartina bakerii, Baccharis halimifolia, Pinus clausa, Myrica cerifera and Quercus geminate. Nutrients and moisture were supplemented for each planting with hydrated gel directly added to each planting site. This gel is designed to be a slow-release method to ensure higher survival rates. Plants were distributed in the area according to their habitat type and planted within an hour and a half of arrival to the island. Upon completion, the sun began to burn through the fog leaving a brilliant sunny day with temperatures reaching into the 80°F.
The boat ride back to the dock was picturesque, with blue waters and bright skies overhead. Many folks parted ways and headed to the beach or went home early; others went to Joe Patti's and enjoyed a fried fresh fish/shellfish meal. Before departing back home, those remaining visited Joe Patti's Fish Market for some fresh seafood to take home to their families.
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