Monday, June 1, 2015

Juvenile Gag Grouper Ingress Project - Baruch Marine Lab

Big net used for juvenile gag grouper monitoring
Juvenile gag grouper spawned off the coast of South Carolina float on tidal currents into the ample spartina marshes in order to use them like a nursery - see map. These tiny fish seek shelter from predators in natural structures in the estuary but scientists have developed a device called the Witham Collector that can both protect the juvenile grouper, but also keep them available for monitoring. One such monitoring site is in the marsh near Winyah Bay and Georgetown at the USC Belle W. Baruch Marine Lab.
Witham Collector marked as off limits to the public

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is a partner in the Ingress study and I was able to ride along with two DNR staffers in search of the small gag grouper. We visited the North Inlet - Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NI-WB NERR) via a classic Boston Whaler that has now been converted for research efforts. A large dip net seemed counter intuitive for scooping up tiny grouper, but then I came to find out the the entire collection device must be scooped via the net so that any other tiny species might also be caught and documented.
Kayla Spry and Amy Dukes work up the data

No marine species is too little for this lab
We failed to find a single juvenile gag grouper on May 21 when checking traps with Capt. Jim Reed at the helm. But Amy Dukes educated me about the Slocum-Lunz Foundation that helps provide funding for marine biology projects like this one. This 18,000-acre NI-WB NERR is one of only 28 such areas in North America and the only other one in South Carolina besides the ACE Basin NERR. The NI-WB NERR is surrounded by large protected properties like Hobcaw Barony and the Yawkey Preserve, making it an ideal location to study gag grouper juveniles in a pristine area. Other Ingress monitoring sites in S.C. are likely to have more human activities near them, giving them further perspective about study results over time.

To learn more bout the SCDNR gag grouper studies click here.

For past blog entries click on Fly Fishing at Hobcaw Barony and Shorebirds at Yawkey Preserve.


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