Project Proposal: Life among the Oysters

Oyster reefs provide a suite of valuable ecosystem services, such as water filtration, nitrogen sequestration, and provision of habitat and foraging grounds for benthic organisms. Unfortunately, these habitats have suffered significant global decline over the last century. This global decline has had negative economic and ecological impacts in coastal waters worldwide. This problem is quite severe here in the Chesapeake Bay where < 1% of the historic oyster population remains. As a result there are increasing efforts to restore oyster populations and the services they provide. Building reefs that successfully provide specific ecosystem services – such as provision of benthic habitat – may require different techniques then previously used, and success may depend on reef morphology, location, and environmental conditions. Additionally, there remains limited understanding and information regarding the value of restored oyster reefs as an important habitat in the Bay, and the factors that influence this value. My research seeks to first quantify the organism abundance and composition on restored oyster reefs, and then relate it to the location (environmental parameters) and structural complexity of the reefs. To this end settling trays were embedded into previously restored oyster reefs that varied in their structural complexity (rugosity), as determined by the chain-link method. Trays were collected after 7-weeks, sorted, and species identified and weighed (ash-free dry weight) to obtain species diversity, abundance, and biomass.

There are many different stakeholders interested in the issue, but the one I will focus on is the general public. More specifically I will target those members of the local community who are seeking to become more knowledgeable about and engaged in the research being conducted here in the Bay, right in their backyards. From my conversation with people in the local community they seem really interested in understanding the Bay and research being conducted here, but may have trouble finding the information they are looking for, or finding ways to gain knowledge in an easy to understand manner. Particularly with oyster reef restoration I’ve realized that most people don’t think of oyster reefs as an important habitat, and don’t know much about the numerous species that live on these reefs. Most people tend to think of the oyster and its economic values.

For my communication outreach project I want to provide an easily accessible and understandable means for this target audience to satisfy their desire to learn about and participate in Chesapeake Bay research. In particular I want to highlight the role of oyster reefs as an important habitat in the Bay and highlight the various organism that are found in high abundance on these reefs and rely on these reefs for survival. In order to accomplish this I will design a website where I provide a background of oysters and restoration efforts in the Bay, and then describe the research I am conducting. In order to help explain my methods and engage the audience I want to incorporate some sort of interactive component on the webpage. For instance, I was thinking of having a ‘sorting game’ where there are pictures of worms, fish, crabs, shrimp and mussels all mixed up in a square area, and they have to sort them by picking them out and placing them the appropriate species box. Another option would be to have then take some rugosity measurements. My hope is that this website will provide a forum for my research to become assessable to the public, and allow them to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the importance of restored oyster reefs to the health of the Bay. I believe that having an informed and engaged public will help put more pressure on managers, and increase support for more restoration efforts in the Bay.

Project proposal

Nutrient pollution in Chesapeake Bay continues to be an environmental problem despite decades of effort to reduce nutrient inputs. “Nutrient bioextraction” using bivalve aquaculture has been proposed as a method for mitigating upstream pollution, especially for nitrogen (N). However, the total amount of N that can be removed, as well as potential negative environmental impacts, are still poorly quantified for oyster aquaculture. As a result uncertainties and debate remain about the effectiveness of using oysters for nutrient bioextraction. To help resolve this debate, my MS research quantified N bioextraction, as well as processes that returned N to the water column, at a commercial oyster farm in Chesapeake Bay. My communication project aims to present my conclusions in an engaging way using stop-motion photography animation.

I plan to target two specific stakeholder groups with this project: 1) policymakers and scientists involved in aquaculture and/or coastal water quality; and 2) people involved in the bivalve aquaculture industry.  The latter group—the aquaculture industry at large—may be relatively less informed about the nutrient bioextraction debate, and the science behind nutrient pollution in general. Thus, for this group, my animation will need to clearly explain the concepts of a) nutrient pollution and b) nutrient bioextraction. I expect relevant policymakers and scientists are already knowledgeable about these concepts, but would be interested in learning about my research results pertaining to the effectiveness of oyster aquaculture for nutrient bioextraction. Thus, for this group, my animation will need to clearly present quantified results, using language and depth of explanation appropriate for scientists and policymakers. To actively engage both groups, my animation will thus need to clearly explain: a) what is eutrophication; b) what is nutrient bioextraction; and c) how effective was the farm I studied at extracting nutrients.

The animation will be 1-2 minutes, and will be created using paper cut outs, photographed with a digital SLR camera, and produced (with sound) in iMovie or a similar program.  Examples of this animation method can be found at, which hosts animations of ecological concepts made primarily by students at Brown University. Once it is produced, I will disseminate the animation by showing it at live presentations including the VA Sea Grant annual symposium and a NOAA brown bag lunch, which I am planning to give in spring 2016 with the help of my mentor, who is a NOAA scientist. I will also post the animation online (e.g., on my personal website), and will advertise the link in appropriate venues, possibly including the University of Virginia Department of Environmental Sciences homepage, the VA Sea Grant webpage, and industry webpages. Putting the animation on the internet will communicate the issue to an even wider audience. Although the main theme of the animation is nutrient bioextraction, the story reinforces understanding of nutrient pollution, which is still poorly understood by the general public. Oysters are an increasingly trendy food, and the public is eager to learn more about them, so an animation about oyster aquaculture specifically is a good vehicle to deliver this message.


A Multi-Faceted Approach to Teleost Biodiversity Education

Climate change has been increasingly identified as a strong driver in shifting species distribution and promoting extinction. Marine species track very close to climate changes and are especially at risk due to rising sea temperatures coupled with anthropogenic factors such as over-fishing and pollution. In the near future, commercially important teleost species may be lost due to climate change pressures. Losses of teleost biodiversity will could have significant economic and societal impacts on the state’s economy and the communities that rely on these species. The goal of my master’s thesis will be examine forecast changes in biodiversity of Chesapeake Bay teleosts by not only examining taxonomic diversity, but by taking into account phylogenetic and functional diversity as well. By considering multiple aspects of biodiversity, I hope to aid in the development of novel conservation strategies and diagnostic tools that will aid in the preservation of valuable Chesapeake Bay fish species.
The long term goal of this project is to help ensure teleost biodiversity remains present for future generations. However, fisheries and local communities often view conservation initiatives as a callous limitation of their livelihood. I believe that this ultimately arises due to a failure to understand the long term objectives of biodiversity conservation and the importance of biodiversity to ecosystem function. In order to gain support for my research, I wish to adopt a multi-faceted educational approach. On the surface, biodiversity is a fairly easy concept to understand, but it is likely that the majority of the public has little experience with phylogenetic or functional diversity. My outreach will focus on educating the community as why these two facets are important as well as why maintaining teleost as a whole is critical to ecosystem health and coastal economies.
I intend to take a multi-faceted approach in order to educate the public on phylogenetic diversity, functional diversity, and the effects that climate change has on these two biodiversity indices. Working with Kattie McMillan, I will volunteer with the VIMS Communications Office by giving VIMS campus tours, participating in local festivals attended by the VIMS Office of Communication, and by giving talks with Science Under Sail during trawl voyages. This will allow me to convey my research to members of the public that are already interested in learning more about the ecological and biological dynamics of the Chesapeake Bay as well as the threats it faces. Hopefully, these receptive members of the community will help to entice their less enthusiastic neighbors into learning more about biodiversity and conservation as well. In general, these efforts will consist of me speaking about biodiversity and discussing my research, but I also intend to develop an interactive activity for Marine Science Day in order to help foster interest in marine biodiversity among children. Kids and their parents will have the opportunity to bring stuffed animals from home which I will use to create a quick phylogeny and dendogram. I believe that people naturally curious about the evolutionary relationships between organisms and that this will enable them to understand the methods used in creating biodiversity indices in an entertaining manner.
I will also use an online approach to help engage the public. In order to quantify phylogenetic and functional diversity, I will have to create a phylogeny and dendogram. My hope is to make both available online either as part of a blog, website, or Facebook page. Interested individuals will be able learn about the phylogenetic and functional relationships between Chesapeake teleosts at their own pace. I also wish to make the phylogeny interactive, if possible. If a user clicks on a specific fish in the phylogenetic tree, the branches leading to that individual could change a different color so that the user could more easily visualize its relationship to other taxa. A brief description of the fish would also appear in the text box.
I feel that a combination of personal and technological educational methods would present the public with ample opportunities to deepen their understanding of Chesapeake Bay teleost diversity and the potential threats that global warming may present to the ecological community. By increasing the public’s awareness of the importance of fish biodiversity, I could help to generate and improve support for marine conservation research. Hopefully, more support from the community will eventually lead to more support from lawmakers as well.

Project Proposal: Math can be cool (and help blue crabs too!)

Submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), such as seagrasses, within Chesapeake Bay provide protection and resources for fishery species like the blue crab Callinectes sapidus (Duffy & Baltz 1998). In Chesapeake Bay, seagrasses have been declining since the 1960s and 1970s due to both anthropogenic and natural disturbances (for example, Orth & Moore 1983). Increased fragmentation of and decreased shoot density within seagrass beds may negatively impact the recruitment of blue crab postlarvae that use seagrasses as nursery habitat (Stockhausen & Lipcius 2003). In areas where seagrasses have declined, macroalgae may provide valuable habitat for organisms like the blue crab. Gracilaria vermiculophylla is an exotic, coarsely branching, red macroalga originating from the Western Pacific (Ohmi 1956) that has colonized shallow coastal areas of North America and Europe (Bellorin et al. 2004; Freshwater et al. 2006; Thomsen et al. 2006a, b, 2007; Gulbransen et al. 2012; Miller 2012) and is found in lower Chesapeake Bay. It is possible that this exotic alga may fill some of the ecological roles of seagrasses in these areas where they have declined (Rodriquez 2006). Because it is a structured nursery habitat, G. vermiculophylla provides refuges for juvenile blue crabs and other species that require structure (Beck et al. 2001; Lipcius et al. 2007; Thomsen 2010). Juvenile crab survival is as great or greater in G. vermiculophylla compared to Zostera marina (the dominant seagrass in lower Chesapeake Bay) or unvegetated habitat (Johnston & Lipcius 2012).

My dissertation research aims to determine the value of G. vermiculophylla as a nursery habitat for juvenile blue crabs in the York River, a tributary of lower Chesapeake Bay. My research involves exploratory surveys to determine where the alga is and how much there is at randomly selected sites, how many juvenile crabs are using the alga as habitat compared to seagrass, and differences in prey resources between the habitats. Other field and laboratory studies focus on habitat preferences of juvenile crabs as well as growth rates. Finally, the development of a system of equations to describe habitat use of juvenile crabs will allow me to simulate how the changing nursery habitat landscape in Chesapeake Bay will impact juvenile crabs and, thus, the adult blue crab population.

The key stakeholder groups that might benefit from my research, particularly the model, are managers and watermen in the blue crab fishery. The commercial blue crab fishery in Chesapeake Bay is tightly controlled by managers, but management tends to focus only on mature crabs (those that can be fished). There seems to be a disconnect between the way blue crabs are managed and the ecology of the species in that juvenile crabs and their habitat requirements are often ignored by managers. My work seeks to link habitat information with population information, which may lead to a better-informed stock-recruit model for blue crabs in Chesapeake Bay and, therefore, better-informed management strategies that will allow watermen to continue to harvest blue crabs in the future.

To better communicate my model to all audiences, but particularly to managers and watermen, I will create a series of slides using a tool like Prezi ( that will help explain my model step-by-step using pictures and simple graphs connected to each variable within the equations. Since the equations of my model are very similar to each other, I will likely focus on one and then zoom out to show the entire model. Hopefully this will allow the audience to understand what the model is doing without getting bogged down in terminology. This also will reduce the loss of interest that many audiences have when presented with a slide of 10 equations. I plan to present this initially at the 2016 VA Sea Grant Participants’ Symposium alongside a poster of related research.


Beck, MW, KL Heck, KW Able, DL Childers, DB Eggleston, BM Gillanders, et al. 2001. The identification, conservation, and management of estuarine and marine nurseries for fish and invertebrates. BioScience 51: 633–641.

Bellorin, AM, MC Oliveira, and EC Oliveira. 2004. Gracilaria vermiculophylla: a western Pacific species of Gracilariaceae (Rhodophyta) first recorded from the eastern Pacific. Phycological Research 52: 69–79.

Duffy, KC, and DM Baltz. 1998. Comparison of fish assemblages associated with native and exotic submerged macrophytes in the Lake Pontchartrain estuary, USA. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 223: 199–221.

Freshwater, DW, F Montgomery, J Greene, R Hamner, M Williams, and P Whitfield. 2006. Distribution and identification of an invasive Gracilaria species that is hampering commercial fishing operations in southeastern North Carolina, USA. Biological Invasions 8: 631–637.

Gulbransen, DJ, KJ McGlathery, M Marklund, JN Norris, and CFD Gurgel. 2012. Gracilaria vermiculophylla (Rhodophyta, Gracilariales) in Virginia coastal bays, USA: cox1 analysis reveals high genetic richness of an introduced macroalga. Journal of Phycology 48: 1278-1283.

Johnston, CA, and RN Lipcius. 2012. Exotic macroalga Gracilaria vermiculophylla provides superior nursery habitat for native blue crab in Chesapeake Bay. Marine Ecology Progress Series 467: 137–146.

Lipcius RN, DB Eggleston, KL Heck, Jr., RD Seitz, J van Montfrans. 2007. Ecology of postlarval and young juvenile blue crabs. In: Kennedy VS, Cronin LE (eds) The blue crab, Callinectes sapidus. University of Maryland Sea Grant Press, College Park, MD, pp. 535−564.

Miller, KA. 2012. Seaweeds of California: Updates of California Seaweed Species List. pp. 1-59. Berkeley: University of California Jepson Herbarium.

Ohmi, H. 1956. Contributions to the knowledge of Gracilariaceae from Japan. II. On a new species of the genus Gracilariopsis, with some considerations on its ecology. Bulletin of the Faculty of Fisheries Hokkaido University 6: 271−279.

Orth, RJ, and KA Moore. 1983. Chesapeake Bay: An unprecedented decline in submerged aquatic vegetation. Science 222: 51–53.

Rodriguez, LF. 2006. Can invasive species facilitate native species? Evidence of how, when, and why these impacts occur. Biological Invasions 8: 927-939.

Stockhausen, WT, and RN Lipcius. 2003. Simulated effects of seagrass loss and restoration on settlement and recruitment of blue crab postlarvae and juveniles in the York River, Chesapeake Bay. Bulletin of Marine Science 72: 409-422.

Thomsen, M. 2010. Experimental evidence for positive effects of invasive seaweed on native invertebrates via habitat-formation in a seagrass bed. Aquatic Invasions 5: 341-346.

Thomsen, MS, CFD Gurgel, S Fredericq, KJ McGlathery. 2006a. Gracilaria vermiculophylla (Rhodophyta, Gracilariales) in Hog Island Bay, Virginia: a cryptic alien and invasive macroalgae and taxonomic corrections. Journal of Phycology 42: 139–41.

Thomsen, MS, KJ McGlathery, and AC Tyler. 2006b. Macroalgal distribution patterns in a shallow, soft-bottom lagoon, with emphasis on the nonnative Gracilaria vermiculophylla and Codium fragile. Estuaries and Coasts 29: 465–473.

Thomsen, M, P Staehr, C Nyberg, D Krause-Jensen, S Schwaerter, and B Silliman. 2007. Gracilaria vermiculophylla (Ohmi) Papenfuss, 1967 (Rhodophyta, Gracilariaceae) in northern Europe, with emphasis on Danish conditions, and what to expect in the future. Aquatic Invasions 2: 83-94.

Project Proposal: American eels and their nasty parasites

Marine parasites and diseases are seldom considered in fisheries management despite their potential for impact on a population. One such fish population that may have problems with parasites it the American eel (Anguilla rostrata). These snake-like fish are an economically and ecologically important fish species that has been in decline for the past decades. Currently their population is considered depleted and at historically low levels due to a combination of loss and alteration of habitat, dams, pollution, predation, and parasitism. In the mid-1990’s an invasive parasitic nematode Anguillicoloides crassus was discovered in an eel aquaculture facility in Texas as well as one river in South Carolina. Since then, it has rapidly spread throughout the range of American eel, and now can be found from Nova Scotia into the Gulf of Mexico. This parasite infects the swimbladder of eels, where it grows and develops while feeding on an eel’s blood. Repeated infections can cause severe damage to this important organ such that it is no longer able to function. My master’s thesis is investigating if this parasite is contributing to the depleted status of American eel through morbidity or morality effects. The information from my project will inform fisheries management on a potential source of natural mortality, which can then be used in stock assessments to better estimate the size of the population as well as population dynamics.

I have three possible ideas for communication projects based on a last minute conversation with my outreach mentor who is the American eel Coordinator for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). One involves ASMFC board members and the other would target a more general audience that is initially interested in the American eel, so I’ll briefly describe both stakeholder groups. The ASMFC is the management agency for coastal fishes along the Atlantic coast of the U.S. The management decisions are made by a group of commissioners that represent the 15 member states as well as DC, Potomac River Fisheries Commission, National Marine Fisheries Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service. Each group has three representatives: an administrator, governor’s appointee, and legislator. For each species managed, there is a specific board made up of the groups that have a stake in that fishery. Therefore my project would target the American eel Management Board members (which should be all groups).The commissioners are very formal and legislative, so I would have to tailor my project to that style. For the general public interested in American eels, I would expect them to be fishermen and local managers, as well as people interested in going to the aquarium.

My first project idea is either a memo or presentation to the ASMFC board members, which I understand are different, but my outreach mentor is checking what is feasible and appropriate. The memo would state the problem American eels are facing and the plan that the Technical Committee has to address it. The presentation would be more in depth and show results from my project. I am unsure of more details at this time because my mentor is finding out if this would be appropriate to do.

My second idea is to assist in the creation of exhibit information to be placed at aquariums. I don’t know too much about this project right now because my mentor mentioned it briefly and needs to follow up with the woman working on it to determine if I could help out. But I would image it would be creating an information plaque about the importance and effect of marine parasites and disease on fish populations and a little about my eels as an example.

My third idea, if both of these fall through, is to create a graphic linking the life cycle of the eel with the life cycle of the parasite. This would be very useful in presentations to all audiences as a simple and intuitive way for people to understand the processes occurring.

Communicating the “Unsolveable”: Stakeholders in the Oyster Fishery in Chesapeake Bay

The problems within the oyster fishery in the Chesapeake Bay are well known and go back for decades. Historic levels of overfishing have led to depleted stocks and intense competition over rights and access to the fishery today; more and more groups want a piece of this shrinking pie. The pieces of this pie however do not all have similar intentions and this diversity among slices has led to massive miscommunication and distrust within the fishery. Everyone living in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is a stakeholder, whether they realize it or not, but certain groups of stakeholders appear more frequently in the ongoing oyster fishery discussions. Watermen don’t trust the science about oyster stocks, government officials are setting catch limits without consulting aquaculturists needs and NGO’s have their own agenda to support their cause. With the variety of interests within the fishery, tensions naturally arise and not everyone will be able to get exactly what they want. But it is exactly because of that fact that the groups involved need to interact with and consult each other. Bringing together these diverse stakeholder groups is at the core of my research; I want to see how they interact with each other and work together to form policy recommendations for the future of the oyster fishery in the Chesapeake Bay. An especially key component of this is gauging how the stakeholder groups react to and incorporate the science they are presented about the state of the fishery. Stakeholders’ confidence and levels of understanding concerning the science of a fishery is key to properly managing it; if stakeholders don’t believe in the science that was used to form policy aka catch limits, they will not follow them.  Even more specifically, I am looking at their opinions on the role of social science in this process, and its role in marine science in general. This is the facet of my research that this project will focus on, helping ensure that the stakeholder groups know how to discuss the science, their role in this project and the role of social science in the process.

Taking into consideration my unique situation where I have access and opportunity to work with an array of stakeholder options as part of my research, I decided to focus on the one that could make the largest difference. The stakeholder group I am looking to connect with most strongly during my research is the watermen because I feel like this group has the greatest potential at reaching out to other stakeholders not directly involved in our grant research project and the most to gain from my project. The other stakeholders that are a part of my research (NGO’s, government officials, managers, etc.) don’t have as much freedom with their speech as the watermen do and it is more important to me that the people who will feel the greatest impacts from the end result of an oyster policy plan in terms of economic livelihood, the watermen, have these resources. That’s why I’m planning to consult with Karen Hudson who works as a Shellfish Aquaculture Specialist at VIMS and has ample experience communicating with this group of stakeholders. I figure she knows how to address this group very well and my project will highly benefit from her expertise.

My project idea is to create a set of “elevator talk” guidelines for watermen to help them better understand and communicate to others about the research that we are doing and that they are an integral part of; without them and the other stakeholder groups, this research could not occur. A huge part of my overall research project assumes that between meetings that we will hold over the next 3 to 4 years, the stakeholders will be talking to their friends, neighbors, family and other stakeholders about the proceedings of these meetings. Since this communication is going to happen and is encouraged even, I want to ensure that they know how to start the conversation or answer broad questions about what they are doing and what our overall goals as scientists are . The elevator points will focus on three separate areas of concern

  1. What are the overall goals of the Coastal SEES (larger research project)?
    1. Letting them know what exactly we are doing here and why
  2. Their role as a stakeholder in these meetings.
    1. Why did we invite them?
    2. What can they contribute?
    3. What are they expected to contribute?
  3. The importance of social science in research
    1. Why should they care about social science in research?
    2. What benefits does including social science have in research?

The watermen stakeholders will be asked questions about all of these aspects so I want them to be prepared with ideas of how to answer. I am going to emphasize and try to format the elevator talking points as such so that they don’t seem like forced speeches but instead seem like diving boards, jumping off points for conversation. I think this will address the concerns of the watermen stakeholders because they want to know the answers to these questions too and if we provide good answers for them that they can understand, they can then spread that information around. The watermen stakeholders are obviously interested since they made this 3 to 4 year time commitment; my goal is to ease their ability to communicate with others so that they, and the people they talk to, see the science of this project as less intimidating and more understandable.


Product Proposal – An App for That

Marine debris is an issue of local, national, and global concern, impacting all oceans and waterways. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines marine debris as any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed or abandoned into the marine environment or the Great Lakes. This broad definition encompasses everythingfrom derelict fishing gear to microplastics. The Commonwealth of Virginia developed a Marine Debris Reduction Plan (MDRP) in 2014 in order to address this problem through Virginia policies and programs. It is estimated that 49% of all marine debris in the U.S. comes from land-based sources, with 18% coming from ocean-based sources and the remaining 33% made up of items that could come from land or ocean-based sources (Sheavly, 2007). Marine life can easily mistake plastic bags, balloons, and other debris as a food source or ingest it accidentally during normal feeding. These items can become lodged in the throat or digestive track and damage the gut, resulting in malnutrition or death. Entanglement in marine debris is also a serious hazard.

My Master’s thesis research addresses microplastic pollution and the sorption of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic organic contaminants (PBTs) often found in marine waters. Specifically, I am investigating how bio-based, biodegradable plastics compare to traditional plastics in terms of sorption of PBTs. Microplastics are defined as pieces of plastics that are <5mm in size, and are either intentionally manufactured or are the result of the breakdown of larger plastic debris. Their small size corresponds to an increase in surface area, which allows for the enhanced sorption of chemical contaminants. Various organisms, including zooplankton (Cole, 2013) and oysters (van Cauwenberghe, 2014) can then ingest these contaminated microplastics, potentially leading to the bioaccumulation and biomagnification of these chemicals. With consumers beginning to demand eco-friendly, “green” alternatives to traditional plastics, bio-based plastic market share is sure to increase (Technavio, 2014), leading to an increase in bio-plastic marine debris. Waste and coastal resource managers can then use the information supplied by my research in order to understand the potential effects of marine microplastic debris on the ecosystem.

Balloon litter has been identified by participants in the 2013 Virginia Marine Debris Summit to be of particular concern in Virginia, and also identified as “most achievable” in terms of systematic waste reduction by various stakeholders (Register, 2014). The Virginia MDRP designated development and implementation of a social marketing campaign addressing balloons as marine debris items as a part of its first set of near-term goals to be achieved by 2016. Though not an explicit part of my thesis research, my interests in marine debris as a whole has lead me to investigate this issue more closely, and that is why I am proposing to develop a smartphone application that uses citizen science data to collect information about balloon litter in Virginia, and to educate users on the impacts of balloon releases.

The product I aim to develop will be a prototype for an Apple iOS application that allows the citizen scientist to document instances of balloon litter in Virginia. Ideally, the app would allow the user to take a photo of the debris and allow for quick-select tagging of various options, including an entangled or dead animal. Location and debris information could then be uploaded and stored in a database that can then be queried for “hotspots” and filtered by location or tag. Users would also have the option to publish their photo to popular social media outlets such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook with automated hashtags to identify the app and purpose (i.e. #VAballoons, #VAmarinedebris, etc.). Other features of the app would include a “map view” of documented debris, information on what happens to balloons when they are released, and a page of links to more information.

Photo Oct 22, 1 48 15 PM

Clean Virginia Waterways (CVW), Virginia’s Coastal Zone Management Program (CZMP) and the Virginia Marine Debris Advisory Committee would be the stakeholders most interested in this outreach product and my ongoing thesis research. Katie Register of CVW has expressed explicit interest in this product, and I will be working with her, Christina Trapani of EcoManiac, and Laura McKay and Virginia Witmer of CZMP to develop this application.

The benefits of this product are that it can be used as a data-gathering tool and as an educational tool for social marketing and social change. Measurable outcomes outlined in the Virginia MDRP include commitments from targeted audiences to stop mass balloon releases and a measurable reduction in balloon litter in Virginia. Balloons are unique in that people often purchase them with the intent of releasing them into the environment, as a part of a ceremony or tradition. This app can directly contribute to both of these outcomes through the interconnectedness of social media, it is possible that images and information shared by users can help to educate the general public about the hazards of balloon releases. This app can also collect data regarding balloon debris not quantified by volunteer cleanup events, contributing to the overall understanding of the issue.

Literature Cited

Cole, M.; Lindeque, P.; Fileman, E.; Halsband, C.; Goodhead, R.; Moger, J.; Galloway, T. S. Microplastic Ingestion by Zooplankton. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2013, 47, 6646-6655.

Register, K. Virginia Marine Reduction Plan. Prepared for Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program by Clean Virginia Waterways, Grant Number NA11NOS4190122 and Grant Number NA12NOS4190168. 2014.

Sheavly, S. National Marine Debris Monitoring Program: final program report, data analysis and summary. Prepared for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by Ocean Conservancy, Grant Number X83053401-02. 2007.

Technavio. Global Biobased Polymers Market 2015-2019. 2014.

Van Cauwenberghe, L.; Janssen, C. R. Microplastics in bivalves cultured for human consumption. Environ. Pollut. 2014, 193, 65-70.

Project Proposal

The Chesapeake Bay and its coastal waters are significant developmental habitats for thousands of juvenile sea turtles who use bay waters seasonally. However, each year, hundreds of turtles are found stranded on local beaches. Stranded sea turtles are any ocean turtle found floating on the ocean surface or washed up along the coastline, often deceased or severely injured. Since all species of sea turtles are threatened or endangered, identifying the sources of mortality and causes of these stranding events are crucial to the conservation and recovery of sea turtles populations. Furthermore, as most sea turtle mortality likely goes unobserved due to low likelihood of landfall and carcass decomposition, these stranding events provide a unique opportunity for investigating causes of sea turtle mortality. The high number of stranding events that occur in the Bay are of concern especially as the cause of mortality is largely unidentified. For my research, I am developing an oceanographic drift model for the Chesapeake Bay simulating the drift patterns of turtle carcasses after death and upon washing up at stranding locations. This model will be used to identify likely mortality hotspots in the bay and will be associated with indicators of possible anthropogenic or environmental causes.

For my project, I aim to develop an infographic about local sea turtle stranding events that can be disseminated to the general public. I am regularly surprised by the vast quantity of the local community whom do not even know that sea turtles exist in the bay, let alone that turtles are dying in these waters in such large quantities. Thus, I foremost wish to use my infographic to generally inform the public of this stranding issue at large. I hope to make the information on this product broad enough and easy to read for a general public audience, including the local community and any other interested personnel. It will be a general tool I hope that I can utilize in the future to hand out at a variety of outreach programs I may be involved with (ie. Marine Science Day, presentations, seminars, my GK12 classroom, etc.).

I would also like to create a second infographic that explores my project goals and methods specifically. A central component of my research is computer modeling and simulations – a concept that can be very difficult for others to grasp. Therefore, I hope to find a simple way to describe the different parts of my project. I hope for this infographic to focus around a graphic/image that I create explaining my methods which can be then adopted as needed in the future (see sketch below). Depending on product design and space, I may also create a third infographic that highlight general threats to sea turtles and ways the public can help mitigate these threats (or, this might end up being on the first infographic if appropriate).

Ideally, I imagine these infographics as several separate products in the form of flyers, but, I would like them to be adaptable to enlarging into a poster if needed in the future. I have identified a variety of websites that provide free infographic templates that I can adapt in my own design, such as or These flyers will be useful in that they will inform the public of not only the issue of sea turtle strandings in the Chesapeake Bay, but allow the public to also pick up a second flier specifically about my project/research efforts to combat this problem if they are further interested. I hope that these products can complement each other to paint a fuller picture, while also stand-alone as separate products.

Sketch of graphic to be designed explaining the three steps of my reserach

Sketch of graphic to be designed explaining the three steps of my research

Project Proposal Guidelines


Due Friday, October 27, 2017

The first step in the Advanced Science Communication Seminar is to learn about your audience and put some of your project ideas into writing. Here are some steps you should follow to develop your one-to-two-page proposal to get started on your communication project.

1. Reach out to your stakeholder group as soon as you can.

Describe some of your research, using a lay-accessible elevator talk. Identify two or three members of this stakeholder group. Ask what “bugs,” puzzles, interests, or impresses them about the topic.  If you are unclear about how you might identify and access these individuals, seek assistance from your adviser, Ian Vorster, or fellow seminar participants. Email Kathy Rowan at, or Ian Vorster at 

2. Take a look at previous examples of proposals.

See the sample proposals on this website under Resources.

3. Consider your goals and the challenges to achieving them.

Analyze your situation through the lens of the CAUSE Model discussed by Rowan during the kick-off workshop. That is, ask yourself whether you need to earn the audience’s confidence and why. Ask yourself WHY your topic may be difficult to understand, and what steps will address intellectual or emotional obstacles to understanding. Refer to readings in the “Resources” section of the course website.

4. Post your proposal to the website.

Proposals should have three parts:

  1. Opening paragraph establishing the nature and severity of some environmental problem (e.g., diminishing populations of oysters; erosion along shorelines, excess nutrients in the Chesapeake) and ways in which your research explores this problem or contributes to its solution.
  2. A paragraph describing a stakeholder group that would benefit from learning about your research or that may be interested in your research. Be as specific as you can about this group. For example, a “general audience” might be too general. How about talking to journalists who specialize in covering environmental stories? Are there local reporters or university science writers whom you could contact initially? Or consider the Society of Environmental Journalists or the Yale Climate Communication Center’s radio series. Is there a journalist whom Ian Vorster can refer you to? Perhaps that person could be someone with whom you have an in-person or phone conversation to explore what aspects of research would interest that journalist’s readers.
  3. A paragraph or two on the product you will develop. Will it be a talk for a specified group? A one-pager for legislators or regulators? A game for Marine Science Day visitors? A photo essay for exhibition.  Explain the benefits of this product and why this product will address the audience’s interests and concerns.

To post your proposal, you will copy and paste the text into this platform. Here’s how to create a post. Don’t forget to check the categories for Project Proposals and your name!

5. Consider the feedback you receive from the course instructors and begin work on the proposed product.

You can also look at project proposals from your fellow classmates and post comments on their work.

How to Navigate This Site

As a participant in the Seminar, you will be contributing content to this site. There are things you can do that will help make sure the site is easy to get around.

Navigation Menu

The navigation menu is the blue bar at the top of the website that contains links. When you click on these links you will go to different areas of the site. When the Seminar starts, there will only be a couple of posts that Janet added.


Sub-menus will appear as  more and more posts are created. These will appear when you hover over a menu option. The sub-menus will group related posts to make it easier to see who is working on what.

Every Seminar participant will have sub-menu. This means that you will be able to select your name or another participant’s name and see all of the posts they created.

We will also create sub-menus for to help group communication projects to make it easy to see what other participants are working on. All participants working on brochures will have their posts grouped into a brochures sub-menu. All posts discussing presentations will be grouped in a presentations sub-menu.


All of the menus on this site are controlled by “categories.” You will be responsible for helping us maintain sub-menus by selecting categories when you create a post.

When you create a post, you will select categories before publishing. Your post will appear in the navigation bar or sub-menus based on the categories you select.

For this post, Janet selected “Communication Projects”, “Resources,” and “Student Posts.” You will see this post in each of those locations because she selected those categories when we published. Because she also selected “Project Proposals” you will see that sub-menu appear when you hover over the right menu option in the navigation bar.