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News & Notes – Spring 2015
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The Wonders of Discovery: Reviving Interest in Natural History
VOLUME 29, NUMBER 1, SPRING 2015            

By John H. Tibbetts                                                                       back to main story  

News and Notes

Shellfish conference panel explores link between climate change and oyster disease

Many regions around the world have lost their oyster resources to overharvesting, disease, pollution, or salinity changes, but the South Carolina coast has managed to sustain its fishery and oyster populations better than most. The state, moreover, has successfully restored many oyster beds with new techniques and knowledge.

Now, though, an expanding threat to oyster fisheries is emerging as coastal waters warm because of climate change, according to a panel presentation at the 16th International Conference on Shellfish Restoration, December 10-13, 2014, in Charleston.

The U.S. conference is a biennial event that brings together researchers, industry figures, regulators, coastal advocates, and others. The idea is to see “what’s been working and what hasn’t been working in shellfish management and restoration around the world,” said Rick DeVoe, executive director of S.C. Sea Grant Consortium, which organized the conference.

Over 200 attendees participated in conference sessions, which included practices of restoring shellfish ecosystems, rehabilitation of shellfish populations, and protection and improvement of water quality for shellfish survival, growth, and harvest.

Elizabeth Fly, coastal climate extension specialist with the S.C. Sea Grant Extension Program, organized and chaired a panel called “The Future of Shellfish Restoration in the Face of a Changing Climate.”

Fly has followed trends of increasing ocean temperatures and shifting distributions of species as organisms adapt to warmer waters. One such organism is the bacterium Vibrio parahaemolyticus. Vibrios are saltwater bacteria that prefer warm water.

As the climate changes, scientists are seeing outbreaks of this vibrio in locations where they have never been previously documented, according to S.C. Sea Grant researcher Charles R. Lovell, a microbial ecologist at the University of South Carolina.

“We’ve been seeing major outbreaks of this organism at high latitudes since 1998,” Lovell said, “and we continue to see them today. They are in places that historically have been considered too cold. The connection to global change is pretty obvious.”

V. parahaemolyticus is the number-one cause of seafood-associated food poisoning. There are 4,500 cases estimated per year in United States.

“That’s certainly an underestimate, because lots of cases go unreported,” said Lovell. “Diarrhea [that you get from this pathogen] won’t kill you, but you might wish it would.”

Lovell and his colleagues are studying conditions under which a virulent strain of this bacterium would be magnified very rapidly and create
a “hot” oyster.

“This pathogen is extremely fast-growing,” said Lovell. “It has a doubling time as low as 8 minutes. Escherichia coli (E. coli), which people think of as extremely fast-growing, has a doubling time of 20 minutes at best.”

But what’s the trigger that allows this vibrio to grow so quickly? It appears that the vibrio stresses the oyster’s immune system. Lovell’s research suggests that the vibrio attaches to the outer membrane tissue of the oyster and begins growing rapidly in population while also battering the oyster’s immune system. The vibrio in an immune-compromised oyster can grow without opposition and can outnumber all other organisms, growing to a size that creates a “hot” oyster.

For more information about this panel and to read abstracts of other presentations and posters, visit

S.C. graduate student selected for Knauss fellowship

Courtney Gerstenmaier was selected as a 2015 fellow for the pres­tigious John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship. Nominated and supported by the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium, she was among 52 chosen from a pool of more than 100 candidates submitted by the nation’s Sea Grant College Programs.

Gerstenmaier completed a M.S. in marine biology from the College of Charleston. As a Knauss fellow, she is serving as an ocean science educator/communications specialist for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH).

“I am pleased Courtney was selected for this year’s class,” said Rick DeVoe, executive director of the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium. “The Knauss Fellowship experience will greatly benefit her professional career, NOAA Fisheries, and NMNH.”

In this newly created joint fellowship, Gerstenmaier is serving as a bridge between NOAA Fisheries and the NMNH. Currently she is recruiting NOAA scientists for the museum’s “Expert is In” program and designing education activities on topics such as how climate change impacts, including ocean acidification, can affect fisheries. She also is creating a series of ocean-related events at the museum for young professionals. “I hope to increase my knowledge about the research that NOAA is conducting,” said Gerstenmaier, “and how natural history museums can incorporate ocean science research in order to stay relevant with society’s interests.”

To further the education of future leaders, the National Sea Grant Office has sponsored the Knauss Fellowship program since 1979. The fellowship brings a select group of graduate students to the nation’s capital, where they lend their scientific and policy expertise to federal agencies and congressional staff offices while learning about federal policy regarding marine and Great Lakes natural resources.

For more information about the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, visit or contact Susannah Sheldon, program manager, at (843) 953-2078 or

2014 S.C. Environ­mental Awareness Award call for nominations

The state of South Carolina is seeking nominations for an award to recognize individuals who are doing extraordinary work for the natural environment. Nominations will be accepted through June 12, 2015.

The S.C. Environmental Awareness Award, now in its 21st year, was established by the S.C. General Assembly during the 1992 legislative session to recognize outstanding contributions made toward the protection, conservation, and improvement of South Carolina’s natural resources.

Each year the public is invited to submit nominations which are then reviewed by an awards committee. In judging nominees, the committee considers excellence in innovation, leadership, and accomplishments that influence positive changes affecting the natural environment.

Members of the awards committee represent the S.C. Forestry Commission, S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, S.C. Department of Natural Resources, and S.C. Sea Grant Consortium.

The 2013 Environmental Awareness Award winner Joseph R. Hamilton was honored for his efforts in wildlife conservation. He is the founder of the Quality Deer Management Association.

Nomination guidelines and application forms are available by contacting Barbara Neale at (843) 953-0245 or A copy of the application form can be accessed at

Last updated: 6/24/2015 12:59:12 PM
News & Notes – Spring 2015


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