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Winter 2020 Issue

February 4, 2020

NGI Researchers Receive NOAA RESTORE Science Program Award

The NOAA RESTORE Science Program is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition, the RESTORE Act directs that the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission be consulted as the program is executed.

The Program is housed in the National Ocean Service, National Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) with a Gulf-based program director to keep the program grounded in the region.

Geographic Scope

The RESTORE Act stipulates that Program funds be expend with respect to the Gulf of Mexico. To provide geographic boundaries for the Program, the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem is defined as the ocean basin bounded by the United States along its northeastern, northern, and northwestern edges; Mexico on its southwestern and southern edges; and Cuba on its southeastern edge. The Gulf of Mexico is connected to the Caribbean Sea through the Yucatan Channel between Mexico and Cuba and connected to the Atlantic Ocean through the Florida Straits between Cuba and the United States. This definition of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem includes the estuarine and marine environments of the basin's continental shelf and its deep water environments. International, federal, and state waters are encompassed within this defined area. In addition to supporting research conducted in the Gulf of Mexico, the Program will also support research on processes that impact the Gulf of Mexico in a direct, significant, and quantifiable way, which includes processes in the watersheds draining into the Gulf of Mexico and coastal terrestrial areas that provide habitat for important wildlife species.

The science plan for the NOAA RESTORE Science Program lays out the path forward for the Program. It explains how the legislative requirements of the RESTORE Act led to the Program's mission and goal. The plan also establishes ten long-term research priorities which will guide how the Program invests its funds and explains the process by which these areas of investment were determined. Additionally, the plan provides information on how the Program is administered and the partners with which the Program will leverage future opportunities.

Oysters, Blue Crabs, Seatrout

Full Title: Building Resilience for Oysters, Blue Crabs, and Spotted Seatrout to Environmental Trends and Variability in the Gulf of Mexico

This project explores how oyster, blue crab, and spotted seatrout populations respond to human and environmental changes with the goal of improving the management of these economically and culturally important species.

The Team:
  • John C. Lehrter (lead investigator, University of South Alabama, Dauphin Island Sea Lab jlehrter@southalabama.edu)
  • Ronald Baker (University of South Alabama, Dauphin Island Sea Lab)
  • Just Cebrian (Mississippi State University, Northern Gulf Institute)
  • Brian Dzwonkowski (University of South Alabama, Dauphin Island Sea Lab)
  • Latif Kalin (Auburn University)
  • Lisa Lowe (North Carolina State University)
  • Dan Petrolia (Mississippi State University)
  • Sean Powers (University of South Alabama, Dauphin Island Sea Lab)
  • Di Tian (Auburn University)
  • Seong Yun (Mississippi State University)

Technical Monitors:
Science Program Liaison:
Federal Program Officer:
Award Amount: $2,887,250

Award Period: This project began in September 2019 and will end in August 2024.

Why we care:
The abundance of oysters, blue crabs, and spotted seatrout is rapidly declining in the Gulf of Mexico. These species have provided valuable food, raw material, recreation, and cultural resources to humans since the Gulf was settled. Today, the ecosystem services provided by these species are threatened, or near collapse in Gulf estuaries. This is partially due to human activities and environmental trends such as fisheries harvest and changes in water and habitat quality. Many of the underlying mechanisms that relate long-term trends and short-term variability in the environment to changing populations of oyster, blue crab and spotted seatrout are unquantified or unknown.

What we are doing:
This project will identify temperature, salinity (freshwater), oxygen (hypoxia), and pH (acidity) thresholds for oyster, blue crab, and spotted seatrout populations based on current and future habitat conditions, including climate variability and human-induced stressors. Thresholds will be quantified in mesocosm experiments, from field observations, and with numerical models. By linking multiple data sets of species recruitment, growth, and survival rates with natural and human induced environmental conditions across time, the project team will identify the large scale drivers and stressors of these populations in Mobile Bay, Alabama. Next numerical models will be created based off these data that can forecast population, ecosystem services, and socio-economic changes based on scenarios of future conditions. Public preferences about changes to the ecosystem will be gauged through a survey and incorporated into the models to calculate the costs and benefits of potential management actions.

Expected Outcome:
This project will provide Mobile Bay decision-makers a process for evaluating various scenarios, management actions, and outcomes based on single and multiple thresholds for oyster, blue crab, and spotted seatrout populations. It will help identify what individual or combined stressors affect these economically and culturally important species plus evaluate how management actions may improve the resilience of these populations to environmental change.