MASGC Project Impacts

Coastal Alabama rain barrel program reduces residential stormwater impacts

Relevance:

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, polluted stormwater is the No. 1 water-quality issue. Stormwater runoff is generated when precipitation from rain and snowmelt events flows over land or impervious surfaces (paved streets, parking lots and building rooftops) and does not percolate into the ground. The runoff accumulates debris, chemicals, sediment and other pollutants that could adversely affect water quality if it is untreated and discharged into waterways. The primary method to control stormwater discharge is the use of best management practices (BMPs).

Response:

As part of the Alabama Rain Barrel Project, the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium (MASGC) conducted workshops for citizens to build 55-gallon rain barrels. The workshops included educational sessions that taught citizens how to protect water quality and conserve water resources. Additionally, the session discussed how rain barrels help protect water quality, replenish groundwater sources and reduce the use of potable water. The workshops also stressed the importance of proper disposal of household wastes and appropriate fertilizer application practices in an effort to minimize the impacts of pollutants impacting coastal waters.

Results:

At workshops, 45 area residents constructed rain barrels, which were then installed at their residences. In addition to workshops, the Coastal Alabama Rain Barrel program has worked with partners to install low impact development (LID) demonstration sites and provide rain barrels for area schools and community gardens. To date, over 700 rain barrels have been constructed at workshops in Coastal Alabama and Mississippi. Post-workshop surveys indicate workshop attendees were willing to adopt other best management practices, in addition to rain barrels, to help protect coastal water resources. These rain barrels, and cisterns installed in three area LID demonstration projects, keep approximately 2,242,800 gallons of stormwater from entering local waterways every year.

Recap:

Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant rain barrel workshops and LID demonstration sites have raised awareness and educated the public about water quality impacts associated with urban stormwater runoff. Workshops have enabled coastal residents to implement practical BMPs, reducing residential stormwater runoff. (2014)

Low-grade weirs treat more than 12,500 acres, remove 45 percent of nitrate-nitrogen from water

Relevance:

Non-point source nutrient loading from agricultural sources can result in coastal hypoxia. Innovative best management practices need to be developed and evaluated to enhance nutrient management at this source and ultimately improve water quality throughout the watershed including coastal regions.

Response:

Scientists evaluated the ability of low-grade weirs to reduce nitrate-nitrogen experimentally and from a field demonstration standpoint.

Results:

Both experimental and field results highlighted greater than 45-percent reductions in nitrate-nitrogen from runoff and identified best management practices (BMP) for using low-grade weirs. Additional benefits from the low-grade weirs include better drainage to farms and retention of four times more sediment than systems that did not have weirs. From 2010-2015 a total of 13,058 acres of surface drainage are being controlled and treated through the use of approximately 68 low-grade weirs. Finally, the MASGC-supported low-grade weir research helped launch a large, multifaceted research and outreach program called REACH (http://www.reach.msstate.edu/) that now develops, tests and shares additional water quality BMPs and solutions to improve land management throughout the region.

Recap:

Low-grade weirs developed and tested through MASGC support are managing 13,058 acres of surface water run-off and serve as innovative BMPs that consistently decrease base-flow and storm-flow nitrate-N levels by greater than 45% and retain four times more sediment than non-weir systems, which improves water quality throughout the watershed and in coastal regions. (2014)

Science puts invasive jellyfish impacts in international spotlight

Relevance:

The Gulf of Mexico experienced blooms of millions of jellyfish (Phyllorhiza punctate) native to Australian waters, and the potential adverse impacts to native fish populations, food web dynamics and commercially important species was unknown.

Response:

The Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium invested in several research and monitoring projects to understand the causes of the jellyfish blooms, population dynamics of the jellyfish and the local and regional impacts this introduced species had on the local ecology and commercially important fish species.

Results:

This program discovered important and high-profile results including the presence of three distinct species with invasion tracks worldwide. Phyllorhiza is now understood to be the most successful invasive jellyfish in the world. To meet this significant problem, Sea Grant-funded researchers successfully developed a genetic identification test to use on mixed fouling assemblages to determine presence of Phyllorhiza on hulls of ships.

Sea Grant was also responsible for funding the first International Conference on Jellyfish Blooms held in 2000 in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Wildly successful, there have been three additional conferences over the past 13 years in Australia (2007), Argentina (2010) and Japan (2013). Interest in jellyfish science has been increasing since MASGC’s foundational effort. The 2013 conference in Japan presented nearly twice as much science as the first conference. Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant is also directly responsible for other important research syntheses related to jellyfish blooms and for several citizen science efforts around the world.

Recap:

Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant used a multi-pronged approach of monitoring, genetic and ecological analyses and spatial studies, to understand the impacts of an invasive jellyfish species and greatly increased the international focus on jellyfish invasions and their ecological impacts. (2014)

Program helps create Living Shorelines Permit, protects habitat

Relevance:

Living shorelines present an ecological and economic alternative to bulkheads and seawalls that may be viable for low-erosional settings. A living shoreline uses living plant material, oyster shells, earthen material or a combination of natural structures with riprap or offshore breakwaters to protect property from erosion.

Response:

The Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium (MASGC) educates the public, state and federal regulatory agencies and private contractors about the benefits of installing natural erosion control structures to protect private and public shoreline properties. Since 2004, MASGC personnel have planned and conducted six workshops about living shorelines in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, published three extension publications related to natural erosion control structures and made numerous presentations to promote alternatives to vertical bulkheads throughout the northern Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf of Mexico Alliance Training Program adopted the structure and content of these workshops, and it has conducted multiple trainings throughout the Gulf of Mexico. More than 504 participants, including waterfront property owners, consultants, researchers and local, state, and federal managers, attended these workshops. 

Results:

As a result of five separate living shoreline projects, more than 2,000 linear feet of living shorelines were installed, which protect 25 acres of salt marsh. The workshops also have proven influential in facilitating change in shoreline protection regulatory policy. In October 2011, the Mobile District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers adopted a new “Living Shorelines” General Permit (GP-10). The general permit is applicable within the states of Alabama and Mississippi and will make it easier for businesses, landscape and marine contractors, and shoreline property owners to install natural erosion structures to protect their eroding shorelines as opposed to bulkheads or seawalls.

Recap:

MASGC outreach activities contributed to the development of a Living Shorelines General Permit by the Mobile District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (2014)

Stewardship program managers use Sea Grant research to refine plans for burning high marshes in MS

Relevance:

Habitat degradation caused by storm debris has decreased ecological services provided by coastal ecosystems and has altered their resilience to climate change. Research on storm and fire impacts, which are predicted to increase in frequency or intensity with climate change, can inform resource managers on methods strategies to sustain coastal ecosystems.

Response:

Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium (MASGC) researchers worked with Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve partners to assess the interactive effects of prescribed fire and hurricanes on a black needlerush marsh. This approach permitted an examination of multiple-factor interactions that influence ecological processes and ecosystem sustainability.

Results:

MASGC supported researchers found that high marsh areas are more vulnerable to fire than other marsh areas because they accumulated highly combustible wrack after hurricanes, and the plants are therefore slower to recover following a fire. Resource managers for the state of Mississippi are using these research results to refine prescription plans for burning on state lands and to minimize risks to potentially vulnerable high marsh areas.

Recap:

Managers at the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve make coastal management decisions based on Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant-funded research on hurricanes and fire interactions in a black needlerush marsh. (2014)

Water-quality monitoring program affects management decisions in Alabama lagoon

Relevance:

Little Lagoon is a poorly-flushed lagoon, which makes it vulnerable to anthropogenic impact. Symptoms of degraded ecological status include episodic hypoxia, recurring blooms of the toxic harmful algal blooms (HAB)-forming diatom Pseudo-nitzschia spp, occasional high to very high numbers of fecal coliform bacteria and, less frequently, E. coli.

Response:

In a Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant-funded project, a biweekly sampling program was established with a core group of eight volunteers from the grassroots Little Lagoon Preservation Society (LLPS) to monitor water quality and identify the environmental and/or anthropogenic drivers.

Results:

The research-volunteer team has identified drivers of water quality and HABs in the lagoon and identified unusually high fecal coliform numbers in the lagoon when the pass was closed following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Data and their implications have been presented publicly via LLPS quarterly meetings and website. When fecal coliform numbers were elevated, data and interpretation were communicated promptly to federal, state and municipal personnel responsible for maintaining water quality. Water-quality managers reopened the pass daily in response to the monitoring information. The archive of data has been made available on request to municipal utility managers in response to concerns about the impact of septic tanks adjacent to the lagoon.

Recap:

During the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, on-the-ground data collection showed a spike in coliform bacteria in Little Lagoon in Alabama. Based on the data, state managers decided to reopen the pass daily to flush the 2,400-acre system. This management decision put health concerns above potential impacts of oil entering the lagoon. (2014)