Three doctoral students at the University of Rhode Island have been selected to receive research grants from The Nature Conservancy and URI’s Coastal Institute for research projects that advance the conservation and restoration of marine and coastal ecosystems.
Paul Carvalho of Torrance, Cal., Amber Hardy of Houlton, Maine, and Rebecca Stevick of Laurel, Md. were selected because their research best contributes to the shared mission of the Conservancy and the Coastal Institute to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.
Carvalho, who is studying fisheries under Professor Austin Humphries, is examining how the use of different types of fishing gear might aid in coral reef conservation.
“There are many different fishing gears used in coral reef fisheries, like hook-and-line, spear guns, traps and nets,” he said. “I aim to understand which fish species and sizes are targeted by the different fishing gears and the effect this has on the reef ecosystem.”
He said that most fisheries research focuses on marine protected areas as a tool for conservation and sustainable fisheries, but Carvalho believes that the designation of protected areas may not always be enough to achieve conservation or sustainability goals.
“Regulation of fishing gears is another tool that will likely play a key role in achieving those goals in coral reef fisheries,” said Carvalho, who received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from California Polytechnic University.
Hardy is studying the effect of sea-level rise on tidal marshes with Professor Mark Stolt. She earned a bachelor’s degree in soil science from the University of Southern Maine and a master’s in agricultural and environmental science from Tarleton State University.
She said that the rising sea level is threatening tidal marshes, so she is working to identify which types of soils may be more or less resilient to sea-level rise “by using what we know about how different soils relate to each other on the landscape to predict how marshes will respond to the increase.”
As part of this project, she is also evaluating a management approach for conserving tidal marshes called thin-layer deposition, which involves spreading a layer of dredge materials on top of the marsh surface to increase its elevation.
“I believe strongly in the usefulness of both basic and applied science, and this research has potential implications in a broad theoretical sense and in a more immediate practical one,” Hardy said. “I think my results will help people find ways to mitigate and cope with climate change in both the short and long term.”
Stevick, who studies biological oceanography under Professors Marta Gomez-Chiarri and Anton Post, is studying the effects of estuarine acidification on efforts to restore oyster habitat.
“Oyster reef restoration is an important conservation tool that can provide many ecological services, including shoreline protection, increased water filtration, and habitats for other marine organisms. But they aren’t always successful, and microbial diversity may be one of the reasons why,” explained Stevick, who earned a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering from the University of Maryland. “My project will look at how environmental factors throughout Narragansett Bay impact oyster health and diseases and their associated microbial communities.”
Stevick is fascinated by how microorganisms influence large ecosystems and environmental processes.
“There are millions of millions of these tiny organisms that affect water quality, human health, marine organisms and the air we breathe,” she said. “By understanding these microscopic processes, we can learn more about the world around us and the best way to protect it.”