The University of North Carolina Wilmington was recently selected in a grant competition by the NOAA Marine Debris Program.
UNCW was one of four recipients of the 2017 grant awards, which totaled more than $935,000 of funding for marine debris research efforts, according to the NOAA Marine Debris Program. Marine debris are man-made materials that end up in the global marine environment, threatening wildlife, navigation safety, the economy and human health.
Marine debris is a relatively new field of research and has many opportunities to advance the understanding of how debris impacts the environment, according to a recent release from the Marine Debris Program. The program held a nationwide competitive funding opportunity "to support original, hypothesis-driven research projects focused on the ecological risk assessment, exposure studies, and fate and transport of marine debris," officials said.
UNCW has been awarded $289,098 for a research project that will assess whether black sea bass, fish that are highly sought after by commercial and recreational fishermen, consume contaminated microplastics and whether microplastics are being transferred through the food chain, according to the release.
The grantee for the project is Alison Taylor, a UNCW professor in the Department of Biology and Marine Biology, according to Tom Barry, grant manager for NOAA’s Marine Debris Program who was the competition manager.
Other institutional grantees include Arizona State University ($195,837), the University of Connecticut ($257,531) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution ($192,690).
Barry said the program received 33 proposals for its research grant competition this year, most of which were "very strong, dealing with a variety of marine debris research areas.”
“Specifically, our top priorities were for studies on the ecological impacts of marine debris on marine species populations; studies on exposure impacts from marine debris on individual species; and fate and transport studies of marine debris in coastal areas (i.e. how does marine debris move from point A to B),” Barry said about the competition.
UNCW's project will study what impacts microplastics (plastics less than 5mm in diameter) might have on black sea bass through a combination of laboratory and field experiments, Barry said.
“The project was selected due to the scientific and management advancements it may make in better understanding how plastics and any associated organic pollutants attached to it are transferred through the food chain from a fish species, especially given they are targeting a popular commercial species,” Barry said about UNCW's project.
UNCW is the only grantee that is conducting research on a fish species, while the other recipients are focusing research on shellfish, he said.
The NOAA Marine Debris Program offers several nationwide, competitive funding opportunities for marine debris projects. The program puts forward grant competitions each year, Barry said. Competitions cover prevention, removal and, less frequently, research, Barry said.
NOAA’s Marine Debris Program has been involved with UNCW in the past. In 2015, the university was awarded $30,000 for a prevention grant program to conduct education and outreach in coastal North Carolina. That program closed earlier this year, Barry said.
According to the program's mission, the NOAA Marine Debris Program
envisions the global ocean and its coasts free from the impacts of marine debris and has a mission to investigate and prevent the adverse impacts of marine debris.
The program’s Southeast division
, which spans North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, works in partnership with local agencies, non-governmental organizations and coastal and fishing communities with a goal to prevent and reduce marine debris in the Southeast through education, research and removal projects, as well as response to severe storms.