Delaware’s coastal environment is home to unique wildlife and spectacular natural beauty. Delaware Sea Grant helps monitor and protect the region for future generations.
Understanding invasive species
The arrival of new species in a habitat can cause major ecological changes in freshwater and marine ecosystems and billions of dollars in economic damage. Sea Grant researchers are working to understand these invaders and potentially thwart them from taking hold in Delaware’s waters.
The Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis) has turned up in Delaware, having already emerged in northern Europe and San Francisco Bay. Researchers Douglas Miller, Jon Cohen, Ana Dittel, and Charles Tilburg are studying where the crabs move during their larval stage and how environmental factors affect behavior and larval dispersal. Findings could help predict where larvae are likely to settle and grow into large adult populations.
Other aquatic invasive species may be entering the mid-Atlantic with fishing bait shipped in from other areas. Sea Grant researchers and outreach specialists from six states, including Delaware’s John Ewart, are investigating whether undetected species may be hitchhiking in the packing materials used to ship fishing bait such as bloodworms to our region.
Gauging sea-level rise in marshes
Global sea-level rise and sinking land are combining to cause water levels near Bowers Beach, Del., to climb at a rate faster than anywhere else on the Atlantic coast. Surrounding wetlands may change into mudflats if wetland elevation cannot keep pace with rising sea level. Sea Grant researchers Jack Puleo and Thomas McKenna are conducting field research in Kent County to increase our understanding of how marshes respond to sea-level rise. The work could help natural resource managers monitor marsh stability and predict future changes.
Using algae for renewable energy and pollution control
Smokestack emissions contain contaminants that can harm human health and the environment. Scientists are looking to use algae to help clean up the air—and serve as a renewable energy source. The algal species Heterosigma akashiwo, commonly found in Delaware and worldwide, transforms smokestack emissions into less harmful components. Sea Grant researcher Kathryn Coyne is examining how this process occurs and under what conditions the algae thrive. The tiny plant-like organism may also do double-duty as a high-yield source for renewable fuel. “Compared to crops like corn and soybeans, the same mass of algae can produce much greater quantities of biofuel,” Coyne said.
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