Finding solutions to protect Delaware's coastal ecosystems and enhance the natural services they provide
The Delaware estuary and surrounding wetlands are prime habitat for commercial fish species, a winter home for migrating birds, an outlet for recreation and tourism, and a natural barrier against coastal storms. Delaware Sea Grant is funding research that investigates how coastal ecosystems have changed over time in response to human activity and how communities can act to produce positive change in our environment.
Current Research Projects
Physical Dynamics of a Tidal Wetland Restoration Site: Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge
Investigators: Drs. Chris Sommerfield and Carlos Moffat
The Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge is undertaking a $38 million restoration project to return the 10,000-acre area to a naturally functioning tidal marsh and barrier beach capable of harboring migrating birds while preventing coastal flooding. Delaware Sea Grant is funding research on how the Refuge will be affected by climate change, sea level rise, and human pressures in order to improve the resiliency of the Refuge following the restoration effort.
Hydrodynamics and Beach Morphology During Extreme Events
Investigator: Dr. Jack Puleo
Beaches provide not only recreation and leisure opportunities, but play an important role in protecting communities during intense storm events. At the same time, storms can dramatically alter the shape, extent, and height of beaches by moving sand along-shore and offshore. Delaware Sea Grant is funding Dr. Jack Puleo to develop self-contained sensor systems for quantifying water and sand movement that can be rapidly deployed ahead of a storm event.
Conservation and Recovery of Atlantic Sturgeon in the Delaware River Estuary
Investigators: Drs. John Madsen and Dewayne Fox
The current population of Atlantic Sturgeon is less than 0.5% of the estimated historical stock in the Delaware River. The lower estuary hosts one of the largest remaining populations of Atlantic Sturgeon, although the reason why sturgeon congregate there is unknown. Delaware Sea Grant is funding research to better understand the habitat preference of Atlantic Sturgeon in order to more effectively manage the estuary for the recovery of this endangered species.
Morphology and Tidal Inundation of Tidal Wetlands in the Delaware Estuary
Investigators: Drs. Tom McKenna, Naomi Bates, and John Callahan
An expanse of tidal wetlands fringes the Delaware Estuary and provides ecosystem services such as preserving water quality, mitigating flood hazards, and providing outdoor recreation. However, these wetlands are highly sensitive to tidal inundation, which depends on factors such as coastal development, land use practices, coastal storms, and sea level rise. Delaware Sea Grant is funding research to conduct precise elevation mapping of these wetlands in order to determine their susceptibility to inundation.
A Risk Assessment Analysis of Microplastics in Delaware Bay: Physical Controls and Biological Effects of an Emerging Pollution Issue
Investigators: Drs. Tobias Kukulka and Jon Cohen
Plastic marine debris is an emerging pollutant of concern both in the Delaware estuary and around the globe. Delaware Sea Grant is funding research to quantify the distribution of microplastic debris in the Delaware Bay and its effect on marine organisms.
Phytoplankton Dynamics and the Role of Heterosigma akashiwo in Promoting Blooms of the Toxic Dinoflagellate, Dinophysis acuminata
Investigators: Drs. Tye Pettay and Kathyrn Coyne
Dinophysis acuminata is a toxic microalgae found in Delaware’s Inland Bays that can bloom to concentrations that are harmful to fish and other wildlife and may pose a threat to shellfish aquaculture in the bays. Researchers suspect that a controlling factor in blooms of this organism may be the abundance of another, non-toxic algae, Heterosigma akashiwo, since blooms of Dinophysis typically occur simultaneously with blooms of Heterosigma and the latter could serve as prey for Dinophysis. Delaware Sea Grant is funding Drs. Tye Pettay and Kathy Coyne to better understand the relationship between these two algae in order to improve our ability to predict, respond to, and treat harmful algal blooms and manage the risk to the shellfish aquaculture industry.