Press Releases

NOAA RESTORE Science Program Awards USM Professor with Funding for Chandeleur Islands Restoration Planning

The Water Institute of the Gulf named as a partner in the work

Sep 16, 2021

BATON ROUGE, La. (Sept. 16, 2021) – The Water Institute of the Gulf researchers will join in a project funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) RESTORE Science Program to examine how to maximize benefits of restoring and managing the Chandeleur Islands in the northern Gulf of Mexico, particularly as it relates to the unique seagrass ecosystems along the islands.

Led by Dr. Kelly Darnell, a University of Southern Mississippi (USM) assistant research professor, the project is funded by the NOAA RESTORE Science Program, with an award amount of $127,065. It is one of 20 projects that were awarded a combined $2.3 million to collaboratively scope and design research that will inform future decisions on how to manage natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico region, including marine mammals, shorebirds, barrier islands, seagrass, and fisheries. Each project, slated to begin this month, is designed to be an investment in the future of applied science, and ultimately, the sustainability of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.

“Our project team brings together experts in island geomorphology, seagrass biology and ecology, and approaches to building resilience with managers from state and federal agencies to tackle important questions for maximizing restoration of the Chandeleur Islands,” Darnell said. “We’re committed to developing a plan that provides practical and useable data that can be easily incorporated into restoration and management decisions for the unique and productive Chandeleur Islands.”

Damaged in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the Chandeleur Islands are a hotspot in the northern Gulf of Mexico for fish and wildlife while also providing storm protection to coastal Louisiana. The islands are the only location of seagrasses in Louisiana and contain all five of the seagrass species that occur in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

“These seagrass beds are very dynamic and have greatly reduced with major storms, such as Katrina in 2005. This project will help understand how decisions made in planning the Chandeleur Islands restoration may influence the area of seagrass potentially growing in future decades,” said Tim Carruthers, Director of Coastal Ecology at The Water Institute of the Gulf.

This project, which is a collaboration between natural resource managers and researchers, will develop a plan to answer questions about seagrasses and their associated communities and provide useable data that will inform restoration and long-term management of the islands.

“The Chandeleur Islands are a highly dynamic system, and the long-term health of the seagrass meadows and other habitats is tied to them being resilient to storms and sea level rise even as the islands themselves evolve on a daily and weekly basis,” said Soupy Dalyander, Senior Research Scientist at The Water Institute of the Gulf.

Darnell, who also serves as the director of the Mississippi Based RESTORE Act Center of Excellence and is an assistant research professor in USM’s Division of Coastal Sciences at the Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs, is joined by the Water Institute of the Gulf, University of Florida, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Gulf of Mexico Alliance in collaborating on this project.

“The NOAA RESTORE Science Program aims to fund research that reduces the uncertainty around the management of natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico region,” said Julien Lartigue, director of the Science Program. “The team of resource managers and researchers that Dr. Darnell has assembled will work together to explore the dynamics of seagrass beds near the Chandeleur Islands and design a research plan that will provide the information we need to effectively manage and restore this important habitat. The team submitted a competitive proposal, and we are looking forward to working with them on this award.”

To learn more about the project, click here. A full list of awardees can be found here.

Read The University of Southern Mississippi release here.