By Abby Weingarten
Tracking sharks and red tide have been New College initiatives since 2016, and Associate Professor of Biology Jayne Gardiner, Ph.D., just received new funding to expand the research.
Mote Scientific Foundation, Inc. has provided a grant for Gardiner to be the principal investigator on a project entitled Red Tide Recovery: Effects of Karenia Brevis on Upper Trophic Level Fish Communities of Sarasota Bay.
“Ever since the devastating red tide bloom that happened in 2017 and 2018, we’ve been aware of the unique opportunity we’ve had to look at what’s happening in the Sarasota Bay estuary,” Gardiner said, adding that hundreds of tons of dead marine life washed up on the shore during that period. “If we were to have another event like that (they do happen cyclically every 10 to 15 years), the more information we have, the better we can try to manage things in the aftermath.”
Gardiner will work on this extended research until October 31 alongside Tonya Wiley, president of Havenworth Coastal Conservation, and multiple New College students (who will directly contribute to the data set and receive academic credit for it). The $9,673.47 funding from the Mote private charitable organization will cover a portion of Gardiner’s summer salary, supplies and boat usage.
“New College is located right on Sarasota Bay. It’s in our backyard. Being good members of the research community and good stewards of the environment, students are keenly interested in what’s going on here,” Gardiner said. “We’re thrilled to have funding from a local organization for something that is so immediately applicable to the health of our ecosystem.”
Gardiner’s project will enable up to 24 students per month to receive hands-on training in deploying and retrieving sampling gear, as well as handling, identifying, tagging and releasing sharks, rays and bony fish.
Numerous students have already trained with Gardiner and Wiley. The team was involved in documenting the effects of the red tide bloom that began in October 2017, lasted for 16 months, and covered 150 miles of Florida’s Gulf coastline. By the time that catastrophe occurred, they had already been performing gillnet and longline-based surveys in Sarasota Bay, Terra Ceia Bay and the Manatee River for about a year. Because of this ongoing work, the data sets they collected were extensive enough to allow for unique comparisons.
“We are able to perform a Paired Before-After-Control-Impact Analysis,” Gardiner said. “This is a robust experimental design that is employed in environmental impact assessments. Two nearby sites are examined—one has some factor experimentally manipulated, while the other is undisturbed and serves as a control for other environmental factors (such as weather patterns) that could influence the outcome.”
These initial analyses, focused on shark and ray species, revealed that Sarasota Bay’s elasmobranch communities were dramatically affected (both the abundance and diversity of sharks and rays were negatively impacted by the bloom). Gardiner and Wiley’s team continued to sample post-red tide in 2019, and their findings from the past four years are currently invaluable.
And not only does this grant help New College students and professors further their research (as well as greatly benefit the local ecosystem), but it also champions diversity in a male-dominated field.
“Marine science is one of the least diverse STEM fields, and fieldwork-related studies in shark biology are very heavily male-dominated. This project is led by two female shark biologists with extensive experience training women and other underrepresented groups,” said Gardiner, who is also the director of New College’s Pritzker Marine Biology Research Center. “We have already received several requests from colleagues to include their female students in our potential 2020 work, as we have earned a reputation for creating a supportive environment for women to learn field skills.”
The New College community applauds Gardiner and Wiley’s research, and their dedication to involving students in such significant work.
“We’re proud to celebrate this new award from one of our most prolific proposal writers, Dr. Jayne Gardiner,” said Michelle Gooding, New College’s director in the Office of Research Programs & Services (ORPS) and administrator for the Institutional Review Board (IRB). “We look forward to celebrating many more awards with her.”
For more information on Gardiner, visit ncf.edu/directory/listing/jayne-gardiner.
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.