Economic Value and Trends of Commercial Fisheries at CNREP by Jim Delbene

At night, the brass band and crowds of Bourbon Street rung through the hotel walls. But, during the day discussions on coastal resilience flowed throughout the conference rooms reserved for the Challenges of Natural Resource Economics and Policy: 6th National Forum on Socioeconomic Research in Coastal Systems (CNREP).

UnknownNot only is New Orleans ground zero for combating sea-level rise and land subsidence, but it is regularly exposed to natural disasters. This was my third time visiting the city, but first time learning about how Louisiana and other states are working to increase the resilience of their coasts and communities.

CNREP brought scholars, students, state and federal resource managers, and non-profits together to foster and share socioeconomic research focused on coastal resilience and fisheries. As a graduate student from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at William & Mary, I immersed myself in new ideas and presented my research during the session titled, “Economic Value and Trends of Commercial Fisheries.”


My research on commercial crabber preferences for derelict (i.e., lost or abandoned) blue crab pot mitigation activities intrigued attendees from other states, such as Louisiana and Texas. These states have productive blue crab fisheries that are also dealing with the issue of derelict pots in their waters. Derelict pots can capture and kill valuable recreational and commercial organisms, and even reduce blue crab harvests by attracting blue crabs away from pots that are regularly baited by commercial crabbers. I used a mail survey to engage with Virginia commercial crabbers and provide an avenue for their collective voice to be heard on the issue. It is essential to include commercial crabbers in developing effective management practices that can reduce negative impacts caused by derelict pots.

The importance of stakeholder engagement and science communication echoed throughout many of the conference’s talks. Whether encouraging homeowners to fortify their homes to resist hurricane wind damage or urging policymakers to draft legislation that addresses climate change, there was a clear need for engagement.

At a conference full of economists, money was ranked as the best tool to promote engagement. Money is universally valuable and can attract the attention of almost any audience. Dr. Pawan Patil, Senior Economist for the Environment at the World Bank, preached this message during his Keynote Presentation. Dr. Patil stressed the importance of treating the ocean as an economy, a “blue economy,” that we must value and protect through sustainable practices. He conveyed the power of money through examples of countries that resisted change to improve coastal resilience and human health but jumped into action whenever change ensured an increase in their gross domestic production (GDP).

I left CNREP with a newfound network of likeminded individuals and a broadened understanding of coastal resilience and fisheries. The sounds and flavor of New Orleans may have filled the air at night, but during the day, thought-provoking discourse shed hope for enhancements in coastal resilience and fisheries that will sustain future generations.

 Tagged:  , , , , , , , , , October 22, 2019

Study on Diamondback Terrapins in the Catlett Islands on the York River: By Justin Mitchell

This summer my research partner Abbi Belvin and I, along with some help from our friends GuruBandaa Khalso, Adrianna Gorsky, and Professor Randolph Chambers, monitored the Diamondback Terrapin population within the Catlett Islands on the York River to look at the population’s distribution and dynamics as well as nesting ecology within the islands.  Following the recent research of ENSP’s Honor student Holy Funkhouser developed a GIS-based model of terrapin occurrence in the Chesapeake Bay, that predicted the Catlett Islands would be a suitable nesting habitat and environment for Diamondback Terrapins. The Catlett Islands site is one of 29 sites in the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) and is administrated by the Commonwealth of Virginia and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is managed daily by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). Terrapins had been known to inhabit this island complex, but no formal studies had been conducted in the area on the species. Since the area was a protected by the NERRS and was controlled by VIMS, it gave us the perfect location to test a prediction from the GIS model and to gain a greater understanding of the terrapin population in the islands. We sought to gain a greater understanding of this species as it is a crucial part of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and to most who call the Bay home.

On our initial paddle around the islands in May we discovered something shocking, a lost crab pot that had been swept into a cove in the islands. It contained 30 dead terrapins that had drowned in the trap. It certainly wasn’t the way we wished to start off our survey of the Diamondback Terrapin population there, but it served as a reminder of why this research was important. This species was previously listed as endangered or threated along much of the East Coast, as it was almost hunted to extinction in the early 1900’s as it was considered a delicacy. The population is slowly recovering but it still faces many threats today from human development and as potential bycatch.

From the beginning of May until the end of July we took to the waters of the York River and attempted to see how many turtles we could survey. We set up 5 modified crab pots turned terrapin pots around the islands in order to catch individuals for our survey. Each pot was modified with a chimney that poked out high above the water to allow the turtles to come up and breath air if caught in the traps. Each day we would paddle out to the traps and measure the length, width, and depth of the turtles within. We would notch their shells for identification incase they were recaptured before releasing them back into the wild. We also explored the islands looking for potential beaches for terrapin nesting sites, but we only found a few small beaches that would allow for terrapin nesting.  All the beaches were easily washed over by storms and what nest we found were raided by predators, making these islands an extremely hard location to nest in. Abbi and I also got the unique opportunity to assist in a study on the unique species of diatom that is only found on the back of whales, manatees, and sea turtle. We would assist by taking swabs of algae samples off the backs of our turtles and shipping them out for analysis in order to identify if this species was also found on the back of terrapins.

After three months of hot sunshine, bug bites, and terrapin catching, we managed to identify a total of 78 individual terrapins. We had caught 34 females and 44 males in our traps, with surprisingly no recaptures over the entire three-month period.  Terrapins have a small home range of .5 to 3.5km2and are often recaptured in surveys such as this, but our zero recaptures points to the possibility of a large population of turtles within this small set of islands, or just a population of ones who didn’t want to be recaptured. The data collected shows that our terrapin population was doing well in the Catlett Islands, even after the loss of the 30 turtles in the beginning. There are still some questions to be answered, and we are still conducting analysis on some of the data we collected, but signs are positive for this valuable population of York River turtles. We are preparing a presentation for a conference with the Diamondback Terrapin Working Group in October in Wilmington, North Carolina and hope to share our results with the rest of the Diamondback Terrapin scientific community.

Abbi_Measuring_a_Terrapin Our_Terrapin_Pots Diamondack_Terrapin_Photo Justin_Holding_a_Female_Terrapin




September 10, 2019

Study on Milkweed and Pollinator Population in Virginia- By Jason Robinson

This summer I have been a part of an ongoing study of Asclepias syriaca (Common milkweed) and how changes in population affect known pollinators. To study this, a crew and I traveled to different field sites across Virginia: Blandy Experimental Farms, Sky Meadows State Park and Presquile Wildlife Refuge. At these sites we took plant demographic data (i.e. height, number of flowers, number of leaves, herbivory, etc.) as well as observation videos. The observation videos consisted of 20 minutes of footage focused on a single inflorescence. In addition to observation videos, we conducted and recorded in-person observations. In both sets of observations, the researcher recorded what insect visitors came (if possible, down to species) and how long they stayed. After we collected all the footage, I watched the videos from this summer, last summer, and the summer of 2014.

To analyze what we had gathered, I learned a data analysis programming language called R and used it to synthesize and create detailed graphs that compare the insect visitors between the years and between experimental sites. So far, the most interesting things I have observed are that there are 5 major insects that visit the milkweed plant: brown-beltedbumblebee(Bombus griseocollis), soldier beetle (Chauliognathus marginatus), flies, unknown hymenopterans, and European honeybees (Apis mellifera). Although, from what we have seen the common milkweed beetle, which we previously hypothesized to be a pollinator, is not a significant pollinator. In fact, it’s almost useless as a pollinator. Among the major pollinators, we have also seen inconsistencies in their appearance. For example, while the bumblebee was the most common pollinator in 2014, in 2018 it dropped to fourth in the list of five major pollinators and remained there in 2019 as well.

Previously, a study done by the graduate student in the lab, Nichole Gustafason, related the number of flowers on an inflorescence to the type of pollinators that show up to that plant. Fewer flowers on an inflorescence attracted honeybees while more flowers attracted more soldier beetles, bumblebees, and flies. With further research we may be able to establish similar links between milkweed characteristics and how they influence pollinator behavior.

In addition to the research I have been doing on pollinator behavior, this summer we have been investigating the effects of cardenolides on microbial growth. Cardenolides are toxins in milkweed that deter herbivores by poisoning them. However, sometimes these toxins can end up in the nectar of a plant, (e.g. studies have shown nicotine in the nectar of tobacco plants) which could negatively impact the reproductive success of the plant by repelling pollinators. We are investigating whether cardenolides have antimicrobial properties, providing an advantage to milkweed plants that was previously unknown. The experiments so far have been inconclusive, but this is another study we will continue to pursue during the year.

Attached below is an itemized list of expenses. While we only spent $700.00, the remainder will be spent on computers to replace the inoperative ones in the lab.




 Tagged:  , , , , , , , , , September 1, 2019

Civic Voice Workshop

by Sarah Snipes

Getting the opportunity to help out and participate in this workshop was such an amazing experience. Not only did I learn how to effectively advocate for the environment, but I also met others who share my same passion for the environment. A highlight of the day was the park ranger who talked with us, and he was such a character. He opened by calling his boss on the phone and having the whole room sing happy birthday to her. I also got the chance to be a “senator” so people could practice their pitches, and everyone did so great! Also, we all got free swag, and who doesn’t love that. I can’t wait for the next one!



Student participants with organizers from the W&M Office of Community Engagement and National Parks Conservation Association


Park ranger from Colonial National Historical Park


Presentations by speakers from the National Parks Conservation Association






Practicing advocacy skills relating to the Chesapeake Bay watershed

April 10, 2019

Sustainability Hierarchically Structured Thermal Insulator Research

by Ben Lazarus

ben blog

This research project involves engineering a sustainable biomaterial with microscopically enhanced thermal and mechanical properties that can be 3D printed. Many of us know that nature creates geometries that give its materials impressive properties. For example, when aluminum is molded into a honeycomb shape it is 20 times stronger and only 1/6 of the weight of standard unshaped aluminum. So, what would happen if we made structures like this on the nanometer scale? Well, luckily, nature has already done that for us too. Many marine organisms, like diatoms have complex microscopic geometries that are too small for human manufacturing techniques. The goal of this project is to incorporate these naturally occurring structures into an environmentally friendly 3D printable material. Applications for such a technique range from environmentally friendly insulation for homes to structural materials created entirely from easily renewable algae.

January 22, 2019

Field Work is neither all Work nor all Play

Soren Struckman

blog post 12-1

Exhibit A on crouching in a field

A large chunk of the work for my project in June was spent collecting data and doing field work. Often times this meant crouching in a literal field given our particular pant of study, but sometimes this involved more conventionally outdoorsy activities like crossing rivers, hiking dirt trails, and general bushwhacking. Studying and working in the disciplines of biology, environmental science, or other “macro-scale” natural sciences, you hear the term “field work” thrown around a lot… but what does this vague umbrella term actually mean? Now I’m sure this very well may vary considerably depending on what line of work you’re in and what questions you’re actually trying to answer, but I will give you my impressions from a general /plant ecology perspective.

First impressions when people think about field work in biology tend to end up favoring one of two possibilities: A) that it’s all sweaty, dirty work where you get eaten by bugs and covered in poison ivy, or B) that it’s like a bunch of tree-huggers out frolicking in the woods. Neither of these are entirely false (poison ivy and frolicking included), but they aren’t really true either. Going on a semi-extended trip to do field science is a pretty immersive affair that combines outdoor activity, academic rigor, and a genuine sense of camaraderie.

blog post 12-1 2

A PosTex positioning system for collecting spatial data (fondly known as Dexter)

The filed work I have done so far in the course of this project has involved several back-to-back trips at four sites across Virginia. The first was multi-day trips to Presquile National Wildlife Refuge, a protected island in the James River, then week-long trips to Blandy Experimental Farm and Sky Meadows State Park, both near Winchester, and several days of commuting to the local Historic Greenspring run by the NPS. At all the sites, our general purpose and activities were about the same, we were there to collect data (another buzzword for a different post) about just about every aspect of Common Milkweed. We measured these plants in terms of: height, area, diameter, quality, herbivory, reproductive output, position in space, chemical composition, and even genetic information… which all becomes quite a large task when you realize it must be done roughly 800 times. In the process, use two field instruments to collect spectral (chemical) and spatial data. I used a lot of these different measurements in various elements of the statistical population model that is my final project, whether that be incorporating heights to model growth, or using a combination of height and herbivory to predict reproductive output in the form of flowering probability. It was great to be fully involved with the planning and carrying out of several different projects (not just my own) and get to actually do what tends to come out very dry and boring in the Methods section of papers. Other students will be using some of the same data that we all collected (for example, to correlate spatial and genetic information and create a genetic map of the plants), so it really felt like a group effort. Due to the summer heat in VA, we sometimes run on a “siesta schedule,” that brakes up the work to avoid the hottest part of the day. Waking up early to beat the heat, then moving inside to plan and discuss next steps, then going back out in the late afternoon. In my opinion this works out better than a typical nine to five and gave us a continuous stream of activity all day, which carried right through to our communal dinners and evening relaxation and data analysis. I really enjoy these later parts of the day because it allows us to bond and enjoy each other’s company in a way that just doesn’t happen in the lab. Good thing we had such a great team of people this year though, because working and living with the same people could get old very quickly if they don’t mesh well.

I like to think that I had a pretty balanced idea of what to expect going into the field season, but I was still (mostly) pleasantly surprised. I was definitely expecting to work hard and be busy, but I was skeptical about how it might turn out. I learned a ton, got to know some great people and feel more connected and involved with my work than ever. Overall, “field work” is an extremely rewarding experience and I would encourage anyone interested to explore it for themselves.

December 1, 2018

The Incorporation of Religion into Sustainability

by: Christopher Ahrens

ahrens blog post

A hydrogeological map of the aquifer structure around the city of Mecca.
Picture credit to Muhammad Amin M. Sharaf

Recent efforts to incorporate religious imperatives into the realm of sustainability discourse has often been seen as a recent phenomenon manifesting out of fears of climate change and increasing popular awareness, but this narrative fails to understand the long-running interplay that various belief systems have had with the environment. In the case of Islam, this interplay is both significant and yet obscured by an expansive timeline and the methodological difficulties which come from the need to investigate a topic with few texts and even fewer archaeological indicators. To delve into this issue, as was my goal upon working with the Committee on Sustainability, I decided to formulate a unique means by which to enter into debate on the topic which applied aspects of Structural Anthropology, Textualism, and environmental modelling to form cogent historical claims.
What resulted from this mode of investigation are some interesting conclusions. Broadly, when one comes to the understanding that most supposed areas from which Islam could have originated, it becomes evident that the formation of conservationist sentiments regarding natural resources came not from immediate directives founded in primary sources, but rather from legal extrapolations made sometimes centuries later. In a continued attempt at testing the outer limits of the methodology that informed my claim as to the origin of Islamic environmental thought, I then continued the study by providing a perspective on the continued advancement of the concept through its interaction with texts. It is here that I advance the claim that the three major dimensions by which a modern understanding of environmental-religious praxis (Biocentrism, Anthropocentrism, and Theocentrism) is had is clearly reflected in Islam through the works of Al-Jahiz, Ibn Khaldun, and Ibn Hanbal.
Overall, I aim to pursue the popularization of a new mode of thought that transcends the boundaries of Islam or environmental history. In recent times, I feel that the extremes of Orientalist literary scholarship and historical skepticism have provided little framework for a continued study into pertinent religious topics. I find my project with the Committee on Sustainability to be my first step in contributing to the reduction of this divide, and the provision of another way forward.

Sharaf, Muhammad M. “Hydrogeology and Hydrochemistry of the Aquifer System of Wadi An Numan, Makkah Al Mukarramah, Saudi Arabia.” AQUA Mundi, 2011.

October 29, 2018

Solar Spring Break 2018

by: Sam Laveson

spring break hark
After countless hours spent coordinating logistics, educating myself on solar energy and environmental justice, and fundraising, my big opportunity finally came! For a week in May, I flew to Sacramento, California, where I joined some other college students from across the country for “Solar Spring Break”. This is a program run through GRID Alternatives, an organization dedicated to making “renewable energy technology and job training accessible to underserved communities”. In this specific program, students spend a week around one of GRID’s offices going to low-income households and installing solar arrays rooftops.

Traditionally, colleges and universities form teams to participate in Solar Spring Break. However, because I was rather late finding out about this incredible opportunity and didn’t have enough time to organize a William & Mary team, I decided to join their inaugural Intercollegiate Team. There were only five of us, but we were a strong team, with presence from William & Mary, Texas Christian University, University of Nevada Reno, and a technical school in Colorado.

The solar-related portions of our week involved climbing up onto rooftops and starting from scratch to install solar arrays. There were professionals who guided us along through every step – from putting up flashings to connecting wires to prying up shingles to bending conduits. It was a great workout, and I did not need any prior experience to do a great job (which I did not have).

The technical and scientific components were complemented by further education on social and environmental justice. Before our program began, we all met through Skype a few times to discuss equality vs. equity; racial and ethnic diversity; and career paths in solar, among other things. During the program, the time that we were not on rooftops was spent learning about campaigning; putting together promotional materials to mail out; and touring ArchNexus, one of the world’s few LEED double platinum certified buildings.

Beyond all of this, there was ample time for us to bond as the inaugural Intercollegiate Team and make some awesome memories. While in Sacramento, we all lived together at a campsite and cooked all our meals collaboratively. We thoroughly enjoyed nightly campfires, cooking projects, a petting zoo, and some natural beauty at our housing site. We also enjoyed having Wednesday afternoon free to explore an art museum, the capitol building, and other attractions in Downtown Sacramento. Furthermore, we all kept miniature notebooks that we used to write notes to each other during daily reflections.

Should I participate in Solar Spring Break again, I would love to organize a William & Mary team to go to GRID’s office in DC and perform some more installations. Or, if not enough people from William & Mary are interested in / available to participate, I have also considered combining forces with other Virginia institutions to form a team. Alternatively, if I find myself too busy or unavailable to organize a team, then I will hopefully join an already existing team. Whatever ends up happening, I would love to be part of another Solar Spring Break to relive these experiences and have new ones.

October 17, 2018

Your Actions Have an Impact: The International Conference on Sustainable Development

– By: Joshua Panganiban

harkupon conference

In the highlands of Fiji, away from all the tourism, the village of Bukuya is powered by a micro-hydropower generator (SDG 7). This small project may have been funded by an international organization, but its majority of stakeholders are the residents of the village and 40% of them are women (SDG 4).


These are the stories from the developing world. These are the results of NGO’s, non-profits, consulting agencies, and governments all adhering to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) as released by the United Nations. The goal to end poverty, to improve well-being, for gender equality, etc all of these goals were made for a more sustainable world. This is the ambition of the United Nations, of 193 countries that pledged billions and billions of dollars to achieve their vision of a sustainable world by 2030.

Hosted in Columbia University, in the heart of New York City, the International Conference on Sustainable Development brings students, innovators, professionals, businesses, activists, world leaders together to assemble and share their ideas about making the world a more sustainable place.

I’ve had the amazing opportunity hearing educators share about making their university campus’ a living sustainable laboratory in Madrid, where environmental and cultural education follows them every step of the way. I learned the story about Julio, who linked a direct issue of sick children in one household. He showed us how to connect the community to university to the government. I saw how important international investment is to these small remote villages, but as well as the ethics involved with maintaining the area’s culture rather than being too influenced by foreigners. I heard Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, give her keynote address about the importance of maintaining our aquatic industries and ecosystems as good stewards of the Earth. All these are just small examples of the great works and projects that are helping millions of people in the developing world. There were too much knowledge and experiences, but not enough time, to take the entire conference in.

Nevertheless, my best experience isn’t meeting all these amazing professionals doing impactful work, nor is it listening to renowned world leaders giving speeches. The most important takeaway is meeting fellow undergraduate as passionate into sustainable development as I am. Whenever I find a student as young as me and I ask them their story about why they want to help people in countries where the bare essentials of water and electricity are a constant struggle in their daily lives, my heart grows. I find the greatest euphoria in meeting all these accomplished and passionate young people. As I put down their numbers and emails in my ledger, I smile knowing that eventually, it would be me — it would be him — it would be her, but more importantly be us that would be out there making the world a more sustainable place.

October 1, 2018

Looking Towards Spring Semester: Earth Week!

-By Julia Montgomery


For the past seven years, William and Mary has extended Earth Day in April to a week-long celebration where students come together for events that bring them outdoors and take a chance to reflect on issues of sustainability. Before coming to William and Mary, I had always considered Earth Day a chance to marvel over mother nature and appreciate all the things it has to offer. Now, I’ve learned that Earth Week can mean much more than that.

I have been co-chair of Earth Week this past semester along with the chair, Abby Davidson, planning what type of message we want to convey throughout the week. In past years, there is always a theme with the goal of opening up students and the community to topics that they may be unfamiliar with or be interested in learning more about. This past year, the theme was “The World Around Us” where students were able to participate in a Crim Dell restoration, clean up the James River, and sunset paddleboarding on Lake Matoaka. Combining
activities that give you the chance to enjoy time with your friends in the spring and reflect on the impacts that our habits have on the environment and how we can improve them is the main goal of Earth Week.


The theme for Earth Week 2018 will be Dinner Table Conversations: From Farm to Fork and Back
Again. This idea brings up questions of where our food comes from, how it is made, if we are eating the smartest things, and so much more. The COLL300 theme for the spring semester is sustainability, which ties in perfectly with the purpose of Earth Week. On Wednesday, April 18th, the school is welcoming Vandana Shiva. Environmental activist, author of over twenty books and scientific advisor are just a few of her titles. This will be a very exciting chance to hear the voice of a global scholar with a wealth of knowledge in several fields. Throughout the rest of the week, we wanted to bring in an opportunity to participate in a community service events that is environmentally aware and gives back to the community. We will have several other activities with the theme of sustainability and food to foster awareness and bring the community together,
all culminating with the Earth Day Festival taking place on April 21st.

Earth Week is a great opportunity for the campus to promote environmentally aware practices to the students and bring up deeper issues in society that need to be addressed. As a institution of higher learning, colleges can shape the ideals and mindsets that students walk away with when they graduate and go about making changes in the real world. Being exposed to these types of topics are important and Earth Week is a great way to integrate them into the daily lives of students. Our goal is to make it fun and educational and hopefully,
if we do it right, enough people will walk away choosing to make a difference that can have an impact on our environment here at William and Mary. So, when the week comes around in April, remember it’s more than just a chance to say “happy birthday mother nature!”. Take the opportunity to go out and learn more about what we can do to help our planet.

 Tagged:  , , , , , March 17, 2018

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