Researchers are hoping to pick up on species surveying work that started in 2005. (Port City Daily/File)

NC - What is living in the estuary?

UNCW researchers seek funding to track down non-native species

WILMINGTON — Local scientists are looking for funding to follow up on an impactful wildlife study performed 18 years ago.

Conducted in 2005, the accompanying 300-page tome established a baseline for what was living in five ports in the Southeast, including Wilmington. Some of the same scientists are now looking to do a local follow-up.

Troy Alphin, senior research associate in UNCW’s Benthic Ecology Lab, and Martin Posey, of the university’s Center for Marine Science, are the leads on an effort to examine the Cape Fear River. Both Alphin and Posey were involved in the original work. They found 200 species living in the region: fish, crustaceans, and all varieties of critters buried in the silt and sea grasses.

“We sampled everything from fish to encrusting organisms that settled,” Alphin said. “We took cores and scrapings and deployed fish traps and trawls. We did a really broad survey, although it was really narrow in timeframe.”

Alphin said the researchers at the time didn’t necessarily think there were non-natives in the water, but no one had looked before. They found five.

Interest spurred 18 years later as colleagues in other estuarine areas started to report findings of new non-native species in the waters.

“That is the power of the baseline,” Alphin said. “Right now we can go back and we can say: ‘We didn’t find it in this earlier time period, what’s present here today?’”

The researchers are looking for funding sources for the new study. The baseline 2005 report was the result of about $400,000 dollars, and Alphin noted the price did not take into account the donated man hours from partner institutions. This time the scope is smaller: just Wilmington, though the scientists hope to survey in a larger window.

In 2005, they only had a few weeks to perform the work. Alphin described it as a shortcoming because, if the work was done over a longer period, it could have given a more comprehensive snapshot of the ecosystems as seasons changed.

As far as where the funding could come from, the 2005 study received money from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant program — targeted at conservation projects.

UNCW can apply for $100,000 for this project at most, which would require a 50% local match. Traditional local funding sources for these types of projects would be the county and the ports.

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