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Science Under Sail today

Kory Angstadt from VIMS

We had an exciting sail today for our 2nd Science Under Sail cruise of the season.  Scientist Kory Angstadt from VIMS brought his side scan sonar unit aboard so we could look at the river bottom as we sailed along.  One of the major hazards to marine life in the area is marine debris in the water.  In 2004, Kory and his team from VIMS found that crab pots are being lost at roughly a 20% rate!  With tens of thousands of crab pots being deployed by watermen every year, this adds up to a lot of pots!  These unmarked pots, or “ghost pots,” catch live fish and crabs and trap them in the pot.  These waylaid fish then become bait for more wildlife.  Kory found that a standard vinyl coated crab pot can last up to seven years in the water without breaking down, and will continue to trap wildlife during that time span.  With the help of government grants, Kory was able to form a team of local watermen to hunt for these ghost pots in the river.  The first trial run was 50 days and yielded almost 30,000 ghost pots!

The watermen have continued to recover pots every year, but now the focus has switched to prevention as opposed to response.  With the help of a biodegradable plastic polymer developed by M.I.T., Kory and his team at VIMS have developed a sacrificial port for crab pots that will break down once the pots are lost.  The bioplastic relies on bacteria to eat away at the structure, which is made primarily from corn.  If the pots are recovered regularly, UV rays from the sun kill the bacteria and the ports remain intact.  Using this new technology means less pots trapping wildlife.  These pots can then continue to serve a second life as oyster reefs without harming the other marine life.

Join VIMS and Alliance again on May 29th as Dr. Deb Steinberg tackles the topic of jellyfish and other drifter species, and explains how they affect our local ecological system, and what roles they play here on the river.

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