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National Academies Makes Awards to Marine Scientists Impacted by Hurricanes Harvey

National Academies Makes Awards to Marine Scientists Impacted by Hurricanes Harvey

The Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine today announced that two marine scientists from the University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) would receive grants totaling nearly $100,000 to assist in the recovery of scientific research efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

A close-up view of the Gambierdicus toxic algae small dinoflagellate, which causes ciguatera fish poisoning. Afflicted people may experience nausea, vomiting, and neurologic symptoms. Photo Credit: Yazuwo Fukuyo

The awards to Lee Fuiman and Deana Erdner are in the first of two fast-track grant cycles for Scientific Research Disaster Recovery Grants to help with repair, replacement, or recovery of equipment, data, or other research materials damaged or lost as a result of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma and their aftermaths.

The two awards will help in replacing instruments and samples lost from Hurricane Harvey.

"While the precious time lost from Harvey can't be recovered, these awards will help our scientists get back into the laboratory and field to do what they do best, make important discoveries – protecting human health and understanding how healthy our fish are," said Robert Dickey, UTMSI director and chair of UT Austin's Department of Marine Science.

One of the Gulf Research Program (GRP) awards will replace a crucial instrument that measures the fatty acid content in tissues. This instrument helps fisheries scientists, Fuiman and his colleagues, understand the role of fatty acids in marine food webs and ecosystem health, with particular emphasis on the transfer of essential fatty acids between a mother's diet and her eggs.

The second award will help Erdner, an ecologist, collect samples of toxic algae to replace the ones lost in the aftermath of the storm. The toxic algae in question is Gambierdiscus, which is responsible for ciguatera fish poisoning and can be commonly found in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. Ciguatera is the most common form of poisoning associated with fish consumption in the world, with an estimated 50,000-500,000 cases per year. Erdner and her colleagues will use the samples to better understand how potent the toxins are, where and why the toxic algae migrate amongst coral reefs, and how environmental conditions can promote or reduce the growth of toxic algae.

"Following last fall's devastating hurricanes, the GRP examined what it could do to assist with recovery efforts that would align with its mission and allowable uses of its funding," said Maggie Walser, director of education and capacity building for the GRP. "The result was these grant opportunities to help scientists whose research was impacted by Harvey and Irma recover from their losses and carry on with work that could eventually strengthen the Gulf region's resiliency to hurricanes and other adverse events in the future."

Affected scientists whose research pertains to the GRP's focus on enhancing human health, environmental resources, and offshore energy safety in the Gulf of Mexico region were eligible to apply for grants of up to $50,000. Eleven awards were given in the first cycle, with recipients at seven institutions.

The awards for the second cycle of the GRP's Scientific Research Disaster Recovery Grants are expected to be announced in late spring 2018.

For more details, see the GRP announcement.

​By Sally Palmer, UTMSI Communications coordinator

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Tuesday, 07 February 2023

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