Three UVA students awarded VA Sea Grant Graduate Research Fellowships

June 29, 2021

Three Ph.D. students at the University of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Sciences have been awarded Virginia Sea Grant Graduate Research Fellowships. This award supports students whose research addresses coastal challenges in Virginia with up to $40,000 per academic year. These three UVA students join a cohort of five other Graduate Research Fellows from Virginia universities.

Michael Cornish is studying how large-scale seagrass restoration will affect clam productivity. Eelgrass is a foundation species — a defining species for Virginia’s coastal bays. Cornish’s research focuses on how eelgrass restoration may benefit wild shellfish populations like the hard clam. He will track clam growth and distribution near eelgrass restoration sites. As part of his fellowship, Cornish will collaborate with a professional mentor at The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve who restores eelgrass habitats and oyster reefs in Virginia’s coastal bays.

Sean Hardison is studying how fish communities in the Chesapeake Bay are influenced by environmental factors. He will track fish abundance for a variety of species from the 1990s to present day. He will also model how fish communities change in response to water temperature and salinity. His research will also examine how climate change affects fish communities in seagrass meadows. This work will show how the variety of fish in the Chesapeake Bay may change in the future. As part of the fellowship, he will work with a professional mentor from the Smithsonian Institute to develop lesson plans and interactive activities based on his research.

Kayleigh Granville is studying how greenhouse gases are absorbed and emitted over seagrass meadows. During photosynthesis, seagrass removes carbon dioxide from the water by converting it into oxygen. But previous research shows that these meadows can also emit methane and nitrous oxide, both of which can offset the seagrass meadows’ ability to sequester carbon. Granville’s research will use a new method to measure the net benefit of seagrass meadows, which has applications for carbon offset projects. As part of the fellowship, she will work with a professional mentor at The Nature Conservancy to connect her research to blue carbon market applications.

Virginia Sea Grant addresses coastal challenges through applied research, collaboration, and technical advisory (extension). We are a six-university partnership funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Commonwealth of Virginia.