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UNF environmental institute awards two local water research project grants

UNF coastal engineers and biologists placing oyster shell habitats near the Timucuan PreserveThe University of North Florida’s Institute of Environmental Research and Education’s (IERE) awarded grants to two water research projects that will begin this spring. One project will study the effect of PFAS chemicals on humans and wildlife in local waterways and the other project will analyze local oyster shell habitats to prevent coastal embankment erosion.

Project: Study on the effect of PFAS chemicals on local humans and aquatic wildlife

An interdisciplinary study will look at per- and poly-fluroalkyl substances (PFAS) that pose a significant health risk to human and aquatic wildlife populations in northeast Florida. The UNF team will collaborate with University of Florida researchers to measure PFAS concentrations in local fish populations and Jacksonville residents as part of a statewide assessment of PFAS levels in Florida waters.

PFAS are widely used, long-lasting chemicals, components of which break down very slowly over time. Because of PFAS ubiquity and persistence in the environment and ability to cause harmful effects at low exposure levels, concerns about the environmental risks of the widely used chemicals have recently become one of the most important global issues pertaining to water pollution.

The UNF research team consists of Dr. Jim Gelsleichter, biology associate professor, and Dr. Amber Barnes, public health assistant professor.

Project: Analysis of local oyster shell habitats to improve coastal erosion

UNF coastal engineers and biologists will conduct a field analysis of local oyster shell habitats that are placed to prevent embankment erosion beginning this spring. Northeast Florida is home to several historically significant sites along its coast including the Timucuan Preserve (TIMU) and the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM-NERR). Each of these sites is badly eroding due to boat wake action.

To combat the erosion, UNF researchers led by Dr. Kelly Smith, coastal biology associate professor, developed and installed pervious oyster shell habitats (POSH) as a method to reduce wake energy and subsequent shoreline erosion along the mid intertidal zone at TIMU and GTM-NERR.

This new analysis will give the UNF researchers data that will help establish the ability of the POSH units to reduce the energy of incoming boat wakes, quantify any changes in the severity of erosion in the area and provide design guidance to optimize the performance of the units.

The research team includes Smith and Taylor Engineering Research Institute faculty Dr. William R. Dally, professor, and Dr. Raphael Crowley, associate professor. Several engineering and biology students will have the opportunity to help conduct the field work and analyze the data.

These projects are funded by the UNF Institute of Environmental Research and Education’s (IERE) Seed Grant program. The IERE offers the competitive Seed Grants to stimulate the creation of multidisciplinary research projects related to the environment. The Seed Grant program is supported by the River Branch Foundation and Vulcan Materials Company Foundation.