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March 14, 2013

ULM grad student researches oysters with Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Laboratory

ULM’s Barry Marcel, a toxicology graduate student from Houma, has been working with the Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Laboratory in Vicksburg, Miss., testing the effects of various sediment concentrations on oysters in the James River.

The particular species of oyster Marcel studies, Crassostrea virginica, is a valuable ecosystem resource.

“The Chesapeake Bay, from which we obtain our oysters, was once home to dense and ubiquitous oyster beds, but populations have fallen to below 5 percent of historical levels due to overharvesting and pollution, among other things,” he said.

Along with project director and ULM toxicology adjunct instructor Dr. Burton Suedel, Marcel exposes these oysters to varying concentrations of suspended sediment from the James River, using electronic monitors to record the number of times oysters open and close their shells.

Oysters not sensing any environmental threats keep their shells open more frequently.

Their hypothesis is that the oysters will react no differently among the three suspended sediment levels – easing the worries of state regulators who offered concerns that yearly dredging operations in portions of the James River caused the valuable oysters harm.

Of the collaborative research with Marcel, Seudel said, "We value research opportunities we can offer graduates students at ULM. We are always striving to share knowledge to solve complex environmental problems.”

Dr. Kevin Baer, head of the ULM toxicology department, called Marcel’s professional research experience “great.”

“This has been a great experience for Barry Marcel, working at a state-of-the-art aquatic toxicity testing laboratory. It is exciting to participate in his growth and development as an environmental toxicologist.”

Marcel said this development will accompany more research.

“Environmental research is incredibly important to me because it helps us understand our impact on our surroundings … I don’t think people understand just how much harm they do to the environment,” Marcel said.

“This research is really just the beginning. My work that is still to come will hopefully answer some questions or shed some light on issues involving oysters and pharmaceutical contamination in the aquatic environment.”

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