Virginia Tech senior Scott Riley is headed home from a summer spent living and studying at Waddell Mariculture Center, while staff at the center looks for ways to expand the blue crab research he started.
Riley and two other students -- University of South Carolina Beaufort humanities major Tameka Brown and Coastal Carolina University marine biology major Robbie O'Quinn -- have been immersed in research on local species before returning to school in the fall.
The Bluffton center's summer internship program, ongoing for more than a decade, was made possible this year by a $10,000 grant from a foundation sponsored by Grainger Industrial Supply, Waddell manager Al Stokes said.
Riley spent most of his time testing blue crabs' reaction to changes in water salinity over an eight-hour period. He found the greater the change in salinity levels, the higher the crab mortality rate.
"Stormwater runoff is a big issue, and we wanted to look at how well blue crabs could handle changes in salinity, especially in tidal creeks adjacent to hard surfaces like parking lots," Riley said.
Stokes said fluctuations in salinity in local estauries can cause problems for blue crab.
Annual commercial catches of blue crab have dropped consistently since 1998. Waddell is seeking grants to produce and release larval crabs, then track them using genetic markers to find out more about them.
The other interns also chose projects to study local species. O'Quinn tested nitrate toxicity in white shrimp, while Brown worked on marine-shrimp production.
Stokes said Brown was so enthralled by research at Waddell, she might change her major to biology.
Riley, who is majoring in fisheries science, said he appreciated the opportunity.
"There's a big difference between learning about something in a book and going out and doing it," Riley said.
Follow staff writer Allison Stice at twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP.