Research at CCS

The Center for Coastal Studies staff and students have pursued a variety of areas of research since the Center’s creation in 1984.

Current research projects

Development of Oil-Specific Canine Capability to Differentiate Between Background and Newly Deposited Oils on the Texas Coast  

Sponsor: Texas General Land Office Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program
Principal Investigator: Aaron Baxter
Collaborators: Jay Tarkington, Center for Coastal Studies TAMUCC; Ed Owens, Owens Coastal Consultants; Dr. Nathan Hall, Texas Tech University Canine Olfaction Lab; Paul Bunker, Chiron K9
Project Description: The proposed project has two linked objectives: (1) to determine if an Oil Detection Canine (ODC) can be trained to identify one specific oil and ignore all other oils present in the search area; and (2) conduct a 12-month field survey using Oil-Specific Detection Canines (OSDCs) to determine the distribution and character of tar deposits on a non-manicured section(s) of the Texas Gulf Coast Gulf beaches of North Padre or Mustang Islands. The proposed project would greatly benefit oil spill planning and response activities. It is believed that canines can identify and distinguish background oiling conditions from fresh or newly deposited oils. By training, testing, and demonstrating the efficacy of this approach canines could be used during a new spill to distinguish between background and incident-specific fresh oiling. The baseline background oiling knowledge is particularly important in discussions with spill response strategists and government agencies.

   Canine on oil spill project Canine for oil project

Development, Verification, and Implementation of an eDNA Detection Assay for Diamondback Terrapin in the Texas Coastal Bend

Sponsor: Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program
Principal Investigator: Aaron Baxter
Co-PI: Dr. David Portnoy, TAMUCC Marine Genomics Lab
Project Description: Diamondback terrapins are North America’s only brackish water turtle species, inhabiting coastal areas from Cape Cod, MA to Corpus Christi, TX. These habitats include marshes, tidal creeks/river, and embayments. Diamondback terrapins are still poorly understood in Texas, and as a result, cannot be adequately managed. The largest obstacle facing state resource managers is a lack of location data for this species. There are still large, unsampled areas of the Texas coast that may, or may not, contain terrapin populations.
       Range wide population declines have been documented for this species and terrapin populations in Texas face threats such as habitat loss/fragmentation, boat strikes, and crab trap bycatch mortality. Because this species occurs in small, localized populations, it can be easily extirpated from an area, with little, to no chance, for re-population. For these reasons, it is imperative to first, identify locations that contain terrapins and second, provide that data to state resource managers to mitigate these threats. Traditional sampling methods are intensive and expensive, and due to limited funding, only a few select locations have been adequately sampled for the presence of terrapins. Environmental DNA, or eDNA, is a technique that relies on taking environmental samples that contain trace amounts of DNA, isolating that DNA, and using it to demonstrate the presence of a species in a particular area. These trace amounts of DNA are present in the environment because organisms leave behind cells through the release of skin, fecal matter, blood, etc. that can be found in sediment and water. When properly analyzed, these genetic signals indicate the presence of the species of focus. This method is especially suitable for cryptic species, such as diamondback terrapins. This project proposes to develop an eDNA assay specific to diamondback terrapins that would make it possible to detect the presence of this species by analyzing water samples taken from various coastal habitats.

 Terrapin for Terp project 3  Terrapin for Terp project 1

Teleconnections Among Temporary Wetlands by Wind and Wing 

Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Co-PI: Erin Hill
Project Description: This project will evaluate teleconnections on invertebrate biodiversity (genetic, trait, and species) and temporal fluctuations within a multi-unit macrosystem of 25 coupled, prairie playas. Teleconnections of dominant species (e.g., branchiopods such as fairy shrimp) will be sampled from Padre Island National Seashore and compared to other playas in the United States (Application for a Scientific Research and Collection Permit, 2020). 

   Telecommunications project photo 5 Telecommunications research photo 2 

Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Implementation Plan (I-Plan) Support for Corpus Christi Projects  

Sponsor: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
Principal InvestigatorBrien Nicolau
Co-PI: Erin Hill
Project Description: Corpus Christi bays and estuaries are nursery grounds for fish and shellfish, and supply essential food and habitat for birds, fish, and other plants and animals. They are also home to ports, marinas, and commercial shipping activities. Corpus Christi beaches and estuaries are popular destinations for fishing, boating, swimming, sand-castle building, and birdwatching.
The goal of these projects is to reduce bacteria levels to protect people who swim at the beaches. Swimming and other types of water recreation are referred to as "contact recreation" in the state's standards for water quality. High concentrations of bacteria may indicate a health risk to people who swim or wade in a water body—activities called “contact recreation” in the state’s standards for water quality.
       Several public beach parks along Corpus Christi Bay are monitored as part of the Texas Beach Watch Program. Data assessed from this program indicated bacteria concentrations were higher than the criteria for protecting the contact recreation use at Cole Park, Ropes Park, and Poenisch Park beaches. These beaches correspond to Segments 2481CB_03, 2481CB_04, and 2481CB_06 of the Texas Bays and Estuaries Basin. When bacteria counts are greater than the criteria, Texas Beach Watch recommends that people be advised not swim in the area.