CLEMSON — A federal agency has turned to Clemson University’s South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit to collect data that will help it assess the environmental impact of oil and natural gas operations on the marine and coastal environments of the northern Gulf of Mexico’s outer continental shelf.
The South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit will fill data holes on the migratory habits, demographics and reproductive success of eastern brown pelicans. The data will serve as a snapshot that will help the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management understand the impact of human activities, such as oil and natural gas operations, and help identify possible mitigation protocols.
The four-year study, which will commence in the spring, is a collaboration between the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Clemson University and the states of Texas, Louisiana and Florida. The research is supported by a $1.2 million grant from BOEM and USGS.
“This research will be paramount in understanding the migration and success of eastern brown pelican colonies in relation to each other in the northern Gulf of Mexico,” said Patrick Jodice, leader of the South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and professor in Clemson’s School of Agricultural, Forest and Environmental Sciences. “The data we collect will allow the BOEM to more fully assess the potential impact of oil and gas development in the Northern Gulf.”
The research will cover an area extending from the Gulf Coast of Texas along the Louisiana Coast to the northwestern Gulf Coast of Florida.
Researchers will use satellite and GPS transmitters to gather data on the dispersal, seasonal and annual movements, season home range and site fidelity of adult brown pelicans among nesting colonies in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Data on body condition and health will be assessed through physical examinations and avian blood-chemistry profiles. Researchers will attempt to identify what portion of brown pelican contaminant loads are derived from particular prey sources and foraging areas by performing analyses of predator and prey tissue samples at colony sites.
This research will build upon previous efforts by Jodice to study the ecology of brown pelicans in South Carolina and in the Gulf of Mexico in response to the Deepwater Horizon incident.
While the eastern brown pelican is not listed on the Endangered Species Act or the Migratory Bird Treaty act, it is considered a “Species of Conservation Concern” by all coastal states along the Gulf of Mexico except Alabama.