March 13, 2024

USM Scientists Selected for Two Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Research Projects

Special to Darkhorse Press

Drs. Zachary Darnell and Robert Griffitt

Drs. Zachary Darnell and Robert Griffitt, faculty members in The University of Southern Mississippi School of Ocean Science and Engineering, have been selected by the Mississippi- Alabama Sea Grant Consortium to lead two of its research projects for the 2024-2025 funding cycles.

MASGC research programs focus on environmental literacy while building healthy ecosystems and sustainable communities. Funding for both projects, with combined totals of nearly $600,000, is pending final approval by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Dr. Griffitt’s research focuses on identifying the effects of temperature and salinity on brevetoxin depuration in oysters, examining temperature changes in oysters and how those changes are taken in, stored, and metabolized by harmful substances, also called brevetoxins. Brevetoxins are produced by harmful algal blooms. He plans to conduct experiments to identify which temperature and salinity environments are the best conditions for oysters to remove brevetoxins from their tissue.

“Harmful algal blooms are relatively rare in Mississippi but are predicted to increase in the future.  Understanding how environmental variables like temperature and salinity alter the uptake of these toxins into oyster tissue is critical for predicting the ecological and economic impacts of these events”, Griffitt said.

Dr. Griffitt’s team hopes to provide oyster fishers and farmers the education and tools needed for effective coastal management during harmful algal bloom exposure.

Dr. Darnell’s research investigates potential impacts of climate change on blue grab growth, size, and reproduction. Blue crabs are a vital element of fisheries along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions; a noticeable decrease in size at their maturity is causing concern for crabbers and scientists. Dr. Darnell plans to develop tools to provide insight into what is causing this decrease in size and improve understanding how crab growth, size, maturity, and reproduction may change in the coming decades.

“It is clear that our coastal environment is changing, yet we still don’t have a clear picture of how these changes will affect coastal species, including those such as the blue crab that support valuable fisheries,” said Darnell. “Our results will not only increase our understanding of the biology of this iconic and valuable species, but also allow us to better understand how blue crab populations will respond in the coming decades, as the coastal environment continues to warm.”

USM Vice President for Research Dr. Kelly Lucas expressed gratitude to MASGC for including University researchers in its efforts to benefit coastal communities.

“These university-based projects highlight the importance of collaborative research in advancing our understanding and management of ocean and coastal resources,” said Dr. Lucas. “The selected projects lead by Drs. Darnell and Griffitt align with our institutional mission and directly contribute to our communities’ well-being, particularly along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We are committed to leveraging these resources to benefit both the University of Southern Mississippi and the broader Mississippi coastal communities.”

For information about the USM School of Ocean Science and Engineering, visit

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