Although the Bo Ginn Fish Hatchery has been idle for many years, the Georgia Southern Department of Biology will soon put it to use to conduct cutting-edge research.
The university signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to allow GSU biology students and faculty to use the facility, located in Magnolia Springs Park near Millen, as a resource to better understand the future of ecosystems in the southeastern U.S.
Lance McBrayer, associate dean for Research in the College of Science and Mathematics, said the university is excited to work with the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Our relationship with USFWS and the Bo Ginn Hatchery will substantially increase the research infrastructure available to our faculty and students.”
The hatchery, built in 1950, operated for decades as part of a program to provide free sportfish for lakes and ponds in the region.
The hatchery was named for Ginn in 1988. Ginn, a graduate and huge supporter of Georgia Southern, was a congressman for Georgia’s First District from 1973-83 and was an early leader in environmental preservation issues in Georgia. He was the prime author of legislation that led to a protected wilderness designation for the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the Blackbeard Island and Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuges and large portions of Cumberland Island National Seashore.
In 1996, however, it was closed because of federal budget cuts and taken over by the state, which managed the property and its popular aquarium but could not afford to continue to operate the hatchery. The aquarium, which was open to visitors, also closed.
Associate Professor of biology Checo Colon-Gaud, Ph.D., is leading the initial work at the site. He believes the hatchery is the perfect place to conduct research in the area.
“The many impoundments at the site, which can be filled with water or drained as needed, offer a perfect setting for experiments in aquatic ecology,” said Colon-Gaud.
Most of the experiments will address a basic prediction of climate change. Ephemeral ponds, those that fill from rainfall but dry out weeks or months later, are vital habitats for many species in the southeastern U.S.
Yet, changes in rainfall due to climate change are expected to cause these ponds to fill for shorter periods of time or to hold water less predictably. Colon-Gaud and others will conduct experiments to quantify the impacts of such changes on aquatic life.
“The key question is whether animals such as amphibians and insects can complete their life cycles as ponds dry out faster or fill less predictably,” said Colon-Gaud. “The hatchery gives us the ability to manipulate the duration of flooding in many ponds at once so we can measure how aquatic communities respond.”
The significance of these ephemeral ponds extends well beyond the water’s edge. Many insects that start life as aquatic larvae become adults that leave the pond and move into surrounding fields and forests. There they become an important food source for terrestrial animals such as reptiles and birds.
“Although we are studying the ecology of ephemeral ponds, this may be the key to the health of surrounding forests,” said Colon-Gaud.