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Budding biologist receives $15,000 grant

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Not every biology major gets to spend his day mucking through creek beds, monitoring a Clayton County Water Authority stream restoration site, but Serge Farinas is special and very good at what he does.

Earlier this year, the Clayton State University senior was handpicked by assistant professor, Jere Boudell, to assist her in monitoring the Jester's Creek restoration site, which abuts Reynolds Nature Preserve in Morrow.

Farinas was recently awarded a $15,000 Strategies for Ecology Education, Development and Sustainability (SEEDS) undergraduate research fellowship by the Ecological Society of America (ESA).

Starting this summer, Farinas will begin field research with Beth Middleton, an internationally renown wetland scientist with the United States Geological Survey National Wetlands Research Center. Under Middleton, Farinas will study the ecology of the bald cypress swamps around Lafayette, La.

After a year of research, he will present his findings at 94th ESA Annual Meeting in Albuquerque, N.M. in August of 2009.

Farinas, who is scheduled to graduate in the spring, will use the $15,000 to help pay for his travel expenses, equipment, and any other necessary purchases over the next year.

In the meantime, he will spend his time surveying the wildlife surrounding Jester's Creek to see if the CCWA's efforts to regenerate lost wildlife habitat by regulating the stream there are successful.

Boudell said almost all of Clayton County's creeks and reservoirs are channeled, but equated doing so to placing one's thumb over a water hose. She said the increased pressure increases erosion, stripping the surrounding creek bed of its nutrients. As a result, most of the silt and nutrients settle on the creek bottom, rather than on the banks where it can benefit the environment.

"A lot of people who see urban rivers with steep banks, they think that's natural," said Boudell. "That's not the way a stream should look, but the sign that a lot of erosion has taken place."

Farinas takes note of the thriving plants, the landscape they cover, and what natural or man-made factors are affecting their growth.

"A lot of the services that people try to get from rivers are related to vegetation," said Farinas. "Their health is directly related to the stream's health. We can compare what species are present and that can give us an idea of what's going on."

Boudell said that having "real-life" field research under his belt will give Farinas a head start, especially in the field of restoration ecology, which Boudell said is a "really new" science.

"He's an exceptional student," said Boudell. "He's able to apply the things he learns in the classroom and that's very important in the field of science."

After completing his research grant in Louisiana, Farinas plans to attend graduate school and focus on solving local ecological problems.

"The way we approach the environment is probably the most important issue that is going to be facing us in the future," said Farinas. "It's really interesting to get involved on a local level. I feel like that's where [the work] needs to be done."