Nicholls Marine & Environmental Biology Graduate Students Awarded at 2023 State of the Coast Conference

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Nicholls marine and environmental biology graduate students Carissa Thiel and Michelle Lignieres received awards at the 2023 State of the Coast Conference. Nicholls faculty, staff, students and alumni represented the University well throughout the three-day celebration.

Carissa Thiel was awarded third place for her presentation “Ecological characteristics and soil processes in terrestrial forest habitats on coastal ridges.” Thiel’s work within the collaborative Coastal Ridge Project through a RESTORE Act grant, mentored by Dr. Jonathan Willis, Nicholls assistant professor of biological sciences, focused on the terrestrial forested communities along coastal ridges at the points of highest elevation, the tree species and preliminary results of soil analysis.

Michelle Lignieres won fifth place for her presentation, “Using small-bodied fish assemblage to compare constructed terraces and original marsh for a restoration project within Terrebonne Parish.” For Lignieres’ research, mentored by  Dr. Gary J. LaFleur, Jr, Nicholls director of the Center for Bayou Studies and professor of honors studies, she monitors different fauna species within a restored marsh to determine if man-made terraces can simulate the natural marsh in providing sustainable habitats and resources for the species that occur in the natural marsh. This presentation focused mainly on the data she collected from small-bodied fish, but she also monitors crustaceans, large-bodied fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

“Nicholls alumni are making ripples in the coastal world, contributing greatly to this very important quadrant of state government and economy,” said Dr. Gary J. LaFleur, Jr.

The State of the Coast conference is the largest statewide conference of its kind, providing an interdisciplinary forum to exchange timely and relevant information on the dynamic conditions of Louisiana’s coastal communities, environment and economy. The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana produces this forum, the need for which grows with every acre of land lost to the Gulf of Mexico, along with its partners: the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, the Water Institute and Louisiana Sea Grant.

SOC2023 consisted of three days of presentations by leading experts in concurrent sessions, keynote talks, poster sessions and networking opportunities. SOC2023 was attended by more than 1,200 scientists, landowners, land managers, federal and state agency personnel, local officials, industry and business leaders, resource users, students, and residents of coastal communities. SOC2023 reflected the vision for the conference and for coastal Louisiana’s future: Together Again.

The RESTORE Act dedicates 80% of all administrative and civil penalties related to the Deepwater Horizon spill to a Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund and outlines a structure by which the funds can be utilized to restore and protect the natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches, coastal wetlands, and economy of the Gulf Coast region.

The Nicholls Department of Biological Sciences offers a wide variety of academic options that prepares students for the workforce or professional school. Students have opportunities ranging from exploring the coastal waterways and swamps of Louisiana in a pirogue while learning how to use modern scientific equipment to explore the molecular mechanisms of cell biology. No matter what students’ career aspirations are, they will find a challenging but comfortable home in Nicholls biology within 1 of the 11 concentration areas.