By Emma Fass, Summer Science Writing Intern
Matthew Oreska took a unique path to becoming a 2015 Virginia Sea Grant graduate research fellow. Inspired by naturalists, he has combined study and work in many fields to develop a better understanding of how to tackle challenges that result from global change. “I plan to carve out a career niche focused on studying these changes over historic timescales to guide future management planning,” Oreska says.
Oreska has a 2007 double major from William & Mary in geology and economics and received a master of philosophy degree in biological science from the University of Cambridge in 2009. He is now working towards a PhD in environmental science at the University of Virginia. As a graduate research fellow, Oreska will research seagrass beds’ release of greenhouse gases. There is currently a lack in understanding of methane and nitrous oxide flux from seagrass beds, he says. These greenhouse gases could offset the benefits of the grasses’ ability to capture and store carbon dioxide, another important greenhouse gas.
Oreska plans to study restored Zostera marina beds in Virginia and publish the first greenhouse gas release measurements for such a system. His research will focus on South Bay, Virginia, the largest successful seagrass restoration beds on the planet. While there has been a loss of seagrass meadows worldwide, the results of this project could influence efforts to expand seagrass restoration if it determines that greenhouse gas emissions are negligible.
As part of his fellowship-required outreach, Oreska will be working with his outreach mentor, Steve Emmett-Mattox, to organize discussions with other stakeholders, including representatives from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the Nature Conservancy, and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. Oreska, who has previously worked with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, notes the importance of community outreach during stages of his scientific research. For example, he says, some members of the local community may worry that regulations related to the restorations could influence their ability to work.
“Virginia Sea Grant has worked closely with watermen in the mid-Atlantic area to improve harvest yields for decades,” says Oreska. “Pursuing my seagrass research as a Sea Grant fellow would offer me opportunities for dialogue with local waterman communities about my results that I would not have otherwise.”