5 months ago

South Alabama dives into Galapagos research

When Dr. Ronnie Baker returns to the Galapagos Islands as part of ongoing research project with the University of South Alabama, he’ll bring along a dozen underwater cameras and a plan for surveying the waters surrounding one of the most remote and unique ecosystems on the planet.

“What I’d like to do is look at the mangrove and other shallow water habitats along the coast,” said Baker, who is also a senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. “And get a general baseline of the juvenile fish communities to allow us to detect changes in these communities into the future.”

The research is part of a collaboration with the University of North Carolina and Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador. Baker is one of seven South researchers who have been awarded grants to explore research opportunities with the Galapagos Science Center.

He made his first trip in 2019. He planned to return this fall, but the coronavirus pandemic interrupted travel. His next chance might come in the spring.

COVID-19 restrictions may have delayed trips to the archipelago for South faculty and students, but they haven’t diminished enthusiasm for the partnership. A USFQ team of engineering students and an instructor recently participated remotely in a USA innovation program as they seek to link disposers of recyclable materials with buyers.

Meanwhile, three South students have worked on research projects with faculty from USFQ. Marie Foret and Aaron Wilson, both honors students, are participating in meaning in life research, surveying USA students to secure a comparison population and offering an opportunity for cross-cultural understanding. Lena Siemers, a December graduate in international studies and foreign languages and literature, assisted on a project focused on human migratory flows from Venezuela to Ecuador.

“When you start these kind of partnerships, you hope they’ll grow into something meaningful and significant,” said Bri Ard, director of international education at South. “With USFQ, we had a great idea and we were able to execute it.”

Alex Rendon, director of operations for the office of international programs at USFQ, said South research fit well with plans for the International Galapagos Science Consortium.

“One of the motivations for inviting USA to join the consortium,” Rendon said, “was the strong capacities in sustainable fisheries and ecotourism that could elevate ongoing activities to higher levels of scholarship and greater global visibility.”

The Ecuador program joins more than 15 South partnerships with colleges around the world. These include exchange programs with the Toulouse Business School in France, Hanyang University in South Korea and Kansai Gaidai University in Japan.

The Galapagos Islands, which are more than 500 miles off the coast of South America, are famous for inspiring Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution during his scientific voyage on the HMS Beagle in 1835. Because of their isolation in the Pacific, the islands have a large number of unique species and are a national park and marine reserve of Ecuador, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Dr. Tony Waldrop, president of the University of South Alabama, helped start the Galapagos Science Center when he was vice chancellor of research at the University of North Carolina. The center was founded in 2011 as a hub for research among local, national and international scientists. The focus of work is on interdisciplinary research, education through science and community support. The connection between Waldrop and USFQ administrators led to South joining research in the Galapagos.

“These kinds of relationships are incredibly valuable,” Ard said. “You automatically have university buy-in and support. It’s a bit of a dream.”

Lynne Chronister, vice president of research and economic development at South, offered travel grants to professors interested in Galapagos research. These included Dr. Sean Powers, Dr. Alison Robertson, Dr. Brian Dzwonkowski and Baker in the department of marine sciences; Dr. Kevin White in civil, coastal and environmental engineering; and Dr. Alex Beebe and Dr. Steven Schultze in the department of earth sciences.

Areas of study are fisheries, climatology, oceanography and seismology, along with tourism and hospitality, health-related services, and civil and coastal engineering. In years to come, field work could include graduate assistants and undergraduate students from Mobile.

“This will give our students an opportunity to gain international experience,” Chronister said. “Both in the classroom and in research.”

Right now, South professors are trying to plan their research around the travel restrictions and health concerns of the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s delayed all of the research by about a year,” Chronister said.

In 2015, some of the first scholars from the University joined an international research project in the Galapagos Islands. A pair of South biologists at the time, Dr. Ylenia Chiari and Dr. Scott Glaberman, helped identify a new species of giant tortoise – the Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise, Chelonoidis porteri.

Baker joined the South faculty two years ago. He was born in the United States, but grew up in Australia and earned his Ph.D. from James Cook University in northeast Queensland. For several years, he did research in Australia and Papua New Guinea. His post-doctorate experience includes work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Galveston, Texas, and the Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce, Fla.

One of his mentors at the Smithsonian, Dr. Ilka “Candy” Feller, is a world leader in mangrove research and traveled to the Galapagos in 2019.

“What’s she’s found there,” Baker said, “is an incredible mangrove system unlike any other in the world.”

His plans for the Galapagos rely on an underwater camera system developed by one of his former students. Small waterproof devices are much easier to use than bulky equipment from years past. The hard part comes with analyzing all of the data from different cameras at different locations.

Species of snapper and grouper are most valuable to the fishery, but also most vulnerable to overfishing. Ecotourism is an opportunity, but also a concern. One question for national park officials is whether to allow snorkeling at certain mangrove bays.

His research will have an application for island programs with ecological tourism and sustainable fisheries.

“That’s quite appealing,” Baker said. “To be able to work with the national park managers, to have our work tied to their immediate plans.”

(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)

6 hours ago

Jim Zeigler considering ‘exploratory’ effort for Alabama governor in 2022

After much speculation, Gov. Kay Ivey announced her intentions to seek another term as governor in 2022 earlier this month.

Despite what were perceived to be controversial positions on pushing the Rebuild Alabama Act that raised the gasoline tax, her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in determining what could remain open and closed and a failed Mobile Bay/I-10 toll bridge proposal, Ivey is still riding high in polling with strong approve-disapprove numbers.

However, State Auditor Jim Zeigler, whose term as auditor will be over after 2022 and is ineligible to run again because of term limits, told Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show” on Friday that he was considering a run for governor in 2022.

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“I believe it’s very important for Alabama taxpayers, for the state government, for our future to have a viable opponent who has been raising issues and trying to hold the Ivey administration accountable,” he said. “And that is why I am considering myself setting up an exploratory campaign to test the waters for a gubernatorial run. Who else is there — who else took the lead in blocking the toll bridge over Mobile Bay? Who else took the lead in blocking Amendment One that would have taken away your right to vote for school board members and have them all appointed by the Governor? Who else took the lead in blocking this prison rental plan that would have had us paying over $3 billion over 30 years and then owning zero equity in the prisons, a terrible business plan?”

“I don’t know,” Zeigler continued. “If not me, then who?”

If Zeigler runs against Ivey in 2022, it would not be the first time the two of their names appeared on a ballot in a race against one another. In Alabama’s 2020 Republican primary, Zeigler took on Ivey in a race for state delegate for the 2020 Republican National Convention.

Ivey prevailed with 7,182 votes to Zeigler’s 1,729 votes — a margin of 80.6% to 19.4%.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

9 hours ago

Alabama’s May unemployment rate drops to 3.4% — Post-pandemic rate at lows; Record high wages

Alabama’s post-COVID pandemic economic recovery seems to be humming along based on data released Friday by the Alabama Department of Labor.

According to a press release, Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington revealed Alabama’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted May unemployment rate is 3.4%, down from April’s rate of 3.6%.

The 3.4% rate tops the May 2020 number of 7.9%.

“May’s rate represents 75,458 unemployed persons, compared to 79,319 in April and 174,680 in May 2020,” the release said. “May’s unemployed count is the lowest in 2021.”

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(ADOL)

“Our record-breaking streak is continuing in May, and we hope that it continues throughout the rest of the year,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in the statement. “Yet again, we’ve dropped our unemployment rate and each month we are getting closer and closer to our pre-pandemic record low unemployment rate of 2.6%. Our economy is adding jobs, and earlier barriers to joining the workforce have been significantly reduced. In fact, there are more job postings than there are people counted as unemployed! Alabama is, once again, open for business.”

Data showed that wage and salary employment grew last month by 4,700.

“Monthly gains were seen in the leisure and hospitality sector (+5,000), the trade, transportation, and utilities sector (+2,500), and the education and health services sector (+1,200), among others. Over the year, wage and salary employment increased 123,000, with gains in the leisure and hospitality sector (+37,100), the professional and business services sector (+23,000), and the manufacturing sector (+22,900), among others,” the release said.

Average weekly earnings for the private sector rose to a new record high of $974.12, up $66.91 over the year, according to the Department of Labor.

“As we continue to see improvement in nearly all sectors of the economy, we’re also seeing record high wages in Alabama,” Washington added. “Once again, our average weekly wages are at new record high, representing an almost $67 per week over-the-year increase. Both the leisure and hospitality and manufacturing sectors are showing record high wages as well, with significant yearly increases. The economy is responding as we expected to labor force fluctuations brought about by the pandemic.”

Broken down by county, Shelby County led the way with a rate of 1.8%, followed by Blount, Marshall, Franklin and DeKalb Counties.

Wilcox County topped the highest in the state with an unemployment rate of 8.8%.

When broken down by municipalities, Alabaster had the lowest rate at 1.7%. Selma had the state’s highest, coming in at 7.0%, followed by Prichard at 6.5% and Bessemer at 5.2%.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

10 hours ago

Shelby warns Biden on defense cuts — ‘Military investments in China and Russia … outpace U.S. investment’

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) fired his own warning shots over what he views as an inadequate defense budget proposal from President Joe Biden.

During a full Senate Committee on Appropriations review of Biden’s Fiscal Year 2022 Department of Defense budget request, Shelby expressed his concern that the administration’s defense spending plan placed the nation at a disadvantage compared to its adversaries.

“The National Defense Strategy provides a road map for what the Department of Defense needs – at a minimum – to meet the challenges posed by a re-emergence of long-term strategic competition with China and Russia,” explained Shelby. “Anything less jeopardizes readiness, the recapitalization of capital assets, and necessary investments in new and emerging technologies.”

Shelby, who currently serves as vice chairman of the powerful Senate committee, believes that not meeting current national defense demands sends a dangerous message to the rest of the world.

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“This year, the budget proposal signals to the world that this administration is not committed to investing in readiness, training, state of the art equipment, and technological overmatch,” Shelby stated. “With military investments in China and Russia continuing to outpace U.S. investments, I find it hard to believe that the requirements outlined by General Dunford just four years ago are no longer instructive.”

This critical assessment from Alabama’s senior senator comes less than a month after the highest-ranking U.S. military officer described the nation’s relations with China and Russia as “fraying.”

In an address to graduates of the United States Air Force Academy, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said, “Right now we are in a great power competition with China and Russia. And we need to keep it at competition and avoid great power conflict.”

Milley and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Shelby addressed both officials in his remarks, stating, “The world is a complex and dangerous place and I know that you both understand the magnitude of the challenges we face from our near peer adversaries who seek to undermine the United States’ position as a world leader and dominant military power. China and Russia are formidable adversaries and China, as you have acknowledged Secretary Austin, is proving to be a true pacing threat. China seeks hegemony – militarily, technologically, economically, and geopolitically – and is making unprecedented investments to see that to fruition.”

“Meanwhile, Russia is nearing the end of a massive military modernization program that saw its defense spending increase 30 percent in real dollars over the last 10 years,” he added.

Shelby concluded that he could not support an effective cut in defense spending in 2022.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

11 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl urges Biden to undergo tests for ‘mental impairment’

U.S. Representative Jerry Carl (R-Mobile) joined 13 of his congressional colleagues in urging President Joe Biden to undergo an examination to determine his mental fitness to serve.

The group cited a string of embarrassing verbal gaffes by the president as the basis for their request.

In a letter sent to Biden on Thursday, the Republican members of Congress explained, “We write to you today to express concern with your current cognitive state. We believe that, regardless of gender, age, or political party, all Presidents should follow the precedent set by former President Donald Trump to document and demonstrate sound mental abilities.”

They continued, “Unfortunately, your mental decline and forgetfulness have become more apparent over the past 18 months. In March, you forgot the name of the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, and the Defense Secretary, though you had said ‘Secretary Austin’ just a few minutes prior.”

In addition, the letter cites Biden’s telling of an Amtrak story with an inexplicable timeline, forgetting the first line of the Declaration of Independence and obvious disorientation during a visit to Texas as examples for why they believe Biden is in need of cognitive testing.

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The list of gaffes attributable to his mental acuity seems to be piling up for the 46th president.

During the G7 Summit in England recently, he asked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to introduce the South African president.

RELATED: Biden lashes out at media member and Alabama native Kaitlan Collins over Putin — ‘You’re in the wrong business’

Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce has questioned whether Biden’s cognitive state is a national security liability.

Biden has received criticism in the early stages of his administration for calling on only a predetermined list of reporters during press conferences. The most recent instance of this occurred while Biden was in Geneva, Switzerland, for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Carl and the other letter signers pushed for transparency with any medical assessments being made, as well.

“We encourage you to follow the example set by President Trump by undergoing a cognitive test as soon as possible and immediately making the results available for the American people,” they concluded.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

12 hours ago

ALGOP chair John Wahl: AEA resurgence ‘a concern’; Reminds GOP candidates ‘not a good idea’ accept their campaign contributions

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Alabama Education Association (AEA) seemingly flexed its muscle at the end of the 2021 legislative session by successfully pushing through a two-year delay to the Literacy Act, which mandates children be able to read at a third grade level before proceeding to the fourth grade.

Gov. Kay Ivey vetoed the delay, but it left political watchers wondering if this was just the beginning of the AEA’s return to the forefront of Alabama politics.

During an appearance on FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show” on Thursday, Alabama Republican Party chairman John Wahl said it was indeed a concern for the party.

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“[I]t’s funny you bring that up because at one point in the past, there was actually a resolution passed by the state party, I believe, that was saying Republican candidates should not take money from the AEA because of their influence and the concern they would have over direct policy,” he stated. “So, of course, that’s a concern. That type of influence from anybody pushing to regulate themselves is never — you don’t want a group regulating themselves. That’s not good for policy.”

While there was a resolution in place that pertained to AEA campaign contributions to Republican candidates, Wahl said it was not an outright ban but a “strong recommendation” not to accept their money.

“I need to go back and look at the resolution in-depth,” Wahl said. “But I believe it was a resolution, so it’s not a direct ban. There’s no teeth to it. But it was a very strong recommendation to candidates — that it is not a good idea to take that money.”

“[T]here were jokes about how the AEA controlled the state and had a vast amount of control over policy and what would happen with the Governor’s office, the state legislature,” he explained. “So much of that has gotten better since Republicans have taken control. But you’re right — we’re seeing a resurgence, at least of their involvement. Hopefully not their influence.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.