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NEWS | Aug. 5, 2015

Local college works out of Third Port

By Senior Airman Kimberly Nagle 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The Third Port at Fort Eustis, Virginia is currently partnered with members of the Virginia Commonwealth University Rice River Center, to support the search for local Atlantic sturgeon through Sept. 2015. 

Fort Eustis helps support the research team by allowing them to dock their boat in the port, giving them easier access to the James River.

Prior to conducting their research off of the Third Port docks the team was running their
boat many miles to conduct sampling. This saves the researchers transit time and money that would have been wasted on fuel costs, said Jay DeHart, 733rd Mission Support Division harbormaster.

The team approached different members of Fort Eustis, asking for assistance with their research project.

"It is a rewarding feeling to provide support to the researchers of an endangered species that most Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Army Mariners have no idea is literally beneath their vessels," said DeHart. "I think it's great that the base is trying to do its part to help with the local environment."

The research team is searching for life history information on staging Atlantic Sturgeon, on the James River, where Third Port is located. The staging area is where the fish, which are from the Acipenseridae family, make their way after maturing or spawning before hitting adulthood and continuing their lives into the ocean. 

"We are hoping to find a good amount of females during this time," said Matt Balazik, lead researcher on project. "They are the ones that will have the better chance of defining spawning grounds, in hopes for us to help protect and enhance it."

The researchers that come from Richmond, Virginia will spend hours on the water attempting to catch, measure, check for prior tagging, determine the sex and tag the sturgeons.

"Fort Eustis has been able to provide us a place to dock our boat along with a staff full of information [on the James River]," said Balazik. "Not only are they helpful with their knowledge, but knowing they are just down the way while we are out on the water makes us feel a little safer. Things can happen at any moment, our boat can break down, the weather can change they are there if we need them."

When the project started, sturgeons in the area were on track to become extinct. Now, with the amount Balazik has been catching, he said those odds are rapidly fading. Once more research is collected, the team hopes to assist the fish with their spawning areas, such as keeping it clean or providing it with items it may need.

"As long as the university is conducting research in this area, they will be welcome back to Fort Eustis' Third Port," said DeHart. "It would be nice to see that some of the fish they tagged this year come back over the next few years to spawn."