Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Hillyer: drifting with the tides

University of Maine graduate student Gabrielle “Gabby” Hillyer is leading research on Medomak River in Waldoboro, Maine that aims to better understand the dynamics of the estuary’s ability to flush out harmful bacteria.

After storms with more than an inch of rain, the bacteria can cause the closure of clam flats for a mandatory nine-day period. In such cases, most of the river is off limits to the 175 licensed shellfish harvesters, which can cause economic hardship for extended periods of time.

Hillyer, who is pursuing a dual master’s degree in oceanography and marine policy, is working on the Medomak River drifter project with Damian Brady, a marine sciences professor at the Darling Marine Center; and Bridie McGreavy, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism and a faculty fellow at the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions.

Funding for the Medomak Water Quality Partnership comes from the UMaine Research Reinvestment Fund, Maine Sea Grant and the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions’ Strengthening Coastal Economies project supported by the Diana Davis Spencer Partnership for a Sustainable Maine.

The ultimate goal of the Diana Davis Spencer Partnership is to develop, implement and evaluate solutions to complex problems requiring a careful balance between economic development and environmental preservation. Hillyer is one of six Diana Davis Spencer Scholars selected to work on the Strengthening Coastal Economies project.

Hillyer’s work is part of a larger effort to build a high-resolution tidal model of the estuary. To do that, she will use the drifter data built up over months of fieldwork, as well as a wealth of bacteria data gathered by the state’s Department of Marine Resources and Department of Environmental Protection.

“I want this project to support the clamming industry in Waldoboro, which has some of the highest landings values in the state and also some of the most challenging water quality issues,” Hillyer says. “I’m hoping the project might lead to changes and improvements in the future regarding the bacterial closures they have there.”

The full profile on Hillyer and her research is available on the Mitchell Center’s website.

Contact: David Sims, 581.3244