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Sunday, October 23, 2011 - 8:01pm

Searching For Signs Of Drought In Crabs

Updated: 3 years ago.
Crabs get diseases when drought sets in. Researchers are looking into that and other effects of lack of rain in Georgia's coastal estuaries. (photo Michael Jastremski)

Scientists are looking for signs Georgia's drought is killing coastal crabs and marshes.

Much of the state remains in drought despite recent rains.

During the last major drought, which started in 2004, large and unpredictable swaths of dead marsh scarred landscapes. Crabs also took a hit, but not everywhere.

Skidaway Institute of Oceanography researcher Dick Lee is focusing on crab diseases that flare up in droughts.

"Waters, even up the rivers, are much saltier than they would be without a drought," Lee says. "The diseases that we work on, they seem to thrive in the more saline waters."

The studies include eight public research partners including the state Coastal Resources Division.

"All of them seem to be affected by salinity, even the oyster diseases seem to be affected by salinity," Lee says. "So, for whatever reason, the disease organisms do better in a relatively highly saline environment that you find during drought conditions."

So far, despite record low river flows, species die-off is scant.