US Rep. A. Donald McEachin and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory visited the VCU Rice Rivers Center on Thursday to learn more about the facility’s climate research and conservation efforts.
During the visit, McEachin and Mallory spoke about the pressing need to advance environmental justice priorities and combat climate change. Mallory also highlighted the White House’s work on the America the Beautiful initiative to improve access to nature and discuss the importance of locally led, community-driven conservation efforts.
“It was an honor to welcome Chair Mallory to Virginia to discuss the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s important work and our conservation efforts here in the commonwealth,” McEachin said. “We cannot address climate change without addressing environmental justice and prioritizing historically marginalized and underrepresented communities. I commend the work VCU is doing at the Rice Rivers Center to protect Virginia’s natural resources and prepare young minds for a career in climate research and advocacy.”
“From helping write and pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to leading the fight for cleaner air and water for all communities, Congressman McEachin has been an invaluable partner to the Biden-Harris Administration,” Mallory said. “I’m grateful he invited me here today to see the remarkable conservation work VCU Rice Rivers Center staff and students are doing to protect the local environment, fight climate change and advance environmental justice. These are exactly the kinds of partnerships and projects that President Biden’s America the Beautiful Initiative is designed to support and celebrate.”
The Rice Rivers Center is a 390-acre field station along the James River devoted to environmental research, teaching and public service, and is part of VCU Life Sciences. Greg Garman, Ph.D., director of the Rice Rivers Center, said he thinks of the center as VCU’s “river campus,” defined by its translational research that solves real problems, experiential education and community engagement.
“We are incredibly honored to share with Representative McEachin and Chair Mallory our enthusiasm for the research and training we are excited at VCU Rice Center, and to showcase our new research facility and the entire river campus,” said H. Benson Dendy III, rector, VCU Board of Visitors.
McEachin and Mallory met with several VCU faculty members and students, who shared details about their research on air quality and environmental justice, avian conservation, oyster and mussel restoration, and more.
Raquel Wetzell, a VCU master’s degree student in environmental studies, told them about her research with Rachel Mayer, project leader at Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery, to study in vitro propagation of freshwater mussels.
“I’ve been playing around with using invasive fish species, which don’t really serve a purpose in our natural ecosystem. So sort of taking them, extracting blood and seeing if it can be used for mussel propagation,” she said. I tried with blue catfish … but it was more successful with common carp and grass carp. So hopefully we can use that in the future to make more mussels.”
They also heard from Todd Janeski, director of the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program, VCU master’s degree in environmental studies student Brycen Boettcher and VCU senior bioinformatics major Kyle Stoecker, who described their work to collect waste oyster shells in Virginia and return them to the Chesapeake Bay to help restore wild oyster populations, improve water quality and provide new fish habitat.
“So far, we’ve returned 80 million oysters to the Chesapeake Bay. This year we hope to hit the magic 100 million. Our goal is 20 million more this year,” Janeski said.
John Ryan, Ph.D., associate vice president for research development at VCU, said the Rice Rivers Center is a great example of research conducted at VCU, noting that in just the last four years VCU’s extramural research funding has increased 30% from $270 million to $360 million.
“We are well known for doing things in the medical sphere. You talk about the medical campus [that is] well-known for cancer research and organ transplant and a lot of work in addiction,” he said. “But we are so much bigger than that. And so it’s wonderful you get to be here at the Rice Center to see this type of work.”
McEachin and Mallory ended the day with an on-water boat excursion to learn more about local fisheries and efforts to protect Virginia’s waterways and water resources.
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