Ayesha Gray, Ph.D.


Taking benthic cores in the field

Dr. Gray is a research scientist who studies aquatic ecosystem function and the effectiveness of habitat restoration projects. She develops and conducts ecological research with her colleagues to better understand how fisheries are supported by wetlands, what mechanisms are most important, and how to develop cutting-edge tools and experimental designs to determine ecosystem function and recovery trajectories. She received her Ph.D. working with Charles “Si” Simenstad and the Wetland Ecosystem Team at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, and she also has a B.S. in Zoology from the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Gray is also an artist who specializes in the ancient art of batik.


Sandra Huynh

Director’s Assistant / Administrative Assistant

In NERR classroom

As administrative assistant, Sandra organizes, coordinates, plans, and schedules all administrative activities. She performs organizational, planning and time management skills that helps keep daily operations at the Reserve functioning. She also assists with the Reserve’s outreach events, social media networking, and website updates. Sandra holds a Master of Science degree in Marine Resource Management with a Marine Education and Engagement focus from Oregon State University and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the University of South Alabama. Her science interests include plankton studies and geologic history of biological sites, as well as education research and visitor studies. Her favorite pastimes include visual arts in various media, including nature and wedding photography.


Brian Hurst

Building Manager

Maintaining equipment

As building manager, Brian maintains the Grand Bay NERR facility and grounds, as well as our dormitories and outdoors facilities. He assures that all equipment is in working order, cleaned, and properly maintained.





Outreach: Coastal Training Program and Education


Margo Posten

Coastal Training Program (CTP) Coordinator

Presenting to audience

As the CTP Coordinator, Margo organizes and administers various trainings and workshops to provide coastal decision-makers with the knowledge and tools they need to address critical resource management issues that are of concern to local communities. The primary audiences for these trainings are local officials and staff, natural resource managers, and coastal scientists who work in coastal Mississippi. Margo holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology from the University of West Florida and a Master of Marine Affairs from the University of Washington.



Avery Sward

Education Coordinator

At Celebrate the Gulf festival

Avery serves as Grand Bay NERR’s Education Coordinator, who is responsible for overseeing the education and outreach programs. These include programs associated with community and ecosystem resilience, various community and K-12 education programs, and the development of teacher workshops. She collaborates with the different sectors at Grand Bay NERR to integrate research and training into educational programs to build a community of environmental stewards. Avery holds a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Biology and a Master’s degree in Biology Science Education, both from the University of Southern Mississippi.



Rick Ranew

K-12 Specialist

With student

Rick primarily runs the K-12 ‘On the Road’ program at the NERR. Rick also works with other staff members to design and implement programs that address current coastal issues on the school level from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Rick works with the Education Coordinator to prioritize a list of topics that can be developed into teacher workshops and activities for students, encouraging stewardship and knowledge of our diverse coastal habitats. He makes a concerted effort to collaborate with other sector staff at Grand Bay NERR and partners such as: DMR, NOAA, USFWS, MEC and other agencies. Ultimately, his goal is to inspire future generations to become good and knowledgeable stewards of our fragile coastal environments.



Dennis McGrury

Outreach Specialist/CTP and Education

With a salt marsh snake

Dennis supports the implementation of our training and education programs by assisting with K-12 education activities and training workshops. He also manages the Reserve’s social networking and website updates, coordinates and tracks volunteer activities, provides help with a variety of field work, and other tasks as needed. Dennis also promotes active stewardship, enhanced awareness, and educated science-based decision making through his position at the NERR. His pastimes include hiking, kayaking, fishing, and SCUBA.


Science: Research and Stewardship


Mark Woodrey, Ph.D.

Research Coordinator

With clapper rail

Mark is a research biologist at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center and serves as the Research Coordinator at the Grand Bay NERR. Trained as an ornithologist, he is currently studying ecology of tidal marsh birds and using marsh birds as an indicator of restoration success. In addition, his collaborative research efforts focus on human impacts on coastal habitats, the effects of global climate change on coastal plants and animals, ecosystem effects of mercury, and the role of terrestrial vertebrates in tidal marshes. Ultimately, Mark’s goal is to better understand coastal ecosystems to allow natural resource managers to make more informed conservation decisions.



Jonathan Pitchford, Ph.D.

Stewardship Coordinator

Holding Distichlis

Jonathan Pitchford is the Stewardship Coordinator at the Grand Bay NERR. He holds a B.S. in Zoology from Auburn University, an M.S. in Biology from Appalachian State University, and a Ph.D. in Natural Resource Science from West Virginia University. He has been involved in a variety of ecological research projects from studying the spatial distribution of bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles in the Mississippi Sound to understanding the effects of wetland restoration in West Virginia. Jonathan joined the NERR team in 2016 and is working closely with Stewardship and Research staff to understand long-term changes in NERR resources through the “Sentinel Site Program” and to implement and monitor restoration of aquatic and terrestrial habitats. He also enjoys working with Education and Outreach staff to communicate the purpose of long-term monitoring and the principles of stewardship to school groups and the public. Jonathan hails from Abbeville, AL and is an avid fan of the Auburn Tigers…War Eagle!



Kim Cressman

SWMP Coordinator

Holding sonde- water quality equipment

Kim is experienced in analyzing the water quality of both freshwater and coastal ecosystems. At Grand Bay NERR, she coordinates sampling and data management for the System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP). Through SWMP, the nation’s 29 NERRs each use the same standard protocols to collect water quality, nutrient, and meteorological data. This allows consistently high-quality data to be accumulated over long periods of time, compared within and across regions, and used to inform coastal resource management decisions.



Jay McIlwain

Natural Resource Manager

Vegetation monitoring

As part of the Stewardship Sector, Jay coordinates and assists with research and stewardship efforts at the Grand Bay NERR. His duties also include integrating with university researchers and government agencies on a variety of natural resource management projects. Prescribed fire and invasive species control are among the top of his resource management interests. Some of Jay’s other research and personal interests include: submerged aquatic vegetation monitoring, a dendrochronological study of local pine savannas and flatwoods, wildlife and landscape photography, and music.



Cher Griffin

Coastal Ecologist

At boat launch

Cher is working on a project to determine the relationship between estuarine fish assemblages and habitat types in Grand Bay. This information will help determine the productivity of Mississippi’s estuarine marshes as nursery habitat for commercial and non-commercial fish populations. She is also working on projects to evaluate restoration efforts in Grand Bay for their impact to fish and invertebrates. Cher provides assistance to the Stewardship team in terms of GIS and database management and provides other field assistance as needed. Cher completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s at University of Southern Mississippi, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.



Mike Archer

Coastal Ecologist

Using ceptometer

Mike is working on a project to determine the peak above- and below-ground biomass for the Grand Bay marshes. This information will be helpful in determining marsh response to sea level rise.  He also conducts extensive field sampling with the Stewardship team as part of our Sentinel Site program, provides other field assistance as needed and works with the prescribed fire team in controlling the field burns set by reserves and other organizations. In addition, Mike manages the atmospheric mercury monitoring in coordination with the NOAA Air Resources Lab. Mike completed his Bachelor’s in Accounting at Loyola College in Maryland and his Master’s in Environmental Science at Drexel University.


Elizabeth Moore

SWMP Technician

Near Bangs Lake

As the SWMP Technician, Elizabeth assists in the implementation of the SWMP program by working closely with the SWMP Coordinator to collect water quality data, which include collection and maintenance of water quality data loggers, use and maintenance of hand-held water quality instruments, nutrient and chlorophyll sampling and analysis, weather station maintenance, and other tasks as needed. She is interested in estuary monitoring primarily through the analysis of water quality, to look at how anthropogenic and natural changes affect the ecosystem. She is also interested in educating the public about the importance of estuaries and the environment in general, and was previously the NERR Outreach Intern in summer 2018. She graduated from The University of Southern Mississippi in 2018 with a degree in Environmental Biology and a minor in Chemistry and is hoping to attend graduate school in the Fall of 2019. In her downtime Elizabeth enjoys hiking, fishing, reading, kayaking, and attempt water coloring.


Cassy Porter

Wetlands Resource Specialist

At salt panne

Cassy is the Wetlands Resource Specialist at the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR). Her duties include assisting with various NERR monitoring projects such as Sentinel Sites, pine savanna, reef project, SWMP, and phenology trail, and commanding the NERR herbarium collection efforts. She is a current graduate student at American Public University (APU) where she’s studying Environmental Policy and Management with a concentration in Fish and Wildlife Management. Cassy earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a minor in Chemistry from the University of Southern Mississippi, Gulf Coast campus. In her personal time, Cassy enjoys the hobby of aquaponics where she grows fruit and vegetables using fish wastewater. She enjoys this process because it reduces the need for water exchanges which ultimately benefits the environment. Cassy was previously the NERR Estuarine Ecology Intern from June-November 2018.


Andrew Heaton

Resource Monitoring Specialist

Bird survey in wetlands

Andrew is a Resource Monitoring Specialist at the Grand Bay NERR. His research and natural resource management interests include monitoring changes in vegetation communities in response to management treatments, grassland bird surveys, and habitat restoration. Prior to his time at Grand Bay NERR he was involved in a variety of research projects including the ecology/conservation of herpetofauna, stranding response and population assessments of marine mammals and turtles, and the ecotoxicology of metals. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Biology from the University of Southern Mississippi and a Master of Science degree in Biology from the University of South Alabama.


McKenna Koons

SWMP Assistant

Holding a blue fish in North Carolina

As the SWMP Assistant, McKenna will be working closely with the SWMP Coordinator and the SWMP Tech to collect and analyze water samples, maintain equipment, and learn how things operate at the NERR. She has experience with water quality data collection and field work from her time on the Intelligent River Project on the Savannah River. McKenna is an Ohio native but recently moved to the area from Bald Head Island, NC where she worked for a small nonprofit on the island as an Education and Conservation Intern. She is excited to be working with EXO2 sondes again and learning about the different coastal ecosystem than what she is used to seeing on the Atlantic Coast.


Past NERR Staff and Interns


Caitlin Sanderson

SWMP Technician (July 2017- August 2018)

On flooded boardwalk

Caitlin graduated from the University of South Alabama in December of 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology with a concentration in Environmental Science. Caitlin’s position with GBNERR was SWMP Technician, and she was the NERR Estuarine Ecology Intern from April-June 2017 before she was hired on full time. She hopes to go back to school to continue education towards a Master’s Degree. While mostly undecided on what field to study, she has a strong interest in birds and Ornithology. Outside of work, she likes to stay active doing things such as exercising and kayaking, as well as reading and spending time with her pets. She is currently an Environmental Engineer at Ingalls.

Sarah Cunningham

NERR Intern (November 2017- July 2018)

On Bayou Heron

Sarah interned at both the Grand Bay NERR and MSU’s Coastal Research and Extension Center. At the NERR, she assisted with several ongoing projects, including SWMP data collection, estuarine fish assemblages, and various outreach and education events. She is interested in estuarine ecology and in engaging the public to better appreciate and conserve estuarine resources. To this end, she received her Bachelor’s in Environmental Science from the University of Texas in 2015, and plans to return for her Master’s. Ultimately, her goal is to work in mangrove ecosystems. She currently works at MSU CREC.


Recent News

  • Bayou Buzz: March-November 2018
    November 8, 2018

    Hot off the press! Enjoy the latest issue of Grand Bay NERR’s newsletter, Bayou Buzz (March-November 2018)!

  • Earth Day Art Workshop: Botanical Watercolor with Penny Crawford
    March 27, 2018

    Celebrate Earth Day with Grand Bay NERR by exploring botanical watercolor art. Guest instructor Penny Crawford will lead the workshop. Materials and supplies are provided with $40 workshop fee. Update: Workshop fee has been reduced to $30 to more accurately reflect material costs.  Full Instructor Biography: PENELOPE WALLACE CRAWFORD ARTIST BIOGRAPHY […]

All News