Ayesha Gray, Ph.D. Director

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 Bilbo (Huynh) Director’s Assistant / Administrative Assistant

At outreach event

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 plans and assists with the Reserve’s outreach events, education programs, 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, program evaluations, and visitor studies. Her favorite pastimes include visual arts in various media, including nature and wedding photography. 


Hugh Bodden Facilities Manager

Hugh with Tobi

Hugh maintains Grand Bay NERR facilities, including major equipment, vehicles and boats, and everything else you can think of to keep our building and operations running. Hugh is a Moss Point, MS native and is related to the Bangs family of “Bangs Lake” in our Reserve- how cool! Previous to being our Facilities Manager, Hugh was an avid NERR volunteer who helped out with National Estuaries Day and Star Party. He is also a certified Mississippi Master Naturalist. Outside of work, you might find him jamming out to and playing music or finding delicious oysters to eat.


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.


Dennis McGrury Outreach Specialist

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.


Jennifer Cumbest Education Specialist

At Bayou Heron SWMP station

Jennifer is the Education Specialist here at the Grand Bay NERR. Her role at the reserve is to implement the “on-the-road” program bringing the science from the reserve into classrooms. She strives to continually improve the connection between the reserve and the community with a focus on the K-12 population. Jennifer holds a Bachelors degree in Marine Science from Samford University. In her spare time Jennifer enjoys spending time with family outside on the water enjoying all the coast has to offer.



Science: Research and Stewardship


Jonathan Pitchford, Ph.D. Stewardship Coordinator

Holding Distichlis

Dr. 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 Research Coordinator

Holding sonde- water quality equipment

Kim is the Research Coordinator at Grand Bay NERR. Before that, she spent almost 10 years as Grand Bay’s System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) Coordinator. Kim has extensive experience with water quality monitoring in a variety of freshwater and coastal ecosystems. She has also spent time working in environmental education and science communication. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a Master of Science degree in Marine Biology, and is currently working towards a Master of Applied Statistics degree. Kim is dedicated to collecting high-quality, well-documented data, and turning that data into information to be used for effective coastal resource management.


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.


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 SWMP Manager

At salt panne

Cassy is the SWMP Manager at the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR). Her duties include overseeing the System Wide Monitoring Program. 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 and the Wetlands Resource Specialist from December 2018 – April 2020, in which she assisted with various NERR monitoring projects such as Sentinel Sites, pine savanna, reef project, SWMP, and phenology trail, and commanding the NERR herbarium collection efforts.


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.


Brianna Andrews Research Assistant

Bri holding Tobi the terrapin

Brianna is a research assistant at the NERR, where she will focus on specific research projects related to productivity in the estuary. Her work will be in conjunction with Mississippi State University’s Coastal Research & Extension Center. Brianna was previously the Outreach Intern in summer 2019, where her goals included thinking of out-of-the-box ideas in hopes that the public will enjoy learning about estuaries, conservation, and NERR’s mission. Brianna graduated from William Carey University in May 2019 with a Bachelors in Environmental Biology and a minor in Psychology. In her downtime, she enjoys reading, listening to music, spending time with family and friends, collecting vintage cameras, and travelling.


Michael Brochard Stewardship Assistant

Holding a Mississippi green water snake

Michael assists the Stewardship team in every aspect, including monitoring and land management activities such as vegetation monitoring and assisting with prescribed fires. He has extensive experience in marine fisheries, and at the NERR he conducts biological field sampling, data entry, and analysis for a fish monitoring project, so you’re likely to find him in the estuary often! He assists in shoreline erosion monitoring using an RTK (real-time kinematic positioning device), and helps other teams at the NERR and external researchers from USGS and Mississippi State University in the field. Michael is an Ocean Springs, MS native.


Jacob Goff Stewardship Assistant

With a Louisiana Pinesnake in Conecuh National Forest in AL

Jacob assists the Stewardship teams management and monitoring efforts at the Grand Bay NERR. His duties include using field methods and GIS software to assist with habitat monitoring efforts and grassland bird surveys within the pine savanna. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Geography from the University of Southern Mississippi. He is an Eagle Scout and avid outdoorsman, filling his free time with hunting, fishing, kayaking, camping, hiking, and playing guitar. Jacob was previously the Restoration Monitoring Intern. 




Matthew Virden Margaret Davidson Fellow

In the woods

Matthew is originally from Montgomery, AL. He works at Mississippi State University Extension Center in Biloxi, MS. He graduated from MSU with a Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture in 2018 and completed his Master’s degree in 2021. Currently, Matthew is working towards a Ph.D. His current research interests are coastal restoration, wave energy dynamics, and remote sensing. He is also a big fan of Mississippi State athletics.                                                                                                                                                                                     


Paul Frye Estuarine Ecology Intern

With jack crevalle

Paul is seeking a bachelor’s degree in Marine Science (Hydrography) and a minor in Geography from the University of Southern Mississippi. Paul lives in Gautier, MS and is an avid fisherman and hunter.





Lauren Kegley Estuarine Ecology Intern

On terrapin survey

Lauren was born and raised on the Gulf Coast. She is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Marine Science (Hydrography) at the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Park campus. Her academic interests are in marine biology and ecology. Lauren’s past times include long walks on anything but the beach and jigsaw puzzles.







Past NERR Staff and Interns

Chris Huynh GBNERR Assistant (October 2019 – October 2020)

Chris photographing plants

Chris was the GBNERR Assistant. His primary project focused on updating the latest editions of our plant and bird guides. He also assisted in other outreach activities as needed. Chris is a PC enthusiast and in his spare time, he enjoys building computers, engaging in the arts, testing new recipes, and fishing offshore. Chris is currently a 3D designer for ships in Newport News, VA.


Mark Woodrey, Ph.D. Research Coordinator (August 2002 – June 2020)

With clapper rail

Dr. Mark Woodrey is a research biologist at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center (MSU CREC) and served as the Research Coordinator at the Grand Bay NERR for 18 years. 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. Mark is now working full time at the MSU CREC as Research Faculty, but you might still see him at some of our NERR events!

McKenna Koons SWMP Assistant (December 2018- August 2019)

Holding a blue fish in North Carolina

As the SWMP Assistant, McKenna worked closely with the SWMP Coordinator and the SWMP Technician 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 lived on Bald Head Island, NC where she worked for a small nonprofit on the island as an Education and Conservation Intern before coming to Grand Bay NERR. McKenna is currently the SWMP Technician at Hudson Bay NERR in New York.


Daniel Taylor Estuarine Ecology Intern (June 2019 – August 2019)

Catching and tagging a tripletail

Daniel assisted with various research and stewardship projects as the summer Estuarine Ecology Intern. He helped with the System Wide Monitoring Program and water quality monitoring, and works with fish processing, vegetation monitoring, and the phenology trail monitoring. He is interested in fisheries and associated systems. In his leisure time, he enjoys outdoor recreational activities such as boating, fishing, and hunting. Currently, Daniel is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture at Mississippi State University.


Cher Griffin Coastal Ecologist (November 2014 – July 2019)

At boat launch

Cher was 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 also worked on projects to evaluate restoration efforts in Grand Bay for their impact to fish and invertebrates. Cher provided assistance to the Stewardship team in terms of GIS, database management, and other field assistance as needed. Previous to the Coastal Ecologist position, Cher was the SWMP Technician. Cher completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s at University of Southern Mississippi, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. She is continuing her new adventures as a high school science teacher in the local area.

Rick Ranew K-12 Specialist (February 2010 – June 2019)

With student

Rick primarily ran the K-12 ‘On the Road’ program at the NERR. Rick worked with other staff members to design and implement programs that address current coastal issues on the school level from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Rick worked 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. Ultimately, his goal is to inspire future generations to become good and knowledgeable stewards of our fragile coastal environments. He is currently enjoying retirement with his wife, 13 grand-kids, and spends time in his garden and travelling.


Brian Hurst Building Manager (September 2014- June 2019)

Maintaining equipment

As building manager, Brian maintained the Grand Bay NERR facility and grounds, as well as our dormitories and outdoors facilities. He assured that all equipment was in working order, cleaned, and properly maintained. He is retired and looking forward to traveling west to visit more national parks with his wife.


Caitlin Sanderson Raines 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. Sarah is currently the Coastal Training Program Coordinator at Mission-Aransas NERR in Texas.


Recent News

  • Sightings April 2019 – August 2019
    October 30, 2019

    April 2019 4/3- Large white tailed deer (2); Male painted bunting 4/12- Blue-gray gnat catcher 4/16- Glass lizard 4/19- Yellow colicroot 4/24- Rose orchid/pogonia; wild onion/garlic May 2019 5/1- Large bald eagle 5/7- Red-headed woodpecker 5/8- Gulf Coast box turtles (4) 5/16- Large white tailed deer 5/20- Baby box turtle […]

  • We’re looking for volunteers for fall 2019!
    August 23, 2019

    It’s already gearing up to be a busy fall at the Grand Bay NERR. Earlier this summer we celebrated our 20th year as a Reserve with an open house for guests. To continue the celebration, our National Estuaries Day event will have even more fun for the family! In addition to our […]

All News