Chlorophyll. Salinity. Temperature. All kinds of things play roles in water quality, which is vital for the health of fisheries.

Until July 1, 2011, the Pamlico Sound had an excellent water-monitoring system, one that other states modeled. Dubbed FerryMon, it was devised by UNC marine scientist Hans Paerl and Duke’s Joe Ramus. They equipped three ferries with water-collecting equipment so that the Pamlico Sound could be monitored at different locations all day, every day. They made their findings public, and you could track the data just as the researchers did.

Click to read photo caption. Photo by Jason Smith

FerryMon operated like clockwork for 10 years until the state had to make tough budgetary decisions in 2011. FerryMon was scaled back; the three ferries still carried monitoring equipment, but Paerl could only secure enough funding to collect and analyze water samples from one ferry that crosses the Neuse Estuary. And that wasn’t enough study how a storm affects the whole of the sound.

As he told Endeavors in 2012:

“We have very little idea what Hurricane Irene did to the Pamlico Sound last summer,” Paerl says. “And that’s really a shame because if you want to look at water-quality trends, you need a continuous set of data over the course of years.”

Paerl hopes to regain funding. At 64, he’s now part of the old guard at UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences, though he’s lost little passion. He’d rather be on the water, he says, but he spends a fair amount of time trying to get FerryMon back on line.

He pauses. “You know, I’m a pit bull when it comes to this stuff.”

A pit bull that doesn’t let go.

Paerl’s small National Science Foundation grant to keep FerryMon operating on a limited scale will run out this year, and he was preparing to take the system completely off-line this summer. But FerryMon has received a reprieve.

Thanks to a grant of $143,742 from the N.C. Marine Resources Fund, FerryMon will resume its full schedule of collecting and analyzing water samples from two ferries.

Next June, if the commissions agree that FerryMon provided satisfactory data, the program could receive another year of funding.

After that, Paerl will be on his own again.

“I’m beating all the bushes I can,” he says, “to secure permanent funding.”

Pearl’s grant was the largest of eight “habitat focus” grants—totaling $611,753—that the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences received from the N.C. Marine Resources Fund, which granted a total of $2.43 million dollars to projects this year. The money comes from the sale of Coastal Recreational Fishing Licenses.