Phinizy Swamp, which spans 6,000 acres along Augusta's eastern flank, is well known for its waterfowl and wandering alligators.
This spring, the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy will launch a study of some of its smaller creatures in hopes of better defining the effect of water quality changes.
"Reptiles and amphibians are often used as the canaries in the coal mine," said Oscar Flite, the academy's research director. "They live in aquatic environments, and they're usually the first to know if something is wrong."
The herpetological assessment will be launched with a $7,000 grant from the Porter Fleming Foundation and expanded to become an ongoing project, he said.
One objective will be to determine whether there are rare or previously undiscovered species in the swamp, which includes the 1,100-acre nature park managed by the academy, a 1,500-acre wildlife management area used for public fishing and hunting and about 3,200 acres owned by Merry Land Properties.
"Interestingly enough, as close as it is to Augusta, I don't think we know a whole lot about Phinizy Swamp," Flite said. "There may be a few boggy habitat areas out there, which could be good for endangered species. Perhaps we'll even find a bog turtle."
Other research will focus on populations of the many frogs, snakes, salamanders and other creatures that live in the area.
Tools to capture and count reptiles and amphibians will likely include drift fences in swampy areas, hoop nets in flooded habitats and the use of cover boards and plastic pipes to attract frogs and snakes.
"We'll certainly have to get people out in the field, too," Flite said. "As part of this, we're also hoping to bring in Augusta State University to tap into some undergraduate research opportunities."
The data collected during the ongoing assessments will become more valuable over time, Flite said, because it will become easier to document changes and trends.
"You have to have long-term data to see how individual species are increasing and decreasing," he said. "We can get a better idea of water quality by looking at it over a longer period."