Water Quality

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From the Field: Farewell, Panama

Friday, December 28th, 2012

by Kristy Hill

The oyster Isognomon sp. in the crevices of a rocky reef at Fort Sherman on the Atlantic coast of Panama. (Kristy Hill)


Yesterday we ventured to the Caribbean coast of Panama, where we had beautiful weather for sampling. Our first stop was near Fort Sherman, a former United States Army base, where we found lots of Isognomon oysters on the subtidal rocks. These oysters are unusual because instead of cementing their shell to a hard surface, they attach themselves to rocks and mangroves with a threadlike structure. We also were able to collect a Crassostrea sp. and a few Ostrea sp. as well.

We then headed to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) Marine Laboratory in Galeta. We braved the somewhat turbulent waters and snorkeled to collect from the mangroves, despite reports of crocodiles that frequent the area. Oh, the lengths we’ll go to in the name of science.

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From the Field: Punta Chame–Oysters Galore

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

by Katrina Lohan

Katrina Lohan and Kristina Hill sample oysters off the rocks near Punta Chame, on the Pacific side of Panama. (Carmen Schloeder)


Some sampling sites are glamorous. Others are not. Our site near Punta Chame was literally off the side of the road. There were lots of rocks just off the road, and then a sandy bank that led to a stream, which led to the ocean. The rocks were covered in oysters, so it was very easy to get all the oyster samples we needed. We found three different species at that site and were able to collect all the oysters and water samples in about an hour.

Interestingly, there were two locations available for water sampling. One spot was an isolated pond influenced by run-off from the road, where the salinity was only 18 ppt. (The average salinity of the ocean is 35 ppt or parts per thousand). The other spot was more of a stream running from the land into the ocean only a few miles away, and the stream’s salinity was 30 ppt. As the salinity of the water can directly impact the parasites, some of which can only survive in high salinity, I opted to take water samples from both bodies of water so I could compare the differences. I’m hoping to get some really interesting results!

From the Field: Worth the Drive

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

by Katrina Lohan

View from Rio Mar on the Pacific side of Panama at high tide (Carmen Schloeder)

On Friday, we ventured to a new location on the Pacific coast to hunt for oysters. Rio Mar is a beach site, so it is unlike our other locations, which thus far have been located in more enclosed estuaries. We headed out to Rio Mar in the hopes of finding some larger oysters in the tidal pools. Fortunately and unfortunately for us, by the time we made it out there, it was high tide. The view of the beach and surrounding area was spectacular, but we weren’t able to sample any oysters. I can’t say I regret going out there, though–what a beautiful beach!

From the Field: Hanging onto Mangroves

Monday, December 17th, 2012

by Katrina Lohan

First of all, our stuff arrived! After a few more phone calls to the customs office, everything went smoothly and all of our gear was delivered on Tuesday—not too shabby, really!

STRI biologist Mark Torchin attempts to climb a stream bank after obtaining oysters from the mangrove roots. (Katrina Lohan)

The next site on our list was called Bique, an intertidal area that has some freshwater input. Many sites on the Pacific side of Panama have large stretches of beach that are uncovered at low tide but completely underwater at high tide. So we are sampling at low tide, when the oysters on the rocks are exposed and much more easily accessible.

At this site, we decided to check out the mangroves first to see if there were any oysters attached to their roots that we could sample. While we found some, they were pretty difficult to get off. Our collaborator, Mark Torchin, thought it safest to strap himself to a mangrove, as the banks were made of soft mud and it is all too easy to fall into the stream. Additional acrobatics, such as scaling mangroves, navigating through root mazes, and climbing back up off the muddy banks, were required to get these oysters, but we prevailed and were able to walk away with about 30 individual oysters.

We then headed back out to scrape oysters off the rocks and found two different species, Saccostrea palmula and a species of Crassostrea, in the rocky intertidal zone. As our supplies had arrived, I now had the equipment necessary to obtain and filter water samples as well, so I walked out along the rocks to get a liter of surface water from the incoming tide. Part of my fellowship research involves comparing the different kinds of parasites in the water column to what is infecting and being filtered by the oysters. Water sampling is just one way of obtaining a more complete picture of parasite diversity in the different sites that we are sampling.

From the Field: Finding Oysters in Panama

Friday, December 14th, 2012

by Katrina Lohan

Katrina Lohan, attempting to scrape oysters off a rock at Punta Culebra, Panama. (Kristy Hill)

I would love to be able to say that I am a world traveler with loads of experience visiting other countries, but that would be far from the truth. Unfortunately for me, my passport has only a few stamps. (Two to be precise, as it wasn’t stamped for walking across the border into Mexico or crossing the border to have dinner in Canada.) So traveling to Panama to collect oysters has expanded my horizons in more ways than one!

In Panama, Kristy and I are working with Mark Torchin and Carmen Schloeder, scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Our first sampling site was about a five-minute drive from the Smithsonian’s Naos Laboratory, which sits just outside Panama City on the Pacific Ocean.

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From the Field: Arriving in Panama

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

by Kristy Hill

Panama skyline (Kristy Hill)

I arrived in Panama City at 10 p.m. Saturday night, and as the plane started its descent into the city, my eyes widened at the sight of the city lights. It looked as if Clark Griswold had bedecked the entire city with Christmas lights! Tall buildings flashed extravagant multicolored light shows. I started getting that flutter of excitement in my stomach. I was about to spend two amazing weeks in Panama doing the science that I love!

I got through immigration and customs without incident despite my inability to speak Spanish well (yo hablo muy poco español). At any rate, I found my shuttle driver holding a sign with my name on it, so I felt pretty special as we walked out into hot and humid Panama.

My driver, Victor, showed me wonderful Panamanian hospitality. Luckily he spoke English very well and gave me a tour of the city on our way to the hotel. He recommended some places for us to visit if we had free time, and we talked about his experiences scuba diving in the Caribbean.

I arrived safe and sound at the hotel, where I managed to wake Katrina, who was already fast asleep with visions of sugar plums dancing through her head as I fumbled with my suitcases. I climbed into bed as well shortly thereafter and dreamt of Panamanian oysters dancing in my head…

Buenas noches!

From the Field: Game Plan for Panama

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

by Kristy Hill, SERC marine invasions technician

Katrina Lohan packs rubber gloves, Ziploc bags and other field essentials for a science expedition. (Kristy Hill)

Katrina and I leave for Panama City in next week, so we’re gathering supplies and mapping out our game plan. We’re stoked to get this project rolling—beautiful surroundings and mandatory snorkeling in the tropics won’t be such bad work!

The critters we’re looking for grow on coral reefs, mangrove roots, sponges, pilings, sea walls and rocks. Our goal is to collect at least 50 to 60 oysters of three or four different species from three sites along the Caribbean coast. At each site, we’ll take water quality measurements such as salinity, temperature and oxygen content. We’ll take additional notes about the oysters’ habitats, such as their distance from the shore, the depth of the water, their proximity to ports or marinas, etc. We want to obtain as much data (or information) as possible so we can better understand the environment where the oysters and their potential parasites live.

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From the Field: Hunting for Parasites

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

by Katrina Lohan, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and National Zoo postdoc

Many people cringe when they hear the word “parasite”—not Katrina Lohan and Kristy Hill. Combined, the two of us have spent 12 years conducting research on parasites that infect bivalves (oysters, clams, mussels, etc.), crustaceans (crabs, shrimps, lobsters, etc.), and songbirds. We are both passionate about studying marine parasites and want to better understand how parasitism impacts marine animals. For the next few months, we’ll be searching for these parasites in waters all along the east coast of North America, from Maryland to Panama.

Katrina Lohan (right) and Kristy Hill are preparing to scour the coasts of North America for marine parasites infecting oysters and other shellfish. (Kim Holzer/SERC)

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Nightly Oxygen Drops Deadly
for Chesapeake Oysters

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

by Kristen Minogue

Slide of an oyster completely infected with Dermo.


Oysters in Chesapeake Bay face more dangers than overfishing and habitat loss. Over the last few decades they’ve also had to contend with crippling disease outbreaks. And according to marine ecologist Denise Breitburg, the wild day-night fluctuations in Bay waters aren’t helping.

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Six Endangered Species of the Chesapeake

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

by Kristen Minogue

Bat infected with deadly white-nose syndrome.
(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The last Western Black Rhino appeared in Cameroon in 2000. Now they’re gone, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which declared the rare subspecies officially extinct Nov. 10. As thousands more species go extinct across the world every year, the Chesapeake Bay watershed is fighting to save its own endangered flora and fauna. Maryland counts 362 plants and animals on its endangered list – and that’s not including the ones that have already been wiped out from the state. Whales, bats, turtles and orchids: here are six of Chesapeake’s most wanted.
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