Water Quality

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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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Hurricanes, Snakeheads and Dead Zones: What 2011 Weather Meant for the Chesapeake

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

by Kristen Minogue

Credit: NOAA Photo Library

Let’s face it, the East Coast has had an incredibly bizarre year. In 2011 so far, we’ve seen the coldest January on record, the hottest month on record (July), a hurricane, a tropical storm and an earthquake (we’re not even going to touch the last one – we’ll leave that to our colleagues at Natural History). And to top it off, August and September drenched us with uncharacteristically high rainfall. While SERC tends to focus on the long-term picture rather than brief snapshots, this year has prompted more than a few raised eyebrows among our scientists. What does it mean for the environment? What does it mean for Chesapeake Bay? And can any of it be linked to climate change?

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The Satellite That Could Save the Coasts

Friday, September 16th, 2011

by Kristen Minogue

On a hot afternoon in July, a team of researchers sailing down Chesapeake Bay stumbled across a cluster of striped bass floating in the water. About a dozen of the iridescent black and silver fish bobbed at the surface near the ship’s bow. All of them were dead.

Scientists prepare to measure how light interacts with particles in the Bay. Credit: Carlos DelCastillo

The fish kill came out of a low-oxygen zone near Annapolis, just one symptom of the Bay’s declining health. Overflows of nutrients from farms and cities have fueled massive growths of algae that cut off light and oxygen to the Bay’s lower levels.

“There was a very quiet moment between everybody on the boat,” recalled Vienna Saccomanno, one of the Smithsonian research interns aboard when it was discovered. “You kind of knew what everyone was thinking, feeling empowered to continue with this research and hopefully contribute to prevention of this in our water system.”

The scientists on board weren’t there simply to document the Bay’s many ailments, however. They had joined the 10-day cruise to pave the way for a much larger goal: a geostationary satellite that could provide constant, detailed coverage of coastal health.
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Hunt for a Missing Nutrient

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

by Kristen Minogue

Leviton

Intern Ginny Leviton (left) and Vienna Saccomanno sample groundwater from a drainage ditch, trying to pin down the exact spot where the nitrogen goes missing. (Credit: Tom Jordan)

The Choptank watershed has SERC researchers baffled. On the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay, roughly a 75-minute drive from SERC, the groundwater flowing into the Choptank River passes through a cornfield – a likely source of nitrogen, a nutrient that can wreak havoc on the Bay’s ecosystem if it runs too high. But something is happening to the nitrogen here before it reaches the Bay. Nutrient ecologist Tom Jordan and his research team have spent the better part of a year trying to figure out what.
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