Interns Amber Joseph and Lowell Williams
The future looks bright for the state of Delaware when two of its own take an interest in the environment in which they live. Amber Joseph from Bridgeville and Lowell Williams from Lewes, sophomores at the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical & Community College, respectively, spent the summer monitoring the water quality of Delaware’s Inland Bays as student interns for UD’s Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service at the College of Marine Studies’ campus in Lewes.
Joseph and Williams provided additional support to the Inland Bays Citizen Monitoring Program. The monitoring program was established by the Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service as a way to gather information on the water quality of the Inland Bays and educate the public. The program relies on volunteers to collect and analyze water samples at designated sites throughout the year.
The Inland Bays, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, are loaded with excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, which can impair the water quality of the bays. The nutrients may encourage algae to grow rapidly, resulting in what is known as an “algal bloom.” These blooms may block sunlight from reaching bottom-dwelling plants or deplete the water of oxygen needed by other organisms.
“Amber and Lowell were a huge help to Ed Whereat, who coordinates the volunteers and manages the lab,” says Joe Farrell, marine resource management specialist for the Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service and manager of the program. “They helped him with everything — screening samples, initiating our new bacteria testing program and setting up our new lab, picking up samples from volunteers, designing our Web site, preparing reports, and doing routine lab work such as cleaning sample bottles.”
A major task was to monitor harmful algal blooms (HABs). Some HABs can contain algal species that may be toxic to fish, shellfish, and even humans. Early detection of these species can give resource managers and the public time to prepare for and mitigate the impacts. HABs also can be caused by non-toxic species that can bloom and deplete the oxygen or have other adverse effects
Monitoring for HABs was conducted throughout the Inland Bays by collecting and screening water samples to determine if any harmful algal species were present. In the event of a HAB or fish kill, further monitoring efforts were made to identify the species that were present and also to determine the concentration.
“Probably the most interesting thing I did this summer was collect water samples in an area where 50,000 to 100,000 fish died,” says Joseph. “Ed and I were able to get to the site within an hour of it being reported. The first thing we noticed were all the gulls flying around.”
According to Joseph, they could see that the fish weren’t doing well — they were still floating up to the surface. Even crabs, which can survive at lower levels of oxygen, were crawling up the bulkheads trying to get out of the water.
“It’s one thing to read about fish kills in the paper and another to see it firsthand,” she says. “It’s a real eye-opening experience to see what can happen as a result of low oxygen levels.”
The Inland Bays Citizen Monitoring Program also relied on Joseph and Williams to test samples for bacteria. This project, which began this summer, supports an expanded bacteria monitoring program by the state of Delaware.
Joseph and Williams prepared and incubated samples and tested them for the presence of coliform and enterococcus bacteria. Because the presence of these bacteria in large numbers may indicate contaminated water, the tests provide an important line of defense in determining whether waters are safe for activities such as shellfish harvesting and swimming.
The internships proved to be a win-win situation for both the students and the Inland Bays Citizen Monitoring Program. Joseph and Williams gained real world, hands-on experience in the marine sciences and, in return, collected valuable information about the water quality of the Inland Bays.
The experience confirmed Joseph’s decision to major in environmental science and then “work to raise awareness of environmental issues.” Williams, who is majoring in radiology, developed a new appreciation of the Inland Bays and “came away with an understanding of the efforts that are required to protect them.”
“Amber and Lowell each brought unique skills and talents that complemented each other and added to the effectiveness of the program,” says Farrell. “It was nice to have their added energy and enthusiasm this summer.”
In addition to their work for the monitoring program, Joseph and Williams attended weekly seminars at CMS on topics ranging from careers in the marine sciences to writing scientific papers. They also participated in a day of marine research aboard UD’s 120-foot research vessel, Cape Henlopen.
Joseph’s internship was supported through the Environmental Careers Organization’s Community Intern Program. Williams’s internship was funded by the Inland Bays Citizen Monitoring Program, with additional support from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the Center for the Inland Bays.