Don't be alarmed if you see color-coded cucumbers floating in the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal starting July 25. Those veggies are giving their lives to science as part of a University of Delaware research project. UD researchers and volunteers from the Inland Bays Citizen Monitoring Program will be tracking the floating cukes to learn more about circulation processes.
The project is being conducted by the Inland Bays Citizen Monitoring Program through a grant from the Center for the Inland Bays. Now in its tenth year, the monitoring program has 30 volunteers who collect and test water samples at various locations along the bays. The program is managed by the UD Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service with support from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
"The goal of our drifter deployments is to get a better understanding of the general direction of water flow in the canal and the rate of flow," says Joe Farrell, the UD resource management specialist who oversees the monitoring program. "That information will help us understand the potential impacts of wastewater discharge into the canal and develop cost-effective ways to reduce that discharge."
But how did the idea of using cucumbers crop up? According to Farrell, that decision was a bit of home-grown ingenuity.
"We decided to use cucumbers for our experiment because they float, they're biodegradable, and they're readily available in Delaware as a local farm product," he says. "Vlasic Foods in Millsboro, which is a major industry in the Inland Bays watershed, generously donated them to us."
On July 25, Farrell and his volunteers will release a total of 150 cucumbers into Lewes-Rehoboth Canal. Fifty cukes will be deployed from each of three locations: Freeman Bridge (south of Lewes), mid-point location along the canal, and in Rehoboth Beach near the Route 1 bridge. Cucumbers will be marked yellow, orange, or red, according to their release site.
The project team plans to begin the cuke deployment at 10:00 a.m. from Freeman Bridge and work their way south to the Rehoboth Beach location. The volunteers will monitor the cuke drifters to determine how far they go during a tidal exchange. They will collect the cucumbers by small skiffs and kayaks the following day. Curious as the cukes may look, it's important that the public not pick them up during the study period.
If the project goes well, Farrell hopes to conduct a similar study in Little Assawoman Canal at the end of August. He says getting a better sense of the canal's flow may help researchers better understand the impacts that Little Assawoman Bay and Indian River Bay have on each other and the possible impact of dredging on the canal.
Ultimately, Farrell jokes, Delaware-grown cucumbers could find a new career in marine science. "Who knows?" he says, smiling. "This project may redefine the term 'sea cucumber.'"
For more information about the project and to confirm deployment times on July 25, contact Joe Farrell at (302) 645-4250.