Conclusion of Week 6 and Week 7
Last week was the conclusion of week 6 of my internship on the Ohio River. Our research group was checking hoop nets, gill nets, and taking water quality parameters twice a day at our four research sites. Last Friday, when we arrived at our first gill net, we were greeted with a large American Paddlefish! This is a rare find on this section of the Ohio River. We recorded its length and weight and successfully released it back in to the water as quickly as possible to reduce the amount of stress on the fish. Paddlefish are an interesting fish that use their electroreceptor-lined rostrum to detect electrical impulses from zooplankton. The mouth of a paddlefish has long gill rakers that are adapted to filter out the zooplankton from the water. The paddlefish was once abundant in parts of the United States, but dams, development, and polluted waters led to a decline in population. Fortunately, greater awareness has improved water quality on some parts of the Ohio River leading to a slight increase in the paddlefish population.
In my previous posts, I have talked a lot about collecting fish data, but I have not discussed data analysis. Once we have all of our fish data collected, we are going to calculate a biological index known as the Ohio River Fish Index (ORFIn). The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) developed this index. ORSANCO is a water pollution control agency that consists of eight states including Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Using the Index of Biological Integrity as a model, ORSANCO developed the ORFIn to examine fish data from the Ohio River. This index consists of 13 metrics used to determine fish community health. It is designed to have a maximum score of 65 with each metric having a max score of 5. A high score is reflective of good water quality and a healthy fish community. The ORFIn takes into account the number of species, the type of species, and the number of DELTs (Deformities, Eroded fins, Lesions, or Tumors). ORSANCO has developed expected scores based on three distinct habitat classes. A, B, and C are the designated habitat classes with A being the highest and C the lowest. We have not done habitat surveys, but intend to do them during our last week of fieldwork. However, I am excited to see if we will find a difference in our sample sites above and below the power plant.
This week is week 7 of my internship. It was also STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) camp week for forty high school students. We had groups of students visit the field station on Monday and Wednesday. On these days, our research group participated as mentors and took small groups of students out on our three research vessels to conduct a bioassessment of the Ohio River near the field station. This was completed by instructing them on the proper techniques for collecting water quality parameters, checking hoop nets, and boat electrofishing. Overall, the students had a great time at the field station and learned a lot.
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to backpack electrofish during the day and boat electrofish that evening. We backpack electrofished a small stream near the field station with a professor that wanted to collect teaching specimens for the fall semester. Therefore, we did not have a set protocol for sampling; we just needed to collect various fish species. While sampling, we encountered darters, creek chubs, sunfish, catfish, and rock bass. The professor was content on adding these fish to his collection. On Tuesday evening, Mat Latos from the Cincinnati Reds came to the field station to go boat electrofishing. Fortunately, for us interns, we were able to go out sampling with him.
This week Dr. Lorentz has added a couple more projects for our research group to work on in our spare time. One of these tasks is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for our bioassessment of the Ohio River. Dr. Lorentz intends to use this document to give to interns during their first week of the internship. He hopes that this document will have all the information needed for the interns to complete their bioassessment of the Ohio River. Another project that we began working on this week is a landscaping fossil project. Dr. Lorentz wants us to collect interesting fossils to display the rich geologic history of this area. To display these fossils we began to create a walkway that will have informative signs about the history of the fossils. This area of Kentucky is rich in marine fossils including brachiopods, mollusks, corals, and occasionally a trilobite. Many of the fossils that we have found have come from the banks of the Ohio River less than a mile away from the field station.
Next week we are going to continue our bioassessment of the Ohio River. This will include setting and checking hoop nets and gill nets, collecting water quality data, and boat electrofishing.
Thanks for reading,