Last week was the eighth week of my internship. Last Monday, we made our seven-mile boat ride to the power plant to set up our nets for the week. We set a hoop net and a gill net at each of our four sample locations. During the week, we checked our nets twice a day and recorded the lengths and weight of the fish we sampled. For fish species that we have not sampled previously, we collected DNA samples from them to sequence in the lab. Additionally, at our four research sites we recorded physicochemical data. We did not sample any unique fish last week, just the more common fish species of the river. By the more common species, I mean longnose gar, river carpsucker, gizzard shad, channel catfish, smallmouth buffalo, etc.
On Tuesday last week, we went night electrofishing at the older power plant that I talked about in my first post. This coal-fired power plant is lacking vital technology to operate on a consistent basis. This facility is only in operation when extra electricity is needed, or when the other power plant is down for maintenance. The negative characteristics associated with the ancient power plant are large water intake, thermal discharge, absence of ash settling ponds, and a nonexistence environmentally efficient technology. When EPA’s Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) is implemented in 2015, this facility will retire. While we electrofished, the power plant was in operation. Consequently, we were able to feel the direct effects of the thermal discharge that was well in excess of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, we do not collect physiochemical parameters when we electrofish, so we did not know the exact temperature. That being said, we could feel the significant temperature change just by placing our hands in the water near the discharge. Once we finished electrofishing downstream of the power plant, we recorded the lengths and weights of the fish that we had sampled. We then motored upstream of the power plant and electrofished a designated research area and repeated our process of recording the lengths and weights of each fish. We stored the minnows from each location in separate containers for identification in the lab the next morning.
On last Wednesday, we processed our minnows from the previous night, checked our nets, and had a seminar with Erich Emery from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Mr. Emery is a biologist and water quality specialists at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. His talk focused on harmful algal blooms. These algal blooms are harmful and sometimes deadly to humans and their pets. They have also become more common in recent years and have lasted longer than usual. Mr. Emery discussed one instance of where a lake had an algal bloom that lasted over the winter. Water specialists such as Mr. Emery are trying to improve their understanding of these toxic algal blooms to prevent further harm to humans.
We pulled our nets from our four sample locations near the power plant on Friday for the last time this summer. When we brought them back to the field station, we cleaned them and put them in storage for the next group of interns. Additionally, last week we continued to work on the fossil and mulch bed projects in our spare time. These two projects are going to be continued and are set to be completed before we have our final presentations in August.
This week we are sequencing DNA samples, electrofishing, performing habitat assessments, analyzing our data, writing our standard operational procedures, and constructing our PowerPoint and poster presentations. Our final presentations are going to be held on Friday August 8th. On Monday, we went to the Cincinnati Museum Center to begin the first steps in processing our DNA samples. These steps included cutting our tissue samples into small pieces to increase the surface area, labeling each vial, pipetting a digestion buffer into each sample, and placing them on a hot plate overnight. The hot plate increases the rate of digestion. That afternoon, we went sampling and caught a blue sucker! This is a rare fish and is threatened in much of its native range. To get a sense of how rare it is in this area, it was only the third one to be sampled in the twenty-five years that this project has been conducted. Consequently, we handled this fish with great care and with a sense of urgency to return it to the water as quickly as possible.
It is hard for me to believe that this internship is winding down to an end so quickly. However, it has been a great experience and I am certain the remainder will be as well.
Thanks for reading,