Posts Tagged ‘Estuaries’

An Internship Beyond Expectation

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

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By: Akida Ferguson

Working as an intern at the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve (DNERR) has been a rewarding and exciting experience. As an intern I have been able to garner hands-on experience in the field I intend to be employed. Working closely with Mike Mensinger, an Environmental Scientist at the Reserve, I have been able to practice science in both the field and the lab. As a junior at Delaware State University, I am majoring in Natural Resources with a concentration in Environmental Science. It is rare to find an internship that exposes you to this much practical experience and I am grateful for the opportunity.

Every day is an adventure in which I learn something new.  This internship has expanded my research knowledge by my participation in secretive marsh bird surveys, trawling studies (fish and crabs), water quality monitoring, and weather data collection. In addition, I have also assisted in educating middle school students on the research we conduct at the Reserve.  This internship has given me meaningful experiences that I can use in the future.

As part of the internship program I am required to conduct my own research project.  I am investigating the effect of Phragmites australis (an invasive plant species) on blue crab survivability. By tethering crabs to the marsh at various sites along Blackbird Creek, I aim to find if certain species of vegetation aid juvenile crabs in predator evasion better than others.  I will be presenting a research poster at an undergraduate student symposium this summer.

The staff at the Reserve has been awesome and friendly, and I have even made a few turtle friends.  I come in everyday eager for what’s in store.  I know that this experience has better prepared me for my future endeavors.  I would like to thank the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Environmental Cooperative Science Center for funding this internship and the Delaware National Estuarine Reserve for hosting it.


A day in the life of a horseshoe crab biologist

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to be a horseshoe crab biologist? Well, I have the wonderful opportunity to be one!   A typical day begins at 8 am loading equipment at the St. Jones Reserve to a chorus of chirping birds and tree frogs.  What does a horseshoe crab biologist use?  We use plenty of small buckets for sediment samples, a couple ropes marked off at three meter intervals, some stakes painted orange, a clicker-counter, metal sediment slicer, and most important, a sediment core sampler!

Once at the beach, the sampling areas are established according to the high tide line and signs of horseshoe crab activity.  The marked ropes are set up to establish three meter by twenty meter transects.  Each biologist collects 20 five-cm deep sediment core samples randomly throughout each transect and places them into a bucket with a label with the date, beach name and transect designation.  This is repeated on 3-4 beaches a day.

The sample buckets are then brought back to the lab for processing.  The first step is to remove as much gravel, sand, and fine organic particles from the horseshoe crab eggs as possible.  This is done by emptying the sample bucket into a tall series of progressively finer wire-mesh sieves and using water to spray the eggs through the screen while separating out the rocks, shells and gravel.  If there is a large amount of gravel remaining in the egg sample (egg-size 1.6 mm), the sample is then run through a specially designed elutriation system (fondly referred to as Eggbert) which uses water to separate out the less dense eggs from the denser sediments.  Once the eggs have been separated out they are ready for counting!  If the number of eggs in the sample is small (< 4,000), the eggs are counted by hand.  If the number of eggs in the sample is large, there are counted volumetrically in a graduated cylinder.  The egg count data and location data is tracked for each beach each year and provides information regarding the availability of horseshoe crab eggs as a food source for migrating shorebirds. 

So, where is the fun?  Imagine walking onto a beach and seeing thousands of horseshoe crabs lining the shore, hunting for tagged crabs after sampling, photographing hundreds to thousands of shorebirds while they forage for eggs.  Like music?  Lab time offers a great opportunity to sing along to your favorite tunes while sieving samples and counting eggs!  Change the lyrics to a classic tune to create your own horseshoe crab theme song or collect shells, fossils and cool rocks from the sediment samples while sieving eggs.  Perhaps making bucket towers or cracking egg jokes while sifting and counting helps make the work more fun.  But most importantly, making lifelong friends while conducting important scientific work is the best benefit!  And, that is what it is like in a day in the life of a horseshoe crab biologist.  

By Amy Brossard

Destination: Lake Superior, Wisconsin

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Interested in visiting a freshwater estuary?  The National Estuarine Research Reserve system added another Reserve site in October 2010 raising the number of Reserves to 28 around the United States.   The Lake Superior NERR is comprised of approximately 16,000 acres and is located along the confluence of the St. Louis River and Lake Superior.   You may see some familiar habitats within their Reserve boundary including freshwater marshes, sandy  beaches, and dunes.   Have you visited all 28 Reserves?   We encourage you to do so and you can start by visiting the Lake Superior NERR or stop by and see us here in Delaware.  For more information on the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve visit them on the web and for information on the Delaware NERR please visit our website or like us on Facebook.

The Reserve’s Changing Landscape

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Have you been to the Blackbird Creek Reserve lately?  You may have notice some changes to our farm field.  As part of our restoration plan for the Blackbird Creek Reserve, we have taken some agricultural land out of production and created/restored some freshwater wetlands.  Wetlands are areas where there are water loving (hydrophytic) plants, saturation of the land or free standing water during portions of the growing season, and hydric soils (soils that are wet enough during the growing season to develop low/no oxygen conditions).  Wetlands have many benefits such as absorbing water like a sponge which helps to reduce flooding, acting as a natural filter,  and providing important habitat for food, shelter, and nesting.  A couple of weeks ago staff and volunteers planted the wetland sites with various native water loving plants including rushes, wool grass, buttonbush, sedges, and pin oak.  Visit us on the web for more information about the Blackbird Creek Reserve, Delaware Wetlands, and Wetland and Waterway permitting in Delaware.

Movie stars at the St. Jones Reserve

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Did you see the movie stars at the St. Jones Reserve this past Saturday?  They attended the premiere of the new St. Jones River video entitled The Price of Progress…The Promise of Protection in which they starred.  The 20-minute video explored the St. Jones River through time. The river is both rich in natural history and cultural history.  If you missed the show you still have an opportunity to see it as we will be showing it again this winter.  Copies will also be available for educational use.

In addition to the premiere of the new video during the St. Jones Open House, we also showcased the research being conducted at the Reserve as well as the sea level rise inundation mapping tool; the facility and estuarium were opened for tours; and there were crafts for our younger visitors.  The Open House was held in conjunction with the Delaware Native Plant Society’s annual plant sale.  Thank you to all who visited us at the Open House and Plant Sale!

Wetland Warrior Retires from Delaware Coastal Programs

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Delaware Coastal Programs, Manager, David Carter retired from the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) on September 1, 2012 following a 25+ year service to the State of Delaware. For over twenty five years David Carter has dedicated both his career and personal time to the protection and restoration of Delaware’s wetlands.  As a biologist and Regional Manager with the DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife his vision and drive was key to establishing the Northern Delaware Wetlands Restoration Program, which continues to be implemented today and has restored hundreds of  acres of wetland. As a Program Manager with the Delaware Coastal Programs he employed innovative planning and funding tools to improve the management and protection of wetlands in the state, through development of the Pea Patch Island Heronry Special Area Management Plan, Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection Program, horseshoe crab and shorebird monitoring, Marsh Vulnerability Index and the System Wide Monitoring Program for the National Estuarine Research Reserve. In his home life, as an active hunter and member of Ducks Unlimited, Dave has created wetland and habitat on his 40-acre farm, providing a demonstration site for others. In addition, David has cultivated a climate of innovation and implementation-focused planning for the next generation of coastal and wetland managers.  “Congratulations and best wishes for a wonderful future filled with continued success and happiness.”

Destination: Old Woman Creek, Ohio

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Many east coasters have heard of brackish water estuaries…where rivers meet the sea.  But, have you ever heard of a freshwater estuary?  The National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) System actually has two freshwater estuaries…Old Woman Creek in Ohio and Lake Superior in Wisconsin.  Freshwater estuaries do not contain salt water but rather, are combinations of river and lake water (large lakes).  The river water and lake water are chemically different and the estuary tends to be driven by storm surges and seiches (shifting of lake water) rather than tides. Today’s destination is the Old Woman Creek NERR located on the southwestern shore of Lake Erie just east of Huron, Ohio.  It was the first freshwater estuary adopted into the NERR System in 1980.  Old Woman Creek NERR encompasses approximately 573 acres and includes critical spawning and nursery ground for many recreational and commercial  fisheries including crappie, blue gill, and channel catfish.  So, if you are taking a trip near Huron, Ohio stop in and visit the Old Woman Creek Reserve!   For more information about freshwater estuaries visit the website and to learn more about Old Woman Creek NERR visit them on their website.

Shhh…there is a secret in the marsh!

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012
When I was approached by one of our researchers to assist with the Secretive Marsh Bird survey I had to ask, “Are we secretive or are the birds secretive?”   I know you were thinking the same thing.   I was quickly informed that the birds are the ones who are secretive.  They include birds such as the clapper rail, king rail, American bittern, and least bittern just to name a few.  These birds exhibit secretive behaviors and are difficult to visually survey.   In fact, the majority of the survey is conducted by sound.  I have found that you must be a great listener to conduct this type of survey!

So needless to say, this past Monday I was excited to assist with such an interesting project.   We launched our boat just after 5 am into the St. Jones River, and we were off to survey set points along the marshes for these “secretive” birds.  It was quite an enjoyable experience as we diligently listened for the birds and was quite delighted to see a few.  The most exciting sighting was a mother clapper rail with her chicks following closely behind.  Our resident bird expert said this was quite an unusual sight as it is rare to see the chicks (don’t forget…they are secretive).  It was certainly an interesting morning on the River and an experience I won’t soon forget.  In fact, I’m looking forward to going back out in July.  It’s amazing the wildlife you see early in the morning.   You never know what might be lurking in the marsh.

Scientist Log #6: You are never too old to play in the mud!

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Have you ever wondered what the marsh was like many years ago? Probably not, but we (scientists) have a way of determining how much sediment has been collected on the marsh surface over long periods of time (also known as accretion). Recently, we collected three sediment cores within the St. Jones Reserve as part of a long term bio-monitoring project. In order to collect these cores, we used a large tri-pod to help pull up a PVC pipe that was pushed into the marsh to collect and hold the sample. This may sound simple, but there needs to be the right amount of suction to keep the core sample inside of the PVC pipe as we lift it up. Sometimes this process can take multiple tries! After each core is collected we put rubber caps on each end until the soil sample is ready to be processed. Analyses of these core samples for lead-210 and cesium-137 helps determine accretion rates and the age of various depths within the sediment over the past 50-100 years.

Processing the cores can be a messy and smelly job, but it is fun to work with marsh mud. Thankfully, we can open the windows to help reduce the smell. The first part of the processing requires the sediment core to be cut up into 2cm sections and dried in a scientific oven. Then the samples are sent to the University of Delaware campus in Lewes, DE for the final analysis.

Graduate Research Fellow Conducts Sediment Research

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Understanding coastal marsh development is an important part of determining their future. Brandon Boyd, a University of Delaware graduate student,  has been conducting research on Delaware’s coastal marshes – from saltmarshes near the bay mouth to tidal fresh farther up river. In conjunction with his advisor, Dr. Christopher K. Sommerfield, Brandon is studying sediment cores to determine the rate of sediment accumulation (collection) on the marsh surface. As shown in the picture, these cores are collected by pushing a five foot PVC pipe into the ground and removing it with a metal tripod. The collected soil is processed and radioactivity in the sediment layers is measured at the University of Delaware’s lab located in the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment in Lewes, Delaware. The radiation measured is naturally occurring.  The chronologies or date-assigned depths from these sediment cores are used to understand how sediment moves in the coastal system. Other researchers use the sediment core date data  for measuring nutrient burial or tracking pollutants.

As a NERR graduate research fellow for the Delaware NERR, Brandon is looking at the variability in the development of the marsh surface over the past 100 years. The development of the marsh can vary greatly from water front to high marsh.  Analyzing the differences in marsh surface development will assist in determining how well the marshes will adapt to sea level rise. So, the next time you’re out in one of Delaware’s marshes, watching the waterfowl or kayaking down a tidal creek, remember to be grateful for all that mud that sticks to you and your gear…without it, we wouldn’t have marshes!