Citizen Science: Improving Water Quality in Waquoit Bay
By Dr. Nicole Millette
March 2018 – Nutrient pollution, particularly nitrogen, is a widespread problem in coastal waters, and a vexing issue for environmental managers as well as those living near these waters. As a Sea Grant-funded Postdoctoral Fellow in Marine Policy, Outreach, & Education in Dr. Rebecca Gast’s lab at WHOI, I’ll be working to advance our knowledge of this issue to help coastal managers develop better plans and policies to improve water quality.
Nitrogen is a natural part of any aquatic ecosystem, but when it’s too abundant it can cause excessive growth of phytoplankton, other algae and aquatic plants, which can use up dissolved oxygen in the water as they decompose and block sunlight to deeper waters. Septic systems, runoff from lawn fertilizers, and other human activities are a major source of excess nitrogen to water bodies.
Starting in May, I will be teaming up with a local group of volunteer citizen scientists, the Bay Watchers, on a project that aims to improve our understanding about how anthropogenic nutrients affect phytoplankton at Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve on Cape Cod.
The Bay Watchers are a group of volunteers that have collected water quality data every month in Waquoit Bay since 1993. I will be joining the Bay Watchers during their sampling – collecting water to identify and count phytoplankton in order to track changes in the phytoplankton community composition and abundance as the nutrient concentrations shift throughout the summer. I’ll be analyzing data and asking questions about how fluctuations in nutrient concentrations impact phytoplankton and trying to predict how phytoplankton would respond to reductions in nutrient concentrations.
Phytoplankton are one of the first organisms to react to changes in nutrient input. By studying how quickly changes in nutrient inputs impact Waquoit Bay, we hope to help environmental managers predict how any future efforts to reduce nitrogen input could affect water quality and the entire ecosystem in the Bay.