Category: Phinizy Blog Feed

Quiz: Non-point source pollution. Are you part of the problem?

Quiz: Non-point source pollution. Are you part of the problem?

Could your daily activities be polluting your neighborhood stream? Answer a few questions to see!

1. Do you clean up pet waste from your lawn?

YES       Great job for being a responsible pet owner!

NO         When it rains, pet waste can be washed into a nearby stream and cause E. coli and other bacteria to increase in numbers in the streams. By walking through your yard a couple of times a week to clean up after your animals, your yard will not only smell nicer, you can know you are not contributing to increased pathogen levels in the stream.

2. Do you read and follow the instructions when applying fertilizers to your lawn?

YES        Awesome! So, you already know that more does not equal better, and to never, ever apply fertilizers before it rains.

NO         If excess fertilizer is applied to your lawn, or if applied just before it rains, the nutrients are washed into the stream and becomes food for algae. This can cause algal blooms and lead to depleted oxygen levels in the stream, often times causing other wildlife in the stream to die. Next time, read the label for application instructions.

3. Do you blow your leaves or yard clippings into the storm drains on your street?

YES       Storm drains lead to the closest creek or stream, so when you put yard waste into your storm drain, you are contributing lots of organic matter into the stream. When this extra organic matter in the stream begins to break down, it will use oxygen from the stream, and can contribute to depleted oxygen levels in the stream. Again, this can cause organisms in the stream to die if oxygen levels drop too low.

NO         You rock! Want to be really awesome? – Use your yard clippings to create a compost pile in your yard to simply return those nutrients back into the soil in your own yard! Or use the compost for your own garden next year.

Just a few small changes to our daily activities can help keep our streams happy and healthy! Stay informed and educate your neighbors to keep our local environment clean.

Diatom Project Update: Oxbows

Diatom Project Update: Oxbows

by Katherine Johnson, Research Scientist

Frustulia sp., Photo by Katherine M. Johnson

Along with sampling diatoms along the Savannah River, the Phinizy Center for Water Sciences (PCWS) will be conducting a base-line study of diatom species compositions and assemblages found in four of the river’s oxbows. These sites are labeled on the map below. This study will be carried out in conjunction with other oxbow studies that investigate species assemblages of fishes. With the biogeochemical data from these studies we may be able to gain further insight to ecosystem health, which will allow us to better assess possible water quality changes in the future.

Pic 2

Synedra sp., Photo by Katherine M. Johnson

From an initial pilot study (July-September), we have deployed, retrieved and processed collections for the first group of periphytometers (diatometers). Our samples have come from the following oxbows: Possum Eddy, Conyers, and Miller. So far, throughout this study, we have been able to identify 29 genera! A couple of diatoms from these samples are pictured here. Diatoms may be unicellular, or solitary, like the Frustulia sp. cell seen here. However, others are colonial, usually producing ribbon or chainlike filaments. The photo of Synedra sp. provides a good example of a diatom filament. Check out our blog next month to find out more about different types of diatoms.

Map by Jason Moak

Map by Jason Moak

Savannah River Oxbow Fish

Savannah River Oxbow Study Update

by Jason Moak, Senior Research Manager

20150805 - Possum Eddy in Screven County (39)Phinizy Center researchers have completed their first round of fish community seasonal sampling in four oxbows along the Savannah River. In late July and early August, they collected a total of 1,044 individual fish representing 13 families, 19 genera, and 26 species.

In terms of numbers, bluegill were the dominant species captured, comprising 38% of the total number of fish captured. In terms of weight, longnose gar (57 kg) and gizzard shad (48 kg) made up the majority of the total of all fish captured (247 kg). A table listing all of the fish species captured in this sampling event is included below.

20150805 - Possum Eddy in Screven County (28)Phinizy Center sampled these fish communities using boat electrofishing and gill in collaboration with scientists from Georgia Southern University and Augusta University. The four oxbows sampled – Possum Eddy, Conyers, Miller, and Whirligig – each have an average depth of 5 feet or less and have surface areas of between 4 and 9 hectares. The lakes are located in Screven County on the Georgia DNR’s Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area.

Oxbow lakes are remnant sections of river channels that have been cut off from the main river flow. Research on oxbows around the world has revealed their important role in supporting healthy rivers. In July 2015, Phinizy Center began a study examining the impact of various flows on the aquatic life in oxbow lakes found along the Savannah River downstream of Augusta. Our scientists are assessing the connectedness of many of the oxbows between Augusta and Savannah using high-accuracy GPS survey equipment. We are also monitoring surface and groundwater levels in four oxbows, two that are still connected to the river by surface water, and two that are disconnected. Additionally, Phinizy scientists are monitoring water quality and analyzing water samples for nutrient, algae, and zooplankton levels. This research is being funded by a grant from the South Carolina Water Resources Center at Clemson University.

Table

Point-Source & Non Point-Source Pollution

Point-Source & Non Point-Source Pollution

By Ruth Mead, Sr. Environmental Educator

Point Source Pollution, Non-Point Source Pollution – just what are we talking about? Point source pollution includes known discharges such as water treatment plants and industry like textile mills, paper mills and chemical plants. The passage of the Clean Water Act set standards and allows us to regulate the source in order to maintain healthy water quality in our streams. Before the Clean Water Act, point source pollution was a major problem.  Non-point on the other hand is much harder to control. The exact source is often unknown, and it is currently a bigger issue in our country’s streams than point source.  Non-point includes sources such as unmaintained septic systems, domestic pet waste, fertilizers and pesticides, road salts and dirt particles.

Water is essential for life, but in recent history – the past 200 years – we humans have done a pretty good job of degrading the quality of water in our local streams. Here in the United States, we realized the problem, and though it took a battle, we were able to pass the Clean Water Act of 1972. This act of Congress has done a tremendous job in controlling point source pollution and to some extent non-point sources. Some waterways in other parts of the world have no laws protecting them. These occasionally show up as headline horror stories in our news, and hopefully make us realize just how important our laws are.

Making citizens aware of water quality issues is a first step in helping protect our waterways. Want to know how you can help? Visit our World Water Monitoring Day blog.

 

World Water Monitoring Day

World Water Monitoring Day

by Ruth Mead, Sr. Environmental Educator

SONY DSCHappy World Water Monitoring Day – officially September 18! Wow – just what does that mean? Sounds like a day for scientist to stick lots of probes in the water and run back to the lab with lots of samples. Wait – no –  they do that every day. So why do they need a special day to celebrate? World Water Monitoring Day is a day for everyone to celebrate our waterways: from the trickling brook running through the backyard to our larger waterways such as the Savannah River – the lifeblood of Augusta.

This special day was established as an international education and outreach program to build public awareness of the importance of protecting water resources around the world. In 2012, the World Water Monitoring Challenge grew out of World Water Monitoring Day and it runs from March 22 to Dec 31. This challenge educates and engages citizens in the protection of the world’s water resources by giving them the opportunity to conduct basic monitoring of their local water bodies. So why monitor? It helps us know when our streams might be in trouble. Can we swim in them, fish from them, draw drinking water from them?

jason river craneHere at the Phinizy Center, every day is Water Monitoring Day! For nearly 10 years our research team has been continuously monitoring 200 miles of the Savannah River. We are now in the Ogeechee and Edisto Rivers. With our datasondes, we are able to monitor every 15 minutes – continuously. That’s a lot of data! It’s like having a movie of what’s happening in the river instead of a snapshot of one point in time. It allows us to see just what happens to the water quality over time, which helps regulators set limits and detect problems when they arrive.

CIMG0079Phinizy Center education gives students a chance to monitor a local stream. Through our school field trips, summer camp program, Creek Freaks, GA Master Naturalist classes and GA Adopt-A-Stream training, students become scientists, putting on waders to collect water samples and making conclusions on water quality. We feel the best way to teach about water quality issues is to get citizens involved – the same philosophy as World Water Monitoring Day!

Georgia Adopt-A-Stream (AAS) also celebrates water monitoring every day. They offer citizens the tools and training to become citizen scientists and monitor their local streams. With over 14,000 volunteers statewide, they are truly raising awareness on water quality issues in our state. Plus, the volunteers are making a difference for our streams.

IMG_0045What can you do? Get involved! Celebrate World Water Monitoring Day by visiting your local stream. Have a picnic by the waters, skip a rock across the surface, dip your toes in the water, and thank the stream for all it provides. Get involved – learn how you can monitor your stream, join a GA AAS training or go online for your World Water Monitoring Challenge kit. Plan a cleanup or join in on one. Phinizy Center hosts an annual River’s Alive cleanup day. This year’s event is scheduled for October 24 from 9 to 12 with a cookout following the event – and the first 100 volunteers to register will receive a free t-shirt. So what are you waiting for? Head out to your nearest stream!

The Air We Breathe, and the Water We Drink: Why Diatoms are So Important

The Air We Breathe, and the Water We Drink: Why Diatoms are So Important

By: Katherine M. Johnson, Phinizy Center Research Scientist

Diatoms are a type of microscopic algae that date back to the Jurassic Period. Although they photosynthesize just like plants, due to differences in cellular structure they are classified as protists! What makes them even more interesting, other than their classification and having shared the planet with dinosaurs, are their ornate cell walls. These walls are composed of silica, which is the same compound used in the production of glass. Because of this quality, diatoms are said to “live in glass houses.” Differences in these patterns allow taxonomists to identify them by species.

Photo by Chalisa Fabillar: Cymbella tumida

Photo by Chalisa Fabillar: Cymbella tumida

What most people do not realize about diatoms is just how much we may depend on them. Diatoms are considered the largest primary producers of oxygen on our planet. It is estimated that through photosynthesis, diatoms produce between 20% and 40% of the oxygen we breathe. During photosynthesis diatoms use energy from light to convert water and carbon dioxide into sugars for food. Byproducts created from this transformation include organic carbon and oxygen. This process is called carbon fixation. Some estimate diatoms to facilitate up to 25% of all organic carbon fixation occurring on Earth. This percentage is about equal to the carbon fixation by all tropical forests combined! Currently, researchers are using this information to investigate the role of diatoms in reducing greenhouse gasses.

07 - rhSmGLKHere at the Phinizy Center for Water Sciences (PCWS) Research Department, we are investigating the role of freshwater diatoms in aquatic ecosystems as biological indicators for ecosystem health and water quality. Diatoms serve as good bio-indicators because some species are more tolerant to pollution than others. Therefore, through collecting and sampling we can get an idea of not only species composition (which species and how many of each are present in a community), but how polluted that water may be as well. Because diatoms are at the base of the aquatic food web, their species composition could play a role in the species composition of higher trophic level organisms, like fish. With water becoming a scarce resource around the globe, this information is vital in assessing watersheds and sources of our drinking water for management protocols.

Wood Storks in the CSRA

Wood Storks in the CSRA

By: Liam Wolff, Phinizy Research Intern

Wood Storks in the Rain Garden Pond, photo by Liam Wolff

Wood Storks in the Rain Garden Pond, photo by Liam Wolff

Wood Storks are a symbol of the south. These large waders, once endangered, are prehistoric in appearance with black and white plumage, a crusted, naked head, and an impressive stony bill. In the United States, Wood Storks are strictly found in wetlands on the coast and in the coastal plain in the southeast. In olden fiction, storks are the bird bringers of babies (no bees required). However, here at Phinizy, they are simply a signal for the start of migration. Although the Wood Storks breed in the CSRA, they are typically only seen across the Savannah River at the Silver Bluff Audubon Sanctuary during the Summer where they nest in a large colony. However, after the young are capable of flight a phenomena known as post-breeding dispersal occurs where the juvenile birds, occasionally accompanied by an adult, will wander from their typical loitering zone and explore new areas. What this means for Augusta and Phinizy is that we may see waders that are not usually seen here. In addition to Wood Storks, we may get wanderers such as Tricolored Heron, Glossy Ibis, and very rarely Roseate Spoonbill – 5 of which have decided to make Silver Bluff Audubon Sanctuary a rest stop on their adventure. Recently, there have been many Wood Storks meandering from their nesting grounds. In the past week more than ten individuals have graced Cattail Trail and the Rain Garden Pond here at Phinizy Swamp. Unfortunately, they won’t stay for much longer. Throughout the month of September, the Wood Storks will slowly begin to migrate south to the Tropics for the winter and by mid-October, there won’t be any more Wood Storks in Augusta. The CSRA is certainly lucky to have such a healthy colony of Wood Storks, which has benefited tremendously by the efforts of the Silver Bluff Audubon Sanctuary, who limit access to the ponds in which the storks breed.

Phinizy is for the Birds – And Birdwatchers too!

Phinizy is for the Birds – And Birdwatchers too!

By Ruth Mead

"Under the Wings" by Masaki Chiba, Finalist - Adult Wildlife

“Under the Wings” by Masaki Chiba

Not only is Phinizy Swamp a place of incredible beauty, but it also happens to be a hotspot for birds. It would only be natural for the Phinizy Center to offer field ornithology (birdwatching) classes – and we do! In September 2014, we embarked on a challenge to offer ornithology classes with a 12 week basic field ornithology course. It was so well received that we were able to offer a spring course on bird breeding behavior as well. So, with fall about to land in our laps, it’s time to announce our 2015 Fall Field Ornithology Basics Course. Ready to register? Want to know more?

In a recent study, University of Chicago researchers discovered that people who lived in areas with more street trees not only thought they had better heath but it turns out they actually were healthier. So what’s the magic? Is it merely the trees or is it perhaps the community they bring – squirrels, raccoons, opossums, insects and….birds – owls, hawks, robins, cardinals? Is our unconscious mind taking in the beautiful songs of our neighborhood birds and possibly delighting in watching a mockingbird swooping down at a neighbor’s cat? Having birds in our lives either consciously or unconsciously can only enhance our daily outlook.

Hitchcock 2The word birdwatching first appeared in 1901. Birdwatching.com quotes birdwatching to be “your lifetime ticket to the theater of nature.” It is estimated that 20% of all Americans are identified as birdwatchers. Birdwatching, birding, and birder all have a little different meaning but basically all refer to the great hobby a lot of Americans have already found. Since the late 18th century when people started watching birds instead of hunting them, the birding hobby has skyrocketed. From enjoying watching birds at the backyard feeder to going on an Eco tour birding vacation, this hobby makes a large economic impact.

Birding PhotoGetting started can be frustrating. You see a beautiful new bird at your feeder but can’t find it in the field guide. Where do you look? Which field guide should you use? How do you choose a pair of binoculars? You go birding with a group of birders like an Audubon outing and only see about 1/10th of the birds everyone else did. What’s their secret? Well honestly, there is no secret. All it takes is a little guidance and a lot of practice. Taking a field ornithology class is definitely one way to improve your birding skills, plus it can be a lot of fun and get you off to a great start for a lifetime of birding. Whether you are just getting started or looking for a group of folks to go birding with, we would love to have you in our fall 2015 class. Space is limited though, so register today!

The Turtle Leech

20150729 - Turtle Research (8)

Richard Melton, Phinizy Summer Intern

The Turtle Leech

By Richard Melton, Phinizy Summer Intern

A leech is a common invertebrate closely related to the earthworm. Leeches are known for parasitizing vertebrates by sucking their blood. Here in the swamp, leeches are found in many of the bodies of water. The Smooth Turtle Leech (Placobdella parasitica) is one species that routinely occurs in the southeast. Though this is an aquatic leech, it doesn’t swim very well and actually spends most of its time either on the bottom or on the bodies of turtles. These turtles incidentally supply these leeches with a source of food through their blood and protection from the water and predators like fish which commonly eat these leeches.

Turtle Leeches

Turtle Leeches

A brief study conducted at Phinizy showed that nearly two thirds of the turtles caught had leeches on them. The turtles that were hosting the leeches included the Yellow-Bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta), common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) and musk turtles (Sternotherus odoratus). Two of the turtles we surveyed, a Yellow-bellied slider and a snapping turtle, had over one hundred leeches each on them.

Turtle Marked with Notches

Turtle Marked with Notches

During this study, we also started a turtle marking system. To mark the turtles, we took a metal file and created notches in specific areas of the turtle’s shell. This doesn’t hurt the turtles and it allows us to permanently mark them so we will know if we catch them again in the future.

 

YellowBelliedSlider

Yellow-Bellied Slider