2018 Summer Intern Reports

My Summer As A FOS Intern 2018

Amanda Josephson

As a recent college graduate hoping to get further experience in environmental science related work, this internship has been a great experience. Not having known much about shellfish aquaculture, I began the internship curious about different types of shellfish and what the process of growing them looks like. Now that the end of this internship nears, I can say I have learned a lot about different types of mollusks and what the growing process entails. The time spent working with the Edgartown and Oak Bluffs Shellfish Departments has allowed me to realize all the hard work that goes into growing shellfish. I have also developed an appreciation for these fascinating species that help filter excess nitrogen out of Sengekontacket, helping with keep it healthy.

The internship began with preparation work for the season. This consisted of scraping and painting the quahog rafts, and cleaning off the oyster cages. The rafts have to be painted each year in order to keep barnacles from growing all over them. Once the hatchery had the quahog seed ready, we put the rafts into the water and filled them with sand. I learned that quahogs need sand around them to fully close up and grow, so the floating rafts provide them a good environment where they are away from predators and also can access the nutrients and phytoplankton from the water. Quahogs are also known as hard-shelled clams, and based on their size they can be categorized into littlenecks, cherrystones or chowder clams. Back in May we put 100,000 quahogs into each raft (a sandwich bag filled with tiny sand grain resembling quahogs), and as we checked on the rafts in August, some of them had already grown to be large enough to be let out to grow on their own. Once they reach an appropriate size, we release them from the rafts, and they will grow on their own, reaching adult size after several years. The survival rate of quahogs is greatly increased by sheltering them in the suspended rafts, whereas in nature, the odds of the same quahog seed making it to adult size is much slimmer due to predators such as crabs.

It was interesting to learn that quahogs are a very efficient filter feeder, as they take water into their shell and absorb phytoplankton, oxygen and bacteria. This is why the work of the shellfish departments is important for the maintenance of the health of Sengekontacket. The pond faces issues with high levels of nitrogen, sourcing from septic tanks, lawns that are fertilized, rainwater, as well as the waste matter from animals that live around the pond, such as cormorants, geese and swans. Excess nitrogen results in an increase of algal growth, which causes the depletion of oxygen in the water and the algae also blocks sunlight from reaching the bottom of the pond. With less sunlight reaching the bottom, different plans like eelgrass that typically root at the bottom of a waterbody receive less sun, and this impacts different species that rely on eelgrass for shelter. Some other projects we worked on included releasing oysters from the oyster cages into the open water, after they had spent a year growing in mesh bags that keep them safe from most predators. I learned that oysters like to cling onto different things like rocks and other shells once they are set loose. One time we shoveled old shells into the water to provide oysters with a better chance of finding something to grasp onto.

Another interesting part of the internship was getting to do some work incollaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency, dealing with shoreline conservation around Sengekontacket.  The Oak Bluffs Shellfish Department had worked with the EPA to do an experimental shoreline conservation project, planting marsh grass to prevent further erosion from occurring alongside Sengekontacket. Although we did not get to see the project from start to finish, we learned that it is very difficult to protect the shoreline even using large coir logs filled with coconut fiber, due to the strong northeast winds and storms that occasionally hit the island. The delicacy of the shoreline biome became apparent to me by learning about the fast rate of erosion that has been occurring throughout the past decades. It is possible that the cause is due to marsh grass no longer growing their roots as deep into the ground due to the plentiful nitrogen that already exists in the water, making it easier for the ground to break apart from beneath the marsh grass.

Lastly, it was incredible to observe the work that is done over at the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group Hatchery as well as the shellfish hatchery on Chappaquiddick. At the MV Shellfish Group Hatchery, I got to see the staff growing quahogs and other mollusks from tiny larvae that can only be observed under a microscope, until they are ready to be given to the local shellfish departments to be put into the ponds. At the hatchery on Chappy, we spawned bay scallops. I found it interesting to learn that a scallop can produce both sperm and eggs, and thus is able to produce its own larvae. Watching the scallops span was fascinating. Spawning is often triggered by the water temperature increasing, however, once the water temperature rises to a certain point, the scallops will die. I also became aware of how mollusks are impacted by the phytoplankton that they feed on and how different toxic phytoplankton can poison or kill mollusks, making them dangerous for consumption. For this reason, we routinely did water quality testing, and checked samples of water from different spots around Sengekontacket to see if toxic or harmful phytoplankton were present. Overall, this internship has opened my eyes to the complexity of aquaculture and how the process of growing shellfish is dependent on many factors. Similarly, I have come to understand how easily human activity can impact water bodies in negative ways, calling for further work to be done to mitigate these impacts.

Intern Report - Marley Kaplan  2018

 The Friends of Sengekontacket internship was my first introduction to the marine aquaculture business, and all the work that goes on behind the scenes. I was not sure of exactly what I would be doing as an intern before I started, but the idea of spending ten weeks on the water sounded amazing! I am really glad that I was able to have this experience because I learned so much from so many different people.

I grew up coming to Martha’s Vineyard every summer, and yet, I had no idea of all the work that occurs to make Sengekontacket pond the way it is. I loved contributing to seeding efforts and being able to see what would come about in a couple of years from the baby quahogs and oysters I worked with. It was really rewarding to see the joy that people got from going clamming, because I knew that I was a part of how it all happened.

As an intern, I helped to create and place the rafts that would hold the baby quahogs until they had grown enough to be seeded into the water. This involved a lot of work. In building the rafts, we spent many hours painting them with specific paint that chips off when marine life, such as barnacles, try to attach, limiting the excess weight that can pull the rafts down. Then we attached floats to help keep the rafts afloat. When we brought these rafts into the water, we had to shovel buckets of sand into each side of them, so that they would sink enough. That way, once we got the bags of baby quahogs, we could sprinkle them into the rafts without fear of them drifting away with the currents.

The baby oysters that we got we placed in our upweller, which was located in the pond. Doing so allowed the oysters to grow in a protected environment while still ensuring adequate water flow. As the oysters got bigger, we split them up into bigger mesh boxes, where they were held in the upweller, so that they received even more water flow. Once they got to a certain size, we took them out of the upweller and they were placed into the water, with the hope that they will continue to grow until they get to legal size for harvesting.

We also worked with scallops by catching them in net cages on the bottom of the pond and then bringing them to the hatchery on Chappaquiddick. Once at the hatchery, we worked to get the scallops to spawn and then catch all of the sperm and eggs into a container. Once they had all spawned and everything had been collected, we brought that container into the pond. We then released everything into the pond so that we will get more scallops.

Although one of the most apparent benefits of these efforts is recreational and commercial harvesting, the main reason we do this is to filter out some of the nitrates in the pond. Sengekontacket pond has high levels of nitrates, and because the shellfish we grow serve as filter feeders in the sense that they filter out the nitrates, we are hoping that they will help to lower these levels.

These past ten weeks have been a lot of hard work. I lifted 50 pounds a lot more than I thought I would, spent hours working under the hot sun, and most days ended up covered in mud, water, or both. Through all of this, I learned the importance of perseverance. On hot days when I was wearing waders and covered in mud from oyster cages, I definitely had moments when I wanted to give up. But I would not change any of the days I worked because I loved this internship. I became a lot more comfortable in the water and in using a boat, but more importantly I became confident in my ability to share the information I had learned with others, which is an essential skill in life.  

The shellfish department staff were an integral aspect of my experience. They constantly encouraged me to try new things, and were always happy to give me helpful advice about career path ideas and how to succeed in science. Even though I had never worked with aquaculture before, I was never treated as though I was not capable of doing the work. Because of this I pushed myself to work even harder than I thought I could, and I was able to realize my strengths.

This internship gave me a lot, and in turn I hope that I gave back to the pond. I had never been in Sengekontacket before this summer, and now it means so much to me. I took pride in helping to regulate clamming and in picking up trash along the shores. As a result of this internship I was able to positively impact a body of water that then impacts so many more people. I was able to work with the EPA on their project to restore marsh grasses, and got practice using all of their sampling equipment to take water quality measurements. I got the chance to work with scientists from labs at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to try to figure out where clinging jellyfish are on the food chain in relation to local species and even helped to make observations of tanks for a 24 hour time period. These hands-on experiences were so rewarding and exposed me to all the different careers that involve aquaculture in one way or another.

            This internship program is an incredible experience. Everyone involved gains something from it, and it fosters a love of the environment and the pond. I cannot express how thankful I feel that I was able to participate in this program. I hope it continues for years to come with similar results and experiences.