Friends Of Sengekontacket Internship
Dear Friends of Sengekontacket,
Thank you for the incredible and informative learning experience this summer. As a biology major, I had spent some time working in labs and wanted to experience field work. Throughout the summer, by working with the Edgartown and Oak Bluffs Shellfish Departments as well as the Department of Marine Fisheries (DMF) and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), I was able to learn about the growth and development of multiple kinds of shellfish as well as learn about the pond ecosystem they live in.
The first type of shellfish I worked with were quahogs. Quahog seed is spread in the nursery raft when one quahog is approximately one millimeter in size. To prepare the nursery rafts, we scrapped detritus from bottom of the raft and then painted them with water-resistant paint in order to prepare the rafts for being in the water for the entire summer. The nursery rafts were suspended in the middle of the water column by Styrofoam blocks. It is done this way to protect the young quahogs from the weather on the surface of the water and from predators on the bottom of the pond. The quahogs are planted there early in the summer so by the end of the summer the quahogs are large enough to be seeded in the pond. There were about 100,000 quahogs in each raft. In the beginning of August, some crowding of the quahog raft was indicated by quahogs popping up above the sand instead of being deep in the sand like they enjoy. When this happened, we would thin the nursery rafts to spread out the quahogs so each quahog would have more space to grow.
The second type of shellfish I worked with were oysters. Oysters grow best in upwellers because of the heavy water flow that filters through the upweller. The water flow provides the oysters with lots of food. Oysters are the fastest growing type of shellfish. At the beginning of the summer, when the oysters are first placed in bins in the upweller, they have to be on 400-millimeter mesh because they are so small. By the end of the summer, they can be in safely placed in 3/8 bags because they have grown so much. The bags are placed in cages that are kept underwater and overwintered. Then the next summer the oysters are removed from the bags and seeded throughout the pond. I really enjoyed working with the oysters this summer because it was easy to see the results of our hard work this summer. When we placed oyster seed in the upwell and removed adult oysters from their cages during the same week, it was motivating to see the end result of all the work we would end up doing this summer.
In addition to growing shellfish, we also worked with the DMF and MCV to do water testing of Sengekontacket. Every week, water samples are taken from multiple spots in the pond to test dissolved oxygen levels, nitrogen levels, pH, and salinity. These tests are run in order to monitor the water quality and make sure it is a livable habitat for the ecosystem. We also examined phytoplankton samples from three locations in the pond to examine them for poisonous phytoplankton, specifically cochlodinium. We never saw a cochlodinium, which is a positive sign for the pond ecosystem, but it was very interesting to examine and identify multiple types of phytoplankton.
I have greatly enjoyed this opportunity this summer. I have experienced what it is like to work in the field, how to handle day-to-day problems, and what the best conditions are to maintain a pond ecosystem. I feel much more confident in my skills and am excited to take what I have learned this summer and apply it back to my studies in ecology.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity,
Friends Of Sengekontacket Internship
As a graduate student pursuing a Master’s in Environmental Policy, I was excited to spend my summer working in the field with the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown Shellfish Departments. I’m grateful to have had this opportunity to participate in the important on-the-ground work being done to restore pond ecosystem health at the local level. Going into the internship, I anticipated learning about the science behind the efforts to “bivalvify” Sengekontacket Pond, but I also found myself learning about how various organizations interact with each other to make these important projects possible. I’m certain my experience as a Friends of Sengekontacket intern will inform my future endeavors in Environmental Policy.
Along with the other FOS intern, we spent most days working with the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown Shellfish Departments. In June, we prepared equipment for shellfish seed. This involved towing the tidal upwellers into the pond, filling quahog rafts with sand, and making sure all gear was ready to receive baby oysters, quahogs, steamer clams, and scallops. This preparation period was helpful because it allowed me to become familiar with the equipment before the animals were in the water.
The arrival of the shellfish seed was very exciting; between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown we worked with oysters, quahogs, steamer clams, and scallops. The shellfish seed are tiny, measuring only about a millimeter across when we first receive them. The tidal upweller, scallops lines, and quahog rafts allow the seed to receive as much nutrients as possible while they’re small, and I was surprised by how quickly they grew! After a few weeks, the oysters were about an inch long or more. We constantly monitored the progress of their growth, spreading them out as they became larger. Scallops and oysters grow the quickest, reaching harvestable size in about two years. Steamer clams and quahogs are slower, but live much longer than scallops.
These four types of shellfish are crucial to maintaining a healthy pond ecosystem. Nitrogen is a major pollutant in Sengekontacket and in other ponds on the island. Excess nitrogen causes algal blooms that suck up oxygen and other nutrients, eventually out-competing other organisms and causing a decline in overall pond health. Bivalves, like oysters, scallops, and clams, take up and store this excess. Propagating bivalves in Sengekontacket helps restore overall pond health.
To completely remove the nitrogen stored in these bivalves, the shellfish must be harvested from the pond. In Sengekontacket, both recreational and commercial shell fishers serve this purpose. The Edgartown and Oak Bluffs Shellfish Departments spend time monitoring these recreational and commercial fishermen every day, ensuring that they are following regulations and providing assistance when necessary. Daily monitoring is also an integral part of public outreach and education; it provides the Shellfish Departments an opportunity to explain their work and the function of bivalves in a healthy pond ecosystem.
The Shellfish Departments also collaborate with other organizations to track and observe the health of the pond ecosystem. Over the course of the internship we worked with representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Marine Fisheries, and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. It was very interesting to learn about the different projects going on between these organizations and how they support each other by sharing information and resources.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the Friends of Sengekontacket Internship. I participated in important efforts to restore ecosystem health in Sengekontacket Pond while learning about the science and organizations behind this endeavor. I also got the chance to work with many knowledgeable and experienced people who contribute to the sustainable management of Sengekontacket by doing their job every day. Many thanks to Friends of Sengekontacket and both the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown Shellfish Departments!