FOS Internship Summer Report 2022- Anne Culbert
My summer working with the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown shellfish departments was an
incredibly valuable and exciting learning experience. Thank you to Friends of Sengekontacket for bringing me onto the team and for all the work they do in protecting the pond and its many residents. I am so happy to have given back to the island community that I grew up in and got to experience a new side of. This internship taught me not only about the lives of shellfish and the pond ecosystem but also about the people who depend on it and the history of human interactions within Sengekontacket. I got experience working with estuaries and handling oysters, quahogs, clams, scallops, crabs, and other members of the pond’s ecosystem.
Balancing the ecosystem health of the pond and the community benefits was a large portion of the department’s focus. The adult oysters we were able to dump into Senge by the end of the summer not only became a resource for locals to collect and eat or sell, but also helped
filter the water. Senge is frequently tested for cyanobacteria and harmful algal blooms that stem from excess nitrogen in the water, which oysters and other shellfish filter out by incorporating into their shells as they grow. During one day of emptying oyster cages and dumping them at the
end of the summer, the other intern I worked with, Aiden, estimated we released about 20,000 oysters in one day! Making an observable difference in the pond's health felt incredibly rewarding.
At the beginning of the summer, we got an introduction to the different types of
environmental engineering the shellfish departments had developed to aid in the growth of the shellfish. Quahogs and clams do best growing in the sand that they can burrow into, so we installed floating rafts in the water that were filled with sand and suspended below the surface but above the bottom to protect the baby shellfish from predators and excessive disturbance. We worked closely with the MV Shellfish Group, who supplied us with many of the shellfish “seed” we dispersed. Handling bags of 100,000 baby quahogs and other shellfish the size of grains of sand was incredible, and the Shellfish Group taught us a lot about the development and breeding of shellfish. Our time at the hatchery was amazing as we were able to watch the scallops release their eggs and sperm, creating a new generation of seed that will be used for the health of the ponds and the island community. The shells would begin to develop within 24 hours of fertilization.
I was introduced to many different types of technology over the summer, including
underwater cameras that track the herring run, tidal upwellers that most of the shellfish spend their first few months of life growing in, water sampling data recording technology (YSI), using microscopes to search for toxin phytoplankton, and more. We spend many hours over the summer working and helping to develop these methods of growing shellfish, and I learned a lot about the experimentation process that they have to go through to yield the best results.
This internship helped me to become comfortable exploring out of my comfort zone.
Seeing both the beautiful and scenic side of the pond and the mucky and challenging side of it expanded my view on working outdoors. I became more comfortable working around the water and in boats and was able to see the beauty in different levels of the pond. While working with the oyster cages was muddy and difficult work, I also got to see the intricate life that grows on
them, including colonial tunicates that look like tiny cartoon flowers all over the cages.
I am extremely grateful for all the amazing people I got to work with this summer. Both
shellfish departments always made the day fun and exciting and made sure to emphasize the
learning aspect of the work along with being able to make a difference in the pond. I am lucky to have had an amazing work partner in the other intern Aiden. The people I worked with gave me confidence in my abilities and inspired me to try new and intimidating things. As an Environmental Science major, the skills I learned through my FOS internship can be applied to many of my future explorations, both on the island and elsewhere. Watching the shellfish go through their different life stages and caring for them made me closer to the environment and community I grew up around. I met lots of talented, smart people through the shellfish departments, the Shellfish Group, the MV Commission, and the locals we met along the way while working on the boats in Senge.