Data from environmental monitoring on two Boston Harbor Islands, collected by MIT Sea Grant summer interns, will contribute to a larger effort to observe and define changes in water quality and marine species on the islands’ shores.
MIT Sea Grant’s Ocean Science Internship program is designed to help high school students gain an understanding of marine science and marine ecology while building the skills that will help them pursue successful careers in ocean sciences. Interns, who are paid, learn to problem-solve in the field, recognize many species of marine wildlife, and contribute their findings to MIT Sea Grant’s growing database of invasive species and water quality used by environmental professionals worldwide. The program is open to rising high school sophomores, juniors and seniors, and runs each year for six weeks starting mid July.
Susanna Elledge, of Brookline High, and Dave Matthews, a Bedford, Mass., native now in his freshman year at UMass-Amherst, were selected for the 2011 internship program. Elledge and Matthews focused their study on a section of the intertidal zones of Spectacle and Lovell’s Islands. The classification “intertidal zone” refers to the area of shore found between the high and low tide marks — the area is only accessible for a few hours each day, at low tide, before the land is once again covered by ocean water.
Armed with field-guides, the interns embarked on a transect study. During each of their many sampling trips, the students would stretch a meter line across the sample area, from the surf to the high tide mark. Once they had placed the meter line, the interns inventoried the native and invasive species found within small quadrats that were set at random distances to the right and left of the line. Susanna and Dave were frequently assisted in their field work by MIT undergraduate Michelle Slosberg, who was also at MIT Sea Grant for the summer.
Of the invasive species observed, the Asian Shore Crab, European Green Crab, Red Sheath Tunicate, and Littorina, or common periwinkle, were the most prevalent. Elledge commented, “I’ve learned what goes into fieldwork and a lot about the organisms that inhabit the intertidal zones.” For Matthews, gaining experience in “how to properly handle marine organisms with minimal disruption” and conduct proper random sampling were key learning points.
The interns also conducted water quality sampling on their trips to the Harbor Islands. Early in the summer, they, along with other MIT Sea Grant staff, attended a Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) provided training on water quality sampling. Over the course of the summer, the interns were able to measure and track changes in turbidity, temperature, salinity, nitrates, and dissolved oxygen. Water quality data, which will be shared with the NPS, was entered into MIT Sea Grant’s international water quality database.
This fall, Elledge plans to take a marine science course offered at Brookline High School. “Reading about marine animals isn’t the same as going out into the field and actually observing them,“ she says, “Before this internship, a marine biology career seemed like an unrealistic dream for me. But now, it doesn’t seem so far from reality.“
Matthews, who is starting out his first week at UMass-Amherst, has already chosen his major in biology and minor in marine biology. When asked about his summer experience at MIT Sea Grant, he notes humorously, “I’ve learned that contrary to popular belief, I don’t know everything about marine science.” Matthews plans to fight his newly discovered ignorance by earning a PhD in an ocean science field, sometime down the road.
MIT Sea Grant’s educator and ocean literacy communicator, Rachel VanCott, who directs the internship program, has been invited by the Boston Harbor Islands National Park Service staff to present the summer intern research this fall (date to be announced).
“The point of this program,” VanCott says, “is to meet more than one need. We want to find students, like Dave and Susanna, who would really benefit from the experience of hands-on fieldwork. Students who want to go on to careers in marine science, but don’t yet know what that would be like. At the same time, we want to meet a need in the local community and collect data that no one else has the time or energy to go after.”