Science Notebook: Childhood Dreams Really Do Come True

About the author: Jeanne Voorhees is an environmental scientist at EPA in Boston, Massachusetts. She began working at EPA (1997) helping to protect and restore water quality in rivers and streams, and continues this with her focus now on doing her Dream Job in wetlands.

image of author with white dog squatting in woodsI was raised on Long Island (New York) and enjoyed hours playing in woods behind our home, never realizing the muck I tromped through or the hummocks of tussock sedge I hopped upon were considered part of a wetland. I just knew I loved watching waterbugs, catching turtles, frogs, and salamanders, and getting muddy. I even enjoyed peering through a microscope looking at smaller forms of life found in muddy ponds and remember the first Paramicieum I saw. It was that moment, 38 years ago, I dreamed of becoming a “scientist.” Now I’m at EPA doing my Dream Job helping to protect and understand the biology, ecology and health of our wetlands in New England. What better job could I possibly ask for?

As a child I didn’t know the wetlands behind my parent’s house were acting like a sponge to absorb water that would have otherwise flooded our basement. I didn’t know wetlands help clean the ponds and rivers we swam and fished in. Although I didn’t know these and other wetland functions, I did know they were home to unique and beautiful plants and animals worth protecting. I encourage you to discover more about wetlands and the benefits they serve at EPA’s wetlands website.

I am privileged to work with wetland scientists across New England exploring such questions as, “How do we know a wetland is healthy?” We may monitor it using computer models with maps, algae (one celled organisms), soils, water chemistry, and other measures to help answer our questions. We might find a wetland is missing bugs and plants that belong in a healthy wetland, and then begin identifying the potential source(s) of the problem so it can be restored to a healthier system. The source could be a failing septic system, or polluted runoff from a parking lot. This is only one issue that monitoring wetlands can help identify.

I encourage you to visit a wetland this week, maybe it’s in your own backyard, to discover its unique qualities and report your findings here. Ask yourself, “What do I see, hear and smell? Is this wetland healthy and how do I know?”