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Exploring The Sea – EPA Monitors Waste Disposal Sites Off The Mid-Atlantic Coast

2009 September 29

Each year, as the summer season comes to an end, I reflect on the experiences that made it a great summer. As a new employee at EPA, this summer was particularly exciting. I had the experience of working with the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Coastal Science Team, led by Renee Searfoss and Jim Gouvas . The two-week monitoring cruise, aboard EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV), the BOLD consisted of two surveys spanning from North Carolina to the south tip of New Jersey. Working in shifts of four hours on and eight hours off, I worked from noon until 4pm and again from midnight to 4am! Those lucky enough to work the 4-8 shift were able to enjoy both the sunrise and sunset!

EPA is required to biannually monitor the Region’s two designated ocean disposal sites – the Norfolk Ocean Disposal and the Dam Neck Ocean Disposal Sites – to ensure that no further degradation has occurred from the placement of dredge material or fish waste. For the first survey, we collected sediment samples, monitored fish waste and conducted sonar scanning.

At the Dam Neck Disposal Site, we collected fifty surface sediment samples, which were analyzed for grain size, total organic carbon (TOC), metals, distribution, biomass and the presence of bottom-dwelling species. By comparing data with a control site, we could tell what has occurred at the waste sites due to the material disposed there.

The team conducted eight tow runs using a rocking-chair dredge to collect sediment from the ocean floor (picture), such as Horseshoe crab and Hermit crab, which were identified and returned to the site. Lastly, the team conducted eight transects using a trawl net. This part was exciting – you never know what you could catch! Although different species of fish, such as Northern Sea Robins and Spotted Hakes, were identified, you won’t find any fishermen fishing the area, there weren’t any commercially useful fish present.

In short, the voyage was very successful and made for an extremely memorable summer experience. Everyone comes with a wealth of experience and all shared a passion for the ocean and its continued preservation. Research expeditions like this one are crucial to maintain our knowledge of the effects humans have on our oceans.

About the auth0r: Matthew Colip works as a biologist in EPA Region 3’s Water Protection Division dealing with issues related to data and information systems management.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Johnny R. permalink
    September 30, 2009

    This is a classic example of bureaucratic double-speak, because it presents an on-going environmental atrocity as a normal, legally sanctioned procedure. The fact that the growing human population must add more sludge every year is ignored because an ecocidal future would become too obvious and 100% recycling unavoidable. Saner citizens refer to such areas as “dead zones” because there are “no commercially useful fish present” for the obvious reason they can’t survive in such pollution and the fish that are present are unsafe to eat. But perhaps we should be hopeful that overfishing has so depleted Eastern coastal waters that less “fish waste” may be dumped (!) But the growing human population and its growing sewage and garbage problem will soon make up for it, no doubt!

  2. Gods Sentinel permalink
    October 1, 2009

    Johnny R….you are so right! The EPA is not getting paid so they can have a “memorable experience”, they are doing this “job” to help us humans and the ENVIRONMENT! Why are the tax payers not getting the true feedback? Who’s in charge down there anyway? Why isn’t the SOB fired?!

  3. Johnny R. permalink
    October 1, 2009

    Because the President has pledged to “get this economy back on track growing again”. But a growing economy requires a growing population that inevitably produces more tons of sewage and trash every year, and you and everyone else demand ever more personal wealth and social services , never minding how the slowly shrinking Earth can possibly absorb all the growing tons of our waste and garbage. It’s a bad habit that will kill us all unless we stop and think about what we are doing.

  4. Matthew Colip permalink
    October 2, 2009

    Wow, both of you seem passionate about preserving the environment. Thank you for the comments. I’d like to respond to several points you made and explain more about the monitoring mission which EPA conducted at the Mid-Atlantic waste disposal sites and why it is important to the American people that these missions occur and the waste disposal sites be maintained.

    First, the area where the waste disposal sites are not, and have never been “dead zones”, these sites are far enough off the coast to not experience the flux of nutrients from the mainland coast that cause the low dissolved oxygen environments that do not support aquatic life, or “dead zones”. Different scientific studies are performed to monitor and address the “dead zone” issue. In fact, there is plenty of aquatic life present around the waste disposal sites, EPA wants to make sure that a common, commercially used fish species hasn’t moved into the area. If EPA found such fishable species in the area, we would consider halting waste disposal. In other words, these waste disposal locations were chosen because they were areas that were relatively clear of aquatic life to begin with, not because of pollution from the mainland or waste disposal, but natural phenomena such as the area’s ocean currents, proximity to the Gulf Stream, etc.

    Monitoring and maintaining these sites is important to the American people because they allow for safe disposal of dredge material and fish waste, without harming ocean aquatic life. In fact, only material from navigational channels is permitted to be placed in the ocean sites and that is only after the material has gone through a series of tests prior to being placed there. It is not as if any and all waste can be put at these locations, or any other site. EPA has strict guidelines and regulations for waste disposal and works hard to find the right balance between protecting the environment and human health of the United States, setting an example to the rest of the world on proper environmental stewardship, and encouraging environmentally friendly economic growth. If you would like more information about the tests we performed, please refer to the joint EPA/Corps Ocean Testing Manual http://www.epa.gov/owow/oceans/gbook/. Note that both agencies also encourage the beneficial use of dredge material through beach nourishment and coastal buffering to be considered before placing the material in the ocean.

    I hope this clears up any misunderstanding about the waste disposal sites. Again, thank you for your comments and enthusiastic concern for the environment of our country and planet.

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