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

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.