By Jeanethe Falvey
This week, scientists from EPA, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, University of New England, and the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve completed a water sampling effort along the southern coast of New England. Why?
Many asked when we were in Ipswich Bay off Essex, Massachusetts. We were thrilled that boaters took interest to the big blue ship; cautiously, but curiously approaching when we stopped to send down equipment. During boat to boat conversations from the back deck, they said they had never seen anything like the Bold before. It was a great opportunity to explain firsthand what we were doing, and why we have this research ship. When I said we were sampling water quality along the coastline they asked, “Is it ok for swimming?”
I explained for swimming yes. We were looking for something less obvious, sampling the bottom, middle, and surface depths further offshore compared to estuaries, or bays, more geographically enclosed areas where rivers and streams meet the sea. In this confluence of environments where fresh water sources and land meet the ocean, are there specific indications showing that our land-based activities are having too much of a negative impact in the coastal environment? Too much would mean that the natural environment can’t cope with the influx of pollutants and runoff from land. Examples of this can be algal blooms, or “fish kills.” More obvious to many would be closed beach days due to bacterial pollution in the water, that’s always from our sewage and runoff too.
This is why for the third year, we sampled for nutrients, specifically, phosphorus and nitrogen, and also for chlorophyll (plant matter in the ocean). Nutrients (commonly found in fertilizers, as an example) help plants grow. Excess amounts can cause algal overgrowth and deteriorate natural conditions, sometimes to the point where fish and other sea life cannot survive.
If we see trends from something specific like nutrients, then we hope to better inform decisions made on land: encouraging SmartGrowth and sustainable development, better sewage treatment, or generally raising awareness about more environmentally conscious day to day activities.
The Bold isn’t just an ocean going research vessel, it’s one of our best tools to study our natural world and use that science to inform how we protect our environment.
About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, U.S. EPA Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, based in Boston, Massachusetts.
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.