Crystal Hall is interning with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) as a recent graduate of Purdue University Northwest (PNW) with a B.S. in Biology and a concentration in Ecology. Funded by IISG and mentored by Leslie Dorworth, an aquatic ecology specialist with IISG and PNW, Hall is positioned with the U.S. Geological Survey to carry out work that moves projects forward through IISG, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
When I started my internship working with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), I had no idea what I wanted to do career-wise other than something with fish. To be honest, I still don’t fully know. Over the six months I have spent at USGS, I have learned a great deal of information and have gotten to know a wonderful group of people.
I have worked on several projects and learned new things from each:
Round Goby Mesocosm
The purpose of the round goby mesocosm project is to look at the shed and decay rates of round goby DNA in water and sediment. Several round goby were placed into a tank, and weekly water and sediment samples were taken for environmental DNA (eDNA). After a set amount of time, the round goby were removed and weekly water and sediment samples continued to be taken to see how long before no round goby DNA was detected. Throughout this project, I learned a lot about eDNA and how concentrations are different in water and sediment.
Hall separates zebra mussels from quagga mussels on June 4, 2018. (Photo U.S. Geological Survey)
On the Cladophora project, we deployed EXO2 water quality sondes in the Great Lakes and collected samples of dreissenid mussels and Cladophora algae from several depths and quadrants for biomass and nutrient processing. Researchers are seeking to understand the influence of phosphorus on Cladophora growth. I have learned to successfully identify zebra mussels from quagga mussels. And I’ve learned that it is not zebra mussels invading the Great Lakes anymore—it’s quagga mussels.
Area of Concern
We test for E. coli in the water at Whihala Beach and Hammond Port Authority, which are part of the Grand Calumet River Area of Concern. This information is used to notify the public of whether the beach is safe for swimming. Scientists used to test several other beaches in the area as well, but many were removed from the project because the water quality improved and met standards.
A year ago, an artificial reef was put in at Jeorse Park Beach by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of a large-scale restoration project for the beach. The U.S. Army Corps were hoping the reef would attract a number of native fish species that had once been in the area. In the artificial reef project I’m working on, I am assisting a master’s student with research that aims to see if this artificial reef has actually attracted native fish, or if round goby have colonized the reef since they’re attracted to rocky substrate.
Monthly water samples are taken and filtered for eDNA from several locations at Jeorse Park Beach, including surface water samples at the reef and water samples right above the substrate of the reef. After the sampling is complete, the DNA will be sequenced using fish primers for fish found in Lake Michigan to determine the composition of fish in the water based on the eDNA. Part of the project will be comparing the eDNA to traditional methods of monitoring (e.g., electroshocking).
I’ve learned so much. Before this internship, I knew nothing about freshwater reefs and artificial reefs. I didn’t know that breakwalls altered the flow of water in a way that can cause a buildup of E. coli and lead to unsafe water conditions. When I began my internship, everyone would talk about ongoing projects and try to inform me about the details of each one, but there was a lot that I didn’t understand. I’m proud to say that has changed, and now I am able to explain to others the projects we are doing, why we are conducting research in certain ways and what we are hoping to find.
I’m thankful for the opportunity to intern at USGS through Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and to work with a great group of people. I have definitely gotten more out of my internship than I was ever expecting, and while I still don’t know what I would like to do as a career choice, I’ve discovered that working on projects like these is certainly an option and something I very much enjoy.
Learn more about our internship opportunities online, or contact Angie Archer at (765)496-3722, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension.
It was a chilly May 12th, cloudy and windy as well. But 29 sixth graders from West Side Middle School in East Chicago, Indiana came to nearby Roxana Marsh to experience what the outdoors has to offer, learn new things, help with the cleanup and restoration of the natural area, and enjoy the afternoon.
Roxana Marsh is part of the larger Grand Calumet River Area of Concern, which has been undergoing dredging through the Great Lakes Legacy Act over the past six years. The marsh section of the project was completed three years ago with the removal of 600,000 cubic yards of sediment.
This accomplishment was celebrated with a press event attended by government officials and local school children. Those middle schoolers left their legacy in perennial plants that are now thriving along the marsh. This year’s class is the third group of gardeners in what may well become an annual tradition.
In addition to planting natives, the students learned the basics of birding, explored the small community of life in sediment, and manned trash bags for garbage detail. There were water beetles, egrets, killdeer, toads, dragonfly nymphs, and more to experience.
Throughout their afternoon tour, the 6th graders were guided by experts from Audubon Chicago Region, U.S. EPA, The Nature Conservancy, Shirley Heinz Land Trust, Indiana’s departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission, Dunes Learning Center, and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant.
The first surprise for the students was just how close the natural area is to their school and their world. “They had no idea that this was here or about the dredging and restoration, said teacher Linda Padilla. “They were sure we would be going someplace farther away.”
Last June, she took part in a one-day workshop at Purdue University Calumet, which introduced the Helping Hands curriculum to 25 local educators. Helping Hands activities are ideally suited to schools in Areas of Concern that are going through the cleanup process—they provide opportunities to directly engage students in the larger project. The workshop also included a visit to several sites on the Grand Cal to see the dredging work in progress as well to walk around a finished site—Roxana Marsh.
Caitie McCoy, IISG environmental social scientist, has been helping keep residents informed during the dredging. She saw the Grand Cal project as an opportunity to connect students with their environment.
“The cleanup and restoration of the Grand Calumet River is brightening the northwest Indiana landscape,” she explained. “This work transforms space into places that students can visit, perform stewardship work, and develop pride in their local environment. Environmental educators teach students that nature is in their backyard, but for these students, high quality nature is in their backyard, right here in East Chicago, Indiana.”
At one point, the Grand Cal was referred to as the most polluted river in the country. Through the remediation process, more than 2,000,000 cubic yards of sediment have been removed from this waterway, which runs through a highly-populated region. If funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative continues and non-federal cost share partners are secured, the river work could finish as early as 2019.
Two years ago, a group of middle school students planted native seedlings along the banks of Roxana Marsh to celebrate the successful cleanup of the waterway. On Monday, those same students returned for another day of learning and service to find the marsh in bloom – thanks in large part to their efforts.
“It’s good to know that we did something phenomenal to help our environment,” said Sandra Olivarria, one of the East Chicago Lighthouse Charter School students participating in the event.
Monday morning’s stewardship began with speeches from state and local officials, including Indiana Representative Earl Harris, Senator Lonnie Randolph, and Mayor Anthony Copeland of East Chicago.
“We need to start to get everyone involved in this kind of project at an early age so that when you grow up, you become part of something that keeps you involved for the long term,” Representative Harris said.
The rest of the day was devoted to hands-on activities that encouraged students to get familiar with the plants and animals inhabiting the area. The class looked at native and non-native plant species growing around the marsh, then checked on the flowers they had originally sprouted in their classroom. The kids worked together to pull up the invasive clover that had grown around their plantings – a little tricky at times, they said, but “pretty fun, too.”
“It feels so good to come back and see what we did two years ago, and see it all grown and restored!” one student exclaimed.
Down by the water, volunteer scientists helped students take samples of mud from the marsh to collect bottom-feeding aquatic animals that lived there. The students identified various species of worms, snails, larvae, and tadpoles, and were delighted at the chance to handle these small creatures.
The class also cleaned up trash from the marsh and along Roxana Drive, helping to beautify the area.
“I’m really proud of all the work the students performed today,” said IISG environmental social scientist Caitie McCoy. “It was thrilling to have them come back and take care of a beautiful environment that they helped create. Today, nature was our classroom, and I think the students learned a lot.”
Roxana Marsh is now home to blue herons, wild irises, and all sorts of aquatic life. But it wasn’t always that way. Located on the Grand Calumet River, the marsh was heavily polluted for more than a century with byproducts of heavy industry around East Chicago. Federal and state agencies worked to dredge the river, removing contaminated sediment and restoring the surrounding habitat as part of the U.S. EPA’s Great Lakes Legacy Act.
Monday’s restoration activities and press event brought together partners from the US EPA Great Lakes National Program Office, US Fish and Wildlife, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, The Nature Conservancy, and Shirley Heinz Land Trust. The Roxana Marsh cleanup and Caitie’s work to improve community engagement here and at other Areas of Concern is possible because of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Great Lakes Legacy Act.
Teachers interested in integrating AOC issues into their classroom can find activities and other resources in our Helping Hands curriculum.