Over the course of this summer I worked on a research project called “Can filter feeders restore water quality in Coney Island Creek?: The role of mussels and oysters in nitrogen removal.” The goal of my project was to collect data on the general water quality conditions within the creek. Coney Island Creek is heavily polluted and there is a lack of data available on the extent of this pollution. In addition to that, I sought to use the information I collected to begin to assess the role that oyster cages may play in improving these conditions.
Every week we ventured out into the field and collected water quality samples based on the tidal cycle. We started sampling as the tide came in and then waited to do our second round of sampling as the tide went back out. At each site, we recorded measurements of dissolved oxygen, velocity, pH, and temperature. Many of our sampling sites were inaccessible, so we often used a bucket attached to a rope to collect our samples from bridges. We also used oranges and a stopwatch to measure velocity at our inaccessible sites. At the end of our sampling period, we used a cooler to maintain the nutrient concentrations of our collections and transported them to the Pleasantville campus for analysis.
At this point in time, we are still in the process of analyzing the samples we collected. At each site we collected three samples, resulting in several dozen collected water samples. To determine the concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorus, and ammonia, we are using the Seal Analytical AutoAnalyzer. This machine uses reagents to analyze the samples and creates a standard curve, which can then be used to determine our final nutrient concentrations. It also allows us to duplicate and “spike” samples for quality check analysis. Quality check allows us to make sure that the results we receive are accurate.
Overall, conducting this research has been a rewarding and challenging experience. I’ve learned a great deal about water systems and the complexities surrounding maintaining them. I also now know how to use the standard techniques employed for water quality monitoring. Being in a public area also granted me the opportunity to interact with members of the community and hear their thoughts on the pollution in Coney Island Creek. Speaking with these people and hearing how passionate they were about improving the water quality conditions was a great privilege. Many residents expressed that they felt a lack of transparency between researchers and the community because information regarding the pollution in the Creek is inaccessible to them. Their comments showed me how important it is that we as researchers involve and engage communities when doing research in their neighborhoods. In addition to the field techniques I learned, I will carry that valuable message into my future research endeavors.
As of last week, we have completed our water quality sampling for the summer. For the past two months, we visited Coney Island Creek weekly to record water quality measurements and collect samples. It rained during two of our six sampling days, which enables us to compare wet and dry weather conditions. This comparison will be crucial as we use our results to begin to understand and describe how this system functions. From the measurements of dissolved oxygen and pH we took, we could see patterns emerging which indicated a decrease in water quality conditions when nearby sewage pipes were running. In particular, we observed declines in dissolved oxygen content following rain events. Our next steps will be to analyze the samples we collected and formulate our results. Since we were only able to record wet weather conditions on two days, we will also continue to sample during the Fall semester to add to our data set.
Coney Island Creek Site 5. Discharge from pipes following a rain event.
One of the challenges we experienced with this project was the weather and the complexity of the creek. Our sampling was weather dependent because it required capturing the conditions of the creek during wet and dry days. Closely following the tidal cycle and weather forecasts for the purposes of this project made me feel like a storm chaser, which was exciting. The weather was unpredictable at times, which made it more difficult to collect the samples we needed. There were several days we went into the field expecting the water to be flowing in one direction based on the tidal cycle, only to observe it moving in a different direction. This discrepancy was strange and made us consider the possibility that storm pipes were running in the area even in dry weather.
From this project, I have learned the protocols for water quality sampling. Throughout this summer, many community members stopped us in the field to ask questions about our research and voice their own opinions. Not only did I learn more about the mechanics of water quality sampling, but I also gained some insight into how the local community feels about the polluted status of Coney Island Creek. As researchers, we were also able to educate some members of the community about their local waterbody, which was a major success. Overall, this project has continued to solidify my interest in studying water quality conditions in New York City. In the future, I intend to explore the social science aspects of this project and engage with the community more to hear their thoughts on the state of Coney Island Creek.
This summer, I will be conducting a research project focusing on water quality with Dr. Palta. Our study location is Coney Island Creek, which is a heavily polluted waterbody in Brooklyn, NY. The area surrounding the creek is mostly used for industrial and commercial purposes, which has contributed to its environmental degradation. Additionally, the creek is home to 8 combined sewage outfalls and MS4s (stormwater), which contribute to water pollution. Currently, very little is known about the water quality conditions and sources of pollution at our study location. The Billion Oyster Project has placed an oyster cage in Coney Island Creek with the hopes that they will survive and improve water quality conditions.
In high school, I became interested in oysters and their potential to improve water quality conditions because of the Billion Oyster Project’s work. They have oyster restoration sites across New York City, where citizens can practice stewardship and collect data on oysters and the water quality conditions in their environment. Before I was involved in this, I was unaware that oysters used to be a huge part of New York City’s ecology and economy. It was shocking to find out that New York City was once referred to as the “oyster capital of the world,” because I have always thought of our waters to be polluted. Today, oysters are now considered to be ecologically extinct in our waterways and no longer provide ecosystem services. Learning this is what pushed me to study this topic.
While oysters have historically kept waterways clean, we don’t know if they still have the capacity to do so. Considering how polluted Coney Island Creek is, this is important to explore. Our research focuses on the water quality conditions, sources of water pollution, and the role of oysters within the creek. The purpose of this study is to determine the total amount of nitrogen load to the creek, and how much nitrogen the restored oysters may be removing from the system.
The title of our study is: Can filter feeders restore water quality in Coney Island Creek?: The role of mussels and oysters in nitrogen removal. To answer our research question, we have selected 8 site locations spanning the creek to sample. Our sites were chosen based on their proximity to combined sewage and MS4 outfalls. At each location, we will be measuring dissolved oxygen, pH, salinity, velocity, and collecting water samples once a week. Our samples will be taken during dry and rainy events, and during low and high tide. From this, we will be able to create a nutrient budget for Coney Island Creek. This will allow us to begin to understand the creek’s general conditions and how that fluctuates over time. From this research, I will learn a great deal about the water quality conditions of this waterbody and how sources of pollution impact it. I also expect to determine if oysters are able to influence nutrient concentrations through their filter-feeding capacities. Overall, this work may help inform future restoration efforts, especially ones involving bivalves, in Coney Island Creek and in general.