Topics

  • Front Royal Dam Meeting
  • South River Science Team Meeting
  • George Washington National Forest Planning Meeting
  • Upper James Resource Conservation and Development Meeting
  • Steelhead Sampling on Muddy Run (Jackson River Tributary)

Front Royal Dam Meeting

Just a few weeks ago a 9 year old boy was playing on the dam in Front Royal, fell into the water, and drowned. This is the second person to lose their life at the dam since winter, the first was a kayaker. Although the town was already taking steps to remove the dam, the dam has now been declared an emergency and the process has greatly accelerated. However, before the dam can be taken out much paperwork and a historical review of the dam must be completed. The town of Front Royal purchased the dam in 1904 with the intent to generate hydropower. Sometime after 1910 they accomplished this goal and the dam supplied power to the town until it was abandoned in 1930. Questions still remain as to the actual age of the dam and the original purpose it was built to serve.

South River Science Team Meeting

Since the South River Science Team began conducting research in 2000 over 8000 fish including 37 species have been sampled on the South River and its control sites.  The team has not only studied fish, but also macro invertebrates, arachnids, and birds. As one might expect, basically all animals and plants that live in the river and all animals whose food chains depend on the river have been impacted by the Mercury contamination in the water. Although great strides have been made to determine where the Mercury is, how much of it is there, and how to best inform people of health risks, one large question still remains. This is- Where is the Mercury being methylated and how can this methylation be stopped? This question is extremely important because inorganic (or non-methylated Mercury) is not harmful to living things but once it is methylated it is extremely toxic.

George Washington Nation Forest Planning Meeting

This past week I went to my first Forest Planning Meeting.  Some people might cringe at the thought of sitting in a meeting for four hours talking about a forest, but for me, it was really interesting! This meeting was one in a long string of meetings which will ultimately end in a “preferred alternative” being chosen and submitted to the Regional Forester. At this point, different alternatives for a forest plan are being developed which are supposed to cover the range of management options for the forest. The alternatives outline how different issues such as access, riparian zones, recreation, and timber harvest could change under different management styles. It’s important to point out that some issues, such as designated wilderness areas and cultural/heritage areas, will stay consistent under all plans. Ultimately the forest plan which is currently being created will govern the all decisions and use of the forest for the next 10-15 years. For me, one of the most interesting things about the meeting was seeing the different groups that were represented, from the Southern Environmental Law Center, to Mountain Bikers, to Timber Harvesters, and watching them interact. I learned a lot about how the forest is currently managed, the planning regulations which have to be followed, and the different uses which will be mixed and combined.

Upper James Resource Conservation and Development Meeting

At the Upper James RC & D meeting I learned a lot more about the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) pollutant program. When the EPA lists a stream as “impaired” a TMDL assessment is completed to figure out what the stream is being polluted with. Then recommendations are made which, if carried out, should reduce pollutants in the stream to below EPA standards. The next phase of the pollutant program is implementation. In this phase, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is charged with taking the recommendation to the community and working to actually get the stream clean. Often, other organizations like the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF), and other community groups are involved. Because the Chesapeake Bay was declared impaired, the TMDL program has gone into effect. Now, tributaries all over Virginia which flow into the Bay, like the James River, have to reduce their load of Nitrogen and Phosphorus. Although the allocations for each river many not be easy to reach, I am happy to see real interest in cleaning our bay.

Steelhead Sampling on Muddy Run

One day this week I took a break from the meetings and helped sample Muddy Run, a tributary to the Jackson River, which leads to Lake Moomaw. Steelhead trout have been introduced to this tributary and others in hopes of creating a natural, sustainable trout population in the lake. Although we did locate some Steelhead trout during our sampling, it’s too soon to tell if they will survive and successfully out-migrate to the lake. If they do, then hopefully they’ll survive to maturity and make it back to the tributary to spawn. Stay tuned to see what happens over the next few years…

Topics

  • Little Stony Creek
  • Geese Tagging
  • Beaver Creek

Little Stony Creek

Last week we sampled Little Stony Creek, a coldwater stream which contains brook trout and has suffered from acid rain. Interestingly, it was the first stream in Virginia to be treated with Lime. It was first treated in the late 1980’s and use of Lime increased throughout the state after its successful trial in Little Stony. As with most small streams we sample, we used a backpack electro-shocker and made three passes over one stretch of stream to gather data in order to estimate the fish population. I was excited to see more brook trout YOY (young of the year) at this site than at any other site I have sampled this summer.

Geese Tagging

Moving away from fish and aquatic ecosystems for a day, I helped the wildlife division at the department of game and inland fisheries capture and tag geese. Because geese are currently molting, they cannot fly and are easier to corral together and capture. To catch the geese biologists took to the water in kayaks and canoes. Because geese swim away from these boats, biologists could surround the geese and push them towards the shore by paddling beside them and behind them. On shore, we laid down multiple metal rectangles with netting stretched across them. Then, the biologists moved the geese to the shore by getting close to them and splashing the water around them. Once the geese came on shore we (a group of about 20 people) circled them and slowly walked toward them. As we walked toward them we picked up the metal-framed nets and slowly continued making the circle smaller and smaller until the sides of the nets were touching. At this point the geese were caught, surrounded by the nets, and we removed individual nets from the circle until the enclosure was small enough to catch the geese by hand. Then, we tied the nets together and, because they are in metal frames, they created a free-standing pen.

Once the geese were caught they were tagged and their age, sex, and tag number were recorded. Then they were released back to the lake. Each tag placed on a goose had an individual identification number, a phone number and a web address. When a goose is found or killed from hunting the tag number can be reported and scientists compare the location of the bird and the year it died to the original data from when it was tagged. This gives them information about how long the goose lived and where it traveled to. Sometimes a goose is caught and released multiple times and scientists can piece together the life history of that specific animal.

Holding the geese was a bit intimidating at first because I did not want to be bitten, but before long I was comfortable with a goose in my arms, talking to them and taking pictures with them. It was amazing to feel the strength of their muscles and be so close to them. They are beautiful creatures.

Beaver Creek

With the recent weather conditions rivers in the area are running low. Because of the lack of rain, many farmers have now started irrigating their fields, further draining water bodies.

Fishermen on Beaver Creek have expressed concern over the water level, and yesterday we drove out to see the stream, check in with a farmer, and learn more about the area. Although water levels were low, it seems that there is still enough water in the stream to support aquatic life. We found out that about 4 or 5 farms are using the creek, that they’re not all usually using it at once, and that they are communicating as to when they pump so that water stays in the creek. In this case, it seems like the farmers are really ahead of the game. It was great to hear that farmers are working together and to see that the economic wellbeing of the farmers and the environmental wellbeing of the public natural resource are coexisting. However, if the summer continues without rain conditions will likely worsen and the situation may become tense.  Hopefully the rains will come.

Learning about the potential conflict between water use for private farms and water for the public natural resource was very interesting. Although some laws exist to regulate withdrawal of water, many farms have been grandfathered into programs and do not have to abide by new standards.

A public water source, a beautiful natural resource and a place for recreation and relaxation, should not be completely drained for private use. Still, farmers should not be totally cut off from the resource. Luckily, these are not the only options. Communication between farmers and efficiency in irrigation can reduce the amount of water pumped from a stream.

In the future we will have droughts and during droughts the demand for water withdrawal from streams increases. These simple facts make developing programs to evaluate stream flow, measure water withdrawal, irrigate efficiently, and allocate water resources essential for the protection of private interests,  public interests, and the stream itself.

Topics

  • Rappahannock River
  • Education Day on the North Fork
  • Hays Creek Public Meeting

Rappahannock River

During the 5th week of my internship I traveled to Fredericksburg to help sample fish populations on the Rappahannock River and at one site on the Rapidan River. Over the course of four days and four different testing sites we sampled hundreds of fish.

The main reason for this research is to see how fish populations in the Rappahannock have changed since the removal of Embrey dam. In particular, scientists are interested in the small mouth bass population, as it is an important sport fish in the area. We collected fish with nets once they were stunned by our “shock-boats,” boats equipped with probes that send electricity through the water. Then we measured the length and weight of fish and put them back in the river. We sampled each site at least three times and recorded the number of fish caught each time to construct a regression and estimate the total population (this estimation is necessary because it would be impossible to catch every fish).

Small mouth bass were sacrificed so that researches could extract their otoliths (thin bony structures in the ear). Because otoliths show yearly growth, similar to tree rings, they will be studied to determine the age of the fish. The age of the fish, their length, and their weight will then be used to construct a growth curve for small mouth bass in this river system. It is important to understand how a species is growing so that the DGIF can make appropriate decisions to manage the population, regulating the number of fish that can be harvested and the length a fish must reach before it can be harvested. These regulations are in place to allow small mouth bass to reach maturity and sustain the population for fishermen.

During my time on the Rappahannock I met many biologists and technicians and saw some species of fish which were new to me. Some of the new fish species I saw were blue catfish, gizzard shad, striped bass, shortnose redhorse sucker, and gar–which was my favorite. Its long thin body, prehistoric look, and sharp scales and teeth won me over. Besides the gar, I really enjoyed seeing all the different species of catfish (blue, channel, bull, madtom). Another high point of the week was when we netted 3 small mouth bass which all measured about 20 inches- they were awesome J.

On our last day a family stopped and I had fun showing the kids the fish. They had fun touching the them, holding them, and seeing the different species.

After all the sites were finished I waved goodbye to everyone I had met and sang the good ol’ song (WAHOO-WA!) out of the truck window for all of my new friends to enjoy J (most of the fisheries people went to VT).

Education Day on the North Fork

I helped with an education session for children and teachers who were participating in a week-long environmental camp organized by the Friends of the North Fork. I really enjoyed listening to the biologist tell the group about the river, the fish, and the connections between our actions and the health of rivers. I think that the students learned a lot and they asked great questions! It was fun to get to show the students different fish and to share with them some of the things I have learned so far this summer. I was impressed by how much the biologist and the technician from DGIF know and look forward to learning more from them!

Hays Creek Public Meeting

One of my favorite activities thus far was attending a public meeting about E. coli in Hays Creek. Levels of E. coli in the water here are above EPA standards and at some sites levels were about 4 times the EPA standards! These levels of bacteria in the water can make animals and people sick.

E. coli in Hays Creek comes from feces of wildlife and pets as well as agricultural and human waste. There are many methods, termed “best management practices,” for mitigating this problem. These include implementing a pet-waste program, repairing septic systems and pumping out septic tanks, creating a vegetative buffer on agricultural land, excluding livestock from the stream, implementing rotational grazing, and storing waste so that it does not drain into the creek.

Using the best management practices would certainly clean up the creek, but the solution is more complex. At this point participation in any program to reduce E. coli in Hays Creek is voluntary, and many people have yet to participate or refuse to participate in implementing the best management practices.

The goal of the meeting was to ask the people who live around Hays Creek how they think the problem should be solved and what they think can be done to clean the creek. I was glad to see the community members involved and being asked for the solution, instead of a solution be thrust upon them from some outside source. People who live in the Hays Creek community are extremely knowledgeable about the creek, land uses, etc. and have insight into what could work best in their area. Still, outside organizations, like the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) are also important players because they can provide ideas, organization, monitoring of the creek, and funds to help residents implement best management practices.

It was exciting to see different groups of people come together to recognize the importance of the creek and their love for it. Ideas were being offered, discussed, and considered. I’m really looking forward to seeing these ideas turn into action and hopefully seeing Hays Creek transform into a much cleaner stream.


Topics

  • St. Mary’s Wilderness Trout Sampling
  • Education Day
  • Dam Removal
  • Fish Kill Meeting
  • Coldwater Stream Sampling

St. Mary’s Wilderness Trout Sampling

During the past two weeks I spent three days sampling different sites on St. Mary’s River. Although Brook Trout and other fish were common in this river in the past, acid rain lowered the pH of the streams to levels that were not tolerable for the fish and the populations declined drastically. Although the problem of acid rain has not been solved, the current solution is to “lime” the streams. About every five years lime is dropped into the river from a helicopter. This input of lime into the streams raises the pH and allows fish to live there. The sampling I helped with was part of a yearly evaluation of the fish population.

To sample the stream, we used a backpack electro-shocker to stun the fish. Then we collected them in nets and measured and weighed them. After we had collected data on the fish we released them back into the river. As with other sampling, we evaluated a certain reach of the river, often between two natural barriers to fish passage, such as waterfalls.

Sampling in St. Mary’s was really fun because we hiked  (sometimes for hours a day) to get to the river and then back out again. I had never seen Brook Trout, our state fish, before and I had never used a backpack electro-shocker. One day in St. Mary I also saw poult (baby turkeys) and a rattlesnake, both of which I hadn’t seen before.  So many new things!! J

After spending quite a bit of time in at St. Mary’s and having so many new experiences there, this area has become pretty special to me and is definitely worth visiting!

Education Day

During the last week of school, Shenandoah County organized an environmental education day for their 7th graders. For this fieldtrip the students were split into groups and rotated through six different stations. One of the fisheries biologists I have been working with was in charge of a station where the students learned about fish.  Early in the morning we went out in an electro-shocking boat and caught fish to show to the students. Then, we spent the rest of the day talking to the different groups about the fish and the river where the fieldtrip was held.

It was great to see how interested the kids were in our station and to hear some of the good questions they asked. Many of the students were upset that one of the fish we had was not doing so well and was probably going to die. I never like to see an animal hurt but I was glad that the kids cared about it. They were also really excited at the end of the day when they were able to release the fish back into the river. It was awesome to see how excited they were to put the fish back in their natural environment. I am glad that I could go along and help on this day and in the future I’d like to take a more active role. Although I definitely don’t know everything the fisheries biologists do, it’d be neat to interact even more with the kids.

Dam Removal

This past week I attended a meeting about the removal of a dam in Front Royal. The dam was built in 1908 to provide electricity to local farmers and was abandoned in 1930. Removal of the dam will allow for fish passage, especially by American Eels which are catadromous, meaning that they live in freshwater and migrate out to saltwater to reproduce. Dam removal will also allow for recreational use on the river between boat ramps above and below the dam. Another reason the dam is being removed is because it is a safety hazard, multiple people have drowned at the dam.

Attending this meeting was interesting because of all the coordination it takes between different people, offices, and government to approve the removal of the dam, find money for the removal, and organize the removal.

Fish Kill Meeting

After attending one meeting earlier this summer about fish kills in Virginia, I was excited to attend a meeting this past week at the Virginia DEQ in Harrisonburg for an update. The bacteria that has been infecting fish is called Aeromonas salmonicida. In the James River, fish infection is most prominent in the upper James while in the Shenandoah River, fish infection is variable but is present at different areas along the whole river.  At this meeting I learned that this bacteria has been infecting many fish species and has also been infecting juvenile fish, in addition to adults.

In terms of summarizing and attacking the problem, it seems that Aeromonas salonicida has been present in these rivers for as much as 50 years. However, until the fish kill in 2004, it seems that fish species were coping with it. At that time, it is likely that some of variable, or mix of variables, changed and made the fish especially susceptible to the bacteria.

Now, it seems to me, that there are two main options, attack the bacteria, or attack these other variables. Unfortunately neither of these options are simple. The bacteria can survive in the coldwater springs that feed these rivers, and finding all of these springs and then somehow killing the bacteria, without poisoning or harming the rest of the ecosystem, would be extremely difficult. In terms of finding a variable, a trigger, which caused the kill, it probably doesn’t exist. The fish kills were probably the result of a mix of variables.

For me, the research on the fish kills shows how important it is to keep our ecosystems healthy and free of pollution. When we have industrial, residential, and agricultural pollution flowing into our rivers we can’t expect the animals that live there to be healthy. I am glad that the pollution into the river has decreased over the last 30 years or so, but these fish kills show that we need to be doing more.

Coldwater Stream Sampling

During the past week I had the pleasure of traveling to Highland County and sampling fish in some coldwater streams. I saw the largest Brook, Rainbow, and Brown Trout I have ever seen. Although I had seen some Brook Trout at St. Mary’s, in Highland County I was struck by how beautiful they were. This may sound silly, me calling fish beautiful, but if you hold a Brook Trout in your hands, see its mottled green pattern, its red spots with blue rings around them, and its white tipped fins I think you might agree.

Seeing the beauty of the Brook Trout reminded me of when I saw hundreds of tadpoles at a hatchery during my first week. As I was holding them and inspecting them I noticed that their underbellies were shimmering in shades of iridescent green purple and blue.

Throughout this internship I have been consistently struck by the beauty nature has created.

This week I helped sample fish at two sites on the Middle River and helped survey the Jackson River for Didymo, an invasive algae.

Topics

  • Middle River Sampling
  • Didymo Surveys
  • Some Thoughts

Middle River Sampling

This week I helped sample the Middle River at two different sites, one in Port Republic and one near Verona. This sampling was carried out with the South River Science team and was part of their ongoing Mercury study. This week we used an electro-shocking boat and barge to sample the fish.  The Middle River was being sampled as a control river, since it has not been contaminated by Mercury.

Didymo Surveys

Why Didymo / What Is It?

Didymo is an invasive species of algae. When it first appeared in the Jackson River scientists were afraid that it might negatively affect the aquatic insect population and hurt fish populations, since fish prey on aquatic insects. Luckily, the aquatic insects and fish have not suffered, but the algae is still being monitored since it is invasive.

How We Sampled

For this survey I helped DGIF and U.S. Forest Service staff to sample at three sites, one just below the dam at Lake Moomaw and then two more downstream. To quantify the amount of algae in the river at each site, we set up a transect across the river and then placed a large square metal frame on the bottom of the river every two meters. The square metal frame was divided into quadrants by string, and then viewing scopes were used to view the algae underwater. The coverage of algae in each quadrant was then ranked 0, 1, 2, or 3 with 0 representing 0% coverage, 1 representing 1-35% coverage, 2 representing 36-70% coverage, and 3 representing 71%-100% coverage.

What We Found

The algae was most abundant at the site closest to the dam and quadrants often received scores of 3 or 4. At the two downstream sites the Didymo was less prevalent, and numbers of 0, 1, and 2 were more common. I learned that Didymo prefers cold water and stable substrate like rocks, roots, or sticks.

Some Thoughts

One of the most interesting parts of the week for me was getting to talk with a U.S. Forest Service biologist when I was helping survey the Didymo. She has been involved in surveying Didymo because the Jackson River runs through national forest land.

Because I am interested in public involvement and decision-making she told me about the process of creating a plan for the national forest. Creating the comprehensive plan, which takes place every 10 years or so, is extremely important because every decision relates back to this master plan. Many people have different ideas about what national forest, specifically the George Washington and Jefferson forests, should be used for and how or if they should be developed. Timber harvest, old growth management, biking and hiking trails, historic sites, and animal habitat are just a few of the issues which are discussed and planned for. It was really interesting to learn how the public and different interests groups as well as U.S. Forest Service staff come together to make decisions about how to manage these resources.

This week I helped sample fish at two sites on the Middle River and helped survey the Jackson River for Didymo, an invasive algae.

Topics

· Middle River Sampling

· Didymo Surveys

· Some Thoughts

Middle River Sampling

This week I helped sample the Middle River at two different sites, one in Port Republic and one near Verona. This sampling was carried out with the South River Science team and was part of their ongoing Mercury study. This week we used an electro-shocking boat and barge to sample the fish.  The Middle River was being sampled as a control river, since it has not been contaminated by Mercury.

Didymo Surveys

Why Didymo / What Is It?

Didymo is an invasive species of algae. When it first appeared in the Jackson River scientists were afraid that it might negatively affect the aquatic insect population and hurt fish populations, since fish prey on aquatic insects. Luckily, the aquatic insects and fish have not suffered, but the algae is still being monitored since it is invasive.

How We Sampled

For this survey I helped DGIF and U.S. Forest Service staff to sample at three sites, one just below the dam at Lake Moomaw and then two more downstream. To quantify the amount of algae in the river at each site, we set up a transect across the river and then placed a large square metal frame on the bottom of the river every two meters. The square metal frame was divided into quadrants by string, and then viewing scopes were used to view the algae underwater. The coverage of algae in each quadrant was then ranked 0, 1, 2, or 3 with 0 representing 0% coverage, 1 representing 1-35% coverage, 2 representing 36-70% coverage, and 3 representing 71%-100% coverage.

What We Found

The algae was most abundant at the site closest to the dam and quadrants often received scores of 3 or 4. At the two downstream sites the Didymo was less prevalent, and numbers of 0, 1, and 2 were more common. I learned that Didymo prefers cold water and stable substrate like rocks, roots, or sticks.

Some Thoughts

One of the most interesting parts of the week for me was getting to talk with a U.S. Forest Service biologist when I was helping survey the Didymo. She has been involved in surveying Didymo because the Jackson River runs through national forest land.

Because I am interested in public involvement and decision-making she told me about the process of creating a plan for the national forest. Creating the comprehensive plan, which takes place every 10 years or so, is extremely important because every decision relates back to this master plan. Many people have different ideas about what national forest, specifically the George Washington and Jefferson forests, should be used for and how or if they should be developed. Timber harvest, old growth management, biking and hiking trails, historic sites, and animal habitat are just a few of the issues which are discussed and planned for. It was really interesting to learn how the public and different interests groups as well as U.S. Forest Service staff come together to make decisions about how to manage these resources.


My first week working with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has been great! I have already learned many new things and have been exposed to different environmental work which is going on in Virginia.

Activities of the Week

On Monday I jumped right in (literally!) and helped sample fish in the South River in Waynesboro. The sampling I helped with was part of an ongoing investigation about Mercury in the river and was a collaboration between the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the South River Science Team. The rest of the week I helped sample another stretch of the South River, stocked Walleye fry in Robertson Lake, and attended a fish health conference where I learned about the fish kills in the Shenandoah River and other rivers around Virginia.

Topics

  • Mercury Contamination
  • Stocking Fish
  • Fish Kills
  • Some Thoughts

MERCURY CONTAMINATION

Mercury contamination in the South River

Between 1929 and 1950, a DuPont plant located in Waynesboro released Mercury into the river. The Mercury has spread downriver and has also been found throughout the river’s flood plain. Fish from stretches of the South River are not edible because of their high levels of Mercury caused by bio-accumulation.

Why hasn’t Mercury decreased?

Although experts expected the levels of Mercury in the South river to decrease over time, the levels have remained fairly constant. Models of Mercury contamination have shown that Mercury will remain at a stable level for some time and then rapidly decrease in concentration until it reaches a new, lower, stable level. One explanation for the lack of decrease in Mercury levels in the South River is that the Mercury may have already undergone the rapid decrease before monitoring began. Although Mercury input to the river stopped in 1950, monitoring of Mercury levels in the river didn’t begin until the 1970’s, when the Mercury contamination was first discovered.  The current Mercury levels in the river may, in fact, represent the second stable level of mercury contamination.

Sampling Fish

In order to monitor the level of Mercury over time, the South River Science Team, created by DuPont, samples fish from the river. On Monday, I helped complete what is called a “depletion sample” on the South River in Waynesboro. To sample, we sectioned off a length of river with two nets (one upstream and one downstream) and then collected as many fish as possible from this area. We used electro-shocking barges to stun the fish and then collected them in nets and transported them to a data station set up on the riverbank. We sampled the area multiple times and removed the fish, taking them to our data collection station each time. After data was collected from the fish, they were released back into the river. By repeatedly and systematically sampling the area, from downstream to upstream, removing the fish we caught each time, and recording data on the number of fish and the species of fish caught, the South River Science Team was able to estimate the total fish population.

Determining Mercury Levels

To determine Mercury levels in fish, the South River Science Team took small plugs of muscle from Small Mouth Bass and placed a passive integrated transponder, PIT, tag in each. Taking muscle plugs is a non-lethal way of collecting tissue samples and PIT tags, small tags implanted in the fish, allow the team to identify individual fish. By identifying individual fish, and hopefully catching some of the same fish year after year, the team can track Mercury levels in individual fish over time.

STOCKING FISH

Where From and Where To?

On Wednesday we drove to a fish hatchery near Strasburg, Virginia and picked up thousands of Walleye fry. The fry (baby fish) were about 40 days old and had been living in a pond at the hatchery. By drawing down the water level in the pond, the hatchery manager was able to concentrate the fish and collect them. Once the fish were out of the pond and measured out, we loaded them into a special oxygenated container which sits in a truck bed and took them to Lake Robertson, near Lexington, and released them.

FISH KILLS

Fish Kill in the Shenandoah River, the James River, and the Cowpasture River

In 2004 a major fish kill took place in the Shenandoah River and since then fish mortality has been occurring regularly. After this initial kill in 2004, other fish have also died in the James River and the Cowpasture River.

Unanswered Questions

Although scientists have been working hard to find out why fish have been dying and how to prevent their death, there are still many questions which are unanswered. Fish are becoming infected by bacteria, but the source of the bacteria is unknown. Methods to prevent the bacteria from entering rivers or to prevent fish from being infected by the bacteria are still unknown as well.

What is Known

Scientists have identified a specific bacteria as the likely cause of infection in the fish. They also know that lesions on fish, which sometimes result in mortality, show up in the spring once the water is about 15-20 degrees Celsius.

Interesting Comparison

Because the James and the Shenandoah Rivers have agricultural contaminants and other contaminants, a simple conclusion might be that fish are in a stressed environment and therefore are unable to fight off bacterial infection.

However, when you compare these two rivers to the Cowpasture River, the story becomes more confusing. The Cowpasture River is a relatively clean river, but has still experienced fish mortality from the same bacteria.

To make the situation even more interesting, the Maury River, located geographically between the James and the Shenandoah Rivers, has similar water contamination issues but no sick fish, even though the same bacteria has been found in the river.

Thoughts

Learning about the extent of Mercury contamination in the Shenandoah River, its wildlife, and its floodplain is a local example of the havoc we can cause to our environment. Although DuPont has formed a science team to try to evaluate the problem, there are currently no feasible solutions to clean up the Mercury from the river and the land.

I am happy that DuPont has taken responsibility for the problem, and is spending money to research it. This is what they should do, and I’m glad they’re doing it. However, DuPont may turn this responsibility over to federal and state agencies in the next few years. I think that these agencies should definitely be involved in this issue, but I think that DuPont should remain involved and beholden to the pollution problem since they are the ones who created it. To me, this responsibility exists indefinitely, until the Mercury is gone or has decreased to non-harmful levels.

What I have learned about the fish kills has reiterated to me the need to keep environments healthy and free from pollutants. If less contaminants entered our rivers then fish and other wildlife would be healthier. Healthier animals and habitats would then be better able to respond to any accidental pollution which might occur.

In terms of ecosystem health, one function of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, which I hope to learn more about over the summer, is stream restoration. By fencing cattle out of rivers, grading and vegetating stream banks to prevent erosion and create a riparian zone, and modifying channels to create optimal flow, we can help prevent pollution to our rivers and create better habitat for the wildlife that live there.

Although I have learned about problems in the environment this week, it was exciting to meet and work with people who are trying to make ecosystems and species healthier. I have already worked with many different fish species and seen many different natural areas in Virginia.

To sum up my message in one sentence: We have great natural resources in Virginia which are worth protecting and preserving!!

I am a rising 4th year at the University of Virginia and am majoring in Environmental Thought and Practice. I am currently interning with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. My internship is supported through a grant from the UVa Parents Committee- THANKS!

Through this blog I hope to share some of the activities I participate in, what I learn from them, and a bit of my personal opinions on them. I hope to keep the blog well organized so you can skip around and read what interests you.

Please let me know how I can improve it!

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