March 2020 OES Beacon

Christmas Science on the Outer Banks

Todd Morrison, Senior Ocean Engineer, Woods Hole Group 

Just before Christmas, 2019, OES mentors Drs. Hilary and Todd Morrison ventured once again onto the Outer Banks of North Carolina to work with a new generation of First Flight High School Phyto-Finders.  OES has sponsored these student citizen scientists since 2010 and the Phyto-Finders of FFHS have so far authored nine research papers, which they have presented in technical sessions at OCEANS and which were published in the Conference Proceedings.  Expect more results from this new generation of students at OCEANS 2022 in Hampton Roads.

Fig. 1 Phyto-Finders display a tow net sample on Jennette’s Pier, Nags Head, NC.
Fig. 2 Student teams examine the samples with microscopes, looking for target species and recording their observations.
Fig. 3 Students quickly mastered the detailed steps of a DNA extraction protocol.

During the December trip, students collected phytoplankton samples from two piers jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean.  Each sample was examined, by multiple students using microscopes, to identify target species, with more experienced students teaching new members.  Potentially toxic species are immediately reported to NOAA.  The beginning of a possible bloom of Pseudo nitzschia was detected in the samples shown here and, after a phone call directly from the science classroom, samples were sent overnight to the NOAA Toxin Lab in Charleston, SC.

During the trip the students were also taught how to extract DNA from the samples.  The extracted DNA will be sequenced in Hilary’s lab at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole.  Comparison to sequence libraries identifies, with extremely high sensitivity, the distribution of species at multiple trophic levels.  Look for a longer article, authored by one of the students, about this trip and the ongoing work of the Phyto-Finders in the next edition of the Beacon.