Fellowship Outreach

April and May were very eventful months for my fellowship. In April, I hosted an educational program for a class of young prospective STEM students at William James Middle School. I created a water trivia quiz for the students and they all exceeded my expectations. A lot of students were interested in getting themselves and their families signed up for volunteering which was great to hear.

I also got the chance to volunteer for the Canoochee Paddle Race. This is an event Ogeechee Riverkeeper has brought back to Evans County, Georgia. The race was successful, despite the low water levels in some areas. The feedback from the event was positive. ORK is already working on next year and hopes to see the number of participants grow. Congratulations again to all the winners!

A third event I assisted in was the career day at Nevils Elementary School. I spoke about different projects ORK works on, as well as my own research and university studies. The children we met were so attentive and considerate. They all made sure to correct each other on littering and hold each other accountable. The students were also very curious and asked a lot of great questions. I even had a student give me a hug and tell me, “Thank you.” Another student told his teacher he wanted to be a riverkeeper when he grows up.

I have also been continually participating in the Don’t Litter Lotts cleanups in Statesboro, Georgia. This project has been increased to cleanups twice a month because the amount of litter in the creek has unfortunately also increased. As the summer months come, we will need some more volunteers as many students head home for the summer or are busy with jobs.  Check out the cleanups and sign up!

Macroinvertebrate Sampling

On the water

March turned out to be a super eventful month for myself and the Ogeechee Riverkeeper.

The water levels have continued to be high because of all the rain the area has gotten in the past few months. This has made sampling a tricky event because floodplains contain many deep spots that are easy to fall into and can be dangerous to navigate at times.

Still, my first round of aquatic macroinvertebrate sampling has been a success in the Ogeechee River. Macroinvertebrates are insects, molluscs, and other invertebrate organisms that are visible in the water with the naked eye. We even got to see the early emergence of some mayflies on the river. 

The quick change in temperature to about 80 degrees has caused some mayflies to go into a false emergence earlier than usual. Where I am from in Detroit, we have an entire festival dedicated to mayflies, where they are called “fish flies.” 

Macroinvertebrates are a key part of the ecosystem. They help break down detritus, natural debris like leaves and wood that fall into the river. They are also great sources of food for other organisms like fishes, frogs, and salamanders. They are an integral part of the food web in an aquatic system. Organizations, such as the DNR and EPA, even use macroinvertebrates as an indicator for water quality.

Dragonfly larva
Stonefly and caddisfly in Stone Creek

I am following the same protocols as those organizations would for my own study to help the Ogeechee Riverkeeper get a good baseline on the organisms found in the system. These macroinvertebrates will be used in my thesis study at Georgia Southern University over the next year. I will end up sampling for them three more times over the course of the year, so be prepared for some more cool pictures as time goes on.

In mid-March, I attended the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream Confluence event with other members of the Ogeechee Riverkeeper and Georgia Southern University. The event was held in Unicoi State Park in Helen, Georgia. I helped run a macroinvertebrate survey session at the conference (You will see macroinvertebrates from me a lot, as that is one of my specialties). It was wonderful to get to meet people from many different walks of life and career paths coming together to discuss our experiences with Adopt-A-Stream and volunteering.

Unicoi Lake

Adopt-A-Stream is a citizen-science based program in Georgia that helps the community get involved in water quality assessments. Volunteers have sites set up around the state and members from all over assist with monitoring streams. The monitoring includes water parameter testing, such as dissolved oxygen, temperature, pH, etc, bacterial monitoring for E. coli, and macroinvertebrate diversity for water quality assessment. If you are interested in a program like this, please visit https://adoptastream.georgia.gov/how-do-i-get-started-adopt-stream

Molly McKeon, 2023 Fellow

About Flood Pulses

Let’s talk about the floods we have been seeing throughout the Ogeechee River basin.

We have been experiencing some heavy rains this season and that has been causing the flood pulse to rise this year. But what is a flood pulse? The flood pulse is the annual rise and fall of the water levels. This is important for our river systems because it allows the floodplains to collect and channel water through and bring nutrients into the ecosystem. 

The winter and spring are the best seasons to notice the phenomenon of flood pulse occurring. In the winter, the rains can cause flooding because the trees have not started blooming and therefore do not have as much capacity for storing water. The flooding allows for saturation of the water in the floodplain and surrounding lands and that helps the plants receive a cue that spring is coming and soon it will be time to bloom and grow once again.

Why is this important to people, though?

Protecting the floodplain from development is an important factor in the health of waterways. Allowing natural flooding to occur is good for soil, wildlife, plants, and the river itself. Avoiding non-permeable surfaces and building in these areas also protects nearby homes and businesses from most flooding scenarios.

The flood pulse can cause hazardous conditions in the river. The river may appear somewhat calm, but the water may be moving at a much higher rate than usual and this can impose hazards for recreational usage. Please be careful when there are heavy rain events in the winter and spring months. 

There is publicly accessible data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) that shows the average depth and the discharge rate in the river, which will help tell you how fast the river is moving. Make sure you are prepared before you head out on our beautiful waterways.

~ Molly McKeon, 2023 ORK Fellow

Meet Molly McKeon

Meet ORK’s 2023 research fellow

My name is Molly McKeon. I am originally from Michigan, near Detroit. I attended Wayne State University and earned my bachelor’s degree. I’ve worked in freshwater systems since 2019.

I specialize in macroinvertebrates, which are organisms within the river such as aquatic insects, crayfish, mussels, etc. A lot of my work is spent identifying these organisms taxonomically and using that data to look at the bigger picture of the water quality.

I am going to be looking at the Ogeechee River in a similar fashion, but I will be taking it a step further and using long term data as well as my own. My research will focus on three main sites that I can monitor over the course of the next year.

I will also be performing standard water quality tests, chemical, and bacterial monitoring at these sites following the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream protocols. I’m excited to begin this journey with the Ogeechee Riverkeeper and all of you.

Crayfish and DNA

I am Valeria Ensenat Rivera, an undergraduate researcher in the freshwater lab at Georgia Southern University and I am studying population genetics of crayfish native to south Georgia. Crayfish are also known as crawfish or crawdads, and they are invertebrate crustaceans that spend their lives at the bottom of lakes, rivers, and streams, eating just about anything they can get their claws on. Crayfish are also a vital part of the food web providing a tasty snack for birds, raccoons, fish, otters, and are delicious in a low country boil.    

The state of Georgia ranks fourth in crayfish diversity in the country, with more than 70 different species, and I am interested in deciphering how those species are related. One characteristic of crayfish is that they all look very similar to one another, and even experts can have difficulty identifying them and telling species apart. To solve this problem, I am using their DNA to determine the species and see what other information their genetics can tell us.

The Ogeechee crayfish, or Procambarus petersi, is one of the crayfish species that has only been found in the Ogeechee River and other nearby waterways.Not a lot is known about the Ogeechee crayfish due to limited population counts and the small area in which they historically have been found. Surprisingly, we were able to obtain one individual from the Canoochee River.

Procambaru petersi, Photo by Chris Lukhaup

How can you really know that you actually have the Ogeechee crayfish in your hands, when there are so many crayfish that look similar?  I extracted DNA from this individual crayfish (which was named Eleven, like in Stranger Things) and compared it with the DNA of all of the other crayfish samples in our collection. 

The DNA from this Ogeechee crayfish was different from the other ones, but that was not the surprising part. Rather, the species was “nested” inside the population of Procambarus spiculifer, or the white tubercled crayfish. The white tubercled crayfish is found more commonly than the Ogeechee crayfish, having populations all along Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. 

Southern Georgia, the Ogeechee River, and other nearby river basins, may have more crayfish species than originally thought, and many of those species could be in danger of going extinct. It is important to obtain more information about them in order to conserve species diversity and protect the beautiful waterways of Georgia.