September has been a very eventful month for my research. This month we began the fish community assessment for my study! The location near Highway 301 posed an accessabilty issue for the our electrofishing boat, so we adjusted to the Oliver boat ramp. Electrofishing and the process is less scary than it sounds.

Electrofishing is a process that uses electrotaxis, which is a method that temporarily stuns the fish for capture. This process and recovery is easy for the fish. Researchers follow strict safety procedures when on the boat because there is an electrical current. The fish are netted and put in to an aerated live well and observed closely for recovery. Most fish recover within seconds of being put in to the live well. The fish are later identified, measured, and counted for the study. No fish are harmed or kept during this study.

For this project, we collected a wide variety of fishes. One common fish we caught was Bowfin. Bowfin are obligate air breathers, meaning that they can also breath oxygen from the surface when needed. They have a large gular plate on their chin that looks like a triangle-shape. Many of these characteristics are considered “primitive” because they are characteristics that closely relate to ancestor fishes that are long extinct. Bowfin are paired nesters and the male helps by building and guarding the eggs and young. These fish are only found in North America.

Another group of fish only found in North and upper South America are the gar. We found two different gar species on our survey, Longnose Gar and Florida Gar. Gar are also considered “primitive” fishes. Gar are one of my favorite fishes in this area because of their curiosity and relaxed nature. We often find gar watching near the surface while in the boat. They do have long, sharp teeth that can cause lacerations if improperly handled.

Molly holds an eel

Another special fish I found while traversing the Ogeechee River was the American Eel. Yes, eels are also fish! The American Eel is a catadromous fish, which means it lives in rivers as adults, but heads out to the sea to spawn. American Eels only spawn in the Sargasso Sea. The IUCN Red List marks American Eels as endangered and these species should be treated with care. Eels can easily get trapped in crayfish traps and other lines that stay in the water for extended periods of time.

Molly holds a gar

G’Day, Fellow!

I attended the Society for Freshwater Science’s shared conference in Brisbane, Australia, earlier this month. I was in Australia from June 1-11 and got the pleasure of seeing old friends and colleagues, as well as meeting new ones. I also got to partake in some leisurely activities on my off time and on my extended stay after the conference. I am so excited to share my journey (and some photographs) with you all.

I started my adventure by flying from Savannah to Brisbane with two stops along the way. After arriving, we immediately dropped our stuff off and a group of my friends and I headed to the Australia Zoo. We spent the day at the zoo and got to see a lot of the native flora and fauna of Australia. Some key highlights would be the massive saltwater crocodiles which can grow up to 17 feet long. I also got to see one of my favorite birds, the cassowary. They were fairly shy and it was hard to get photos of them. There was a lot to see around the zoo, but you can tell the animals are very well taken care of.

The conference included seminars including for data analysis and Rstudio coding. I want to thank Dr. Eric Moddy and Dr. Felicia Osburn for giving me the opportunity to attend this conference and bringing me along through the STOICH Project. I learned some new skills using coding and helped make a cool graph for the project. After the seminar, I was able to kayak the Brisbane River and learn from the guides about the river and the city.

June 5 and 6 were spent supporting the National Science Foundation program Emerge Fellows during their presentations in the morning and early afternoon. Our group also took a trip to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane. They do a lot of local rehabilitation of animals in the Queensland area. We ended up seeing many koalas, birds, Tasmanian devils, kangaroos, wallabies, and even a platypus. I also got to experience feeding rainbow lorikeets and one even landed on my head!

June 7 was an intensive day with an all day trip that included a tour to see glow worms! The tour started by driving out to Springbrook Natural Park and stopping by a large dam along the way. In the park, we walked through the rainforest and saw a natural glow worm cave with a waterfall that broke through the middle of it. It was too bright during the day to see them glowing in their natural habitat, though. From there we headed over to Mount Tamborine and got to do ecotourism at a man-made glow worm cave built to protect and teach people about the glow worms. Glow worms are extremely susceptible to light so there are no pictures of them, but I highly encourage people to watch the PBS episode of SciTechNow on Glow Worms and how they glow.

Glow worm cave

At the end of the conference I said my goodbyes to new friends before heading on my own to explore the city of Brisbane. I got to see some great flora and fauna in the Roma Street Parklands and the Brisbane Botanical Gardens. The city is filled with flying foxes everywhere. They’re kind of hard to photograph, but super cute to observe sleeping in the trees.

Mulgumpin (Moreton Island)

On my last day, I made it out to Moreton Island, just outside of Brisbane. The island has great bird watching. There are also a lot of shipwrecks and other snorkeling and diving spots filled with fishes. The island is home to the largest stable sand dune in the world as well. I got to see a lot of cool birds and fish as I explored the island and the beach. It was the perfect ending to my trip.

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