Ogeechee Riverkeeper contributes to scientific paper

Contact: Meaghan Walsh Gerard
Communications and Administrative Director

The journal article was edited for young readers and their educators

Damon Mullis, executive director and riverkeeper at Ogeechee Riverkeeper (ORK) and Checo Colon-Gaud, Ph.D., professor & associate dean of the Jack N. Averitt College of Graduate Studies at Georgia Southern University and ORK board member, published their findings on various methods for collecting macroinvertebrates. Macroinvertebrates are creatures without a spine that can be seen with the naked eye. Common ones in the Ogeechee watershed include dragonflies, crayfish, mayflies, and beetles.

Checo Colon-Gaud, Ph.D.

Mullis and Colon-Gaud, along with fellow co-author Kelsey Willbanks, a student at the University of Georgia, experimented with using various types of sampling devices – netted pouches filled with bark, leaves and other natural materials that attract the wildlife they wanted to study. They compared the number of macroinvertebrates they captured with each type of device. Although the snag with wooden pieces captured the greatest number of organisms, all types caught sufficient numbers for sampling.

Damon Mullis

The findings of this article were first published in the Journal for Freshwater Ecology. The article was edited and repurposed for young readers and their educators, and was published by Frontiers for Young Minds. The site makes technical science accessible for students in multiple disciplines.

“I’m excited that our work is available to younger students,” said Colon-Gaud. “As a teacher, I am always looking for ways to engage interested minds in what I love studying.”


Sampling macroinvertebrates is a key way for scientists to test the ecological health of a body of water. For example, many need certain levels of dissolved oxygen in the water to thrive. Determining the presence, or lack thereof, of certain species helps scientists understand if the oxygen level in a waterbody is out of balance.

“ORK is dedicated to practicing good science, but also to making it accessible to the public,” said Mullis. “We want people to understand what we are doing so that they understand why clean water is important to us all.”

The article is available at: https://kids.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frym.2022.705218
Ogeechee Riverkeeper also maintains a library of free resources and educational activities for teachers and curious students at: https://www.ogeecheeriverkeeper.org/education-resources/

About Ogeechee Riverkeeper: Ogeechee Riverkeeper 501(c)(3) works to protect, preserve, and improve the water quality of the Ogeechee River basin, which includes all of the streams flowing out to Ossabaw Sound and St. Catherine’s Sound. The Canoochee River is about 108 miles long and the Ogeechee River itself is approximately 245 miles long. The Ogeechee River system drains more than 5,500 square miles across 21 counties in Georgia. More at ogeecheeriverkeeper.org.

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

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.