September 13, 2021
Oyster reefs are essential to the Chesapeake Bay landscape as both people and wildlife depend on them for things such as food, shelter, and a natural storm buffer. The pressures that oyster reefs face can be understood through scientific research that promotes the need for their conservation. My name is Sunnidae Gallien and I’m from Williamsburg, VA, and a former Virginia Living Museum (VLM) volunteer. This past summer, I was a Fisheries Conservation Lab Intern with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC). Although I was a virtual intern, I still gained the same experience, insight, and skills that would’ve been achieved as an in-person intern. I’m currently a junior at Coastal Carolina University majoring in Marine Science and minoring in Art Studio, and I wanted to take this internship with SERC so I could have my first taste of marine science research.
My internship project was the data analysis of oyster macroparasites (‘macro’ meaning large) and fish and crab biodiversity in oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay. The macroparasites involved with my project are the Cliona species sponges and Polydora species worms. I directed my research towards the influence oyster macroparasites have on fish and crab presence in oyster reefs and proposed that macroparasites could be a dietary need for fish and crabs. I collected fish and crab data through GoPro footage from 8 tributaries in the Chesapeake Bay, integrated the data with prerecorded macroparasite data taken from the same sites, then I analyzed the data in R Studio with the guidance of my mentor, Dr. Allison Tracy. I also received help on tailoring my project from the other Fisheries Conservation Lab staff. According to the results, the Cliona species sponges have a stronger correlation with fish and crab presence than the Polydora species worms. High salinity and oyster reefs with more oyster cover and population also correlated with high fish and crab numbers. If I were to take the next steps after this project, I’d make an experiment focusing on a controlled environment where fish and crabs are fed concentrations of the sponges, as well as other means of food, to determine their preferences.
As a form of science communication, I designed a children’s pamphlet accompanying my project that explained the importance of oyster macroparasites, and what children can do from home to help with oyster reef restoration. Art is a great way to communicate with the public and I wanted to incorporate it into my project’s message. My intended audience is minority youth, as the back of the pamphlet has a brief history of Black Watermen and Women of the Chesapeake Bay that’s followed by an introduction to the Minorities in Aquaculture Organization. What inspired me to make the children’s pamphlet came from my prior experience volunteering at the VLM. I’ve volunteered as an exhibit interpreter, arts and crafts tables for temporary exhibits, and my personal favorite, the teacher’s assistant. I’m going to incorporate marine science and art into graduates’ school and into my career, which was cemented over what I accomplished within this internship. I truly enjoyed being an intern for the SERC Fisheries Conservation Lab and participating in the Chesapeake Student Recruitment, Early Advisement, and Mentoring (C-StREAM) program that helped me obtain this internship. I would certainly accept another opportunity to do lab research again.