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Professor to lead salt marsh pollution investigation (Released: 9/23/98)

by Luis Mocete, Office of University Communications

STORRS, Conn. -- Nearly 400 high school students will be investigating the health of salt marshes on the Long Island Sound this fall.

The students will be using minnow traps baited with english muffins to collect mummichogs, dark green or black fish that are usually one inch to six inches long.

They are "an essential part of the marsh's food chain," says Joseph Crivello, an associate professor of physiology and neurobiology at the University of Connecticut.

Crivello will go out with students from seven different high schools as part of a project sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection License Plate Program. Over the course of 10 days and seven different locations, the project will inform students about potential environmental hazards and give them an understanding of the complexity of the problems and the approaches required to address them.

"You can't determine the health of a salt marsh just by taking a look at it," Crivello says. "The best way to do it is to analyze a living organism that resides in the marsh. We picked the mummichog because they are abundant and a critical component of the food chain. If something disturbs the health of the mummichogs, it will not just impact them but also the animals that depend on them for food."

The salt marsh is a biological breeding ground for many of the fish in the sound, says Crivello, who is the director of the project. "The nutrient-rich environment supports extensive plant and animal growth. Many of these nutrients wash into the marsh from upstream agricultural or residential areas." When people moved to the shore of the sound, the marshes began to receive more than just nutrients. Gasoline and sewage have begun to make their way there.

"When pollution moves into the salt marshes, it impacts plants and animals," says Crivello. "If we examine their effects on mummichogs we can predict the impact on commercial fisheries like the flounder, the striped bass and blues to name a few. The project will hopefully give us a better understanding of the conditions of the sound's marshes."

Students will play an important role in figuring out those conditions, says Crivello. In addition to collecting the mummichogs, they will be expected to record their length, weight, and width.

"Fish from unstressed environments with low pollution and minimal human impact should differ from those collected from polluted sites, " he says. "Research has shown that the fatter fish are, the healthier they are, and the skinner they are, the less healthy they are."

Crivello also plans to look at the liver size along with its glycogen content and to examine the growth of proteins usually associated with pollutants.

"I am going to give that information to the students and they are going to analyze that information to determine whether the health of the mummichogs in their area is different from other mummichogs on the coastline," he says. "By getting students involved with this project I hope it will not only educate them about the sound but also get them excited about science. Many of our kids are interested in the environment, but by the time they are in their early teens we lose a lot of them to other interests."

Matt Wolny, a senior at Bristol High School who will be participating in the project, says a career in science never crossed his mind. That may change though, "because the program will give me hands on experience in the field that I have never had and bring science more to life than any book I have ever read," says Wolny. DATES, SCHOOLS AND MARSH LOCATIONS:

  • Oct. 6 - E.C. Goodwin Tech from New Britain will be at Hammonassett State Park from 9 a.m. to noon.

  • Oct. 8 - E.C. Goodwin Tech will be at Guilford Connecticut Public Landing from 9 a.m. to noon.

  • Oct. 9 - Bristol Central High School will be at the Old Lyme salt marsh from 9 a.m. to noon.

  • Oct. 16 - E.C. Goodwin Tech will be at Guilford Connecticut Public Landing from 9 a.m. to noon.

  • Oct. 19 - Cheshire High School will be at the Connecticut Audubon Society Coastal Center in Milford from 9 a.m. to noon.

  • Oct. 20 - Lyman Hall High School from Wallingford will be at Guilford Connecticut Public Landing from 9 a.m. to noon.

  • Oct. 22 - East Hartford High School will be at Barn Island from 9 a.m. to noon.

  • Oct. 27 - W.F. Kaynor Tech from Waterbury will be at Great Meadow Marsh from 9 a.m. to noon.

  • Nov. 5 - Staples High School from Westport will be at Sherwood Island from 9 a.m. to noon.

  • Nov. 6 - E.C. Goodwin Tech will be at Guilford Connecticut Public Landing from 9 a.m. to noon.