Thursday, July 21, 2022

Adventures in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

By Cassidy Beach, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary Intern (learn more about Michigan Sea Grant's summer internship program)

This summer I began my internship with the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary (TBNMS), a partner of Michigan Sea Grant. The sanctuary is located in northwestern Lake Huron and aims to protect a nationally significant collection of nearly 100 historic shipwrecks in Lake Huron. Through research, education, and community involvement, the sanctuary works to ensure future generations can enjoy these underwater treasures. TBNMS also facilitates other sciences to study climate change, invasive species, lake biology, geology and water quality.

Map of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Shipwrecks. Credit: TBNMS

Over the past few years I have really gotten to know the wonderful staff at the sanctuary. Two summers ago, I received my Open Water Dive certification with Stephanie Gandulla, who is now my research mentor here. She welcomed me like family into the sanctuary’s crew and now I get to play an important role here. Stephanie, the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) and I are working on the first ever acidification research in the Great Lakes! When I heard about the importance of this project, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. What makes this internship even more special is that we are researching and teaching the public about a very pressing topic right in my hometown!

Acidification has been known to occur in the ocean and now we are beginning to research it in the Great Lakes. The process begins with an excess of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere from burning fossil fuels and large scale forest fires mainly. Over time, carbon dioxide is absorbed by oceans and lakes. It reacts with water to create carbonic acid which is known to be harmful in these ecosystems. It can promote the growth of harmful algal blooms which oftentimes block oxygen and sunlight from reaching deeper waters. Organisms below need these sources of nutrients to survive. Acidification can make it difficult for fish to grow, reproduce and metabolize. Carbonic acid also eats away at shells and makes calcium carbonate less available to organisms that need it to build shells and skeletons. This means they become thinner and more brittle. This is clearly an issue happening around all of us! An important thing to know is that you can make a difference by advocating for renewable energy sources, promoting public transportation and carpool options, shopping locally and many other things! If you're interested in learning about more ways to combat climate change and ocean/freshwater acidification feel free to contact me at!

This topic is very important to all of us here at TBNMS so we were ecstatic to start this project. Typically, we go on the research vessel every week to collect water samples. The dive team at TBNMS is taking samples at depth and I am in charge of sampling the surface waters. To do so, I am using a peristaltic pump to squeeze bubbles out of the water and an instrument called a YSI (Yellow Springs Instruments- digital sampling instrument) to collect data on temperature, depth and salinity of the water. Three samples are collected at the surface each time: one to measure total carbon, one to measure dissolved organic carbon and one to measure total alkalinity, which is the water’s capacity to resist acidic changes in pH. After we finish the sampling process we send them to GLERL [NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory] in Ann Arbor for Dr. Reagan Errera to analyze for important water chemistry indicators.

Stephanie (left) and Cassidy (right) collecting water samples on a research vessel. Credit: NOAA

RV Storm docked in front of the offices of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Credit: NOAA

This project really has been a great experience thus far. We are really trying to engage our community in the science behind this project. We have a station at the TBNMS visitor center set up for me to talk to the public about freshwater acidification and how it works. We will create a social media campaign and a one pager for more people to join in and learn about it as well! Overall, this project has been very rewarding and it has only been a month since I’ve started! I have experienced so many new things: working on a glass bottom boat, educating tourists and locals about climate change, meeting Viking Cruise passengers, participating in a news interview and most importantly working with scientists!

Cassidy educating visitors about freshwater acidification. Credit: Caleb O'brien

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