Crawfish and leaches.
Those were the only organisms found when Richmond Hill High School students met at the canal along Timber Trail Road to test the water quality.
For their AP environmental science class, juniors Caroline Beach and Jacob Mabrey were required to do an environmentally based community service action.
The two decided to work with the RHHS Science Olympiad team, for which Beach is vice president, to clean up the canal on Timber Trail, as well as do water quality testing.
“We did biological testing, which required studying for organisms in the water,” Mabrey said. “We only found crawfish and leaches. This is unsettling because these are both level three organisms, which tolerate pollution.”
The students didn’t find any organisms that do not tolerate pollution, most likely because the area was filled with litter.
“Keeping aquatic life healthy and sustainable is vital to our coastal culture,” Mabrey said.
The students picked up enough trash to fill four trash bags.
“The trash ranged from small (about a centimeter in length) to large (about a foot in length), and we found a wide variety of trash,” Mabrey said.
Plastic products made up most of the litter picked up.
“We lined up all the plastics we found because they were the largest category of debris,” Beach said. “The litter was composed of items like bottles that could have easily been kept in one’s hand as they walked home instead of thrown into the creek.”
When they first received the assignment to do an environment related community service, Beach and Mabrey went to their teacher Mrs. Jill Kelsey for some ideas.
“Right off the bat, she suggested cleaning up the canal after she saw the horrible condition it was in while she was jogging,” Beach said. “We used the project as a service opportunity for the Science Olympiad team, as well as a way of teaching our classmates, who are also passionate about science, some of what we have learned about the health of our waters and what it ultimately means for us.”
The students borrowed water test kits from the RHHS Science Department. Each kit was slightly different and tailored to a specific chemical or condition, like pesticide chemical runoff or temperature.
Most of the kits involve a sample of the water in a test tube with some chemicals added to them. The reaction that takes place in the test tube can show several characteristics of a body of water.
The results of the water quality testing were as follows: 1 part per million (ppm) of chlorine; less than 1 ppm of dissolved oxygen; less than 1 ppm of nitrogen; 1 ppm of phosphate; and a pH of about 7 — neutral but slightly acidic.
According to Mabrey, the low account of dissolved oxygen indicates a lot of decomposing biomass, which uses a lot of oxygen to decompose.
“This is unsettling because all aquatic organisms require oxygen to live, and a low dissolved oxygen level means that very little life can be sustained,” Mabrey said. “The low levels of phosphate and nitrogen are appropriate for a healthy aquatic environment, and the neutral pH level is also good for aquatic life.”
Beach explained that water quality tests are what professionals use to make sure the body of water they are testing is in good health. They alert the proper authorities if anything appears to be problematic.
“What we are striving for is for the public to have a better understanding that getting pollution under control is not part of any one agenda, but instead it is something that everyone who enjoys drinking clean water, eating safe food and hunting and fishing healthy game should strive for,” Beach said.
“The dumping of litter into our bodies of water, whether intentional or not, affects everyone in the area, and that is especially true for Richmond Hill, a town that is so passionate about everything our river systems provide for us, like fishing, shrimping and recreation.”
Beach and Mabrey encourage the Richmond Hill community to keep the area clean of trash and litter — if not for the local community, then for the world as a whole.
“What starts as a small piece of trash thrown out of your car window becomes a canal full of Parker’s drink cups and candy wrappers that pollute the water, which then moves downstream,” Beach explained. “In what starts as local pollution in a neighborhood ditch or canal quickly moves to our marshes, the Ogeechee (River) and ultimately to the Atlantic, in the form of paper, plastic and Styrofoam particulates and chemicals that are consumed by fish and other animals, which are eventually put on our own plates.
“It just makes sense to properly dispose of our waste products and keep them out of our waterways for the overall health of everyone and everything involved.”