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Features

2011 - Present


Citizen Scientist and
Phytoplankton Monitoring

Sarah Webb discussed the phytoplankton monitoring program.

Gray's Reef volunteer Sarah Webb discussed the phytoplankton monitoring program.
Photo: Michael Jordan

What do you like to do on your days off? Spend time with family? Work in the yard? Watch a ball game or catch a movie? Well, for one dedicated local woman, time off means time spent making a meaningful contribution to ocean science in our area. Sarah Webb is a volunteer, a citizen-scientist, if you will, who helps out the folks at Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary- a marine protected area located off the Georgia coast. Today, she's continuing a long-term project to monitor the presence of microscopic organisms called phytoplankton that live in the water.

Sarah Webb takes a water sample on Skidaway Island.

Gray's Reef volunteer Sarah Webb takes a water sample on Skidaway Island. Webb is part of a NOAA-coordinated program monitoring the amounts of tiny organisms, called phytoplankton, in the water.
Photo: Michael Jordan

"This is a phytoplankton net, and we drag it through the water and collect a sample of phytoplankton," says Sarah Webb, as she drags a device through the water at Priest's Landing on Skidaway Island. "We test the salinity and the pH, and then we preserve it," adds Webb. Webb and Gray's Reef Volunteer Coordinator Jody Patterson then take the collected samples to the lab at the University of Georgia's Marine Extension Service on Skidaway Island, where they give the water a closer look under a microscope. "It's really amazing what we collect, what you see in just one drop of water," says Webb. "The phytoplankton are kind of like the canary in the coal mine. If they have numbers that are different than what they should be, either too much or too little, that could mean bad things for the water quality as well as for the fish and the other organisms in the water."

Volunteers from the University of Georgia's Marine Extension (MAREX)

Volunteers from the University of Georgia's Marine Extension (MAREX) also take part in the phytoplankton monitoring program.
Photo: Michael Jordan

Other volunteers from the University of Georgia's Marine Extension Service do the bulk of the work, taking part in a collaborative phytoplankton monitoring program which is funded by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Said Dr. Maryellen Timmons, a scientist from the Marine Extension Service coordinates the work, "the phytoplankton monitors alone last year put in about 1,000 hours, and we have about seven different programs, so you can just imagine how many hours that accumulates to at the end of the year. They're letting us do double, triple what we could do on our own."

If you're interested in volunteering for the monitoring project or other opportunities at Gray's Reef, contact Volunteer Coordinator Jody Patterson at (912)598-2431.

Click here to view video of Citizen Scientists Working with Sanctuaries.


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