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The Last Word | Drew Ferrier on the Health of the Chesapeake Bay

By Drew Ferrier, professor of biology and the director of the Coastal Studies Program at Hood College

You’ve been reading a lot about different jobs within various STEM fields. Many STEM disciplines have characterized the environmental issues that plague the Chesapeake Bay and many are needed to come up with a solution.

First, a little background. Noticeable declines in water quality and important living resources in the 1960s and ’70s prompted in-depth ecological investigations of the Bay. By the mid-1980s, scientists had a very good idea of the primary issue; runoff of fertilizers (nitrogen and phosphorus) and sediments from human activities—such as agriculture and urban and suburban development—enriched the Bay and led to over-growth of floating, microscopic algae. There was too much algae to be processed by filtering organisms like oysters, so the algae sank to the bottom, and was decomposed by bacteria, consuming all of the water’s dissolved oxygen. In turn, these damaged bottom habitats, as well as parasitic diseases, turbid water and over-harvesting, contributed to the decline of iconic organisms that we associate with the Bay such as blue crabs, striped bass and oysters.

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Phil Berneberg and Alex Jarnot discuss the structural details of ceramic glazes while viewing them with the SEM.
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Meagan Anders, a current Coastal Studies student, examines a locally collected pollen sample to document its structure.
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Pollen comes in all shapes and sizes. With the use of our SEM, we are beginning to study this diversity first hand.
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By Drew Ferrier, Ph.D., Professor of Biology and Director of the Center for Coastal and Watershed Studies

Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) provides a close-up look of the world around us. Hood’s Center for Coastal and Watershed Studies is fortunate to have acquired such an instrument and offers it for use by students and professors from all disciplines.

While a traditional light microscope can magnify objects up to 1000 times, our SEM is capable of zooming in to see fine structural details at 30,000x or more! Unlike most types of microscopes, a SEM uses an electron beam to illuminate the surface of a specimen, rather transmitting images by passing electrons through the sample. Certainly microscopes are used every day in biology classes, but did you know that at Hood electron microscopy can be used by students and faculty from a variety of disciplines to inform their studies?

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Jenni Davis of the Nature Conservancy helps Coastal student Colin Johnson transfer a butterfly from his aerial net to a temporary holding container.
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A captured Monarch awaiting its tag.
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This Monarch has been processed and tagged. It’s now ready for release.
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By Drew Ferrier, Ph.D., Professor of Biology and Director of the Center for Coastal and Watershed Studies

Have you seen any Monarch butterflies recently?  Not long ago they were one of the most common butterfly species in our region, but their numbers have declined by about 80 percent in recent years. During winter 2016-17, the official population estimate of butterflies in Mexico, where the species congregates over the winter months, was 146 million Monarchs, compared to a long-term average of 300 million, and a peak of 1 billion in the mid-1990s.

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