Reflecting on an Internship with UGA Marine Extension

Capps Lab Member and Double Dawg, Maddie Monroe Reflects on her Time as an Intern

During the summer of 2019, I interned with the University of Georgia Marine Extension (MAREX) department.  I worked closely with research scientist, Dr. Jay Brandes at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and Marine Educator, Dodie Sanders at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. I was hired as the microplastics intern for a project, in which I assisted in field sampling to identify microplastics in Georgia Coastal waterways, the analysis and processing of samples, and helped to develop outreach and educational materials.

The research project I conducted during my internship was based in organismal ecology with a focus on microplastics in bivalves.  The bulk of my research was developing a suitable protocol for the digestion of organic tissues using enzymes.  The goal was to break down the organic tissue from the gills and digestive tracts of oysters, so the filtering process and identification of microplastics could be simplified.  After a protocol was developed, I started conducting sampling trips and analyzing microplastics in the water column and in oysters.

This project was relevant because microplastics have become a significant environmental issue in aquatic environments.  Microplastics have been identified as a pollutant of concern because of their persistence, ubiquity, toxicity and their potential to enter food webs.   Oysters are particularly susceptible to small microplastics in the environment because of their ability to filter large quantities of water. In aquatic systems, it is suspected that these particles interfere with the energy uptake and allocation, reproduction, and overall fitness of the organisms.  We studied Crassostrea virginica, the Eastern Oyster, populations throughout Oyster Creek and Turner Creek in Savannah, GA to determine the abundance and concentrations of microplastics in the digestive systems of these organisms. The information obtained in the short study was used to inform a more intensive study that could address a spatial and temporal collection of oysters in these sites and could also provide vital information to the Georgia Coastal Fisheries on the fitness and potential impacts to the shellfish industry.

In addition to research, I also helped with marine ecosystem educational programs.  The University of Georgia Aquarium held their annual World Oceans Day event where the aquarium was open to the public and they had different activities to educate people about the environments closest to them.  I taught families about sustainable crabbing practices and the regulations on the southeastern coast. I also helped at the touch tanks showing the visitors the different types of animals they could see on the Georgia coast and demonstrated how to hold them as well as educate the public on their morphologies, their ecological roles, and how to distinguish the creatures. 

My time on Skidaway was an incredible experience that allowed me to develop skills that I will be putting to use in my graduate program.  I created invaluable relationships with the educators and researchers on Skidaway and it was an experience I will always treasure.