A number of people have asked me exactly what ‘being part of the plankton team’ entails so I thought I would write a brief description of what we do here:
- We go out on the boat to a number of different sites in the waters around Sherkin Island where we collect samples of water from different depths using a nansen bottle, we analyse these samples on the boat for temperature, conductivity, and salinity using a probe
- We collect additional samples using a plankton net, which we drag through the water column to collect a sample of all the plankton through the range of depths covered by the bottled samples to get a quick idea of what species are in the area
- Environmental parameters such as tide time, weather, wind direction, swell, secchi disk depth (how clear the water is), are taken and noted down
- These samples are later analysed in the lab under the microscope for species composition and number of plankton present
- We enter this data into a database that contains data stretching back to 1978!
· The data can be useful for many things: firstly just to see if anything has changed over the years, for instance perhaps due to climate change or anthropogenic introduction of nutrients. Another use for the data is that some species of plankton can be harmful to fish, crustaceans, and even humans. If a bloom of one of these species of plankton occurs then it may be better to not eat the shellfish produced in nearby areas, so the plankton monitoring can be a useful early warning system for these Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). There are a number of oyster farms around the island so monitoring the plankton in the area is a good idea.
· We have boat trips regularly and when we are not collecting our samples we are in the lab analysing them and trying to work through past samples that need to be processed. We also have to clean our sample tubes and make new tubes for plankton analysing which takes time as making the tubes involves sticking together pieces of plastic with Vaseline.So that explains what I am doing here most of the time.