Friday Feature: Water Quality Research

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This trip was designed with a story in mind,” Lindsey, one of the school group’s leaders explained. She along with Pat, two science teachers from Colorado, traveled to Costa Rica with thirteen middle school students on a Source to Sea trip, which highlights the importance of water sources as indicators of an environment’s overall health. The group, organized by the Global Travel Alliance, began their ten-day tour at UGA Costa Rica to learn about the upper watershed in Monteverde, including the Bellbird Biological Corridor.

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Water quality intern Darixa leads students into the upper stream to capture macroinvertebrates.
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Students from the Source to Sea trip collect data to determine the health of la bruja, a creek that lies five minutes from UGA Costa Rica’s main campus.

The Source to Sea group worked with Darixa, UGA Costa Rica’s current water quality intern, to learn how researchers evaluate water quality based on chemical, physical and biological measures. Darixa emphasized the importance of riparian areas, or banks that act as buffers, providing natural vegetation, shade, food, and habitat, all while reducing erosion and pollution. Here in Costa Rica, each side of a bank must measure at least twenty-five meters to be reserved as a riparian area, as Darixa explained in her presentation to the class.

Out in the Field

The thirteen students recorded water quality measurements such as pH and turbidity before placing their nets in the streams to collect macroinvertebrates. Each measure works together to help researchers understand the overall health bill of a body of water.

To collect macroinvertebrates, the students divided into teams, kicked up rocks and released the organisms from their aquatic dwellings so they could be collected and later examined in the lab. What originally seemed to be pieces of leaves often revealed to be macroinvertebrates, which are sedentary organisms with long life cycles whose responses to pollution are well-known. Water quality researchers focus on the presence of macroinvertebrates because their lives depend on the health of the water in which they reside. 

Back in the Lab

Next students used forceps to pick through their specimen bags, dividing their findings into types, such as insects, crustaceans, molluscs, arachnids, and amelids, then using microscopes to take closer looks. The abundance and classifications of the macroinvertebrates revealed the healthy conditions of the bruja and alondra creeks, as a higher presence of pollution-intolerant organisms indicates lower levels of pollution in the watersheds.

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All images © Rachel Eubanks Media

Water quality research is one of the key pillars of sustainability goals established by UGA Costa Rica. As population growth and climate change create detrimental impacts upon the world’s water sources, water quality research remains an essential component of environmental conservation efforts.

This post and its images were created by photojournalism intern Rachel Eubanks.

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