A Day at Stone Laboratory – an Island for Research

July 24, 2019

There is a powerful force that encompasses teachers when they embark on an exciting scientific adventure.  Our best ideas often come to us when we are able to reflect outside of the classroom. Participating in the Shipboard Science Workshop has taken us away from the day-to-day obligations and allowed us to reconnect with ourselves, specifically our innate ideas that are waiting to make an appearance.  Well, that is exactly what happened today! Not only have we been assisting scientists with sampling and data collection aboard the Lake Guardian, today we had the opportunity to visit Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory.

Stone Laboratory is located on Gibraltar Island, which is just north of South Bass Island’s Put-In-Bay.  We began our day learning about the external and internal anatomy of a fish. All living things have distinguishing characteristics that are identified in order to classify the organism.  A dichotomous key is a tool used to help categorize unknown species or organisms. Before we began our fish dissection, we looked at the external characteristics of our fish and followed the dichotomous key to identify the fish.  Characteristics that were identified include mouth, tail, and scale types. 

We started our internal dissection by cutting from the anal pore toward the head (in a posterior direction) to expose the thoracic cavity.  We identified the aorta and removed the heart. Although the fish had expired 10 minutes prior, the heart still showed signs of life when placed it on a human wrist.  The fish’s heart sensed the electrical impulses coming from the wrist and matched its heart rate. We concluded the dissection by locating and identifying each structure of the fish, and its gender.

Fish heart on Ashley Cosme’s wrist.

We also had the opportunity to participate in actual lake sampling activities common to what the Stone Lab team does on a regular basis by going on a Science Cruise. We boarded one of the Stone Lab’s research vessels and headed out to School House Bay about a half-mile north of Put-In-Bay and Gibraltar Island. The lake was beautiful under a sunny, blue sky – it was an awesome day to gather data!

Our first activity was to determine our depth using a lead line. We played out the line, noted the waterline on the rope and reeled it back up. After measurement with our meter stick, we figured we were in about 8.4 meters of water. Next, we performed a Secchi disk determination of turbidity and were able to view the disk down to about 255 cm. Using a multiplier of 3 we determined that sunlight could penetrate to a depth of about 7.65 m with a brightness of 1%. So, for where we were, sunlight could almost (but not quite) reach the bottom. 

Next, we discussed and prepared the Hydrolab for use. The Hydrolab is a suite of sensors that measure depth, water temperature, pH, turbidity, conductivity, chlorophyll concentration and dissolved oxygen (DO). We were fortunate to have Kristin TePas (one of our team leaders and who helped develop the accompanying user’s guide) with us to help direct our use of the Hydrolab. After collecting data at various depths (0.5, 1.5, 2.5, and so on) we could see definite changes in temperature (dropping with depth) and DO (which increased with depth – cooler water can hold more dissolved oxygen.) After recording all of our data and cleaning, disassembling and storing the Hydrolab in its case, we took on our next challenge.

Breaking-up into groups of three, we were given a bowl of (orange, red, green, blue, yellow, and brown) peanut M&Ms. In this activity, dubbed Sweetness and Light, our goal was to predict which color would be most visible (a la the Secchi disk) as we dropped them into the lake water. We each took a different job: one dropped the test M&M from the same height, one operated the stopwatch (a phone’s timer) and another was the observer who determined when the M&M dropped out of sight. We did 3 trials of each color and found that while we had some inconsistencies in our data collection, it seemed yellow stayed visible the longest.

Our final activity was to do a fish count by performing a trawl using a drag-net behind the boat. We played out the net that was pulled about 100 yards behind the boat at few knots of speed for about 5 minutes. We then hauled the net in and poured the catch into a large tub on the back of the boat. We had about 7 different varieties of fish that we identified (yellow and white perch, drum or sheepshead, walleye, emerald shiners, suckers, and a couple of round gobies). We didn’t have any exceptionally large fish, but we heard several stories of “whoppers” – our Stone Lab guide (Kim) described one walleye she had seen that was over 24 inches. After identifying and then releasing our catch, we headed back to the Stone Lab facility.

In all, the Science Cruise was a wonderful opportunity for us to connect with the process of “real-life data collection” and to experience “how science is done” in a realistic environment. The group seemed to really enjoy counting and identifying our catch and getting to handle the fish. It is easy to see how important the work of Stone Lab is and how getting to participate in the process of data collection with working biologists and view live species in the wild can build and expand a student’s knowledge and passion for our environment. 

We concluded our day of research at Put-In-Bay by checking-out the Aquatic Visitors Center (AVC). This facility had originally been the main fish hatchery for Lake Erie starting in the early 1900s. It is now a place for visitors to come and learn about the Lake Erie environment and the various species that call the lake home. We learned the history of the hatchery, toured the laboratory and some very interesting displays, got to hear about progress against invasive species like the sea lamprey, and learned of ongoing efforts against other invasive species like the round goby and Asian carp. Our final group activity was a flash sweep clean-up of the shoreline near the AVC. In just 3 minutes, our group of about 20 people collected over 3 pounds of trash! As we have seen several times before during our week, plastic items made up the majority of the refuse we collected.

Thoughts from Jay . . . 

Today was an amazing culmination of contrasts for me. As a person primarily trained as an engineer (and a military engineer, at that) I have not had much exposure or involvement with life science research activities or the people who perform those activities. Sure I appreciate, understand and teach biology, but I have not had the opportunity to “live” with a group of people whose passion is the environment and the life that inhabits it. Catching that passion and making some of their vision my vision was the main reason I applied to be a part of this workshop. Today in School House Bay, that goal was really realized!

A USAF C-17 aircraft buzzed over us about 200 feet of altitude. I had been a team member of the cockpit review team responsible for the design of the flight control stick in that exact aircraft (about 3 decades ago). It was a great reminder of “where I had been.” At the time the aircraft flew over, I was playing out rope for a net we were putting into the lake to trawl for fish.  I was struck with the thought that while I had once been strongly connected with the world of engineering and technology, I was now growing in experience and expanding my horizons to appreciate and learn about biological life and all its challenges and amazing beauty. Of course I could write pages and pages more, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll just say that I have truly been fortunate to be a part of this week and get to spend 7 days with such amazing, dedicated, knowledgeable, and passionate people and my goals for this week have been more than exceeded.

Thoughts from Ashley…

Today was by far my favorite day, as I felt a sense of inspiration as we flowed through the different activities.  Although my brain and body were tired, I was motivated by the thought process of how I was going to take all of the information we were learning and apply it to my own classroom.  I am most excited about The Watershed Game. It is always my goal to continue to bridge the gap between the classroom and the real world, and The Watershed Game does just that. My students will be faced with investigating different areas of the watershed in which we live and be challenged to develop solutions to decrease the amount of pollution entering Lake Michigan.  This activity fits in perfectly with my Biomedical Innovations class when we are completing our Environmental Health unit. I was truly captivated by the work that is being done at Stone Laboratory. I am looking forward to seeing how my students can become involved in keeping the Great Lakes clean, and possibly visiting Stone Lab for a field trip.

I also enjoyed being able to get off the ship and explore Put-In-Bay.  We had a delicious meal at the Boardwalk, and I actually jumped a little bit out of my comfort zone and ordered grouper.  I don’t eat seafood and this is the second time I have eaten fish since we left Cleveland 5 days ago. The first night aboard the Lake Guardian I tried fish and it was amazing.  So, I guess it is safe to say that after this trip, I DO eat seafood!

– Ashley Cosme and Jay Horn (July 12, 2019)