Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Goin’ (Part I)

I’ve been working day in and day out at Rutgers’ New Jersey Aquaculture Innovation Center (NJAIC) for the past two weeks. It’s a brand-spankin-new marine research and oyster production facility in Cape May, NJ.

I probably stepped in at the most ideal time because- no offense meant here- I’m not really interested in oysters.

I conducted an independent research project this past school year looking into the potential effects of warmer water temperatures (due to climate change) on Mytilus galloprovincialis– better known as the Mediterranean blue mussel. This particular species of mussel is invasive in South Africa and California, among other areas globally. So- putting the puzzle pieces together- I was wondering if rising water temperatures would make this mussel, essentially, more invasive or less invasive in the future.

Things did not go as planned. First of all, I ran the entire experiment out of my basement (pictures definitely to come). That meant no direct access to seawater, which meant making about 6 gallons of ‘fake’ seawater a day out of packaged sea salt and water conditioner. That also meant nobody was there to see firsthand if something was going awry. I found myself writing frantic emails to my mentor trying to explain how things looked (“Umm there’s this funky off-white foam forming at the top of my tanks. It’s sort of bubbly-ish. Sort of white- ehh, maybe it is off-white after all. Do you know what it is?”).

Not to mention the not-too-fabulous stank of decaying shellfish slowly but surely spreading into my kitchen. Mix all this together and throw in schoolwork, friends, and soccer, and you’ve got one heck of a year.

But, blessing in disguise, my troubles landed me this internship. I had asked my mentor if I could spend the summer interning with her to see how raising mussels is supposed to be done, but she said she’d be busy so she referred me to a lady at Rutgers, who referred me to the AIC.


I took a visit to the AIC in early March to see what it was all about, and my mind was blown. Imagine an aircraft hanger full of brand new tanks and pipes and direct access to both treated (UV filtered) and raw seawater. They also have some pretty neat gadgets, such as a camera that you can insert into a microscope eyepiece to take pictures of what you’re seeing.

The people that run the facility are awesome, as well. They not only allow but encourage their interns and staff to run their own experiments aside from doing their daily duties. I was in research heaven.

I arrived this summer in Cape May, and on my first day of work I was put in charge of about 7million oyster larvae. Uhh…

Contrary to what I thought at first, everything turned out- or has been turning out- fine. I’ve been working with the oyster larvae most mornings and working with mussels (!!!) most afternoons.

In fact, the reason I stepped in at the perfect time is because this year the AIC made history as the first facility EVER to spawn ribbed mussels (Geukensia demissa) in a laboratory setting. And the reason this is important is because ribbed mussels can be used to protect salt marshes from the erosion that motorboats cause.

So I spend my hot, sticky-humid Jersey afternoons counting the mussel larvae that have attached themselves to different substrates and figuring out ways to persuade the mussels to detach themselves from a substrate without harming the mussels.

‘Til next time.

My mussel babies at 6 weeks, half the size of a lowercase letter ‘o’ printed in Times New Roman size 10 (about 500 micrometers long). They look like sesame seeds.

My oyster larvae at 9 days, about 200 micrometers long. They look like grains of sand to the naked eye.

Stay tuned- the Curious YOUNG Writers wordpress blog is debuting at the end of this month! It’s a science blog site featuring articles written by high school students in New Jersey and sponsored by the NJ Association for Biomedical Research (NJABR). The current topic is how unusual animals are being used as research models for various diseases/conditions.