Field Season Begins

Field season began this summer in mid June. While my specific task was to collect shrimp samples, I worked under the supervision of a bigger group. The large scale project of the summer was led by several VIMS faculty and Dr. Chambers who were awarded a grant to study living shorelines and natural marshes in local waterways. For months in advance, they looked for sites in Norfolk and Gloucester with ideal conditions where we could compare different types of shorelines. Measuring numerous aspects of the habitats at hand, such as species diversity and abundance, would hopefully provide insight into which type of shoreline was more environmentally successful. I’ll explain what we were specifically look for in later blog posts, because for several weeks the most important part of the project was data collection. I’ll now do my best to detail what a typical day in the field looked like this summer.

Field days started anywhere between 7:30 and 9:00 AM, largely depending on the location of the site and the tides. The first step of the day was to set up fyke nets at high tide. These nets are arranged to span a portion of the shoreline which will drain into a collection compartment as the tide goes down. When the water is low enough, the net contains the fish, shrimp, crabs, etc that were present in that portion of shoreline at high tide. Upon arriving to the site, we also set up minnow pots in the high and low marsh. These pots (similarly to the fyke nets) would also collect fish present in the marsh at high tide as the water levels drained, but they were only about a foot long where the fyke nets were around 30 meters long. Each site had two different shorelines, and each shoreline had two fyke nets and ten minnow pots.

After the fyke nets and minnow pots were set, we had to wait for the tide to recede. In the meantime, Dr. Chambers and Dave from VIMS would use a seine net to collect more animals from the water. They would seine three times at both designated shorelines for a total of six collections. At low tide, we would have samples from four fyke nets, twenty minnow pots, and six seines. Each sample was emptied into a container to keep them separate. And then we began collecting data.

From each sample taken, we would separate the animals by species. For each species per sample we would count and weight all the individuals and measure up to 25 of them using fish boards. Often from one fyke or seine net, there would be around 10 species of fish/shrimp/crab which all had to be counted, weighed, and measured. This process took focus, attention to detail, and a loud voice to shout out how many centimeters and grams your fish was so that Donna, who wrote down all the data, could hear you.

Although I spent the majority of sampling days helping count and measure, my specific job was to keep track of all the shrimp. We collected the majority of the shrimp from the fyke nets. We would separate them from the rest of the samples to count and weigh them. There were often hundreds of shrimp collected, and I had lots of help counting and weighing from Adrianna, the research assistant in the Keck Lab. If there were a reasonable amount of shrimp (around 100), I would put all of them into jars of ethanol to fix them for further data collection at the lab. If there were hundreds of shrimp, I would put a random handful into the ethanol jars.

That is what a field day looked like this summer! After all the collection and counting was done, we would pack up and leave a site as we found it, but maybe with fewer shrimp.