Monday, February 15, 2010

Baruch Professors Study NYC Harbor by Hsi Chan - The Ticker

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Baruch professors Timothy Hoellein and Chester Zarnoch had one question: what role do oysters play in the New York City’s ecosystem?

Their research, titled “Oyster restoration and nitrogen cycling: an ecosystem approach,” examines how the restoration of oysters can help increase water quality in Jamaica Bay. According to Hoellein, who holds a doctorate in aquatic ecology, the water quality issues in Jamaica Bay are common in urban estuaries like the N.Y. harbor.

“There are multiple waste water treatment plants and combined sewer overflows which, in addition to runoff from streets and parking lots, contribute to high levels of nutrients in the water,” said Hoellein. “Excess nutrients cause lots of algae to grow, which can cause other problems for the aquatic environment.“

Nitrogen is one of the most common and destructive pollutants. According to the International Nitrogen Initiative, humans have disrupted the nitrogen balance and drastically increased re-active forms of nitrogen into the environment. Organisms like algae bloom, which can result in oxygen depletion from the water.

However, bivalves, which include oysters, can remove problematic algae by filter-feeding particulate matter in the water. Hoellein specializes in measuring water quality and nutrient cycling in response to human and environmental change, while Zarnoch specializes in shellfish biology.

“In my last year of college, I worked with the East Hampton Shellfish Hatchery, which produced clams, oysters and scallops to restock the local waters,” said Zarnoch. “This work led to my research interest in shellfish biology, aquaculture and restoration.”

Both Professor Hoellein and Zarnoch are members of the Baruch College Environmental Biology and Sustainability Research Group (EBSRG), an organization that seeks to demonstrate the biological significance, economic importance, and ecological complexity of local and global ecosystems.

Students who are interested in the environmental sciences can volunteer with the EBSRG or Baruch College’s Sustainability Task Force.