Legacy Fish Biomonitoring Project

legacylogoThe Legacy Project is a joint effort between the United States Army Center for Environmental Health Research (USACEHR), the NCSU Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology, and funded by the U.S. Department of Defense Legacy Project. In this project we are designing and testing a prototype automated biomonitor for early warning of toxic hazards in aquatic ecosystems.

Monitoring of aquatic ecosystem health is a difficult undertaking. Many existing environmental monitoring systems are directed at detecting specific pollutants. The problem with this chemical-by-chemical approach is that unexpected pollutants can go undetected, and pollutant mixtures can cause harmful effects even when individual chemicals are at “safe” levels. As a solution, this “fish as sentinels” live-organism-based, automated biomonitoring system will respond to a broad spectrum of contaminants. The biomonitor will enable evaluation of changing water quality conditions, using fish physiological responses. Computer monitored endpoints include fish behavior (ventilatory rate and depth, cough rate, and movement) plus water quality parameters (dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, conductivity/salinity, redox, and water level). The system is being automated for capability in alerting authorities about pollutant spills.

Once the prototype design and testing is completed, additional biomonitoring systems will be constructed for strategic placement to provide unique continuous, real-time fish behavioral toxicity data for tracking contaminant dispersal. The prototype is being developed and tested in the Neuse River Estuary, NC, a major estuarine system that is prone to oxygen deficits, pollutant spills, harmful algal blooms, and fish kills. This proof of concept project will serve as a foundation for developing improved regional watershed monitoring programs applicable in other watersheds where there are concerns for toxicity-related events.

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