Trials and Tribulations

December 3, 2012

I thought I would write an update on how our project is going as I haven’t talked about it in a while and we have made much progress in our experiment! We have been growing our Agarum fimbriatum and Saccharina latissima algae specimens for the past four weeks and I can proudly say that we are seeing growth in both species! We have been taking wet weight measurements as well as surface area pictures every week but have yet to make any comparisons. We are just happy they are actually showing growth and can survive in our homemade growth chamber!

We also ran nitrogen trials during the first growth week but with less success. We ran nitrate and ammonium tests on water samples; the first round of samples taken from the filtered water before adding the algae samples and the second after a 3 hour period in the standardized liter of water. These samples were then tested with a colorimeter and the readings recorded. This whole procedure was meant to measure the amount of ammonia and nitrogen the algae was removing from the water to quantify how effective these algae species would be at removing these known fish farm by-products from the water if they were used in integrated multi-trophic aquaculture. This set up was decided upon with the inspiration from our anchor paper by Ahn et al (1998) and after much preparation and research into the materials available to us. All this being said, it just wasn’t meant to be and, after a very long night dealing with 108 water tests lasting 20min each, broken glassware, multiple over range readings, and the final last straw where a test tube stabbed itself through my hand (Oh the nerve, right!), we ended up with very poor and inconclusive results. All we ended up with was an accident report and a good story in the morning so we started thinking up alternatives.

After some brainstorming with our professor and TA, we came up with a plan to test the primary productivity of our seaweeds to: A) Make sure they were still growing and B) Use a secondary measurement of productivity, besides our growth measurements, to see which species is more productive. We simply measured primary productivity by measuring oxygen uptake by our samples kept in light for 3 hours compared to samples of the same specimen kept in the dark. We had control bottles containing no algae in light and dark conditions to compare to as well. These have shown promising results and we are hoping these help us make our comparison between these two species.

Our next step is to start analyzing our millions of photos using ImageJ to get surface area measurements… okay it’s not actually millions but it sure seems like it! After that will be a lot of data analysis and then on to writing up our report. We are quickly coming to the end of our stay here in Bamfield, which is a shame because it feels like we have just started to break the crust on this topic and have so many more ideas for further study. I’m hoping that our report turns out well and maybe we will continue studying algae in the future! We have definitely caught the phycology bug!

For all those around Bamfield on December 15th, we will be presenting our work along with our classmates in a symposium at BMSC. You should come check it out if you are interested in hearing more about what amazing research has been taking place this semester in the fall program! It is sure to be a great event.

I will leave you with some pictures from our last month of algae fun in the basement!




Ahn, O., Petrell, R. J., Harrison, P. J. 1998. Ammonium and nitrate uptake by Laminaria saccharina and Nereocystis luetkeana originating from a salmon sea cage farm. Journal of Applied Phycology 10: 333–340


Algae is cool too!

November 7, 2012

Well we are into our second week of devoted time to our project and our algae are growing in our greenhouse-like structure in the basement of the marine centre and we are slowly collecting data on them and starting to write up some of our report. Things are going well and we are chugging along, but at the same time, we are seeing everyone with their cool organisms and the neat experiments they are running and thinking, “aww man, why did we choose algae again?” Well, we didn’t have to look far for some inspiration as to why algae is so important. We turned to the world of TED Talks and if you haven’t heard of these you need to check them out! I would suggest first checking out this talk by Jonathan Trent on algae as an alternative fuel. He talks about using micro-algae as a bio-fuel though a process that traps carbon dioxide and cleans waste water at the same time. What a huge industry this could lead to if the OMEGA project takes off!

See! Seaweeds can be amazing!

Another great video to check out is Dan Barber’s talk on sustainable aquaculture. This video was so inspiring to us because the main focus of our project is to find a seaweed that will be a viable choice for multi-trophic aquaculture to reduce the wastes produced by aquaculture. This is a really cool take on aquaculture, especially coming from a chef’s point of view.

For Angela and myself, it was really important to have a bigger socioeconomic relation to our project and these videos show some of the bigger picture ideas that fuel our research of seaweeds. We believe that gaining knowledge on growth rates and nitrogen uptake will help provide knowledge for future endeavors like these great stories here!

Hope you enjoyed this little break from research as much as we did and are re-inspired to get back into the lab like us!

Welcome to my new blog! I have set this up to document and talk about the research process that goes into my Directed Studies course here at Bamfield as part of my course work and to try out blogging in a science context! I always like sharing what I am working on or interested in at the moment so I think this will be an interesting experiment in itself.

Right now I am just starting on a new research project, with my partner Angela, in the very new-to-me field of phycology or “study of seaweeds.” Yes, this is different than psychology, and no, I don’t intend to council seaweeds with their problems… (Google always tries to correct me, it’s quite funny). We will be looking at a science more closely related to Botany and the study of some very important primary producers or “plants” of the sea: algae.

Having very little background in anything marine has made for much more intensive background research and sourcing for this project, but I have really enjoyed that we were able to include a broad ecological management aspect in our research question.  We decided to look into aquaculture and how seaweeds are being used as a bio-remediation tool, as well as a profitable species. There is a type of aquaculture that is called Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture where multiple complementary species are cultured adjacent to one another in order to lessen the impact on the environment as well as maintain a stable farming operation.  We are interested in how this is effective in buffering the amount of nitrogen waste  produced by fish in these farms that is entering the system.

We are looking at different types of seaweeds to use for a system like this and what makes a good species and have found out how hard it is to narrow down a study when you have a million ideas but a very restricted amount of time to do it in. We started out wanting to test the growth rates and nitrogen use efficiency of a bunch of types of seaweeds and run as many trials as possible but quickly learned just how hard that would be. We then narrowed it down to two species, which we were excited about because they are already farmed, but were informed that they just weren’t going to work for our study as one was too undulated to measure surface area (a measure we needed to calculate growth rate) and the other had more political reasons for not being farmed in Canada (*cough*seaweedmafia*cough*…I couldn’t find anything to back this up but ask Louis Druehl next time you see him…). It has been quite the learning process for setting up our experiment but we finally decided on Saccharina latissima and Agarum fimbriatum, two large, bladed, brown algae. We hope to see that S. latissima shows a high rate of nitrogen uptake and growth which are similar to findings in other papers (Ahn et al., 1998) and that A. fimbriatum shows equally suitable candidacy for use in an integrated multi-trophic system.

I am excited to see how our research turns out and how well we are able to stick to our methods we have set out so far. Here are some pictures of our class out checking out the kelp farm near by just to give you an idea of what these aquatic farms look like because I know this can be hard to picture without some context to go off of! Until next time…

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