Eastern Shore Lab Summer Research Benefits U.Va. Students

August 31, 2010

August 31, 2010 — Two University of Virginia students returned to their native Eastern Shore this summer to pursue research at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science's Eastern Shore Laboratory in Wachapreague.

Lab director Mark Luckenbach said the students – the two from U.Va. and three others from schools throughout the commonwealth – "worked directly with research scientists and graduate students on projects ranging from clam aquaculture to management of summer flounder." He said the primary goal of the program "is to provide hands-on learning and employment opportunities for students interested in careers in science."

U.Va.'s Lauren Rowan, an Onancock native majoring in biology and public policy, examined the potential for oyster restoration within a small bayside creek in Northampton County. Her studies showed that the creek's oyster population is growing through natural reproduction, and that individual oysters may be developing resistance to the diseases MSX and Dermo. She attributed the oyster's success to good water quality, but noted that a shortage of hard substrate may be limiting their expansion.

Rowan said her experience at the lab gave her "a serious respect for oysters, and a knowledge base that I never would have been able to acquire otherwise."

Jessica Smith, an Exmore native majoring in environmental sciences at U.Va., contributed to a long-term study of the potential impact of endocrine-disrupting compounds on Eastern Shore oysters. These compounds include estradiol, an estrogen found in poultry litter that can affect reproduction in a wide range of organisms. Smith exposed hatchery-reared oysters to varying concentrations of the chemical, collecting preliminary data on it how affects the oysters' reproductive success.

Smith said the results of the study could ultimately "lead to changes in where we choose to do oyster restoration or in the management of disposal of poultry litter." Poultry farming is a major industry on the Eastern Shore.

Luckenbach described the interns as "a bright, hard-working bunch," and said he's "pleased that we have the opportunity, especially during these difficult economic times, to involve young people from the Shore in marine science." Due to cuts in state funding, the lab now depends on private donations to make the internship program possible.

The Eastern Shore Lab is part of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the College of William and Mary, attracting researchers and students from across the U.S.  It is also an important part of the Eastern Shore economy.

The internship program is open to college students from the Eastern Shore who are home for the summer and to high school students 16 years of age and older. Selection criteria for the internships are highly competitive, with many more students applying than the four or five positions available. Applications are accepted beginning April 1.

In addition to working on research projects, summer interns participate in some of the educational programs offered at the lab during the summer.