A special team traps eels in the Quassaick Creek, counts them, then releases them. (Photo by Jeff Goulding, Times Herald-Record)

by Anastasia Cintula

Throughout the Spring 2013 semester, selected Mount Saint Mary College honors students were given the opportunity to participate in an American Eel study at the Quassaick Creek in Newburgh. Chemistry and biology students worked along with Mount professors Dr. Suparna Bhalla and Dr. Lynn Maelia to perform the study.

Together, they tested if the quality of the water in the creek had any relation to the population of American Eels that travel through the Hudson on their journey from the Sargasso Sea. Much time and patience was put into the research and data collection of the study. Without fail, most students who participated in this study felt like it was a great opportunity to grow a personal relationship with professors and dip their toes into a different field of study.

Last spring was the very first time they asked the question, “Why?” Chemistry students studied certain aspects of the creek water, such as pH, salinity, nitrate levels, and flow rate. While the water was being tested by the chemistry students, the biology students set up a net that would remain in the creek to catch any eels as they swam on their journey. Multiple times throughout the week, students would go down to clean the net, count the number of eels, and test for any differences in the water. The number of eels ranged from a single digit number to thousands! It was always a mystery as to what the eel count would be, which certainly kept the study interesting.

When the period of data collection and analysis was over in the middle of May, the students organized their findings and presented it at the Hudson River Environmental Society Conference held at SUNY New Paltz. With broadened horizons and a sliver of success, the Mount community relishes in its findings.