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Something's Fishy: An Environmental Mystery in the Gray Area

Final report for Environmental Detectives unit, 7th grade science

Lia du Galanodel

on 23 May 2014

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Transcript of Something's Fishy: An Environmental Mystery in the Gray Area

The Good, the Bad, and the Algae
Another possible reason for dissolved oxygen issues is HABs, or
looms. These happen when, for some reason, algae and other water plants experience a huge population increase. For a while, everything's fine, but when all the algae start to die, bacteria involved in the decomposition process use up all the dissolved oxygen. Without anything to breathe, fish and other water animals die. An HAB may be happening in James Pond; all the evidence seems to suggest it. The golf course runoff tested high in phosphates, which are chemicals found in fertilizer that can cause HABs. Also, in historical birdwatching data, fish-eating belted kingfishers have all but disappeared when they used to be numerous, and plant-eating pintail ducks have experienced a 200% increase from previous numbers.
Algal Bloom Test Results
A chemical test was done for phospates, as well as a biological test for insufficient oxygen, and it would appear that...
Cattle Ranch Drainage: low phosphates
Golf Course Drainage:
high phosphates
Small Town Drainage: low phosphates
Water Life in James Pond:
leeches, aquatic worms, blackfly larvae
Bird Numbers in Parallel Park
Gray Area Debriefing
This is the Gray Area, where the mystery is taking place.
Something's Fishy: An Environmental Mystery in the Gray Area
= runoff
= tidal currents
= too acidic for fish
= phosphates?
= chlorine?
= oil?
S0, what's happening here anyway??
About five years ago, the fish in the Gray Area waterways started dying. For some reason, most of the dead fish were found washed up on the shore near Synchrony City. People in the Gray Area are concerned, especially Juan Tunó. Juan is a middle-school student with a chemistry set and a passion for science who is concerned that the water slide, which is rumored to be dumping chlorine into the Fo River, will be blamed for the fish die-off and shut down.
Timeline of Gray Area events (in the
past 100 years)
100 yrs. ago
50 yrs. ago
present day
Logging began in the area
years ago. There are no old growth forests left in the area
The cattle ranch was started
years ago.
Gray's Land Town was built
years ago where there used to be parsley farms.
Parallel Park was founded
years ago. Deer, duck, and rabbit hunting are allowed there, but very restricted. Fishing is very popular in the whole Gray Area
My "Perfect Storm" Theory
After hearing about some of the suspects and their conflicting reasons for the fish dying, I theorized that the Gray Area might be having a "Perfect Storm." The area has been gearing up for just such a fish die-off for years. Some recent factor, like the opening of the water slide or the legalization of mountain lion hunting in Parallel Park, tipped the balance and sent the fish population crashing down.
U.S.S. Gray Area
The Data
In order to find out what's happening to the fish, some tests were done on water quality in all three rivers, James Pond, Lake Adaysicle, and the Gray Bay. The results of these tests are as follows...
Chlorine: Chemical or Biological?
There is concern that the water slide is dumping too much chlorine into the Fo River (and, by extension, the Gray Bay). A chemist, hired by the owner of the water slide, did a chemical test for chlorine downstream of the water slide on a Tuesday at 3:00 PM, and found none. However, the Water Slide Schedule casts doubt on the accuracy of these results, as does a biological test by Juan Tunó using daphnia (water fleas) as a bioindicator. There was only 1 flea in a sample from downstream of the slide, but in a sample from a healthy stream, there were 14!
chemical test performed
Acid Rain
Another possible reason for fish dying is acid rain. The pH (power of hydrogen, or acidity vs. alkalinity) of all waterways in the Gray Area was tested, as well as the soil runoff from two regions. Only the Rafta River, Lake Adaysicle, and runoff from that area were acidic enough to kill fish. And boy, were they acidic! The rest, on the other hand, were just fine. This difference is probably due to, of all things, geology. The Fo and Missterssippi Rivers have a mostly limestone substrate (rock layer always in contact with water). Limestone is basic, so it neutralizes acid. The Rafta River substrate is mainly granite, which does not. It can be inferred that acid rain is falling on the whole Gray Area, and the limestone is responsible for the Fo and Missterssippi Rivers' normal pH.
Sediments: Logging...
In addition to acid and chlorine, the water may be too dirty. This affects fish more than you might think; too many sediments (basically dirt) in the water can smother fish eggs. Also, dirt in the water can make it darker, meaning that it absorbs more light and, by extension, heat. Warmer water can't hold as much dissolved oxygen (tiny air bubbles suspended in water that fish breathe) as cooler water, so when it gets too sparse, fish die of suffocation. However, the only river with a sediment problem is the Missterssippi, while all logging sites (which may be causing erosion) lie on the Rafta. The sediments may also be there because of a different source of erosion, resulting from an environmental imbalance: when humans began to hunt mountain lions again.
How does that work?
...or Lions?
The way it works is this: When humans started hunting mountain lions again in Parallel Park 6 years ago, a predator to deer was all but removed. Without mountain lions to keep them in check, the deer overpopulated, and ate a lot of the plants on the Missterssippi River banks. Sediments that had been held there by the plants' roots were then free to wash into the river. As sediments accumulated, too little dissolved oxygen became a problem.
The hunting of mountain lions in Parallel Park was stopped
years ago.
The oil refinery started operating
years ago. Owned by Tunó Enterprises
The toy factory opened
years ago. Owned by LaToya Faktorie
To prevent erosion, the logging companies started selective cut logging in the area
years ago. They still do some clear cut logging too. Owned by Tunó Enterprises
Synchrony City and Gray's Land Town have grown a lot in the past
years, with many new houses in the suburbs and several new freeways for the many commuters from the town to the city.
The golf course opened
years ago. Owned by Sandy Trapp
The cattle ranch doubled the number of cattle
years ago. Owned by Tunó Enterprises
The hunting of mountain lions in Parallel Park was allowed again
years ago.
The water slide opened
years ago. Owned by Ken Unballe
The fish started dying off
years ago. Most of the dead fish have been found floating in the water or washed up on the shore near Synchrony City.
Last, But Not Least: Oil
The final possibility for the cause of the fish die-off is oil. There are three possibilities for an oil spill in the Gray Area: the oil refinery, the oil tankers that take oil to the refinery, and car oil from civilians who change their oil themselves. Most of us have seen what oil can do. It acts as a poison to fish, or to organisms below them in the food chain. With nothing to eat, even unaffected fish would start to die. Oil was indeed found in the Gray Bay, but the big question is, where did it come from?
Chlorine Test Results
Chemical test for chlorine: Negative. 0% chlorine.
14 daphnias
16 daphnias
1 daphnia
Biological test for chlorine:
Acid Rain Test Results
James Pond: pH 8- OK
Fo River: pH 8- OK
Upper Missterssippi River: pH 7- OK
Lower Missterssippi River: pH 8.25- OK for fish, but TOO BASIC for daphnia
Fo/Missterssippi River Area Soil Runoff: pH 7.5- OK
Upper Rafta River: pH 1.5- TOO ACIDIC
Lake Adaysicle: pH 2- TOO ACIDIC
Lower Rafta River: pH 2- TOO ACIDIC
Rafta River Area Soil Runoff: pH 4- TOO ACIDIC
Gray Bay: pH 6.5- OK
Sediment Test Results
These results were gained with a Secchi disk, a black-and-white disk that gets lowered into water until it disappears from view. The farther down it can go and still be visible, the clearer the water is. Our miniature version of the test used water samples and a tiny disk.
James Pond: 6.5"- GOOD
Fo River: 6.5"- GOOD
Upper Missterssippi River: 3"- BAD
Lower Missterssippi River: 3.25"- BAD
Upper Rafta River: 7"- GOOD
Lake Adaysicle: 7"- GOOD
Lower Rafta River: 7.5"- GOOD
Gray Bay: 6.5"- GOOD
Oil Test Results
There was some oil found in the Gray Bay, but it could have come from the refinery, the tanker, or cars. A gas chromatograph was made of each type of oil as well as the oil from the Gray Bay.
Now let's go see the suspects...
The Suspects
Nine people are suspected to have had some hand in the fish die-off. These are...
-Don Juan Tunó, owner of Tunó Enterprises (cattle ranch, oil refinery, clear-cut logging)
-Avery Wun, the "average citizen" who drives a car
-Ken Unballe, owner of the water slide
-LaToya Faktorie, owner of the toy factory
-Anton Alogue, logger who works for Don Juan Tunó
-Elmo Skeeto, avid hunter and fisherman
-Bo Vyne, proprietor of the cattle ranch
-Sandy Trapp, owner of the golf course
-Mandy Lyfbotes, captain of an oil tanker shipping oil to the refinery

Who is innocent? Who is guilty?
Don Juan Tunó
~not very knowledgeable, and "doesn't want to know" anything more
~phosphates came from golf course, not cattle ranch
~no sediment problem in Rafta River, where logging happens
~oil in Gray Bay was car oil, not refinery oil
Don Juan Tunó
Avery Wun
~nitric acid rain, mostly caused by car emissions
~car oil found in Gray Bay
Avery Wun
Ken Unballe
~shady e-mails on subject of fudging tests
-chemical test done when water had had a week to clear
~biological test: water downstream of slide chlorinated
~chlorine involved in the deaths of 8 autopsied fish
~Other possible daphnia-killing factors present
Ken Unballe
LaToya Faktorie
~factory releasing black smoke at night
~refuses to put scrubbers on smokestacks
~nitric acid rain mostly caused by car emissions, not factories
~won award for pro-environmental action 3 years ago
LaToya Faktorie
Anton Alogue
~clear-cut logging causes erosion
~sent letter to Gov't asking for "salvage" designation to allow clear-cutting
~works for Don Juan Tunó, follows his boss's orders
~no sediment problem in Rafta River, where logging happens
Anton Alogue
Elmo Skeeto
~likely hunts mountain lions, by extension contributing to sediment problem
~suspicious memo to "Leon" on killing kingfishers
~insufficient oxygen killed 21 autopsied fish
~sediments could also be coming from clear-cut logging
Elmo Skeeto
Bo Vyne
~phosphates found in cow manure and fertilizer
~phosphates came from golf course, not cattle ranch
~works for Don Juan Tunó, follows her boss's orders
Bo Vyne
Sandy Trapp
~phosphates coming from golf course
~e-mails prove that the golf course over-fertilizes its grass
~insufficient oxygen killed 21 autopsied fish
~"kid with chemistry set catches evil golf course in mass fish murder" is actually pretty preposterous
Sandy Trapp
Mandy Lyfbotes
~oil found in 14 dead fish
~oil in Gray Bay was car oil, not tanker oil
~works for Don Juan Tunó, follows her boss's orders
Mandy Lyfbotes
Dead Fish Autopsies
Scientists have autopsied 50 of the dead fish found in Gray Bay, and tried to figure out what caused their deaths.
How To Fix a Fishy Issue
Let's face it: the Gray Area needs help! If the fish are going to be brought back, the area needs to clean up its act (in some cases, literally). Some ways that the various "fishy issues" can be fixed:
shut down water slide, or get it to use a more eco-friendly method of water disposal
ban mountain lion hunting
: get the golf course to use less fertilizer
Acid rain & oil
: stop relying so much on cars! Establish a system of public transportation, use electric cars, make it illegal to change one's own car oil, etc.
Full transcript