NOAA Hollings Scholar, Nikki Vanelli
Thanks to the funding of the NOAA Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship, I was able to get a 10-week experience of a lifetime here at Great Bay. I’ll be going into my senior year at Salve Regina University with field, lab, and professional experience that support my pursuit of an Environmental Studies degree.
While I was exposed to many aspects of the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (GBNERR), a majority of my work entailed assisting the Reserve’s Margaret A. Davidson Fellow, Anna Lowien, with her research on how nitrogen cycling varies between eelgrass beds and unvegetated areas of Great Bay Estuary. This work involved labeling and preparing sampling gear, going out on the boat for field days to sample, processing samples and running instruments in the UNH Water Quality Analysis Lab, and transcribing/analyzing large quantities of data. Anna’s project really sparked my newfound passion for research. I was able to take some of the data we collected for the months of May and June and run statistical tests to find significant differences between sites. I learned so much about eelgrass in Great Bay, estuarine systems in general, and nitrogen cycling. Water chemistry can be very overwhelming to someone like me, who has never taken a college chemistry class. However, being in the field and the lab provides an incredible learning experience unlike any classroom. Lab work can be especially intimidating, but before I knew it, I was prepping samples and running instruments on my own. Diving into Anna’s research headfirst allowed me to leave my comfort zone and learn more than I ever thought possible.
While my eelgrass research was important, I was able to do a variety of things here at GBNERR. Thanks to this internship, I stumbled upon a love for saltmarshes and their vegetation. Chris Peter, our Research Coordinator, keeps up with long-term monitoring of three saltmarsh sites. I mostly assisted with monitoring of porewater salinity over time. This consisted of trekking the marsh to find wells from previous years that hold water from the ground. Testing the salinity of this water is a good indicator of climate change and greater saltwater intrusion. My favorite part of this monitoring is getting to know saltmarsh vegetation. I enjoyed this so much that I decided to make a plant guide to make it easier for volunteers to identify vegetation during yearly vegetation monitoring.
Another aspect of the reserve I was lucky enough to take part in was our Education sector’s programs. In July, we held weekly ‘Bayventures’ programs that taught local children about a certain aspect of Great Bay every week. Throughout the month I was able to participate in programs that taught the kids about our osprey nest on the reserve, low tide in Great Bay and the critters you can find in the mudflat, and native New Hampshire turtles! It is truly heartwarming to watch a new generation have such an enthusiasm for nature.
The amazing part of this internship was all the exposure I got to the different areas of research in this field. In addition to everything mentioned above, I was also able to help out with environmental DNA sampling in Great Bay, eelgrass restoration projects, a NERRs-wide saltmarsh decomposition study, juvenile osprey banding, and more. It is a rarity to find an internship as well-rounded at this one in such a beautiful area with great people who are truly invested in your success. Check out my presentation for the NERRs symposium so you can see more on what I worked on and learned during my time here!
-Nicole Vanelli, 2021 NOAA Hollings Scholar at GBNERR