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Macroinvertebrates and How They Relate To Our Water Health

Jenna Buckler

In this article, I share mine and my class's engagement in field research and data collection (facilitated by the Gulf of Maine Institute (GOMI)) to study the aquatic environment in our local coastal community. The focus of our research was on the Gulf of Maine, particularly the Shubenacadie watershed, with emphasis on Black's Brook and the Shubenacadie Canal Lock 4. The objective was to collect data on pH levels, temperature variations, and the diverse array of organisms thriving in the ecosystem, all in order to understand prevailing water trends and identify steps to combat any negative shifts.

This article highlights the significance of macroinvertebrates, such as Chironomidae, caddisflies, and water striders, as indicators of water quality. The presence of these organisms suggests a relatively healthy ecosystem in both Black's Brook and Lock 4. Also discussing the role of bird species, including common loons, Canada Geese, and ospreys, as indicators of water conditions. The littering problem along the heavily frequented trail near Black's Brook, which has impacted the riparian zone, is also addressed. Emphasis is placed on the importance of addressing the littering issue and restoring the riparian zone to its full potential through measures such as installing trash cans and raising awareness among trail users.The project has been significant for both GOMI and Lockview High. Through GOMI, we connected with peers in Maine and learned about the impact of human activity on the Gulf of Maine.

The project has helped all of us understand the importance of reducing our carbon footprint and being more mindful of our daily habits. It has also provided an opportunity to develop research, analytical, collaboration, and teamwork skills. Overall, the field research and data collection project conducted by my class has provided valuable insights into the health and ecological dynamics of the local waterways. It has highlighted the importance of preserving and protecting these aquatic treasures and has inspired the participants to continue their efforts in environmental conservation.


Notes from the Field

 Living in a vibrant coastal community, where our waterways hold immense significance, the protection and preservation of these aquatic treasures are deeply ingrained values shared by many. Recently, our class had the extraordinary opportunity to engage in field research and data collection facilitated by GOMI (Gulf of Maine Institute). It was in early May that we embarked on a journey of discovery, delving into the depths of our local environment to uncover invaluable insights. 

Our focal point was the Gulf of Maine; within this vast expanse, we concentrated our efforts on the Shubenacadie watershed, paying particular attention to Black's Brook and the Shubenacadie Canal Lock 4. Armed with our scientific instruments and a sense of purpose, we set out to collect essential data on pH levels, temperature variations, and the diverse array of organisms thriving within this intricate ecosystem.

The objective of our fieldwork was to discern prevailing water trends, drawing comparisons with data collected during the previous autumn. We sought to discover the causes behind any negative shifts observed and, more importantly, identify actionable steps to combat these adverse trends. Our mission was not only confined to better understanding the intricacies of our immediate surroundings but also aimed to shed light on how these local phenomena relate to the broader context of the Gulf of Maine.

From the various data we collected, a handful of us decided to focus on the organism side of things, specifically the macroinvertebrates. Macroinvertebrates tell the health and overall quality of ecosystems, as certain species require select conditions to thrive. With this in mind, we collected jars of water with sediment and various bugs (which were released post-identification). Our findings exceeded the expectations my class had for water health.

Grade 11 Students monitoring Black's Brook

During our first exploration of Black's Brook, a captivating ecosystem within the Shubenacadie watershed, we made intriguing discoveries, encountering a fascinating array of organisms that play significant roles in the delicate balance of this aquatic habitat. Notably, we encountered the presence of Chironomidae, caddisflies, and water striders, each contributing to the intricate web of life within the brook. 

Chironomidae larvae, in particular, captured our attention as a primary source of prey for a wide variety of species, ranging from fish to birds. These resilient creatures not only provide sustenance but also serve as vital indicator organisms within the ecosystem. Their presence or absence acts as a crucial barometer, revealing the potential presence of pollutants. Fortunately, the presence of Chironomidae in our findings suggests that the ecosystem is relatively healthy, although an abundance would mean the loss of natural predators.

During our sampling process, an unexpected surprise awaited us as we had unintentionally collected caddisfly larvae. Initially, we were unaware of their presence, as one of them was concealed inside its cocoon, which we mistakenly believed to be sediment. However, our observation skills led us to detect subtle movements, eventually leading to the emergence of the larvae. This remarkable encounter unveiled the fascinating world of caddisflies. Caddisflies, much like the Chironomidae larvae we encountered earlier, hold significant importance as indicators of water quality. They habit various aquatic environments - so long as the overall water quality is good. Most are sensitive to environmental stressors, such as pollution. This makes them particularly valuable in assessing the health of ecosystems. The fact that we stumbled upon multiple caddisflies within the confines of a small stream of water is truly remarkable. This finding underscores the positive state of the water quality in this specific habitat, as polluted water would have rapidly eliminated these delicate larvae.

Caddisfly in case

 Water striders, fascinating creatures that gracefully glide across the surface of water, exhibit a preference for environments abundant in zooplankton. During our exploration of the brook, we were delighted to observe the presence of numerous water striders, a significant clue pointing towards the abundance of zooplankton in the ecosystem. This suggests that the brook hosts a thriving population of these microscopic organisms. The presence of zooplankton within a body of water serves as a crucial indicator of its trophic state.  It is important to note that monitoring zooplankton populations is important as too much zooplankton can indicate a eutrophic environment. Eutrophication refers to a process wherein the water becomes enriched with nutrients, fostering the rapid growth of algae and subsequent zooplankton populations. It is important to monitor the zooplankton, as eutrophication can lead to dead zones due to lack of sunlight. This finding provides valuable insights into the overall health and ecological dynamics of the brook. The flourishing population of zooplankton not only sustains the water striders but also fosters a complex food web, with ripple effects extending throughout the ecosystem. However, it is important to carefully monitor and manage eutrophication to ensure a delicate balance is maintained, preventing potential adverse effects on the overall health and biodiversity of the brook.

water striders

Lock 4, also known as "The Locks," proved to be a thriving haven of biodiversity during our exploration. The diversity of life observed in this remarkable location spanned a wide spectrum, encompassing a multitude of organisms across aquatic and terrestrial realms. From mollusks to plankton, fungi to plants, mammals to arachnids, and birds to insects, the richness and variety of taxa encountered at Lock 4 underscored the health and vitality of the ecosystem. Unfortunately due to a limited time span, and our gear limiting us to the land and riparian zones, we were not able to document and identify many of these organisms. Many of the same organisms found within Black’s Brook, such as water striders, were spotted here. The two waterways are connected so this wasn't much of a surprise.

During our observation, we were fortunate to encounter several noteworthy bird species (such as common loons, Canada geese, and ospreys). These magnificent creatures each offer unique insights into the health and conditions of the surrounding water body.

The presence and reproductive success of common loons serve as valuable indicators of the lake's acidity levels. These iconic birds rely on healthy and well-buffered aquatic environments to successfully raise their young. Therefore, thriving loon populations suggest that the acidity levels in the lake are within a suitable range, fostering the optimal conditions for successful reproduction.

Lock 4 on the Shubenacadie Canal

For Canada geese, the salinity of the water bodies where goslings reside assumes great significance. The growth and development of these young birds can be impacted by the salinity levels in their environment. Excessive salinity, in particular, has been found to stunt their development or even cause mortality through saline-induced effects. Thus, monitoring the presence and well-being of Canada geese offspring can shed light on the salinity levels of the water bodies they inhabit.

Ospreys, with their remarkable hunting abilities and fish-based diet, provide valuable insights into the presence of toxins within the water. As top predators in aquatic ecosystems, their health and overall population status reflect the overall quality and contaminant levels within the water. By analysing the health and reproductive success of ospreys, we can gain critical knowledge regarding the potential presence of toxins and pollutants, which can have far-reaching implications for both avian and human health.

Regrettably, our limited resources prevented us from conducting a thorough identification of the fish present at the time; however, we did observe their lively presence as they gracefully leaped out of the water. 


The discovery of these macroinvertebrates thriving within the brook came as a pleasant surprise. Despite the absence of contamination from oil or agricultural runoff, it is disheartening to observe that human activity, coupled with a lack of proper waste disposal infrastructure along this heavily frequented trail, has resulted in a significant littering problem. As a consequence, the riparian zone appears noticeably depleted, with only a handful of untouched moss patches offering glimpses of new plant growth. In stark contrast, the Lock represents a well-maintained waterway, where diligent efforts have successfully addressed the issue of littering. The commitment to proper maintenance and management practices has created a more pristine environment, enabling the natural beauty of the surroundings to flourish undisturbed.

While the presence of thriving macroinvertebrates in the brook serves as a testament to the resilience of the ecosystem, it is imperative that we address the littering problem and restore the riparian zone to its full potential. By implementing measures such as installing adequate trash cans along the trail and fostering awareness among trail users, we can mitigate the negative impacts of human activity and nurture a healthier coexistence between visitors and the natural environment.

This project is important to both the Gulf of Maine Institute and Community-based stewardship (CBS). Through GOMI, we connected with peers in Maine, comparing data and learning how our activity affects the gulf. Seeing as how the Gulf of Maine’s temperature is rising extremely fast, It’s important to understand why this might be happening and how to implement measures to counteract it. 

With CBS, we learned a multitude of things about stewardship. Primarily we learned about what we can do for our watershed, and the ecosystem of our waterways. We discovered the importance of reducing our carbon footprint, and how we can reduce our impact on the environment by being more mindful of our daily habits. Equally, we learned to respect all organisms (like macroinvertebrates) within our watershed; as they all hold specific, important roles. This project has also given us the opportunity to develop our research and analytical skills, as well as our collaboration and teamwork abilities. By working together with GOMI, we have been able to gather and analyse large amounts of data, and gain a better understanding of the impact that human activity is having on our environment. This project has helped my class to become more environmentally aware, and has inspired us to take action to protect our planet. Overall, this project has been a valuable learning experience for all involved, and we hope to continue our efforts to protect the environment in the future.

*Cover photo: Stock image


Jenna Buckler

Jenna is a 17 year old student at Lockview High School in Fall River, NS, Canada. From a young age, she has always been passionate about the environment and the organisms of the earth. Born in Halifax, she moved to Fort Saskatchewan up until 2012 when she then moved to Ontario. Jenna started with Earth Rangers in 2013 whilst in Ottawa, Ontario, before branching out to other organizations. In 2014, she moved to Comox, British Columbia, where she discovered her love of the ocean. The warm waters allowed her to visit the beach the majority of the year, observing various organisms. Through school groups, Jenna was able to learn the cultural significance of wildlife and ecosystems to the K'ómoks people, teaching her how to better respect the land around her.

Moving back to Nova Scotia in 2016, she reconnected with family and maritime culture. This allowed Jenna to learn about and compare the differences between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the organisms within the Atlantic Ocean, and more. She also began to learn about the Mi'kmaq, which furthered her respect for the land and the First Nations people.

Since the age of 12, Jenna has been dead set on becoming a marine biologist.

On top of conservation work, Jenna enjoys studying languages, biology, ecology, botany, and astronomy. In her free-time, she often paints, sketches, cooks, and gardens. She also enjoys creating bioactive terrariums and aquariums, ensuring every organism no matter how big or small has the best life within her care. Currently, Jenna resides with her mother Sherri, her father Blayne, and younger brother Ryan. She has a dog named Shaggy, and a bearded dragon named Zuko.

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