NBS Blog

Wild Water Worlds: Exploring Watershed Quality at NBS

Learn more about the work of our Fall 2023 Conservation Research Intern and Salve Regina University student, Maya Baldauf.

At a river-rapid pace, water pollution is becoming one of the biggest, worldwide environmental problems. Climate change and environmental degradation both limit access to fresh surface water sources, but humans need consistently available, clean water in order to survive. Unfortunately, human actions often result in the contamination of our own water supplies.

This study aimed to assess Red Maple Pond and portions of Paradise Brook found at NBS to ensure the quality of these watersheds for recreational use. During Summer Camp and Field Trip programs, Red Maple Pond transforms into a lively, learning center where children safely discover watersheds with field guides and nets. Countless wildlife species, on land and in water, depend heavily on Red Maple Pond for survival, either as a drinking source or even as a habitat.

Middletown, like its neighbors, mainly consists of dense, residential areas and agricultural sites, which are both known to increase water pollutant levels. Norman Bird Sanctuary is situated directly downstream from numerous agricultural farms and an equestrian academy. These types of sites tend to use fertilizers, pesticides, and faulty ways to remove fecal matter, furthermore, inflicting detrimental impacts on the water quality of streams flowing through our sanctuary.

We collected samples from 6 sites, all of which were found to have elevated levels of total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and E. coli, along with low levels of dissolved oxygen. Based on these results, Red Maple Pond and Lower Paradise are deemed impaired, or polluted. Although disappointing, this result was unfortunately not surprising compared to other, Rhode Island watersheds.

Since we engage with our watersheds recreationally, steps must be taken to treat our water. More effective buffer zones can be implemented to slow down the movement of nutrients from agricultural land into surface waters. If there are pre-existing buffer zones, more plants can live inside the zone and additional biochar nets can be used to filter pollutants.

Next time you head down Universal Trail, cross the boardwalk, and embrace the “hugging tree” think about the importance of keeping our water clean as you approach the vista of Red Maple Pond.

To read Maya’s full water quality report, click here. 

Water Research at Norman Bird Sanctuary

Check out the Curiosity Lab's newest exhibit, Hydro Hideout, or visit the Education page on our website to explore all recent, on-campus research projects.