Maria Rodriguez-Hernandez, a Western Connecticut State University graduate student enrolled in the Master of Science in Integrative Biological Diversity program, is working to save Lake Waramaug from the infestation of cyanobacteria. She began her research efforts at Lake Waramaug last summer through a part-time summer job and expanded it to become part of her pursuit of a master’s degree.
During her internship, Rodriguez-Hernandez managed the zooplankton farm at Lake Waramaug. Zooplankton are tiny animals living in lakes and many feed on algae and cyanobacteria (aka blue-green algae). However, the population of larger zooplankton in Lake Waramaug decreased following the stocking of alewife – a small fish stocked years ago to improve the gamefish population. Without the larger zooplankton to feed on the algae, cyanobacteria levels in the lake are thought to have increased. Rodriguez-Hernandez hopes to help return the zooplankton population to its former state.
“I’m pretty excited to do my thesis,” Rodriguez-Hernandez said. “It has changed the way I see problems with water quality.” When Rodriguez-Hernandez was younger, she went with her father to see rivers and lakes in Wisconsin. She has always felt connected to them and understands how valuable water is. “I’ve always cared about the environment and all the aspects of environmental conservation,” she added.
WCSU Professor of Biology Dr. Theodora Pinou, coordinator of the Integrative Biodiversity program, invited Rodriguez-Hernandez to come to Connecticut to conduct research at Lake Waramaug. She looks forward to seeing the progress of Hernandez’s research efforts.
“She’s great, hardworking, and tries to fund herself,” said Pinou. “She looks for ways to give 100 percent of herself to her research.” Rodriguez-Hernandez’s research project is funded by the Lake Waramaug Task Force. Pinou said that Rodriguez-Hernandez “never had an opportunity to have her own project” and the task force gave her the chance to invest her time in it. The task force also is covering her costs to enroll in Limnology studies at WCSU.
Rodriguez-Hernandez also has been awarded a grant from the Connecticut Institute of Water Resources, which will enable her to work with adjunct faculty member Larry Marsicano ’88, who is a practicing limnologist and teaches the Limnology course at WCSU.
Rodriguez-Hernandez’s research has the potential to create solutions that can benefit other lakes as well as saving the human and animal populations. “Cyanobacteria is a really big issue happening all over the world with marine waters and in lakes,” she said. “The worst part of the cyanobacteria is that it is in our drinking water. It makes a lot of humans and animals sick.”
Pinou pointed out the strategies for addressing this matter. “One way to address this is to find the organism balance and look at developing new ways to address bacterial blooms,” she said. Pinou said the most concerning aspect of this research is that the bacteria “are not being controlled; they are exploding,” which can be one of the leading causes of climate change. If the cyanobacteria population is not dealt with, there will be underlying effects in the community and possibly around the world.
To learn more about WCSU’s M.S. in Integrative Biological Diversity program, go to www.wcsu.edu/biology-msbiodiversity.