Saint Mary's College biology professor Gerard Capriulo is conducting research into the destructive environmental impact on ocean life caused by severely reduced oxygen levels in the Long Island Sound, one of the country's most significant estuaries.

Capriulo participated in a special three-day U.S. Environmental Protection Agency workshop in New York City in May, with 30 other experts, to assess the oceanography, biological condition and overall health of the Long Island Sound Estuary. The panel is working on a special textbook about the workings of the estuary and possible remediation efforts.

"It was very gratifying to get together with the best minds regarding this estuarine system to forge a consensus on the state of scientific knowledge on the workings of this major ecosystem," said Capriulo, who was chosen by the EPA to lead the biological conditions section of the workshop.

Reduced oxygen in estuaries such as the Long Island Sound, Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico is causing the death of finfish and shellfish as well as a wide variety of other ocean life forms. As a consequence, it is also leading to major changes in the very nature of the estuaries' food webs and their workings, according to Capriulo.

The EPA panel examined destructive changes in the Long Island Sound estuary system caused by the introduction of exotic species and a wide range of pollutants including organic chemicals, heavy metals, pathogens and nutrients related to sewage discharges, river inputs and groundwater contamination.

Capriulo was chosen to participate in the EPA project because of his ongoing scientific research on the Long Island Sound Estuary. He has found that excess nutrients entering the Long Island Sound, primarily from New York City's discharges, perturb the marine food web and enhance microbes such as bacteria and protozoans. The overall stimulation of more planktonic food does not appear to be increasing the fish populations, which should keep the excess food production in balance. Rather, more jellyfish are produced, taking advantage of the food the missing fish should be capturing. Capriulo partly attributes this to overfishing and critical habitat destruction, both of which are severely impacting the fish populations.

Capriulo currently holds an endowed chair position as Fletcher Jones Professor of Biology and Environmental Sciences at Saint Mary's College and starting this summer will serve as the chair of the Biology Department. He received his Ph.D. in oceanography from the Marine Sciences Research Center, State University of New York at Stony Brook.

--Debra Holtz
Office of College Communications

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