On Thursday mornings for the past two summers, microbiologist Jessica Joyner, a CUNY post-doctoral adjunct assistant professor at Brooklyn College, set out on an expedition around Jamaica Bay and Coney Island. Her weekly trips were part of an ongoing citizen water testing project, managed and organized by the New York City Water Trail Association, which monitors the quality of New York’s waterways, reservoirs, and rivers.

“When we collect the samples, we have to be back three hours later at the max to be able to process them in the lab,” Joyner said, the “we” being the students and citizen scientists who work with her, and the lab being that of Theodore Muth, associate professor and undergraduate deputy chair of the college’s Department of Biology.

Throughout the summer, Joyner, who is completing her postdoctoral research project through the Research Foundation of the City University of New York, Jordan Kerwin ’17, and senior Alec Reed drove to various locations along the shores of Coney Island Creek and the Canarsie Pier to collect samples for testing.

Back in the lab, the team was met by community volunteers, such as Beth Bloedow from the Sebago Canoe Club at the Paedergat Basin, and Yadira Hatlett from the Billion Dollar Oyster Project at Bush Terminal Piers—an initiative that aims to build an oyster farm in the Hudson River Estuary. Each volunteer has been trained in collecting water samples from assigned areas. Not all bacteria found in the water are pollutants, explained Joyner, some are a natural and important part of a specific ecosystem.

“In the stricter sense, I’m a marine microbial ecologist. We are interested in learning what humans are doing to disrupt that relationship,” said Joyner, who focuses on how humans interact with marine and freshwater environments, looking at micro- and macro organisms, the nutrients needed for these systems to thrive, and how any damage can be repaired. For instance, the efforts of the Brooklyn College team has helped challenge the notion that Coney Island Creek was remediated. Damaged pipes and a poor discharge system that leaked sewage into the creek were fixed and the area was cleaned up, but more needs to be done.

“The data we collect gives concerned community members the information they need to lobby their local representatives,” Joyner added.

“I like being involved with science,” said Bloedow, whose club includes members who were involved in Clean Water Act passed in 1972. “It’s not even for me or my club’s site alone,” she said, adding that the channel she monitors flows from the Belt Parkway to Flatlands, where in one location there is a confluence of sewage overflow and rainwater. “We are adding useful information to a large database that helps us keep track of what happens to the city waterways.”

“It’s really important that Brooklyn College supports citizen science with our expertise and our facilities,” said Earth and Environmental Sciences Professor Brett F. Branco, who connected with New York City Water Trail Association so that their Brooklyn partners like the Sebago Canoe Club did not have to travel to Manhattan to drop off their samples. “We can learn so much and find hidden opportunities working with partners like Water Trail and other grassroots organizations. It also provides real-world experience for our students.”