We were tasked with modifying the Babylegs water testing kit, produced by Public Lab, to measure plankton instead of microplastics. The health of the plankton in a marine ecosystem is critical in measuring the overall health of the organisms that inhabit it. They're at the very bottom of the food chain, meaning that if the levels of plankton are unhealthy then the rest of the food chain probably isn't either. There are also many organisms that have a planktonic stage, including crabs and oysters, which are what the Chesapeake Bay are known for.
Our main concern:
We are most concerned with the health of marine life in our local bodies of water and are searching for an easy method for anyone to recreate and test on their own.
Obstacles and supporting information:
The original Babylegs kit was developed by Public Lab to help with the rapidly growing issue of water pollution. Trash in the ocean leeches off microplastics and other chemicals into the water, and the Babylegs kit is able to catch those microplastics. It's very important to understand the levels of microplastics in the water, as they can be very toxic to the marine life we consume and to us as well. The kit was also created to be as cheap and accessible as possible so that anyone can obtain it and it uses recycled bottles and other items to reduce cost and waste.
Who is engaged in this concern?
This project was assigned for myself and two other members in my group for our Project Based Learning class and we were given a mentor from Public Lab to assist us. Our mentor was the one who provided us with the kits, both the Babylegs and a Public Lab DIY microscope, as well as some more information as to what makes this project so important.
We are also responsible for keeping it cheap and accessible for everyone, just like the other available things on the Public Lab store.
After constructing our microscope and Babylegs, we decided on using an empty orange medicine bottle as the way of collecting the plankton. We attached it to one leg of the Babylegs with a zip tie so that one side would collect plankton and the other collect the microplastics, creating a two-in-one. After everything was put together, it was time to actually test and see if the kit would work.
We chose to conduct our experiment at Downs Park in Pasadena Maryland as it was close to us and was a part of the Chesapeake Bay which is an extremely important body of water. Originally we were going to go to Patapsco State Park but Downs was just much closer to us so we decided on that. We tested our device in to different spots in the park, one in an area that received a lot of sun and the other in a shady area.
Our device worked very well and effectively gathered plankton without any issues. The one small problem we did run into however was with the microscope. As mentioned earlier, it was developed by Public Lab and it was really just a small webcam attached to a stand. The image that we got did come up clean, but the webcam just wasn't able to zoom in far enough for us to really see the plankton. We did see some movement, but it wasn't close enough to identify the type of plankton that it could be.
Overall, the device was a success! It serves its purpose as a very cheap and accessible modification for an already existing device that was extremely easy to attach. The only potential issue came with the microscope, but it was just about the best we were going to get for something that cheap, and worked much better than any of us originally anticipated it to.