University of New Haven Student Researcher Studies The Effects of Climate Change on Long Island Sound’s Algae

Shining light on the advocacy and sustainability work of young environmental leaders working to make their communities safer and cleaner. As part of our commitment to youth engagement and equity, we are holding an ongoing series of interviews with individuals and sharing their stories to spread awareness.

Pictured here is Emilia Bacigalupi, a student researcher at the University of New Haven

Climate change will continue to impact Connecticut in the coming years in a variety of ways, such as more extreme-weather events and heat waves, an increase in sea-level rise, and ecosystem adaptations. Emilia Bacigalupi, a student researcher at the University of New Haven, learned about the increase in algae blooms that will occur as carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase. Ulvoid algae blooms are known to have detrimental effects to the environment, and cause fish kills. This led Emilia to conduct research and write her senior thesis about the impacts of climate change on ulvoid algae productivity in Long Island Sound in order to better anticipate Connecticut’s future environmental conditions. 

Previous research has determined that ulvoid algae has a higher growth rate in waters with higher temperatures. Higher water temperatures create environmental conditions that will only encourage the growth of ulvoid algae. Additionally, it is known that acidification negatively impacts estuaries more than other bodies of water. Long Island Sound is Connecticut’s only estuary, and it is essential that we better understand how climate change will impact the estuary’s wildlife and water quality.

While your avid beach-goer might have never heard of ulvoid algae, they have probably seen it. “Ulvoids are really common in Long Island Sound. They are always present on our beaches. In terms of the blooms, it is often multiple species of ulvoids in one bloom”, said Emilia. Often, the ulvoid algae blooms create a large biomass. In other countries, ulvoid algae blooms have caused severe environmental problems due to fishkills and the size of the biomass. Emilia explained that “The estuary of Long Island Sound has so many juvenile organisms. Multiple blooms in a short period of time could be detrimental.”

In order to determine the impacts of ulvoid algae on Long Island Sound, Emilia is working with University of New Haven Professor Dr. Amy L. Carlile, who is an expert in aqua flora and algae. Emilia’s first step will be to develop a mesocosm study, whereby the conditions of the experiment are established. Afterwards, Emilia will collect various ulvoid algae samples from Long Island Sound. A DNA analysis of each sample will be conducted to better understand the species being studied. Emilia plans to elevate the acidification levels of each sample, and compare it to the control group. In the experiment, there will be two groups: (1) a control group with current level of acidiand (2) an experimental group that mimics the acidity levels that are expected in 2050. Emilia will be conducting this research project in summer 2021.

Emilia’s research will determine whether or not ulvoid algae continues to bloom in more acidic water. It is hypothesized that as more carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere, and our oceans become more acidic, then ulvoid algae blooms will only get worse. Emilia stated “I hope this research allows us to be more informed about the effects of climate change and acidification, and shed some light on possible methods we could utilize for the great biomass that accumulates during these blooms.” Countries and researchers have proposed various ideas for uses of ulvoid algae, such as medicine, biofuels, and fertilizers. “While there hasn’t been a severe green algal bloom, Long Island Sound has experienced numerous harmful red and brown tides. My research will clarify if these green tides may be in the near future,” said Emilia.

While acidification of our oceans and climate change are daunting topics, Emilia Bacigalupi gave encouraging words to youth looking to work in conservation. Emilia said: “Don’t get discouraged by the doom and gloom of how everything sounds! Communication needs to be improved with younger audiences. The amount of overwhelming negative information can be a lot to take on. Follow what you want to do in conservation and restoration! We need all the help we can get!” 

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