Chesley Ekelem, Harvard College ’16
Historically, sawmills released wood waste onto coastal shorelines throughout the Pacific Northwest of the USA, enriching marine sediments with organic material. The increase in organic carbon boosts the bacterial reduction of sulfate and results in the production of a toxic metabolite, hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide is a phytotoxin and can decrease the growth and survival of eelgrass. This is a critical issue since eelgrass, Zostera marina, forms habitat for many species, stabilizes sediment, and plays a role in nutrient cycling and sediment chemistry. The objective of our study was to determine the effects of wood debris on sediment pore water hydrogen sulfide concentrations and eelgrass germination. To test the impact of wood inputs on sulfide production and seed germination, we conducted a laboratory mesocosm experiment, adding sawdust to marine sediments and measuring the sulfide levels weekly. We subsequently planted seeds in the mesocosms and measured germination rates. Higher concentrations of sawdust led to higher levels of pore water hydrogen sulfide and drastically slower eelgrass germination rates. The results can be used to set thresholds for remediation efforts and guide seed distribution in wood polluted areas.