Producing an End to Pollution

Influence of Changing Land Use in the Lower St. Johns River

“We all have an obligation to protect it and to collectively do things that will prevent pollution.”

Interview with Dr. Gretchen Bielmyer-Fraser
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Jacksonville University

Producing an End to Pollution

Working on an Interdisciplinary Research Project with Jacksonville University’s Marine Science Research Institute, I took on the task of documenting video footage for the team. The main goal of the research is to identify how land use of the surrounding area influences the levels of nutrients in the Saint Johns River.  The levels of nutrients are often a result of human behavior and can negatively affect the ecosystem.

For my part of the project, I focused on the amount of trash in the Saint Johns River, as well as the metal and contaminant content. As my fellow students tested and recorded the water samples, I worked to capture the images on video with the goal of sharing the information with the public.  In addition to telling the story in video, I worked to make sure I understood the science behind the terminology. Before I could explain it, I needed to make sure I understood it myself. I produced a video presenting information for the public to understand in a simple, clear-cut manner.

This project provided me with an opportunity to put my communication studies to use. Instead of telling my audience what not to do, I want to motivate people to make a change. The goal of the project was to encourage positive behaviors that could easily be adopted into everyday life. I learned it takes only a series of small changes to make a positive impact on the river.

Ways you can help the Saint Johns River:

  1. Throw trash in the trashcan
  2. Pick up trash on the ground and dispose of it properly
  3. Put cigarette butts in the trashcan
  4. Pick up after pets and make sure the pet waste gets put into the trashcan

These simple tasks really do go a long way, and little changes can make a difference in the future.


A Behind the Scenes Look at Producing an End to Pollution

Working with the Marine Science Research Institute (MSRI) of Jacksonville University, I documented an interdisciplinary research project. Testing the metal and nutrient contaminants in the Saint Johns River, professors and select students went out onto the river to get samples in various locations. I was also aboard the lab pontoon boat, filming them along the way, to later produce a video to translate their findings to show to the public.

This task has been a learning experience for me in many aspects. I have never been strong in biology or chemistry, so in order to make it clear for the public to understand what these scientists were saying, I had to first learn what they were doing myself. Being on the boat with them and very hands-on, made it clearer and easier to understand. They explained to me what exactly they were doing and how they were going to go about doing it. They took samples from the water in different locations along the river, including at JU, downtown, in residential areas, etc. They would then mix some of the water from the samples with a solution in a container that would show a certain color based on how strong the nitrogen level content was. The more vibrant the color appeared, the higher nitrogen content existed. Also, as they were doing this, I would ask them questions about the processes they were taking. One of the students on the boat told me that as they get the readings of the nitrogen levels, they can look to the surrounding area to see what could be the cause of an abnormally high element level. Once they can see some of the causes, they can try to change those to make a difference.

The research was based on trials of sample testing, in which they looked mostly at the phytoplankton and microorganisms in the water. It was described that as the excess of nutrients get into the water, it causes algae to bloom on the surface, blocking the sunlight from the rest of the ecosystem under the water. As ecosystems are entirely interdependent, if one part of it gets thrown off, the entire food web suffers. The scientists also said that later on into the experiment they were going to test its effects on the river’s wildlife.

Furthermore, they were looking at the level of metal in the river. With Downtown Jacksonville being directly on the water, along with ship yards and a numerous amount of bridges, there are a lot of sources that could contribute to unnecessary metal in the water.

Within the series of videos, we looked at how different human-induced aspects were the leading causes to these high levels of foreign nutrients. The main causes were not picking up pet waste, leaking sewage, contaminants, and trash in the river, which is what my video was focused on.

This topic was really important to me because I constantly pick up trash I see on the ground without thinking twice about it. It baffles me that some people think the earth is their trashcan and just blatantly leave trash behind without any sense of guilt. I have lived by the beach my entire life, and ever since middle school, every Earth Day I have gone out and picked up as much trash along the beach as I can. Moving to the beaches in Florida, the community puts in so much effort to keep the environment of the beaches healthy. There are constantly community beach clean ups, having a contest to see who can collect the most cigarette butts. It is the small things like these that give me hope that people do care about our environment. There is no excuse for trash to be floating throughout the river, bringing harmful toxins and excess nutrients into the water ways. Producing this piece touched me personally because this is a way for me to not only express my feelings of how important it is to end pollution, but also help the marine science program tell the scientific research behind it as well.

After filming the trips on the boat, I went back to the studio and interviewed the professors and the students asking them to describe their research and project in detail, along with explaining how harmful trash in the river is. From these interviews, I pulled the audio and paired the agreeing video with it. When the professors and students were speaking, they used a plethora of large, scientific terms that I did not know the meaning of. When I was putting the video together, I had to go along separately and find the meaning of their terminology so I knew the point they were trying to get across. Not only is this project educational for the public and those who watch it, it was educational for the scientists and the communication students involved.

I thought it was special and unique experience, because it brought two distant fields of study in direct contact with one another. The scientists got to see how we worked the cameras and set up for specific shots to how we set them up in front of the green screen for the in-studio interviews. In addition, I learned so much about science and even more about the seriousness of pollution that I already knew.  This project expanded my horizons of being a producer and taught me how portraying complex information in a simpler manner takes a lot of work, but teaches you so much along the way. Being the producer for the trash in the river video was special to me and I truly hope it reads it causes people to make a change. The earth deserves to be treated with the utmost respect, and I hope this video can help make people realize it is not hard to make a difference.


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