Jessica Deere: Wilderness Water Watch
Deep in the forest primeval of northern Minnesota, placid lakes sparkle in the sun amidst a sea of trees. But even here, the long tentacles of modern civilization have tainted the wilderness.
While the researchers learned much about how the contaminants are distributed across the study sites, “we can’t causally link fish health to the observed CEC exposure,” Deere says. “But we were able to place the contaminant results into context by what we call ‘assessing indicators’ of fish health.”
To assess fish health, the team examined fishes’ whole body health status, performed microscopic exams of fish organs, and consulted an EPA database on the effects of different chemicals.
“Because we have these data and we know these chemicals were in our fish, we know these effects could be happening in our fish,” she explains. “And we can relate that information to what we saw in the [whole body and microscopic pathology exams].”
For example, the researchers found liver cancer in one yellow perch. This result can be linked to whatever CECs the fish also had; however, with just one example, no causation can yet be inferred.
A broad slice of science—and life
The lakes Deere studied all lie within the Grand Portage Reservation and the 1854 Ceded Territory, where the Ojibwe (Chippewa) culture centers on subsistence hunting and fishing.
“The Ojibwe way of life is intrinsically linked to the waters in which these chemicals are found, but we are all responsible for putting them there,” Deere notes. “Activities further away may lead to these chemicals being in these ecosystems without a specific point source.”
Deere has always cared about “the bigger picture importance of the work I do.” In this project, she learned about treaty rights and cultural connections to fish and water.
With graduate school done, Deere is heading to Tanzania’s Gombe National Park. She and her two CVM faculty advisers—Tiffany Wolf, a wildlife epidemiologist; and Dominic Travis, an ecosystem health scientist and lead of the college’s Global One Health Initiative—have previously worked at Gombe, home of Jane Goodall’s chimpanzee studies and the long-running Gombe Ecosystem Health Project, which Travis and team began in 2004. Deere will begin at least a year as project manager in Gombe for creating One Health Hub, a new community-led ecosystem health platform. Her postdoctoral work there is partially funded through the U of M Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility Scholars Program.