A high school student from Queens teamed up with university researchers to develop a simple and inexpensive way to document the kinds of fish migrating in New York's waters.
"Usually to know where fish are, you have to have a big boat and a big net," says Dr. Mark Stoeckle, a senior research associate at Rockefeller University.
But Stoeckle came up with an easy way of identifying the fish lurking beneath the surface, just by testing the waters they swim in.
Perhaps just as notable is his study's co-author --.a 17-year-old senior at John Bowne High.School in Queens, Lyubov Soboleva.
"She generated a large part of the data that we reported in the study," Stoeckle says.
They teamed up as part of Rockefeller University's research program for high school science students.
"I always liked biology and I was really good at it and I'm still sort of good at it. I guess it's interesting because you get to know the things around you. You get to ask questions, you get to answer those questions," Soboleva says.
Every week for six months they collected water samples from the Hudson and East rivers.
Back in the lab, they filtered out particles and analyzed them for DNA..
"Then we match them to the database, just like on a CSI show. See who was that? Who was that fish?" Stoeckle says.
They found DNA from Bluefish, Oyster Toadfish and American Eel, all expected in local waters.
They also found DNA from non-native species that were probably eaten by New Yorkers and ended up in the rivers via sewage: "Nile Tilapia, Pacific Red Snapper, European Sea Bass," Stoeckle says.
Their study will enable researchers to easily check waters for fish species without having to drag nets to catch them, a process that takes time and can harm the fish.
And the breakthrough may have major implications for protecting aquatic life
Lyubov emigrated from Kazakhstan eight years ago, unable to speak English. She will attend Hunter College in Manhattan in the fall. She says the experience working on the fish research with Stoeckle helped her to feel more confident and confirmed her love of science.
"You might like it while you're learning it in school and then when you actually go out there and start doing it physically, you might not like it, but for me it was the opposite. It was actually great," she says.
Stoekle has already begun the next phase of his research, testing the water off Coney Island for the DNA of sharks and whales. And this summer he hopes to be paired with another high school student as his research partner.