Jimmy (left) and Nate testing the water

Each summer, Raritan Headwaters welcomes a team of science interns to assist us with our vital work of monitoring and protecting clean water in local rivers, streams, and aquifers in the Upper Raritan region of New Jersey.

This year our team of summer research interns consisted of Toby Davies of Surrey, England, Nate Henderson of Califon, NJ, and Jimmy Thomson of Highland Park, NJ.

Interns gained a range of experiences including collecting data on stream macroinvertebrates, using probes and lab techniques to study chemical indicators of water quality, collecting water samples from impaired sites and swimming holes to monitor levels of E. coli bacteria, surveying streams for salamanders, organizing data on microplastics in the South Branch Raritan, and managing data on groundwater collected through our well test program.  Perhaps most importantly, they gained valuable exposure to the workings of an environmental non-profit.

“The research intern program allows us the opportunity to help shape the next generation of conservation professionals,” noted Dr. Kristi MacDonald, director of science. “Our interns learn so much while contributing to the important work we do monitoring the health of our streams and aquifers.”

Jimmy started in mid-March as an intern for our Stream Cleanup after learning about the RHA internship through his volunteer work with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership.

His first task was to help RHA staff members organize our annual Stream Cleanup Day in April, during which 1,660 volunteers removed 13.3 tons of trash throughout the watershed. “It was nice to see so many people picking up, but sad to see that there’s that much trash to pick up,” he said.

After the stream cleanup was over, Jimmy shifted to helping coordinate our corps of volunteer citizen scientists for our annual stream monitoring, which takes place during the second half of June. As part of the stream monitoring program, teams of trained citizen scientists visit permanent monitoring sites to collect data on the chemical, physical and biological health of the rivers and streams within our watershed.

“It’s awesome to see people caring so much about the streams,” said Jimmy, a 2015 graduate of Luther College in Iowa, where he majored in environmental economics. “There are some really dedicated volunteers who went out to multiple sites. I also got to go to sites and do some of the data collection.”

Toby testing the water

In May, Jimmy was joined by Nate. Toby arrived in June.

Nate, a rising senior at Ithaca College, is majoring in environmental science with minors in anthropology and health. He learned about the RHA internship through his involvement in the Califon Environmental Commission.

“The human health aspect is something that interests me,” he said. “I like helping people – and everybody needs to drink water.” Nate had some previous experience with stream monitoring from an internship with the New York Park Service in 2017. Nate spent his first few weeks with Raritan Headwaters organizing the testing kits used by our stream monitors.

Toby, a biology major at the University of Nottingham in England, learned about the Raritan Headwaters internship from family members who live in the Somerville area. “I loved it,” he said of his eight weeks at RHA.

Toby said he especially enjoyed surveying the watershed for salamanders, which require clean water and intact habitat to survive. There are no salamanders where he lives in England, he said, so this was his first experience with them.

“It’s like therapy, standing by the river and looking for them,” he said. “I’d never seen salamanders before, so it was cool to find them.”  Toby also saw snapping turtles for the first time.

Nate also enjoyed searching for salamanders. “Salamanders are a very good indicator of water quality because they’re very picky about the habitat they live in,” he said.

All three interns believe their experience with Raritan Headwaters will help them in their studies and future environmental careers.

“Our interns truly are top notch people who bring so much to our organization,” says Kristi. “Plus, it is a lot of fun working with them!”

Thank you and good luck to Jimmy, Nate and Toby!

To learn more about what we do and opportunities to get involved please visit www.raritanheadwaters.org.