Honours environmental science student researches mercury concentration in brook trout

06 Nov 2023

Fourth-year environmental science student Macartney Wormington spent her summer examining the mercury content within brook trout tissue in lakes across New Brunswick through Mount Allison’s Independent Student Research Grant program.  

“In 1994, the Government of New Brunswick conducted a study on mercury concentration in game fish,” says Wormington. “We looked at brook trout, as it is one of the most common fish.”

Wormington's research examines how mercury concentration within the fish tissue has changed over the past 30 years.  

“Mercury emissions have increased over the last 100 years whether it be from factories, car emissions, or other pollutions caused by humans,” she says. “But there are also natural causes to this such as volcanic eruptions.”  

These factors have resulted in elevated mercury concentrations in both the atmosphere and freshwater systems, impacting both aquatic environments and the ocean. Over time, high mercury levels can be lethal to fish and pose health risks to humans. As for the environment, mercury presents a significant threat to ecosystems. It has the potential to accumulate throughout the food chain, causing widespread ecological damage. 

Through the summer, Wormington, with the help of environmental science advisor and professor Dr. Joshua Kurek, gathered samples by fishing remote lakes across New Brunswick and then preparing samples while also working with the University of Moncton to conduct the mercury analysis.  

“Exposure to the research process is important for students curious about careers within the environmental sector,” says Kurek. “They gain many transferable skills, such as solving challenges, working as part of a diverse team, communicating complex ideas, and earning a sense of accomplishment, to name a few.” 

Wormington says that it has been interesting to see the applications of the sciences she has learned over the past three years. 

“I am in the chemistry track,” says Wormington, “so it’s fun to see the full applications of what I’ve learned in my chemistry and biology classes and actually be put into a study.”  

This experience has taught Wormington to always be curious and to not be afraid to ask questions, even when working with individuals such as master’s students or professors who know the subject matter well.  

“As an environmental science student, Wormington was able to contribute to the research from start to finish, including field sampling and working within the laboratories of our partners at Université de Moncton. It’s been a lot of fun, from catching brook trout in June to processing tissue samples to using analytical equipment of our collaborators,” says Kurek.  

Wormington will be graduating in May 2024 and exploring options to attend graduate school for a master's program in the field of environmental studies.  

Mount Allison's ISRG program provides students entering their final year with an intensive research or creative activity experience from May to August. 

Wormington’s ISRG was funded by the Nova Scotia Power Research Scholarship.

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