Collecting data and exploring one's watershed at the same time

monitoring native olympia oysters

There's a plethora of organisms that inhabit Morro Bay. The intertidal animals here reside in every nook and cranny, however the organism that we focused on monitoring today is the Olympia oyster (Ostrea lurida). These magnificent creatures are bivalve mollusks (An organism with compressed body between two shells) that filter feed. They are related to other organisms like clams and mussels. Olympia oysters are the only oyster native to the west coast of North America and play an important role in the ecosystem. Their population has been declining so it is essential to monitor populations to observe if they are recovering or not.

                  The method that was used for collecting data on the oysters was the line intercept transect method. Through this method we measured out a length of shoreline then used a quarter meter quadrat made of PVC pipe to measure specific areas along the line. The data we collected included number of live oysters found and their lengths. The oysters live on hard surfaces like larger rocks and cobble. Whenever an oyster was found, we used a caliper to measure the longest part of the oyster. The collection of this data will hopefully help us better understand the factors affecting these oysters so one day efforts can be made to increase their populations.    

                  When I am able to do field work like oyster monitoring it brings a joy out of me that is sometimes hard to describe. There were countless things going through my mind as we moved the quadrat and we flipped over rocks in search of the oysters. To my surprise we found many different types of organisms huddled together in the smallest of crevasse. This brings me back to my childhood when I used to play in the mud in search of anything alive. Observing where the oysters were attached (usually underneath rocks) and where other animals lived was extremely fascinating. Most of these animals you would expect to see submerged underwater but it is a whole other ball game in the intertidal zone. Being able to work in areas like this brings the best out of me and I can’t wait to have an experience like that again.

If you can't measure it, you can't improve it

Monitoring Steelhead trout in San Luis Obispo creek just got a little easier. San Luis Obispo City Biologist, Freddy Otte, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) installed a Dual Frequency Identification Sonar (DIDSON) in San Luis Obispo creek to monitor the fish, which are currently a threatened species in our area. DIDSON cameras use high or low frequency sound waves to create an image, allowing the viewer to see what passes in front of the lens. 

Getting the camera and gaining permission to use it in the creek has taken quite a long time for Freddy and CDFW. As members of the Watershed Stewards Program, my site partner and I shadowed Freddy, and got some insight into parts of the process for deciding on the placement of the camera.  This involves contacting several landowners next to the creek. Some landowners are very helpful and positive while others may refuse to have this activity on their property. When land owners said “Yes,” we also had to make sure there were the proper electrical hookups present to run the camera. Of course, the approving land owner is compensated for any electricity used by the DIDSON. The next step was finding a spot in the creek which was deep enough and uniform all the way across so the entire width of the creek is visible through the lens.

After some searching, we found the perfect spot for the camera. I am waiting for when there will be enough footage for us to start watching it and recording the data. Hopefully we will now be able to get a more accurate count of how many Steelhead trout we have in our creek.

Being new to this field, I’m surprised to learn that you cannot just place a camera in the water.  You have to get permits and permissions, in addition to getting cooperation from land owners. I was only there for about a month or two of the process, it is overwhelming to see the amount of time it takes to get a project up and running. By getting a chance to work on the DIDSON camera as well as other projects, I’m learning that you have to be patient and really push for what you want.  At the same time, however, you have to be mentally prepared for failure, because if something goes wrong, you may have to scrap you project. 

Trout in the Classroom brings students outdoors

river restoration

The best part of Trout in the Classroom is what happens outside of the classroom - field trips!

Last month, I took a group of students from Vista de las Cruces School to Lopez Lake, along with Watershed Education Coordinators Tosha Punches and Ellen Morris. There, we released the trout they had raised in class and participated in hands-on, outdoor activities.

After an hour and a half long bus ride, the children rushed out, full of excitement for their fun day outdoors. The activities included the trout release, a ‘found art’ station, a scavenger hunt, and a hike with the Discovering the Environment through Education and Restoration (DEER) program.

Can you make out the fish?

I was in charge of the ‘found art’ station, where the students found sticks, leaves, rocks, or anything else they thought looked interesting. With those materials, we created fish sculptures to commemorate the trout they had just released. Whenever we found trash on the ground, I used it as a good learning lesson to remind the students that littering is harmful to the environment and the animals that live in it, such as their trout!  

The scavenger hunt we did was another great activity. The younger kids, pre-k through 4th grade, were given a list of things to find in nature, such as a bug, flower, evidence of humans, or evidence of animals. The older grades, 5th through 8th, were tasked with looking for things they could use to build a habitat for an animal. There was a lot of ‘evidence of humans’ (aka trash) on the beach, so the scavenger hunt also became a beach clean up. It was important for the kids to see how many people make poor environmental choices, and our program helps them learn to not make those same choices.

Overall, the activities went very well for all age groups. It was great to see all the students excited about learning more about the environment and the impact they have on it.