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 reside in every nook and cranny. 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 say “yes,” we also have to make sure there are the proper electrical hookups present to run the camera. 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. In addition to getting cooperation from land owners, you have to get permits and permissions. 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, you have to be mentally prepared for failure. If something goes wrong, you may have to scrap you project. 

The Watershed Stewards Program: A Win-Win for our Community

At Central Coast Salmon Enhancement, we have a constantly growing to-do list. However, as a small nonprofit, we have limited staff and limited time. That’s why we’re incredibly thankful for the Watershed Stewards Program (WSP), an organization that assists communities with habitat restoration for salmonids. We have two WSP members working with us for the next 10 and a half months, and we’re thrilled that they’ve joined us to help restore our watershed creek and steelhead trout habitat.

WSP is an AmeriCorps service program for young people that’s a part of the California Conservation Corps. Every year, the program places about 50 members at different natural resource organizations, where they help with a variety of projects.

Central Coast Watershed Stewards Program

Lauren Malinis and Khaalid Abdullah joined our team in October. They’ll be conducting service projects, leading environmental educational curricula at local schools, and collecting data in the field -- work that will greatly help our research and outreach efforts. It’s a win-win situation: the members receive valuable work and community outreach experience while the surrounding community and habitats benefit from their efforts.

Lauren is excited about gaining work experience. She said she’s trying to get into grad school, studying either marine science or fisheries, and that the WSP program will help her pay for that. 

Khaalid said he gets satisfaction out of knowing he’s benefitting California’s natural resources. “It’s an opportunity to be active in the world and give people knowledge about water conditions in our state. Physically getting the job done satisfies me, knowing I’m doing whatever I can to help the state of California,” he said. 

Working with the Watershed Stewards Program in Arroyo Grande

Are you ready to help keep the Watershed Stewards Program alive at CCSE? So far we have raised $4,000 of our goal of $8,000.

Click here to give - no amount is too small. We are genuinely thankful for your generous support. 


The Power of Citizen Science

Collecting data at a local watershed on the Central Coast

Scientists need good data to work with.

Without it, we can’t continue our projects to ensure the health of our watershed and steelhead trout habitats. And while our staff members at CCSE work hard to collect as much data in the field as possible, we can’t all be in different places at once. That’s why next year, we’re harnessing the power of citizen science using crowd hydrology.

Crowd hydrology empowers locals to act like true scientists -- to read water depth and collect data as they’re walking by streams and estuaries. CCSE members will set up staff plates (signs that measure water depth) in different sites around the county, along with instructions for passerby: text us the site ID, date, time, and water depth reading of the creek. The data sent in the texts is automatically added to an online database that is available to researchers, students, and resource managers for free. It’s that easy.

Crowd hydrology and CCSE

Crowd hydrology engages and informs the public while allowing for important conservation work to continue. Any contribution, no matter how small, will make all the difference.

Your donation of $1,000 will pay for staff installation and maintenance of a sign; $200 alone covers the cost of the sign and installation materials. Recently, CCSE received a $500 donation. If we can double that amount with your help, we’ll have enough funds to start our first crowd hydrology site. No amount is too small.

The staff members of CCSE and your local watershed ecosystem thank you for your support!

I know they farm oysters in Morro Bay, but this is a different species. The native oyster.

While many may not think much of oysters, they play a significant role as filter feeders. Some studies have shown that an individual oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, removing pollutants from the water. As we continue to realize how sick our oceans and estuaries are, the presence of oysters becomes a great value to us and other species.

Ostrea lurida, or the Olympia oyster, was once found throughout the Pacific coast of North America. However, due to pollution and over-harvesting, their range and population has declined. It is the only oyster native to our west coast.

One day we went out with Chris in search of them in Morro Bay and we found them! As we searched for oysters, we also found many other organisms, such as crabs, hermit crabs, sea stars, anemones, and more. Nearby, sea otters could be seen floating on their backs while sea gulls searched for food. There is something very exciting about picking up rocks and seeing a whole other world living underneath. Days like this remind me of why I want to do this work, to continue to learn and preserve these unique species cohabitating this planet with us.

Weeks later, we returned, this time with a data sheet, ready to actually get a count of how many oysters we were finding in this area. I thoroughly enjoyed recording data as well as looking for the oysters on the rocks, once again in awe of all that lives beneath these rocks. I’ve always enjoyed field work and it’s rewarding to be working on something that could potentially help bring more awareness to O. lurida and hopefully lead to a full-on restoration project.


Face to face with Central Coast creeks

Community member working with Steelhead trout in local watershed

It’s March, and that means we’re right in the middle of the spawning season for our steelhead trout. Steelhead take the pulses of water flowing out from creeks after rain events as their cue to head upstream, so their spawning season coincides with California’s rainy season.

While El Niño hasn’t brought us the torrential rains that some predicted, we WSPers, have been going out into our local creeks every other week since the end of January, hoping to find ourselves some steelhead nests, or “redds”.

I’m originally from southern California, so I’m used to dry, dusty riverbeds that maybe carry a trickle of water after the biggest storms. Our creeks here in San Luis Obispo County are running lower than they should be, thanks to the drought, but they still have more water than I’ve ever expected to see in a creek.

If I ever thought I was a graceful person, going up and down the creeks has taught me otherwise. No one else seems to have issues, but for me it’s a wonder if I only fall once during a survey. We’re now about ten surveys in to our field season, and I think I’ve only just gotten my “creek feet”- and it’s a cause worth celebrating. Now that I’m able to look around instead of just always looking where I put my feet, I’m amazed at the unexpected things I find.

Environmental concerns on the Central Coast

We’ve yet to see any redds (which isn’t that strange, with the low flows we’ve been having), but as long as we walk softly and don’t disturb the creek bottom, we see tiny fish darting in and out of the shadows. We see native pond turtles, trudging slowly along. Most of the time, we’re surrounded by birds twittering away. We see signs of human impact, too- bottles, plastic bags, even a washing machine- but even that can’t detract from the unique experience of being out in the water. Going into a creek is like rediscovering a lost world.