Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - Teaching Youth About Stream Sampling

Hey it’s me, Tree! It’s almost been a month since I started my education and outreach work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and it’s been going great. For our Youth Fisheries Academy camps, we’ve broken the time up into four different learning stations. I’ve been leading the stream sampling station, which has been engaging and enjoyable. When fisheries and wildlife biologists go into the field to collect data, they investigate a lot of factors in order to determine the health of the stream as well as the populations living in that environment. Measuring the habitat components (water, soil and air) as well as the organisms (plants, animals, fungi and bacteria) are examples of data that can be collected.

Identifying collected invertebrates
My station begins with stream habitat mapping, and I have seen some really amazing renditions created by our students. During this activity, we also discuss important terms such as biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) as well as the difference between quantitative and qualitative data. Campers then gain experience collecting a variety of data. To collect quantifiable biotic data, participants use a densiometer to measure the tree canopy cover. Examples of quantifiable abiotic data collected by campers include stream substrate (size of the rocks on the streambed) and stream discharge (water flow in cubic feet per second). My favorite part of the station is definitely the macroinvertebrate sampling. This sampling essentially involves digging around in the streambed (substrate) for bugs and other invertebrates--something I’ve enjoyed for as long as I can remember. We then identify these invertebrates and establish their diversity in order to determine the health of the stream (certain species are sensitive to pollution). The scientific techniques and technologies used at this station make these activities fun and meaningful. All data collection methods involve wading in the stream, which the campers really enjoy.

Teaching about stream sampling and the importance of these ecosystems has been fun and fulfilling in many ways. It’s a great opportunity to recall and practice some of the sampling techniques I have been taught, but I have been learning a great deal from the campers as well. It’s astounding how perceptive and creative they are. On more than one occasion I’ve heard these young biologists say "Wow, that was fun!" when walking away from my station. I’m glad I’ve gotten the opportunity to teach, learn, and have fun as well. The camps, campers, and streams have all been unique and memorable.

- Tree Steele, STEP Fisheries Technician