CRWP plugs importance of citizen scientists

PWSSC presents research on plankton community in Prince William Sound

Alaska Marine Science Symposium

Engaging citizen scientists in collecting data to protect wild salmon habitat is proving effective in documenting the presence of fish in spawning and rearing streams, says Kristen Carpenter, executive director of the Copper River Watershed Project.

Carpenter told several hundred researchers and others attending the Alaska Marine Science Symposium in Anchorage on Jan. 23 that these volunteers, from elementary school students to adults, are filling a big gap in collecting data for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Anadromous Waters Catalog, which documents all rearing and spawning habitat of anadromous fish in the state.

In the process of teaching these volunteers sampling techniques and more, the CRWP is also educating participants on habitat stewardship, career possibilities and salmon management, including identifying local salmon species, Carpenter said. “We have heard them refer to ‘my stream’, which shows they are really identifying,” she said.

Volunteers are trained in advance of their forays into the streams in evening workshops and sessions with guest speakers, then armed with everything from bear spray and snacks and chest waders to do their work, she said.  In all some 483 volunteers, from fifth graders to folks over 70 years of age, volunteered over a five-year period in 114 surveys at 81 sites, with a focus on coho, sockeye and Chinook salmon, she said.

“All the data was accepted for the Anadromous Waters Catalog, which shows using citizen scientists works,” she said.

In the process, CRWP learned that there is a lot more habitat yet to be listed, there is a need for a science coordinator and involvement of data end users, she said. “All of us together could do what no one of us (individually) could do,” she said.

Carpenter spoke on behalf of Kate Morse program director for CRWP, who prepared the presentation with Kirsti Jurica and Rich Brenner, but was unable to attend the symposium.

Carpenter noted that an understanding of Pacific salmon habitat use at all life stages is critical to protecting and sustaining Alaska’s wild salmon populations, but that due to the vast number of streams in Alaska and limited resources not all salmon streams are currently listed or have detailed information on their use for rearing and spawning.

CRWP has worked with ADF&G and other watershed partners to develop and implement the citizen science program, known as Salmon Blitz, to engage community volunteers in field surveys to collect data necessary to nominate additional habitat to the Anadromous Waters Catalog, and to provide more spatial and temporal detail for habitats already listed in the catalog.

The additional benefit, Morse noted in preparing the presentation, is that by connecting people with their surroundings and deepening their understanding of the resources on which they depend, CRWP hopes to instill a greater sense of engagement and responsibility for the long-term health of the region’s salmon.

Nominations to the Anadromous Waters Catalog from volunteer efforts resulted in adding 34.5 new stream kilometers, 221 acres of new lakes and wetland complexes, and 10.2 kilometers of upstream extent to the catalog, she said.

With 100 percent of all their nominations accepted by ADF&G, Salmon Blitz demonstrates the effectiveness of citizen science for collecting quality data to inform salmon management efforts in Alaska, she said.

Several other Cordova residents also participated in the symposium, as speakers and participants in poster sessions.

Robert Campbell, a biological oceanographer with the Prince William Sound Science Center, spoke about PWSSCs autonomous profiler, which has been deployed annually in Prince William Sound since 2013.

The profiler consists of a positively buoyant instrument frame with a winch and associated electronics that measures temperature, salinity, chlorophyll-a fluorescence, turbidity, and oxygen and nitrate concentrations at approximately 5 centimeters resolution, he said. The profiler collected a high resolution record in 2016 and 2017 deployments, of the annual succession of the surface plankton community in Prince William Sound.

Caitlin McKinstry, Ben Gray and Anne Schafer, all affiliated with PWSSC, participated with poster presentations on the first evening of AMSS, and Scott Pegau, a research scientist and program manager with PWSSC, was to judge graduate student presentations, but this year all judging of poster sessions was cancelled when a temporary partial shutdown of the federal government prevented travel for federal employees who were to judge.

McKinstry’s poster showed zooplankton that comprise the prey field for ecologically and economically important predators in Prince William Sound, including juvenile pink salmon, herring and seabirds.

Gray’s poster identified key winter groundfish predators of Pacific herring and walleye Pollock in Prince William Sound. His research notes that while predation by groundfish in winter months has been suggested as a primary source of mortality or both these species that winter specific groundfish diet information is scarce.

Schafer’s post presentation addressed non-breeding marine bird response to forage fish schools in Prince William Sound. Her research notes that Pacific herring has been identified as a resource injured by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, and that concurrent with the decline in herring abundance, several marine birds wintering in that area have shown reduced capacity to recover post-oil spill, a phenomena that may be related to decreased forage fish availability.

Abstracts on all presentations and poster sessions during the symposium are online in the AMSS guidebook at https://guidebook.com/guide/120018/poi/9183779/