Community Corner: Citizen scientists help the Council monitor our region

By Lisa Matlock, Outreach Coordinator

Lisa Matlock

One of the Council’s federal mandates involves environmental monitoring. With a small staff and vast geographic area, this monitoring takes many forms. Monitoring is often done by staff or contractors, but some monitoring takes place thanks to the Council’s volunteers and interns – all citizen scientists.

Since 2014, the Council has had high school interns in the community of Cordova who help monitor for aquatic invasive species. Three interns, Sarah Hoepfner, Cadi Moffitt, and currently Cori Pegau, have volunteered to hang sturdy plastic “settling plates” in the Cordova harbor each spring, to be picked up in the fall. The interns check the organisms that accumulate on the plate for critters such as invasive tunicates and bryozoans.

2014 intern Sarah Hoepfner holds a sculpin trapped while monitoring for green crab. A sculpin is a fish that is native to Alaska waters. The Council is concerned that invasive species could find their way into Alaska waters through tanker ballast water.

The Cordova interns also set out special traps at low tide cycles throughout the summer, monitoring for the highly damaging European green crab. So far, only small local intertidal fish, sea stars, and other native species have been caught. The data gathered from these trapping events not only helps the Council track possible European green crab occurrence, but they also provide vital data showing which small creatures naturally occur along the coast and in what numbers. This information is critical for evaluating damage from an oil spill. Unfortunately, this data was not available in 1989.

The Council involved the community of Valdez in aquatic invasive species monitoring during its first Bioblitz in September of 2016. Over 30 volunteers from the local high school and other local residents spent two days learning how to identify aquatic invaders in the lab, followed by a field day focused on deploying plates, traps, and other monitoring equipment.
More recently, Council Scientific Advisory Committee volunteer, Sarah Allan, worked with staff to implement a passive hydrocarbon monitoring system near the Valdez Marine Terminal. This system will help the Council fine tune its monitoring of the amounts and types of hydrocarbons in Port Valdez.

The Council’s nearly 65 volunteers assist with technical work of all kinds each year. Environmental monitoring is but one important effort through which their time and expertise directly impact the safe transportation of oil through Prince William Sound.

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