If you’ve been at all involved in conservation efforts over the last few years you have probably heard the term citizen science offered as an opportunity for individuals and groups to engage in programmatic efforts. You may be wondering what citizen science actually is? Fortunately, we are here to help!
Citizen scientists counting macroinvertebrates (AKA: little water bugs). The composition of macroinvertebrate populations is a good indicator of stream health.
What is Citizen Science?
Citizen Science is the collection of scientific research and data that is conducted in whole, or partly, by amateur scientists and members of the general public. It offers an excellent way for organizations and institutions to gather large amounts of data in relatively simple ways and gives community members unique opportunities to interact with their surroundings while making a positive impact.
In an area like the Rock Creek watershed, which is 77.4 square miles (roughly the size of 37,500 football fields!), Citizen Scientists, can help us better track and monitor data for issues related to water quality and trash levels. This data then allows us to better understand how we are impacting our natural areas.
Citizen Science at Rock Creek Conservancy
Most of our citizen science efforts are focused on the data collection at our volunteer events. Records on the amount of bags removed from Rock Creek during trash cleanups or the total number of trees saved from English Ivy has been regularly tracked and reported via our volunteer leaders for years. This data was always reactive, meaning it stems from a project or event so we can calculate what we achieved. We typically have not offered any citizen science opportunities for predictive and observational opportunities…until now.
Citizen scientists in the Adopt-A-Stream program will count, identify, and track the amount of trash that is found in DC waterways.
We are excited to be partnering with the Alice Ferguson Foundation to create and develop an Adopt-a-Stream Citizen Science program where volunteers will count and track the amount of trash that is found in waterways in DC using methodology utilized by the Metro Washington Council of Governments.
As part of the program, volunteer leaders will conduct semi-annual “counts” of each piece of trash they see in a 500-foot section of their favorite waterway. They will identify and record that trash as one of 23 categories of typical types of waste found in DC. The data will then be used by Rock Creek Conservancy, Alice Ferguson Foundation, and the District Department of Energy and Environment to better understand what kind of trash we have in our waterways and how it is ending up there. After each counting event, volunteers will then organize a cleanup to remove all the trash in the area.
The idea is to gather more direct data on what types of trash can be found in Rock Creek and its surrounding tributaries. This data will help us better target any legislative action efforts we hope to undertake in the coming years (think: Bag Ban, Styrofoam Ban, etc).
Right now Adopt-a-Stream is just a pilot program. We hosted a training in early February (pictured below) to bring the first batch of leaders on board and hope to have them counting and cleaning trash at their sites in April just in time for the Extreme Cleanup. As the program grows, we will have more opportunities to train leaders and equip them to contribute. If you’re interested in joining the program, continue to check out our online Event Calendar for the next training. In the meantime, you can join an Adopt-a-Stream cleanup event in April and learn firsthand how the leaders are making a difference in their Citizen Science contributions.