by Jeff Jablonski
Citizen science is a process that has been going on for centuries. Laypeople often aid scientific research by collecting data across a variety of topics. In recent years, more and more opportunities are springing up for ordinary citizens to get involved in all sorts of projects. I want to highlight one group of volunteers who have been working on Mt. Tam the past few years to help monitor our ecosystems.
MMWD’s Turtle Observer program started in 2009 with the goal of identifying non-native turtles encroaching on habitat of the native western pond turtles in the lakes and streams of the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed. The western pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata) is a federally listed “vulnerable species.” Volunteers are trained to identify western pond turtles and common invasive species like red-eared sliders and cooters. Armed with binoculars and data sheets, they head out to the lakes and creeks of Mt. Tam to count and classify the local inhabitants. This season, observers tracked populations in Lake Lagunitas, Alpine Lake and Bullfrog Creek. On a single trip, as many as 40 turtles were seen basking on logs or swimming in the waters.
Our volunteers allow us to accomplish ecological monitoring far more efficiently than staff could do on our own. The data and observations they contribute help our ecologists to more accurately estimate our turtle populations, better assess the health of the watershed, and make natural resource management decisions.
Perhaps just as important as the data collected is the fun people can have gathering it. Citizen science is a great way to get out and enjoy nature on your own or with friends and family. The turtle observer program is open to children ages eight and up, and this year almost half of all excursions were made by at least two people. And since the turtles are out when it’s sunny and warm, there is no better time to enjoy a hike or relax by the lake!
Turtle Observers start in March and continue through the beginning of the summer. If you or someone you know is interested in participating, check our website or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org early next year.