A Time to Be Grateful: Volunteers in the Thick of It

We have been reflecting on the many aspects of our work, the people involved, and the environmental movement as a whole for which we’re grateful. From the volunteers who get their hands dirty to our interns working behind-the-scenes to supporters like you who make our work possible, we’re beyond grateful to all of you!

In the thick of it…

We forgot the bug spray. That’s only evident once we are half a mile into the trail. Should we turn back? No, a volunteer never gives up. Ashley Ryan is a volunteer who perseveres. “Occupational hazard,” she says with a shrug.

As a volunteer Citizen Scientist with our Western Sound office, Ashley has seen her fair share of tough conditions.

Twenty five trained volunteers made our 2015 water quality monitoring season possible on the Long Island Sound shoreline in Westchester and Greenwich, and on rivers that feed the Sound. In every type of weather, they were in the field collecting water samples following a detailed, EPA approved protocol.

Citizen Science is a vital, fast-growing field in which scientific investigations are conducted by volunteers under the guidance of expert staff and in accordance with detailed study plans. Over the past decade, our nation has seen an explosion of Citizen Science projects as tools have advanced and people have become more empowered. These projects have been remarkably successful in expanding scientific knowledge, raising people’s awareness of environmental problems facing their own communities, and motivating change. By involving the community, and providing the tools and expertise to interpret data, we are working together to achieve our common goals.

But the individual stories behind citizen science are where the magic happens…

And Ashley had many interesting experiences.

Volunteer Citizen Scientist Ashley Ryan preparing to collect a sample.

Eaten Alive

Mosquitos are everywhere and they are so happy with our arrival. Our morning has started with a trip to Marshlands Conservancy. Marshlands Conservancy is a 147-acre wildlife sanctuary composed of forest, meadow, salt marsh and one-half mile of shoreline along Long Island Sound. The Marshlands salt marsh is one of few in New York accessible for study and enjoyment by the general public. Environmental education programs are offered to school children on topics like habitats, flowering plants, and animal survival strategies.

Walking among mosquitoes at Marshlands Conservancy
Walking among mosquitoes at Marshlands Conservancy

Ashley and I walk through a lovely setting to reach the test site. The trail meanders past a grassland preserve, marshes, through a forested island, where we ultimately reach a sandy beach. Ashley has been trained to follow protocol carefully. She must wear gloves. She must not stir the water in order to avoid collecting sediment. The plastic bottle must remain upright while collecting the water sample and even with gloves, she may not touch the inside of the lid.

It’s important we are gathering this data because Marshlands Conservancy is bustling with activity. Groups of campers roam everywhere engaged in educational activities. Only a few hundred feet from the sample site a group of teenagers are learning to windsurf.

Once the sample is taken, Ashley quickly puts the bottle in a cooler of ice to transport it back to Save the Sound’s Mamaroneck lab, to be analyzed for bacteria that indicate the presence of fecal matter. An EPA Region 2 Citizen Science Water Monitoring Equipment Loan allowed for the creation of a water quality testing lab located in Mamaroneck that Save the Sound uses to test for the bacteria Enterococcus.

We’re grateful to all our volunteers who preserved through tough weather to help Save the Sound in this important work! To maintain scientific integrity, every week, on the same day, all of the Citizen Scientists ventured to their sites.

The participation of the community is critical to the success of this work.

Summary data collected at Marshlands Conservancy

To see the data results that all 25 volunteers collected, click here.

For more information about Marshlands Conservancy, click here or view the complete data set here2015 STS EXCEL Release E-MLa (1).

This is the second post in our latest series, A Time to be Grateful. Check back every week for a new post!

Posted by Leanne Bloom, digital media strategist

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