Volunteer Profile: Sea Star Monitoring with Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society

 A cluster of healthy Ocre sea stars at low tide. Photo: R.Moore

A cluster of healthy Ocre sea stars at low tide. Photo: R.Moore

While working for Parks Canada on the remote west coast of Vancouver Island, I spent many of my days off volunteering for Environmental Non-Profit Organizations. One of these organizations was Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society. Along with other enthusiastic volunteers, I assisted SIMRS with monitoring sea star (commonly called star fish) populations in response to a mass mortality event occurring along much of the Pacific coast. Approximately 20 different species of sea stars have been affected by disease called Sea Star Wasting Syndrome. Once a sea star gets this disease, it develops white lesions on its body and limbs, which progresses quickly into loss of entire limbs and then eventually the sea star “wastes away” until it dies. My interpretation from what I witnessed was that these sea stars can very rapidly “dissolve” into almost nothing—sometimes leaving nothing but a white film on the rock.

Conducting sea star surveys allows us to track the health of sea star populations, and evaluate the extent to which Sea Star Wasting Syndrome is impacting marine ecosystems. We completed surveys once a month at low tide (generally very early in the morning) at several locations around Tofino and Ucluelet. Within a few hours, we would measure every sea star we came across in the set location and evaluate its health. Sea stars showing signs of disease were categorized into stages to track the proportion of sea stars affected by the disease over time.

Not only did this volunteer work allow me to gain experience in the monitoring aquatic species, I was able to apply what I was learning from my volunteer work while working for Parks Canada. I was able to improve visitor experience and increase their awareness of ecological change in the area and I felt very empowered and grateful to be able to pass this knowledge on to people around the world who had no idea this was occurring. 

Sea Stars are considered keystone species due to the significant role they play within marine ecosystems. Sea stars are important intertidal predators, controlling populations of numerous other little critters such as sponges, snails and mussels. This means that if sea star populations continue to decrease, these ecosystems that fisheries, First Nations, and the eco-tourism industry depend on may collapse. It is important for Canada from coast to coast, whether you live by the sea or not, to step up to the plate and invest in marine research and protection so organizations like SIMRS can continue to do this important work.

 Measuring a sea star in a tide pool in the early morning.  Photo: J. Edwards

Measuring a sea star in a tide pool in the early morning.  Photo: J. Edwards

I would like to thank Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society for giving myself and other volunteers the opportunity to take part in their important work. Strawberry Isle is a very small non-profit but their size certainly doesn’t limit them—from sea lions to killer whales, they are dedicated to researching and monitoring marine species and their habitats. Our earth is 71% ocean—it’s a good feeling to know that there are organizations out there protecting it for us.

If you would like to learn more or donate to Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society, please visit www.strawberryisle.org

Volunteer Profile: Amphibian Projects with the Association of Wetland Stewards of Clayquot and Barkley Sounds

 Northern Pacific Tree Frog (Photo: R.Moore)

Northern Pacific Tree Frog (Photo: R.Moore)

Amphibian: Includes Frogs, toads, newts and salamanders. Amphibians are cold-blooded creatures, meaning they do not create their own body heat and are strongly affected by the temperature of their environment. Most Amphibians start their life in freshwater habitats and migrate to forests. They also breathe through their permeable skin, making them very sensitive to environmental toxins thus acting as important ecological indicators.

My friend Colleen and I met Dr. Barb Beasley on the side of the road, just as you enter Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.  It was awesome to meet Barb--she is extremely knowledgeable and willing to share endless information about the changing ecology of the area, and how we as humans are impacting amphibians.

Amphibians are incredibly important creatures but are often overlooked or under appreciated because of their slimy appearance and elusive lifestyles. Their physical characteristics, including temperature and moisture sensitivity, and susceptibility to pollution allows them to act as the “canary in the coal mine” for many ecosystems such as wetlands and forests. A forest with a diversity and abundance of salamanders signals good health. Correspondingly, population declines are an important indication of environmental change such as temperature change or pollution.

The mission of the Association of Wetland Stewards of Clayquot and Barkley Sounds is to monitor amphibian populations and try to reduce mortality of these essential species. Colleen and I were meeting Barb to help her repair some amphibian fencing that has been installed along the road around a major amphibian crossing area. The fence is situated in such a way that channels the migrating critters safely through an underground culvert rather than across the busy highway where they would undoubtedly get hit by cars. The wildlife cameras installed by Barb and her team have caught not only amphibians using the culvert, but also small mammals and even a mother bear and her cubs!

Before we started repairing the fence, we hiked to a 4 ha breeding pond called Swan Lake to check water levels and monitor any amphibian activity. We found a red-legged frog and multiple tree frogs, which Barb explained, are becoming increasingly threatened not only from the changing environment but also the invasive American Bull Frog which preys on them. Luckily, the Bull Frog hasn’t seemed to have reached Swan Lake, which is also too shallow for fish—acting as a predator-free oasis for salamanders, frogs, and toads. 

  Barb and Colleen hard at work sewing together pieces of the fence (photo: R.Moore)

 Barb and Colleen hard at work sewing together pieces of the fence (photo: R.Moore)

Because of this special amphibian oasis, it’s critical to protect such a significant population of native species. Barb and her team also perform SPLAT surveys (road mortality) as well as annual counts of egg masses to monitor population health of frogs and salamanders. It was really great to learn about all the work going into understanding and protecting these species while we were repairing the fence during the day. The great thing about volunteering is the amount you learn in a very short period of time! The recent success of the amphibian fence and ongoing monitoring of populations within the area has made me optimistic that these important creatures still have a fighting chance in this ever-changing world.

If you want to stay updated on the work of the Association of Wetland Stewards of Clayquot and Barkley Sounds, or want to support their work through donating, please visit their blog at http://splatfrogtunnel.blogspot.ca/

Happy Trails,

Rhiannon 

 Amphibian fence repair (photo: B. Beasley)

Amphibian fence repair (photo: B. Beasley)

Nobody reads blogs.

 

Well, that’s not really true. But this was my first thought when people suggested starting a blog. It’s likely that you’ve read a lot of blog posts without realizing it, thinking they were news articles or informative web pages! Blogs can be incredibly useful for summarizing one’s work whether it be research, poetry, photography, or travel. My aim is to use my blog as a way to keep you, the reader, informed and genuinely interested in the work I am doing. I also think it will be useful for me as a way of keeping track of my achievements and ongoing projects, as well as Environmental Organizations or other professionals that might be interested in working with me.

If you are new to Tea House Studios and unfamiliar with my work, I am an artist and conservation professional. I combine these two passions together to create environmentally themed art. In December of 2014, I launched my own website to showcase and sell my artwork in the form of originals and affordable fine art prints. I wanted to do more than simply raise awareness for environmental issues, I wanted to raise money for them. Working at the rare Charitable Research Reserve, an environmental non-profit organization within Southern Ontario made me realize how much donations are valued and in some cases depended on in order to operate and protect sensitive habitats. These habitats that organizations work hard to protect and restore are critical for animal survival, water protection, and maintaining good air quality.  When you make a purchase on my website, your money is sent directly to me and I send 20% of it directly to an environmental organization. They put your money towards their operations and programs (protection, restoration, research, education) and everybody wins.

So that’s a short summary of my business, and my first out of many blog posts. I promise to keep them short, easy to understand and interesting, and I value any feedback or topic suggestions from you. I truly hope you keep reading about what I’m up to, comment on my posts, share my work with friends, and join me in making a better future for ourselves and those that follow.

Happy Trails,

Rhiannon 

 Selling my work at the 2015 Guelph Ecomarket 

Selling my work at the 2015 Guelph Ecomarket