Protecting and Restoring the Morro Bay Estuary.

Bioassessment 2020: Highlights from the Season

Bioassessment 2020: Highlights from the Season

Giant Water Bugs, also known as “Toe-Biters,” are large invertebrate predators with a powerful bite! Females typically deposit their eggs onto the males’ back, and the male “Toe-Biter” keeps the eggs safe until they hatch.

 

As many of our readers and volunteers know, our spring bioassessment season is one of the major monitoring efforts of the year. We use a state-wide protocol that includes detailed habitat measurements and macroinvertebrate collection to assess creek health.

Volunteers are an integral part of this effort. Our volunteers come to us from all walks of life, from seniors to college students and everything in between. We kick off the season with an orientation, and then volunteers join us on our surveys. Each season we usually have about 20 volunteers helping us monitor ten sites, collecting over 1,000 data points per site.

Staff and volunteers collecting habitat data in 2019.

Staff and volunteers collecting habitat data back in 2019.

Spring 2020: a Season of Change

 This past spring, we’d already begun planning our monitoring season when the stay-at-home order began, bringing big changes to our day-to-day operations. To keep our volunteers safe and healthy, the Estuary Program would have to find a different approach for the 2020 bioassessment season. After much thought, a field season was planned for three staff members using social distancing, facial coverings, frequent sanitization, and other protocols recommended by the CDC. We skipped sites where it wasn’t possible to maintain adequate social distancing.

Blake scrubs the rocks and stirs up the bottom of the creek in the area in front of the D-frame kick net to collect a macroinvertebrate sample, all the while maintaining social distance and wearing a mask.

Blake scrubs the rocks and stirs up the bottom of the creek in the area in front of the D-frame kick net to collect a macroinvertebrate sample, all the while maintaining social distance and wearing a mask.

Although in an average year we survey ten sites, in 2020 we were only able to survey seven sites. While we are used to the challenges of debris jams, poison oak and stinging nettle, we had the added challenges of maintaining physical distancing in narrow stream beds while completing detailed surveys using  fewer people than normal. This took careful planning (and plenty of coffee!), but the 2020 season was a success.

It took a bit to adjust to wearing facial coverings in the field, but we discovered some unexpected advantages! On this survey in Los Osos Creek, masks protected half of our faces from surprise encounters with poison oak.

It took a bit to adjust to wearing facial coverings in the field, but we discovered some unexpected advantages! On this survey in Los Osos Creek, masks protected half of our faces from surprise encounters with poison oak.

What did we catch in our net?

One of the most fun parts of the surveys is poking around in the net to see what’s living in the creek. Here are some of the notable invertebrates that we encountered this year.

Giant Water Bugs, also known as “Toe-Biters,” are large invertebrate predators with a powerful bite! Females typically deposit their eggs onto the males’ back, and the male “Toe-Biter” keeps the eggs safe until they hatch.

Giant Water Bugs, also known as “Toe-Biters,” are large invertebrate predators with a powerful bite! Females typically deposit their eggs onto the males’ back, and the male “Toe-Biter” keeps the eggs safe until they hatch.

Caddisfly on big rock

It’s always fun to flip over rocks to see what’s hiding out. At first glance, one might think this is just a small piece of wood on a rock. This is actually a case-building caddisfly. The materials a caddisfly uses to build its case can help identify the type of caddisfly. This one primarily used bits of wood to create its casing. If you want to learn more about this fascinating macroinvertebrate, check out this video from KQED’s Deep Look.

damselfly

We encountered many adult damselflies on a survey on Chorro Creek. Most damselflies lay their eggs in freshwater, and we find their larvae in many of our samples. It is common to misclassify damselflies as dragonflies, and although they are related, they are actually quite different. Adult damselflies at rest hold their wings above their bodies, rather than spread out at the sides like dragonflies do.

The macroinvertebrate samples were preserved and shipped to a taxonomy lab to be sorted, counted, and identified. The data will be available later this year, so keep an eye out for more details on what we learned from the 2020 effort.

While we are always excited to get out into our creeks, we doubly appreciated it this year. The surveys were a chance for us to venture out of our makeshift home offices and served as a good reminder of why we do the work that we do.

While we are always excited to get out into our creeks, we doubly appreciated it this year. The surveys were a chance for us to venture out of our makeshift home offices and served as a good reminder of why we do the work that we do.

A big thank you to the Miossi Trust

The Harold J. Miossi Charitable Trust has been a long-time partner in the Estuary Program’s bioassessment monitoring, providing a total of $72,150 to support seven seasons of the effort. This high quality, long-running data set would not be possible without the generous contribution of the Miossi Trust.

A goal of the Miossi Trust is to provide educational opportunities, in particular in environmental education. Our team of dedicated volunteers typically contributes a few hundred hours each spring for bioassessment. This volunteer opportunity provides technical experience in a real-world monitoring skill. For many of our volunteers, bioassessment serves as their first encounter with fieldwork. Students in particular find the experience allows them to take knowledge gained in the classroom and apply it in real life. While both we and the Trust were disappointed that volunteers could not be involved this year, we can’t wait to welcome our volunteers back in the spring for the 2021 season.

What you can do

While we consider the 2020 season to be a success as far as the collection data, we missed our volunteers! We’ve been doing this monitoring for nearly 20 years now, so the 2020 season really emphasized the impact of volunteers. We can attest that not only do many hands lighten the load, but volunteers also bring a sense of excitement and wonder that enhances the experience for those who have done the work for many years.

Although this volunteer opportunity was not possible for the 2020 season, we highly encourage our readers, on-going volunteers, and prospective future volunteers to be active in other ways. Whether it’s through socially distanced trash clean-ups, sharing social media posts, educating yourself and others about environmental issues, or even just staying up to date with environmental organizations—your advocacy and support is still vital.


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