Picture this: A sunny day at the beach. Having a picnic along a shady shoreline. Paddling a peaceful river. Feeling the tug on your fishing pole.
Clean water is essential to outdoor recreation, but too often this is taken for granted. Forty years ago, our rivers were much different for fishing, swimming and drinking than they are today. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community — sometimes an international community — to be guardians of our natural resources. Working to reverse a century of environmental abuse, restoration projects are starting to pay off.
Restoration work doesn’t happen in a vacuum; you can’t separate impacts from human activity on our environment from the impact on families and communities. When we play in the water today, we drink the water tomorrow.
So often we hear, “Is my water safe to drink?” “Can I swim in the water?” and “Can I eat the fish?” One solution to finding these answers is to assess the health of the environment with citizen scientists. That’s you! Whether you prefer to be an armchair citizen scientist from the comfort of your home or prefer your feet in the water and hands in the dirt, volunteers and technology are integral to help us collect data that answers the question, “Do I live in a healthy watershed?”
We use plants and animals as bio-indicators to assess the quality of our environment. Some organisms are sensitive to pollution, so if pollutants are present, the organism may move on, may never return or even die. Different species have different levels of susceptibility to pollution, so we get an idea of water, soil and air quality by observing which species are present or absent.
We challenge you to act for the environment, whether you chose to stay home or participate with a group. From the field or from a device, citizen science activities look like counting monarchs, studying micro plastics pollution, inventorying endangered wildlife, picking up litter, searching for stone flies, building nest boxes, relocating protected mussels and removing invasive species. By tracking these bio-indicators, they tell us about the environment and how they’re responding to stress.
Organizations like ours use this data gathered from citizen scientists to guide management actions that help keep our water clean, rivers healthy, spaces green and trails accessible. Community science activities make a lasting impact!
Reach out and connect with an environmental nonprofit, a watershed organization, a conservation district or land conservancy near you. Most organizations don’t require a specific skillset, experience or training; a passionate individual is expertise enough! These organizations are doing real work, with real people, getting real results every day, but there is always more work to be done. They rely on a caring community to help enhance places for people, plants and wildlife.
Be the community. Take meaningful action to show your support for people and the planet. And turn your action into habits that last beyond Earth Day!
Sheri Faust is co-founder and president of Friends of the St. Clair River, which she has led from its grassroots start to becoming the largest environmental nonprofit along Michigan’s Thumb Coast.