The Joy of Being a FLOW Citizen Scientist
By Judith Huck
For the last five years, I have enjoyed being a volunteer in the Amigos de Bolsa Chica FLOW program. This is a multi-faceted program, which includes sampling water from the ocean and the wetlands on a weekly basis, analyzing these samples, sending a sample to the California Department of Health, and conducting educational programs.
As a volunteer, I give my time to the organization. In return, I receive so much more. I have learned about the importance of our coastal resources and how they benefit us and our environment. I have learned why preserving these resources is so important to us, and how I can play a part in this preservation. I have also connected with an amazing band of people who are working to keep our resources safe and secure for us and for our descendants.
One of the components of the FLOW program is to put the water sample under the microscope to look for plankton. We are mainly interested in phytoplankton, which are single-cell plantlike organisms. They are crucial for many reasons. For one thing, they sit at the bottom of the food chain. Just about every other organism in a water environment can trace their food source back to phytoplankton. Another important function of phytoplankton (as well as of plants) is their metabolism. They use carbon dioxide, nutrients, and energy from the sun to create the products they need to carry on their life. As a result of this metabolic cycle, they emit oxygen. Animals (yes, that includes humans) take on oxygen to fuel their metabolic cycle and emit carbon dioxide. What a lovely partnership! At least fifty percent of the oxygen in the air we breathe is generated by the metabolic process of the phytoplankton in the ocean. So, without these little critters we don’t eat or breathe very well.
We put these samples under the microscope with great anticipation. We are hoping for a variety of phytoplankton to identify. Sometimes the sample is pretty sparse if nutrients are in short supply or predators are in great supply. At other times, it looks like the phytoplankton are having a party! This is the sample we would especially like to see if we have a class of students coming in to learn about the ocean and wetlands. On February 22 we had such a class and were treated to a real wealth of phytoplankton. The photos here of this great sample demonstrate the basis of the amazing biological productivity in the waters at Bolsa Chica.