The PSF Citizen Science program began in 2015 as a partnership between the Pacific Salmon Foundation, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Ocean Networks Canada (ONC). The brainchild of Dr. Eddy Carmack – a retired scientist from the Institute of Ocean Sciences, DFO – it involves volunteers using a “mosquito fleet” of their own fishing vessels to do oceanographic surveys in ten overlapping areas of the Strait of Georgia approximately every two weeks.
An instrument is lowered through the water to collect and store electronic measurements of conductivity, temperature and depth (CTD). Conductivity values can be used to calculate salinity. Two auxiliary sensors are also used to measure fluorescence (an indicator of plankton productivity and algal growth) and oxygen content (which helps trace the movement and flushing of water). All this information is then transmitted using a custom designed smart phone application and uploaded to an oceanographic data management system (at the University of Victoria), where the data are checked and then archived. The data are freely available to anyone once they have been verified and archived.
Four other elements of the work are done by hand to assess water quality. Water samples are taken for nutrient analysis, phytoplankton and zooplankton samples are collected, and turbidity is measured. Nutrients can be limiting factors in plankton growth, while low turbidity is an indicator of healthy water. Plankton is analyzed for occurrence of harmful algae blooms, as well as the nature of the base of the food chain for salmon.
In one day, these citizen scientists collect data and water samples from more than 100 sites with automatic transmission of the data via a mobile app called Community Fishers. The app, developed by ONC, allows fishers and volunteer citizens to upload the oceanographic data to ONC’s world-leading data management system, Oceans 2.0. From there, the data are archived, processed and visualized for scientists and the public around the world. All the data are ultimately stored in the PSF-UBC Strait of Georgia Data Centre, where they are freely available to the public. The Data Centre also creates outreach products about these data, some examples include: a story map https://arcg.is/0KXDjq; maps of harmful algae distribution https://arcg.is/enDKG, a complete digital Atlas that was developed by Dr. Rich Pawlowicz and students at UBC, hosted on the Data Centre https://sogdatacentre.ca/atlas/ and several newsletters (sent as attachments).
Why it’s important
Collecting oceanographic measurements this way allows us to be “everywhere at once” (well within a day at least) and make accurate, consistent data comparisons like never before. Dedicated and trained local citizens are also significant in this era of over-committed staff and shrinking budgets. Finally, the data will help us better understand what is impacting the survival of Pacific salmon in our local waters.
This collaborative program is now continuing for a 7th year, providing oceanographic information at a temporal and spatial scale not achievable with large traditional research vessels. The data collected are allowing us to assess annual variation in physical/chemical oceanography, develop ecosystem models, validate satellite imagery, and understand spatial and temporal changes in productivity of the Strait of Georgia.