Published: 12/1/2019 2:17:01 PM
Hancock’s Norway Pond Commission completed its first season of in-house cyanobacteria monitoring and analysis this year. Going forward, the group hopes to train other area citizen scientists on their monitoring methods while continuing to preserve Norway Pond’s quality through a deeper understanding of its ecology.
Previously, the group sent monthly water samples to the state for analysis through the Volunteer Lake Assessment Program, and usually wouldn’t receive test results until the fall. Now that the group is conducting their own biweekly analyses, “it’s bringing the scientific information closer to home,” member Tom Shevenell said. The information could help to predict a bloom of dangerous cyanobacteria species in advance, and the higher-quality data the Commission collects also contributes to crowdsourced regional water quality studies through the Cyanobacteria Monitoring Collaborative.
Shevenell said that every two weeks, two volunteers go out on the pond in a canoe to take water samples at the deepest part of the pond and off the docks by the beaches. They then analyze the aquatic life in the samples with a field fluorometer, which identifies aquatic species based on their pigments. They also view slides of water samples with a cyanoScope kit, basically “a microscope with a camera” that allows the volunteers to send images of the microscopic aquatic species in their samples to the cloud-based iNaturalist program, where experts help to identify them.
“Because we were monitoring, the cyanobacteria didn’t dare come out” this year, Shevenell joked. It’s been three years since Norway Pond’s last major cyanobacteria bloom, and Shevenell recalled an Old Home Day when a bloom of the potentially harmful algae required the Synchro Sisters to perform their annual show on the beach rather than in the water.
“It’s relatively inexpensive to do these kind of things,” Shevenell said of water quality analysis, but that many volunteers are intimidated at the prospect of using the equipment. He said his group wants to share their procedures with other potential citizen scientists “so when others want to work on their pond, they can have a training session.”
Shevenell said Norway Pond’s monitoring equipment was provided by the Harris Center, which he sees as the ideal regional hub for training citizen scientists and maintaining monitoring equipment. Members of the Norway Pond Commission will host a symposium at the Harris Center at the end of February to update the public on their findings and methods.
He said the symposium will also highlight the group’s analysis of a historical sediment core from the lake. Shevenell said the layers of sediment clearly reflect the impact of more than 250 years of intensive human activity around the pond, and demonstrate how the pond’s ecosystem continues to respond to those impacts. He said the Commission sees a thorough understanding of the pond’s natural history, and intensive, high quality monitoring of current water quality as necessary background in order to make the best decisions for managing the pond in the future.
Shevenell also said the public is invited to participate in a bioblitz on the pond next summer. A bioblitz is an intensive biological survey aimed at documenting every living species in an area, and Shevenell hopes the event will provide a detailed snapshot of the pond’s ecology, and identify any “canaries in the coalmine” that could indicate a future decline in the pond’s health. He said that ultimately, community curiosity and appreciation of the pond and its surrounding environment is one of the best investments in its future health.
The symposium at the Harris Center is scheduled for Feb. 29 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Shevenell said that being too busy isn’t an excuse, since it’s on a leap day). The bioblitz is scheduled July 12.