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Posts Tagged ‘SEANET’

Saturday was my day to go walk the beach in Salisbury, MA and look for dead birds for the SEANET program. In summer, I gird my loins for a bad time on these walks, as the beach is buried under lolling, blubbery human forms and their mountains of plastic garbage. In winter, on the other hand, it’s usually mostly deserted, left to the lolling, blubbery harbor seals (a decidedly better aesthetic) and a few hardy dog walkers. The plastic garbage, of course, is always present.

Upon arriving on Saturday, however, I saw orange traffic cones and mile marking placards along the road in to the beach. “Oh god,” I groaned, “A freaking St. Patrick’s Day road race.” (My five year old was with me, and was the sole reason I refrained from saltier language.)

Watching the race start from a safe remove, on our way to walk the beach.

Watching the race start from a safe remove, on our way to walk the beach.

I am a runner, and these racers should, by rights, be my tribe. But as I drove along at a crawl, my silent Prius sneaking up behind oblivious girls tapping at their iPhones, I became more and more enraged. “Goddamnit! Get OUT of the ROAD, you idiot!” I screeched. Men in green tutus and women dressed as leprechauns drifted into the road, blocking my passage to the parking lot. I glared at volunteers arranging cups of water on tables, trying to hate them into oblivion. I was decidedly not a member of the running tribe. I was a driver, and I was being obstructed.

Once I finally parked, Malcolm and I stood for a while watching the leprechauns and green ballerinas warming up, and listening to the race director bellow instructions. All my driver’s rage melted away. We watched the start of the race, the runners high-fiving the director as he yelled, “Way to be healthy! Way to get out of bed and do the right thing for your body!” (nevermind that the race ended with a pub crawl) and I was touched. It was a weird and beautiful sight–a few dozen green clad  weirdos running to justify a late morning beer or two.

I am as prone as anyone to the egocentric “don’t they understand that I am doing something important?!” sensation. It’s worst in the cocoon of a car. Once out of that, and on my way to a leisurely walk on a deserted beach, my fellow-feeling and goodwill began to creep back in. Only when back on foot did I recognize my tribe again, and understood that they, too, were doing something important. It’s maybe just the tutus that obscured it.

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I suppose he just wanted to join the loons.

I suppose he just wanted to join the loons.

On Saturday we drove to Salisbury Beach State Reservation. We dropped off Christophe so he could commence his 17 mile run home, and the remaining three of us went out to walk the beach. We go outside a lot, in any weather, but our ventures to Salisbury are generally for the purpose of documenting dead birds for the SEANET program. This means a 1.5 mile round trip, and, when in the company of two young boys, about an hour and a half.

I was poking about in the piles of wrack and discarded plastic while the boys dug holes and inspected crab carapaces. Suddenly, I heard Simon howling. I turned around to see him nearly up to his knees in the water. His face was contorted with  shock and pain and he appeared paralyzed by the full force of the north Atlantic in winter. I hauled him up onto the sand and stared into his face asking, “Why? Simon, WHY did you do that?” I felt for the boy, of course, but my bewilderment was extreme. What had possessed him to blithely stride into 35 degree water? “Simon, you could die out here doing that!” I said. This was patently ridiculous, since the car was within sight, but I do try to instill general wilderness survival principles whenever I can. Malcolm offered his input: “It’s not the cold, Simon. It’s being wet.”

Pilfered socks and a snack.

Pilfered socks and a snack.

We still had most of our SEANET walk ahead of us, and I sat next to Simon deciding what to do. There was no wind, and it was pretty warm at 37 degrees. He just needed to have dry feet. “OK Simon. I’ll give you my socks.” Simon looked suddenly delighted. The boys are obsessed with my socks and they raid my sock drawer almost daily. I was beginning to think this ocean immersion was planned.

I took off my boots and stripped my thick wool socks off. On his reddened, clammy feet, they reached up to his knees. He was clearly relieved. But what to do about his sodden shoes, which would instantly soak through the socks? Yankee ingenuity. I had a couple grocery bags and I tore one into two pieces. These I placed over the socks and then put the water-logged sneakers over them.

Bag socks: an innovation

Bag socks: an innovation

We made it through the walk and even, at its southern terminus, found an extensively scavenged Canada Goose corpse. My own feet stayed quite warm in my serious winter boots, so it was no real sacrifice. After all, I would freeze to death myself if it would save him. But he doesn’t need to know that. Otherwise, my sock drawer will never be safe.

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As the Director of a volunteer based citizen science project, I have been most gratified to see the status of programs like mine rise in recent years. Data collected by average people used to be largely dismissed as unreliable junk science. Fortunately, scientists seem to be gradually relinquishing this snobbery and finding uses for projects that used to be relegated to the sidelines. My project, the Seabird Ecological Assessment Network (SEANET) is among the more rigorous programs out there, requiring regular trips to a designated beach year-round, and further requiring the handling of seabird carcasses in various phases of decomposition. We are always on the lookout for volunteers, so if you live anywhere near the Atlantic from Maine to Florida, we’ll take you.

If dead birds aren’t your thing, or if SEANET is too demanding, there are new citizen science opportunities cropping up all the time, many requiring nothing beyond sitting in a recliner near a window. Here are a few CitSci programs of variable commitment and grossness levels, though I admit, I have a bias toward programs surveying dead wild things. You will note this slant in the list below, which builds from low commitment and low grossness up to higher commitment and grossness levels.

“If I don’t make it across this road, will you report me to the ASC Roadkill Survey for science?” (photo by Sarah Courchesne–I’m proud of this one)

1. Project Noah. I have mentioned this one in a previous post, but I like it. You can post pics of insects, plants or anything else you want identified from time to time, or you can record regular observations. You can also join “Missions” that range from Schoolyard BioBlitzes for teachers and students, to Urban Biodiversity Surveys for city dwellers spotting organisms on the way to work.

2. eBird. This one is similar to Project Noah in its customizable commitment levels. You can report a one-time sighting of a Bald Eagle that flew over your car, or you can report all the birds you see when walking a set route through a state park every week. eBird particularly values this latter kind of reporting, but they will take your one-off birds as well. Their website has some great mapping functions and data tools so you can explore what other people are seeing.

3. Wildlife Health Event Reporter. Another low commitment option. With this site, you can report any number of sick or dead wild creatures anywhere in the world. Scientists can dip into this wide-ranging data set and monitor for the early stages of wildlife die-offs. From a single chipmunk killed by a cat, to many pelicans washed up on the beach, WHER will take it.

4. ASC Roadkill Observations. Part of the iNaturalist family of projects, and many of them are not as gruesome. But my biking, walking and running friends may welcome the opportunity to report all those squashed snakes, squirrels and opossums that we’re always dodging. You may ask, “Why roadkill? That’s pretty morbid,” and it is. But by knowing where and what species are crossing (and dying), scientists and engineers can focus their efforts both before roads are constructed, or after, by siting things like wildlife bridges and tunnels where they will make the most difference.

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