Informing the Public and Advancing Research: The Crucial Value of CLWA Citizen Science

If you participate in or follow the programs led by the Aquatic Citizen Science Committee, you have undoubtedly heard us use the phrase “eyes on the lake.” Those “eyes” refer to the nearly 80 volunteers CLWA relies on each year to crowdsource data collection to help us better understand and document trends in the water quality and watershed environment of Canandaigua Lake and advance research in cyanoHABS. Our Aquatic Citizen Science efforts are divided into two distinct groups of programs, namely our annually recurring programs and our research-directed projects.

The strength of our annually recurring programs, such as the Volunteer CyanoHAB Shoreline Monitoring, the Secchi Disk program, the CSLAP (Citizen Statewide Lake Assessment Program), and the new Temperature at Depth program allow us to provide timely public notification of lake conditions to our membership and the greater public, and build robust data sets. Though these data sets are frequently used by the NYSDEC and the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Council they are also shared and valued by researchers. Just this past year our 10-year Secchi disk data set was used by academic and commercial researchers to “ground truth” satellite measurements in the evolving field of remote sensing for monitoring and predicting cyanoHABS and potentially quantifying nutrient loading after a storm event.

What you may not have considered, is that our robust volunteer network also attracts researchers to do projects on our lake. By utilizing volunteers for sample and data collection, more frequent and spatially diverse data can be collected to support a research project. Volunteers can react in a more timely manner to current lake conditions than otherwise available to a researcher. The more volunteers that are engaged, the more data is collected and in this way, our volunteers become the scientists’ “eyes on the lake.” This depth of data collection is crucial in furthering researchers’ understanding of the drivers of cyanoHABS production within the complex ecosystem of our lake. The dedication of our volunteers puts us in this unique and fortunate position!

The focus of this newsletter is an in-depth look at our annually recurring programs with summaries provided by the Aquatic Citizen Science Committee members who help lead each program. A future newsletter will provide an in-depth look at the research-directed projects listed below.

The research-directed projects that the Aquatic Citizen Science Committee leads include:

  • Temporal and Spatial Assessment of Cyanobacterial Morphotypes. Partner- Dr. Greg Boyer, SUNY-ESF (6 volunteers performing 31 weeks of sampling and ioLight microscope imaging per year for three years)
  • E. Coli Stream Sampling. Partner – Community Science Institute (3 volunteers sampling 6+ streams and swim beaches, 44 samples tested, one round remaining)
  • Stream Sampling of “HABs Hotspots”. Partner- Patricia Rockwell, FLCC (3 volunteers sampling 6 streams for nutrients, 4 times)
  • Comprehensive Monitoring of Harmful Algal Blooms via Molecular Tools and Remote Sensing. Partners- Dr. Lisa Cleckner, FLI and Dr. Ruth Richardson, Cornell (4 volunteers took weekly integrated water column samples (2) for 16 consecutive weeks in 2021 and 2 volunteers took daily integrated samples (2) for a total of 40 and 26 days, respectively in 2022)

We would like to thank all the volunteers that support our efforts, but especially the Aquatic Citizen Science Committee members who not only volunteer but actively lead each of these programs and CLWA staff who support us. This includes Susan Carpenter, Ted Carman, Dee Crofton, Nadia Harvieux, Lynn Klotz, Marty Lasher, Sally Napolitano, Joel Pasternack, and Lynn Thurston.

By Sally Napolitano, CLWA board Member, Chair of the aquatic citizen science committee