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Mystic River Herring Education Project

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Natural beauty is not out of reach even in the most urban of spaces. The Mystic River Watershed is the most populated watershed in Massachusetts, with 7% of the MA population living on 1% of its land. Extending from Cambridge north to Arlington and Winchester, the story of the Mystic River is one of extensive industrialization. Decades ago, locals built dams to power mills. These dams interrupt habitat and make it difficult for herring to move upstream. Due to these dams as well as over-fishing, the herring population declined from seventy million in the mid-1950s to two hundred thousand in 2012.

A view of the dam between the Upper and Lower Mystic Lakes.

A view of the dam between the Upper and Lower Mystic Lakes.

Herring is an anadromous fish, meaning it can survive in both fresh and salt-water. Each summer, a population of herring loyal to the Mystic return from the Boston harbor up the Mystic to breed. At the age of three or four, herring reach reproductive maturity and each individual breeds near the spot where it was born. With more river area available to them, herring populations increase significantly; however, the industrial dams along the Mystic River have been limiting the amount of river available to the local herring population.

The Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA), based in Arlington, Massachusetts, has been advocating for and running a unique citizen science project to protect herring populations. After the construction of a fish ladder on the dam between the Upper and Lower Mystic Lakes in 2012, volunteers have been signing up to count herring.

A view of the fish ladder from the inside. The incremental steps allow fish to travel through what would otherwise be too steep an incline.

A view of the fish ladder from the inside. The incremental steps allow fish to travel through what would otherwise be too steep an incline.

In addition to raising awareness and increasing environmental literacy, these citizen efforts have helped discover new knowledge about the local herring migration, as well as successfully proven the fish ladder’s success, which in turn led to the addition of another fish ladder further upstream in Winchester in 2018. The fish ladder allows fish to pass by the dam, using incremental steps to help them swim up what would otherwise be too steep an incline. This opens up area that they previously could not reach, which allows the herring more space to breed. When the population born in 2012 reached maturity in 2015 and 2016, the herring population loyal to the Mystic River tripled!

It takes a team to set up the equipment necessary for the fish ladder to work!

It takes a team to set up the equipment necessary for the fish ladder to work!

The combination of online and in-person counting allows opportunities of varying time commitments for anyone who wants to become involved in MyRWA’s herring count. An underwater camera displays randomly selected videos to online citizen scientists, in addition to the data gathered at the dam itself. Caitlin Pohl, through her time counting herring at the ladder, has come to appreciate that “although I live in an urban area, there is bountiful wildlife and scenic green space within reach.” During her time at the dam, she has been excited to spot other local species, such as great blue herons and bald eagles.

Citizen scientists sitting on top of the fish ladder. This is where dedicated community members come to count the herring that swim by.

Citizen scientists sitting on top of the fish ladder. This is where dedicated community members come to count the herring that swim by.

Margaret McCandless, a dedicated citizen scientist at the top of the online leaderboard, enjoys that she can be “engaged without driving an hour to get to the Mystic River area” and thinks that the leaderboard “fires up my imagination, wondering who those other counting-folks are and whether they want to be Number One.”

MyRWA also runs one-time data sprints where citizen scientists participate in online counting as a group. During one such event at Brandeis University, students counted 680 videos captured between 7 pm and 7 am, the night-time window not usually shown to online counters. After this event, MyRWA was able to conclude that nearly 20% of the total herring run in previously uncounted nighttime hours! Each online count, even for videos with no fish, provides MyRWA with exciting and valuable information about the local herring population in ways that will help restructure this citizen science project for the future.

Find MyRWA on SciStarter today.

All article images provided by Danielle Davidoff.

Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!


danielle davidoffAbout the Author

Danielle Davidoff

Danielle Davidoff is a senior at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA with a major in Environmental Studies and a minor in English. She acts as an Undergraduate Departmental Representative for Environmental Studies and a member of the Brandeis Senate Sustainability Committee. In the summer of 2018, she interned for the Mystic River Watershed Association. In addition to being outside, she enjoys reading and spending time with family.

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Ecology

Today’s letters: ‘Visionary’ plans don’t always work in Ottawa

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The opinion piece written by Tobi Nussbaum, CEO of the NCC, declares that a “bold, visionary transit plan” would showcase the capital.

As a long-term resident of Ottawa, I’ve had it with visionary plans. In the 1950s, the streetcars serving Ottawa so well were sent to the scrapyards. In the early ’60s, Queensway construction bulldozed established neighbourhoods and ripped the city apart. Later in the decade, the downtown railway station, which could have formed the hub of a commuter network, was relocated to the suburbs. These actions, in the name of “progress,” were undertaken with the “vision” to make Ottawa a car-reliant city.

Now we have an LRT, built just in time for most people to realize that they do not have to go downtown as they can work from home.

Current thinking is pushing a new “link” between Ottawa and Gatineau, with yet more expensive and disruptive infrastructure projects being touted, including a tramway or another tunnel under the downtown core.

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Ecology

That was then: Biggest earthquake since 1653 rocked Ottawa in 1925

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A regular weekly look-back at some offbeat or interesting stories that have appeared in the Ottawa Citizen over its 175-year history. Today: The big one hits.

The Ottawa Senators were playing a Saturday night game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Auditorium, the score tied 0-0 halfway through the second period. Sens’ rookie Ed Gorman and the Habs’ Billy Boucher had just served penalties for a dustup when the building began to make “ominous creaking sounds.” A window crashed to the ground.

Nearby, at Lisgar Collegiate, all eyes were on teenager Roxie Carrier, in the role of Donna Cyrilla in the musical comedy El Bandido. She had the stage to herself and was singing “Sometime” when the building rocked, the spotlight went out, and someone in the audience yelled “Fire!”

At a home on Carey Avenue, one woman’s normally relaxed cat suddenly arched its back, rushed around the room two or three times, spitting angrily, and climbed up the front-window curtains.

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Ecology

Ottawa delays small nuclear reactor plan as critics decry push for new reactors

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TORONTO — Canadians will have to wait a little while longer to see the federal government’s plan for the development of small nuclear reactors, seen by proponents as critical to the country’s fight against global warming.

Speaking at the opening of a two-day virtual international conference on Wednesday, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of natural resources said the plan will lay out key actions regarding the reactors. Its launch, Paul Lefebvre said, would come in the next few weeks.

“We’re still putting the finishing touches on it,” Lefebvre said. “The action plan is too important to be rushed.”

Small modular reactors — SMRs — are smaller in size and energy output than traditional nuclear power units, and more flexible in their deployment. While conventional reactors produce around 800 megawatts of power, SMRs can deliver up to 300 megawatts.

Proponents consider them ideal as both part of the regular electricity grid as well as for use in remote locations, including industrial sites and isolated northern communities. They could also play a role in the production of hydrogen and local heating.

“SMRs will allow us to take a bold step of meeting our goal of net-zero (emissions) by 2050 while creating good, middle class jobs and strengthening our competitive advantage,” said Lefebvre.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan had been scheduled to speak at the conference but did not due to a family emergency.

Industry critics were quick to pounce on the government’s expected SMR announcement. They called on Ottawa to halt its plans to fund the experimental technology.

While nuclear power generation produces no greenhouse gas emissions, a major problem facing the industry is its growing mound of radioactive waste. This week, the government embarked on a round of consultations about what do with the dangerous material.

Dozens of groups, including the NDP, Bloc Quebecois, Green Party and some Indigenous organizations, oppose the plan for developing small modular reactors. They want the government to fight climate change by investing more in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“We have options that are cheaper and safer and will be available quicker,” Richard Cannings, the NDP natural resources critic, said in a statement.

Lefebvre, however, said the global market for SMRs is expected to be worth between $150 billion and $300 billion a year by 2040. As one of the world’s largest producers of uranium, Canada has to be part of the wave both for economic and environmental reasons, he said.

“There’s a growing demand for smaller, simpler and affordable nuclear technology energy,” Lefebvre said.

Joe McBrearty, head of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, told the conference the company had signed a host agreement this week with Ottawa-based Global First Power for a demonstration SMR at its Chalk River campus in eastern Ontario. A demonstration reactor will allow for the assessment of the technology’s overall viability, he said.

“When talking about deploying a new technology like an SMR, building a demonstration unit is vital to the success of that process,” McBrearty said. “Most importantly, it allows the public to see the reactor, to kick the tires so to speak, and to have confidence in the safety of its operation.”

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