Volunteers in the mist

September 7, 2017

"The Corangamite CMA works effectively with newer learners and older hands—committed and expert people who want to make a difference to the environment" Peter Symes, Corangamite CMA work placement.

It was a chilly start in the misty surrounds of Barwon Heads, but this was readily forgotten by the warmth and enthusiastic spirit of the Barwon River EstuaryWatch team. Ros, Philip, Paul, Jenny and Hugh. While from diverse backgrounds, these people provided considerable expertise from within the fields of geology and forestry. However, it is not scientific training alone that qualifies you for this work. I was impressed with the understanding of water quality issues shown by all members of the team and that is what ultimately makes great teams—rich diversity in common purpose.

Joining our venture to delve into the mysteries of the Barwon River estuary was a student group Melissa, Ayali, Athulya and Jane from Deakin University. These students are also helping the Corangamite CMA through developing citizen science-based monitoring guidelines for measuring chlorophyll (the green stuff found in algae and plants) in estuaries and other waterways.

At first, the EstuaryWatch team ran through the important steps of checking and calibrating the equipment against rigorous standards before it could be used. Here again, it was fascinating to observe their skills and willingness to explain the techniques to the students   These quality checks are to ensure accurate measurements of the water quality of today—not last week’s muddy low tide!

There were three sites measured on this morning. Measurements were taken at various depths for levels of dissolved oxygen, electrical conductivity (saltiness of the water), temperature, pH and turbidity (cloudiness of the water). The students and volunteers worked together to get the results. It was pleasing to observe that the students felt comfortable enough with their hosts to offer suggestions for improvements to techniques and to see sharing of skills amongst younger and older alike.
For the last measurement site of the morning, we had a picket of fishing lines wielded by eager fishers on the landing. This might have resulted in some terse words against us accessing the water with all the equipment that was in tow and possibly scaring any fish away. At this point, the EstuaryWatch team demonstrated they had much more than technical skills in their pocket and took the opportunity to tell the story of what they were doing and how it was important. The fishers were then very willing to show flexibility and allow the sampling to go readily ahead. Sampling completed—big tick; community engagement with another group of people—even bigger tick!

Overall, the Barwon River Estuary was given a clean bill of health for the day! However, without this dedicated and regular water monitoring, it could be easy to miss longer term changes or trends in water quality and subsequently miss the big picture.

I pondered that we can readily overlook the important and often vital contributions that volunteers such as EstuaryWatch unreservedly make to our community. Yet, there are dedicated individuals and teams out there often quietly going about their business and making a real difference to environmental health and the quality of our life.  Next time your enjoying an estuary or waterway,  think of the ‘Volunteers in the Mist’ and others like them—possibly unnoticed but not forgotten.

Even better, join in with  EstuaryWatch or WaterWatch and find out how great it is for yourself!

Big Thank you to Peter Symes for preparing this article as part of his work placement at the the Corangamite CMA.

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