Cambridge Outdoors

playing, learning, and being outdoors in Cambridge, Mass.

A woman uses a long pole reaching from a bridge into the water on a snowy day.


A Victory for Clean Water: Citizen Science Data Leads to Change

The following news is reprinted with permission from the Mystic River Watershed Association:

For years, the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) and its volunteers have helped to document water pollution problems in the Town of Belmont. This week, that hard work paid off.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued an Administrative Order on Consent with the Town of Belmont over years of water quality damages. Over the next five years the town has agreed to make a significant investment in repairs to its storm water system, which is discharging pollutants, including human sewage, into waters of the Mystic River watershed. We congratulate Belmont on their commitment to improve water quality to tributaries to Alewife Brook.

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This is a success story for citizen science and for non-profit environmental collaboration with government agencies. Data acquired by MyRWA volunteers and shared with EPA was key to making progress. This has been a group effort—from the dozens of volunteer monitors who go out each month to collect samples, to the tireless work of others like Roger Frymire, who spent countless hours finding sources of pollution in the Alewife Brook area.

Since 2000, volunteers through the MyRWA’s Baseline Monitoring Program have generated water quality data that is shared with state and federal agencies. Each year the EPA in conjunction with MyRWA issues a water quality report card for the Mystic River watershed.
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The 2015 water quality report card for the Belmont area tells the story: Alewife Brook earned a D grade with 50% compliance with boating and swimming standards for bacteria; Little River a D- grade at 44% compliance; and Winn’s Brook an F grade at 33% compliance.

One powerful aspect of the Baseline Monitoring Program is that it is poised to document success as well as problems. As infrastructure repairs are made in Belmont, we fully expect these grades to improve. We look forward to documenting and celebrating water quality improvements to Alewife Brook, Little River, Winn’s Brook, Wellington Brook—and the Mystic River itself—over the next five years!

Congratulations and thanks to everyone who continues to work with us for protecting clean water.


Five Questions for Cambridge’s Monarch Nannies

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A family checks out the monarch butterflies still in their nursery boxes shortly before helping to escort them to the meadow for release on August 7.  Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.

Why are Monarch butterflies so special? We recently asked five questions of Martine Wong, Fresh Pond Reservation (FPR) Outreach & Volunteer Coordinator, and her Cambridge Mayor’s  Summer Youth Employment Program (MSYEP) intern, Shewit.  On August 6th and 7th, amidst some fanfare—kids and puppets—Martine, Shewit and other staff and volunteers released most of the butterflies that they had helped raise, under the auspices of the Water Department of the City of Cambridge, over the course of the summer.

1. Why is FPR raising butterflies for release?

Shewit: We raise Monarch butterflies every year to educate people about and show the life cycle of the butterflies and to teach the importance of milkweed to Cambridge residents so they might plant milkweed in their gardens. Milkweed is the only plant [Monarchs] lay their eggs on and eat when they are caterpillars. The Monarch butterfly is now in decline because of milkweed plants’ reduction by pesticides and because of using land for other purposes such as for pavement and farming.

Martine Wong, left, with volunteer Lisa and MSYEP intern Shewit, at the Monarch Release event at Lusitania Meadow, Fresh Pond Reservation.

Cambridge Water Dept. staffer Martine Wong (left) with volunteer Lisa Recolta (middle) and MSYEP intern Shewit Yitbarek (right), at the Monarch Release at Lusitania Meadow, Fresh Pond Reservation.Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.

Martine: There are several reasons we’re raising Monarch butterflies for release at Fresh Pond! We hope to teach people about the connection between shrinking butterfly populations and the importance of protecting wildlife habitat. We also want to show people that there are action steps they can take to protect them—you can plant milkweed and other native pollinator-friendly plants, and help to remove invasive plants such as Black Swallow-wort. Also, they are exquisitely beautiful and a joy to behold.

2. Once you received the larvae in the mail, up until this moment of releasing the full grown butterflies, what surprised you most about them?

Shewit: They eat a lot of milkweed leaves and they grow so fast.

3. If we want to help Monarchs live in our city as a whole, what can kids (and just anyone, for that matter) do to make it a welcoming place for them?

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Visitors to Fresh Pond Reservation this summer could view Monarchs at the Ranger Station, in various stages of their life cycle.

Shewit: To make a welcoming place for the Monarch butterfly is to plant enough milkweed plants in the garden, without pesticides. Once the butterfly lays her eggs, the caterpillar continues living upon the plant until it becomes a butterfly—there is no need to change things or worry about it. OR, If the person does not have garden they can raise them in the cage.

Martine: Monarch butterfly caterpillars exclusively eat milkweed – they truly depend on this plant for their survival. A sea of pesticide/herbicide-free milkweed plants for adults to lay eggs on and for caterpillars to eat would be a great welcome, along with planting native pollinator plants that can provide nectar for adult butterflies.

4. What did you learn from other Monarch projects in the United States?

Shewit: I learned some interesting facts, such as monarchs do not have eyelids and they can see UV lights. If the monarchs are in a cage, they need clean space and food because their waste is too much.

The adult Monarch in its new habitat at Lusitania Meadow, Cambridge

An adult Monarch butterfly raised in captivity by the Cambridge Water Department gets accustomed to its new surroundings. Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.

5. If we see a Monarch butterfly at Fresh Pond, will we know it’s one of the ones raised in captivity?

Martine: There’s no way of knowing if it’s one of ours! There are tagging programs for the purposes of learning more about their migration and biology. Perhaps we will try that out next year!

Monarchs are released from captivity by Cambridge's Monarch Nannies


The butterflies are released! Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Dept. Photo

More:

  • Find other resources about Monarch butterflies in general, and the Cambridge Water Department program in particular, on the Water Department’s Monarch Watch Page.
  • Read the Boston Globe’s coverage of the Cambridge Water Department Monarch Release on August 7, 2016.
  • Find out more about the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which partnered with more than 125 community organizations and city departments this year. Opportunities include many in sustainability and environmental fields, in addition to the internship offered at Fresh Pond Reservation and Alewife Reservation.

    Giant puppets of monarch and other butterflies (and a few moths) were part of the festivities and parade that escorted the butterflies to Lusitania Meadow at Fresh Pond Reservation, where they were released. Kim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.

    Giant puppets of monarch and other butterflies (and a moth or two) were part of the parade that escorted the Monarch butterflies to Lusitania Meadow at Fresh Pond Reservation, where they were released. The puppets were made by community members through the Cambridge Wildlife Puppetry ProjectKim Ahern/Cambridge Water Department Photo.


Summer Reading & The “I Wonder Circle”

I’ve been catching up with Sean Musselman’s blog about science education. (Clicking “follow” is so easy. Actually reading content, not so much. I’m repeatedly rediscovering bloggers in my network that are overdue for the harvest. Musselman’s blog is a case in point.)  His recent post about the use of texts in science classes is useful, including this:

The National Science Teacher Association’s Science and Children has been publishing a list of outstanding trade books for several
years now with connections to learning strands and activities to boot.

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This got me thinking about what’s all the rage in parent-school talk—summer slippage in skills development.

I’m going to check out some of the titles on these lists on our next trip to the library (off the bat: Leopard and Silkie, by Brenda Peterson, and Moonbird, by Phillip Hoose).   I’m also resolved to check my inbox more regularly for Sean’s posts.

Musselman also blogged recently about the “I Wonder Circle” and about the nature of inquiry in teaching elementary science. Those of us getting our toes wet in citizen science and OOST-based science may also find his posts on this subject useful.