Bio means life. Bioassesment means the study of life and living organisms--and we're full force with our bioassessment program in San Diego County. Bioassesment helps us understand the health of a lake, river, stream or ocean by looking at the organisms that survive there. Scientists have used many different organisms to test water quality; including, mussels, fish, and our favorite, insects.
Insects represent the majority of living creatures. In fact, there are more than a million species of insects. And they are found in many different places because they can survive in a wide diversity of habitats. Insects have special body parts that help them to survive. They all have a segmented body including head, thorax and abdomen. Some can fly, some can swim, and some can fit between very small crevices. These are just some examples of the eccentricities that help these clever creatures survive. Some of them eat live plants and animals, while others prefer their food dead. Some like to decorate themselves to blend in or have an extra "cover" for protection.
Why are there so many insects? What can their presence or absence tell us about the health of a stream? These are questions that can be answered when we pay attention to these incredible creatures.
Why do we study the insects in our streams, creeks and rivers?
Some of the insects can live only in very high water quality, while others can live in fair or poor water quality. This means, the insects that you find tell you if the waters are fair, poor or high water quality.
How do we know if the presence of certain insects indicates good water quality? The insects are classified by their tolerance to certain water conditions. Insects with a low tolerance (0-3) are considered to be very sensitive to decreased water quality.
Insects with a high tolerance (6-10) are considered insensitive to decreased water quality. So if you can find bugs with low tolerance in your streams that's very good news!
Who are the usual suspects of fair or poor quality?
- Syrphidae “Hoverflies” - 10
Who are the bugs that like high water quality?
- Chloroperlidae "Stoneflies" - 0-1
- Leuctridae "rolled-winged stoneflies" - 0
- Glossosomatidae "caddisflies" - 0-2
- Odontoceridae "Mortarjoint casemakers" - 0
What is the educational value of bioassessments?
Students can use several field guides to identify the insects and other creatures in their waters and relate their presence to water quality. Studies can range from basic identification to taxonomy, to collecting and identifying bugs. All of these activities are fairly easy and will teach students to use a key.
Students can examine the insect's mouth with a magnifying glass and infer to which functional feeding group the insect belongs. The students can then explore where the insect exists in the food web and what it needs to survive. For example, a shredder needs leaf material to fall into the stream and a grazer needs algae. Here is a helpful resource on functional feeding groups.
Zonation (Where does it live?)
Use location to answer questions about water quality. For example, where in the stream do you find certain species and is this related to certain water conditions (low oxygen, low pH, high temperature...)? This could work for both project based-learning and science fair projects.
English Language Arts and Arts & Crafts
Students can create their own bugs and tell their stories. What are the special body parts or behaviour "adaptations" that help them survive?
Volunteer with scientist groups or participate in International Rock Flipping Day, on Sunday, September 9.
More Resources and a very big THANK YOU to the California Digital Reference Collection for the rights to use their photos in our blog.
High Tech High Blog Series: Blog 6 of 7
What comes to mind when you read the word “fertilizer?” Lawns? Farms? Family garden projects? What about water pollution and dead zones?
It’s hard to believe a substance famous for helping plants flourish in one environment can destroy other environments only a few miles away in our lakes, rivers and ocean.
Fertilizers are made up of mostly nitrogen and phosphorus which, when applied sparingly and responsibly, can create a healthy, strong plant. But when overuse and over watering cause these compounds to flow into other areas, they cause aquatic plants to grow out of control and overrun their delicate ecosystems.
This is Where YOU Come In.
Yes, YOU and everyone with a lawn or garden can help end fertilizer pollution. It takes a lot of work to keep nonnative plants alive in Southern California, because those plants natively thrived in a much wetter, more fertile environment. Instead of breaking out the hose and fertilizer spreader, consider the many beautiful and delicate native plants that love the Southern California heat.
These plants love the San Diego climate as much as you do:
- Miniature Hollyhock - White Sage
- California Lilac - Wooly Blue Curls
- Manzanita - Desert Mallow
- Baby Blue Eyes - Ian Bush
And many more native plants.
If you can’t bear to part with your beautiful garden, try a natural fertilizer like recycled coffee grounds (free from Starbucks!) before you heap on the chemicals. Remember, there’s always a natural alternative. You just have to be willing to find it.
Heavy metal contamination can come from a variety of sources: the paint on boats, zinc in your tires, etc. Heavy metals contaminate the water and settle along the ocean floor where bottom feeders tend to feed. Though only small amounts of metal is consumed, when larger fish that are higher up in the food chain eat the bottom feeders, a higher concentration of the toxin is then present in their body. This is chain reaction is called biomagnification. Since humans are the top on the food chain, humans are also affected by biomagnification, making it a subtle yet dangerous problem.
High Tech High Blog Series: Blog 4 of 7
How We Contribute to the Problem
We are the problem.
The county outputs 175 million gallons of sewage every day through the Wastewater Treatment Plant on the end of Point Loma. The waste travels out a 4.5-mile tank and is dumped through a 12 ft. diameter pipe into deep ocean water. This is problematic because many believe the pollutants dumped along with this waste are harmful to the environment.
The amount of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) introduced to our environment is a leading cause of concern. With the amount of individuals taking prescription and non-prescription drugs on the rise, scientists fear an increase in bacterial resistance.
Medicine Can Be Toxic?
Additionally, the increase in the use of birth control, which is among these medications that are not regulated and enters our sewage system at 90 percent effectiveness, is responsible for disrupting our endocrine hormones inducing things like breast cancer, endometriosis, birth defects, abnormal sexual development, lowered sperm counts. There have also been world-wide accounts of the feminization of male fish near sewage treatment plants.
These untreated PPCPs travel through our sewage, surface and ground water, eventually affecting our drinking water and working their way up the food chain through bio magnification.
Due to the population increase and a larger consumption of drugs per capita, PPCP use and therefore contamination is on the rise. Even low levels of medicines found in our waterways hurt fish and aquatic life. Especially around these “hot spots,” that is areas close to sewage runoff, researchers have observed negative changes in fish behavior and reproduction.
How We Can Help
Learn more about Proper Disposal of Medications and Pharmaceuticals. Also, help the issue by supporting clean and sustainable water through potable reuse projects!
Supporting new legislation to change sewage treatment plant treatment processes to better remove PPCP is another great way to contribute to the cause.
Sewage is a large environmental problem but not for the reasons that most people think. A big reason why sewage is a problem is because of the excess hormones released in human waste. Only a small percentage of medication is absorbed into the body while the rest is expelled and finds its way to the ocean in sewage. Although wastewater treatment plants are able to remove around half of the hormones, there are still many steps that we need to take to remove the problem completely.
What are the sources of pollution?
To understand the problem with plastic pollution, a group of students researched the common sources and effects of plastic pollution. As a result of their research, they found that 90 percent of the ocean’s trash is actually plastic. Research shows that 80 percent of the marine debris, including plastics, comes from land while 20 percent comes from boats. The most common sources of this pollution are disposable plastics like bags and bottles, and fishing gear that come from ships.
What are the effects?
The students discovered that the problem with plastic pollution is that the plastics last forever-this means the plastic continues to pollute the environment at every stage of its existence. Because of this, the ecosystem of the ocean, animals, and people are affected negatively. Animals can accidentally ingest or get entangled in plastics, leading to fatal results, while the marine debris in the ocean can harm the aquatic vegetation or suffocate coral.
How can it be fixed?
After finding out how plastic pollution can have negative impacts on the environment, the students moved on to figuring out how people today could fix the problem:
1. Find alternative to plastics, like reusable bags and water bottles
2. Throw away or recycle plastics and trash properly rather than litter
4. Support single-use plastic bag bans
What has been done so far?
Beach cleanup data from Coastkeeper beach cleanups suggests that a lot of the trash that was picked up was plastic. Because plastic is non-biodegradable, it will only keep breaking down into microscopic pieces in the ocean, making it much harder to actually clean up all of the plastic in the ocean. Also, the borken down plastic begin to resemble plankton, a common food source for marine life. So by completing these beach cleanups every year, more of the plastic that ends up on the beach can be picked up before it ends up in the ocean to break down and further pollute the environment.
Plastic, though it was seen as a great technological advancement, has shown the world and the environment it’s dark side. Plastic, which has been used in just about every field, from medicine, to toys, has taken a huge toll on our environment. It washes up on beaches, is ingested by animals, and disrupts ecosystems. But that isn't all. Plastic has a bigger environmental impact than most think. We use oil to produce all the plastic that is used around the world making it so we are manufacturing our own demise
High Tech High Blog Series: Blog 1 of 7
To Cut to the Chase:
High Tech High Blog Series: Blog 2 of 7
Everyone knows cigarettes are harmful-smoking is hazardous to human health. An additonal problem is that people rarely realize just how large their impact on the environment can be (especially for our beaches and oceans). The following list comprises facts and figures that we researched.
An estimated 45.3 million people in the United States smoke cigarettes.
Cigarettes are 100 percent non-biodegradable.
An estimated 1.69 BILLION POUNDS of cigarette butts end up as litter worldwide every single year. That is a mind boggling amount of cigarette butts, and a large amount of them will end up in our oceans through urban runoff. When cigarettes are carelessly dropped on the ground rather than properly disposed of, they get washed into storm drains when it rains, which lead directly to the ocean.
To say it simply: Cigarette butts kill sea life-whether it is death by ingestion or from toxic chemicals leaking into the water.
Cigarette debris is responsible for the death of one million sea birds and 10,000 mammals every year. Cigarette waste has huge environmental effects. Effects so large that it is hard to even wrap your mind around.
In 2013, volunteers collected 157,098 items of debris from San Diego beaches. Of that 157,098, a whopping 37 percent of every piece of trash collected was cigarette butts.
Cigarette butts are so toxic (they contain over 4,000 chemicals that can be released into the environment) that it has been recommended by the Cigarette Butt Advisory Group that they be placed on the list of hazardous waste.
Cigarettes contain toxic chemicals including arsenic, acetone, bleach, and nicotine.
People rarely realize that when they drop a cigarette butt on the ground far away from the beach, it can still end up in the ocean.
Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the United State and the entire world.