Woodland and Waterways EcoWatch students carrying out benthic macroinvertebrate sampling. Photo courtesy of Sadie Fischer /GRACE OBORNE Staff

U-Links embarks on a new environmental training program

By Grace Oborne

The U-Links Centre for Community Based Research enjoyed a successful opening weekend of its new Woodland and Waterways EcoWatch program.

There are two components to the training program. The first took place this past weekend on Sunday, July 11, and was an online session. The online session covered some background and went into the reasons why U-Links runs their program. The second component is an in-person meeting that will occur on July 18. This gathering will “provide practical, hands-on experience and will mimic the steps that will be taken during an actual sampling event,” as noted on the website.

“What we’re trying to achieve is the increase in ability of locals so they can assist us in the benthic biomonitoring that we do in the county. We’re also trying to give the people, who are interested, a background in what monitoring is and what benthic macroinvertebrates are,” explains program coordinator Brendan Martin.

He added, “the simplest way to describe them [benthic macroinvertebrates] is that they’re the small, spineless organisms that live at the bottom of lakes and rivers, which includes things ranging from snails, mussels, leeches, and worms.”

The program allows cottagers, locals, and post-secondary students to participate in their benthic biomonitoring program.

Woodlands & Waterways EcoWatch is operated in partnership with Trent University and Sir Sandford Fleming College to utilize their knowledge and resource. This will help communities to “monitor the long-term health of the forests and lakes of Haliburton County and the surrounding region.”

U-Links is piloting this program and therefore chose to look for just about anyone to join the program.

“We’re going to give priority to those who are committed to helping us with the actual sampling in the late summer and fall. But obviously, we really just want to help people understand more about their environment, so realistically anyone can join,” said Martin.

Due to COVID-19 and the program being new, U-Links is capping participants at 15. Cottagers, locals, and students submitted applications free of charge and the spaces quickly filled up.

The benthic macroinvertebrates monitoring program offers individuals a unique insight into their environment.

“The program is important because it introduces people to a method of looking at their environment that they may not have necessarily considered before. A lot of people are very familiar with water chemistry monitoring. With this, we’re hoping to involve the community a bit more with that similar process,” noted Martin.

“Teaching them right from the beginning how we collect the samples, and also giving them that insight and letting them do a little bit of the analysis themselves puts that power back into their hands, as opposed to in the laboratories, or the universities where these things are usually done.”

At the end of the training initiative, participants will receive a certificate of completion and will be able to give most of the knowledge back to the community. Participants will be added to a list of volunteers who will assist the community in their sampling efforts come the fall.

If you have any questions about the benthic biomonitoring training plan, contact program coordinator Brendan Martin at bmartin@ulinks.ca.