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Tap into your inner scientist to help ecosystem - May 17, 2012

Sometimes I like to pretend to be a scientist. It's important to recognize your strengths. It's also important to recognize your weaknesses. I've admired Jane Goodall since I was a child, but I also recognized pretty early on that I'm no Jane Goodall. I like chimpanzees, but I'm not spending years of my life, sitting ... and waiting ... and waiting for something of note to happen.

I'm lucky enough to have a job that allows me to work with scientists on a pretty regular basis. Science is cool. Sometimes I get to record data, tally numbers and claim to be "sciencing it." That's what I like to call it when I really am doing some part of the science but, to be honest, I really don't understand all of the really sciency details. I'm a big-picture person. My eyes sometimes glaze over when I get to the finer details.

But as it turns out, I really am doing science. I'm observing, recording data and compiling information. These are all critical components of scientific research. You can do it, too.

"Citizen science" is a big deal. You can contribute to the collective body of scientific knowledge in lots of ways. And locally, there are year-round opportunities.

Locally, you can search for herps (reptiles and amphibians), assist with bird banding, count birds, count terrapins, watch for dolphins, record ladybug sightings, and more. There are also opportunities to record specifics about natural occurrences right in your backyard through national programs like Project Feeder Watch, FrogWatch, and Project BudBurst.

How does this help? Well, scientists can't be everywhere at once. You may be the foremost expert for your yard, your neighborhood, or other special places in your community. You spend more time there than any scientist probably ever will. And with a little bit of training and basic knowledge, you could quickly become enough of an expert to make real, valuable contributions to science.

If you like reptiles and amphibians, the Great Worcester Herp Search is a great place to start. Scheduled for Saturday, May 19, the search will begin at Pocomoke State Park, Shad Landing at 9 a.m., with an introduction to field techniques and basic identification. Live specimens will be on hand, so you can get an up close look at identifying field marks for a variety of local species. Then, you'll have the chance to get out in the field with professional scientists to hike through woods, flip over logs, slog through wetlands, and scoop up frogs, salamanders, turtles, and snakes.

In June, opportunities include training for families interested in participating in the "Lost Ladybug Project" at Salisbury University's Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art. Families will participate in a ladybug hunt, and will learn how to identify and photograph ladybugs for the project, founded by Cornell University. The effort will help scientists better understand ladybug populations and habitat ranges in the United States. For more information, email wardeducation@salisbury. edu. After you've been trained, you can report ladybugs whenever you see them.

If turtles are your thing, join the Maryland Coastal Bays Program's efforts to count diamondback terrapins in the coastal bays. If you find a diamondback terrapin, you can report it on the Coastal Bays website at www.mdcoastalbays.org/report-a-terrapin. You can also participate in a targeted terrapin search in June. Little is known about local diamondback terrapin populations. One of the main threats to this turtle, Maryland's state reptile, is development. Hardened shorelines, those with rip-rap or bulkheading, prevent terrapins and other species from accessing critical nesting habitat. Terrapins crawl onto sandy shorelines to lay their eggs, but with their short little legs, they're unable to scale rock and bulkheads.

Terrestrial monitoring is an important part of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program's Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan. Tracking wildlife populations in the coastal bays watershed can help us assess the overall health of the ecosystem. If you're interested in learning more about the Maryland Coastal Bays Program's efforts and additional citizen science opportunities, contact us at mcbp@mdcoastalbays.org.

Carrie Samis is the education coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.


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