What’s lurking beneath Lake Merritt? More than you think
August 7, 2020 5:41 PM   Subscribe

Citizen scientists are documenting the strange creatures living in the lake, and helping us understand how to rewild it.
This year, Oaklanders will celebrate Lake Merritt’s 150th anniversary as the country’s first wildlife refuge. But the lake, once called the “Lake of 1,000 Smells,” has never quite been able to shake off its reputation as a polluted cesspool. Some people assume that the urban body of water is man-made, unnatural, and inhospitable to wildlife. Since the city was founded in 1852, the plants, animals, and other life that live in Lake Merritt have struggled with poor water quality and trash. However, its waters are far from empty. More than 600 species have been identified at Lake Merritt, including non-native lifeforms from all over the world.
To better understand Lake Merritt and its changing character, citizen scientists have organized a number of projects to document the species that call it home. Building off of [Jim] Carlton’s work, [Katie] Noonan started the Lake Merritt Citizen Monitoring Study in 2017 to sample species from the same shoreline sites that Carlton studied in 1966, including the Japanese Bubble Snail and the Australian tubeworm.… In partnership with California Academy of Sciences, [Damon] Tighe has organized three “bioblitzes” for the City Nature Challenge, bringing people together in workshops to identify massive numbers of species. Tighe brought DNA analysis into the mix in Barcode the Lake, a 2017 project to get the public to not only identify species based on their physical traits, but to also sequence their DNA.

Citizen scientists participating in these projects log their findings on iNaturalist, an app started by Ken-ichi Ueda in 2008 as part of his Masters thesis at UC Berkeley. Now, it’s among the world’s most popular nature apps, allowing people to record and identify lifeforms they observe. Currently, there are at least 8 iNaturalist projects focusing specifically on Lake Merritt.
posted by Lexica (2 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Damon Tighe is a must follow on Instagram and an absolute wealth of information. His contributions to iNaturalist alone are unbelievable. Big believer in citizen science and opened my eyes to a whole community I never really knew existed. I stumbled into him from the Mycologist community (which is its own special thing).
posted by ghostpony at 6:41 PM on August 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

This bums me out:
There has been no detectable change in water quality, no increase in dissolved oxygen since that time. [...] The problem appears to lie with the 7th street tidal gates, essentially large doors that can open and close to allow different amounts of water to pass under the roadway and through the channel connecting Lake Merritt to the Bay. A wider channel should mean more tidal waters flushing the lake out and improving the dissolved oxygen concentration. But for years, Alameda County has kept the gates partially closed in order to regulate flooding. Rather than closing the gates when the risk of flooding is high and opening them when it isn’t, half of the gates have been permanently shut, preventing the constant flushing needed to improve the water quality.
Also, another recent environmental deep-dive from The Oaklandside, this time on the night heron.
posted by icebergs at 8:48 PM on August 7, 2020 [10 favorites]

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