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2016-04-01 / Shorts

Saving the Environment ... with Your Smartphone

Sabrina Evans


There are plenty of fish in the sea, but now, thanks to First Investigation of Stream Health (FISH), there will be plenty of information to keep the fish in local waterways safe.

“FISH is a simple, family-friendly activity that asks easy-to-answer questions about what you see around a stream,” says Kristen Kyler, project coordinator with the Ag and Environment Center’s Lower Susquehanna Initiative.

Designed to be completed stream side at a restoration site once a year in the spring, FISH asks you to make observations about various stream health indicators like water clarity, growth of vegetation and signs of wildlife.

During the past year, FISH was piloted with about 50 participants, including youth, farmers who have recently planted riparian stream buffers and watershed-group members. Even though data reported increases in vegetation beneficial to water quality and improved wildlife habitat, the increases in observed wildlife were minimal due to the small amount of data collected.

This is where the FISH mobile app — and outdoor enthusiasts throughout Centre County — come in.
Although the activity was originally designed to be completed on paper, Chesapeake Commons, an environmentally focused app developer, recently partnered with Penn State to create a smartphone app and website that streamlines data collection.

“The real improvements we have seen are in how the protocol has generated enthusiasm in the participants,” says FISH project co-coordinator Jennifer Fetter, Penn State Extension watershed and youth development educator. “Landowners are engaged in their stream restoration projects in new ways, which we hope will lead to continued restoration on their, and their neighbors’, properties.”

FISH allows community members to observe and record environmental and ecosystem changes that affect the habitats they know and love, all while simply enjoying the great outdoors. Not only does FISH provide landowners with the unique opportunity to document changes in wildlife and vegetation in their own backyards, but it also supplies Penn State Extension with valuable information about streamside restoration projects that will continue to benefit local ecosystems for years to come.

Participants can start recording data and take a step toward becoming citizen-scientists by visiting fishprotocol.org or downloading the app on their smartphones.

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