One Fish, Two Fish
Counting creatures in Centre Creek
BCIT students inspect a sample from Centre Creek (Photo by NCC)
As a science-based conservation organization, we like data. One of our favourite types of data is simply a list of plants and animals found on our conservation lands. This list grows every time we conserve a new property and undertake a species inventory on that land.
In November, we rallied a group of students, Conservation Volunteers, salmon experts and consultants to help us find out what creatures make their home in Centre Creek in Surrey, BC. The Centre Creek Conservation Area was transferred to the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) in 2015, and we needed to confirm what was swimming in this salmon-bearing tributary to the Fraser River.
A volunteer with a minnow trap (Photo by NCC)
The inventory played out over two days — one to set the traps and one to see what was collected. On the first day, nine Conservation Volunteers joined NCC's West Coast stewardship coordinator, Jocelyn Wood, and Jonathan Smyth and Marvin Rosenau from the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) to put out minnow traps, which are bucket-sized steel and wire contraptions that resemble small crab traps, that are left in the creek overnight to collect specimens. After traipsing through the bush on this untrailed conservation area, the group set each trap with a snack-sized bit of salmon roe and cast it into the water. In total, 80 traps were installed in the creek.
Salamanders from Centre Creek (Photo by NCC)
The next day, 35 students from BCIT's Forests and Natural Areas Management program came out to bring in the traps and see what the creek offered up. This activity was part of their aquatic sampling field lab. The students got their feet wet retrieving the traps and carefully transferring any creatures caught into a fresh bucket of water. At the identification station, they took measurements and identified the species before releasing them back into the creek.
"As a student, the opportunity for hands-on learning is like hitting the educational jackpot," said Kaitlin Fader. "The Centre Creek sampling project was a perfect example of students getting to work with their mentors, and I was proud of the chance to work with the Nature Conservancy of Canada in my own backyard."
The final tally of species was modest: four signal crayfish, two juvenile green frogs (an exotic invasive species) and six northwestern salamanders in their neotenic phase (meaning they have gills and look like cute little water dragons and haven’t migrated to a terrestrial lifestyle). Every species found in a trap was a cause for great excitement and the students got hands-on experience measuring and weighing each species.
Students enjoying a field day at Centre Creek (Photo by NCC)
"I feel like the survey at Centre Creek went very well," said Megan Savinkoff. "We had fun as well as learned a lot about our urban creeks and how they may affect local fish. Unfortunately, we did not catch any fish, but we did find an invasive frog species."
After their field day, the students prepared lab reports summarizing their findings and made recommendations on future inventories for Centre Creek. This real-world experience is part of NCC's commitment to inspiring the next generations of conservationists, and feedback from the students suggests we're on the right track.
First-year student Jordan Snyder shared this reflection on his time at Centre Creek: "This experience was eye opening in a few ways: Jocelyn and the rest of the crew are incredibly down to earth people, who are truly invested in their work, and secondly, they have extensive knowledge in every facet of the Centre Creek project — the wildlife species, the surrounding area, the equipment, etc. To see this level of commitment and expertise incorporated in the field, in an industry I am very much invested in, was very humbling. Jocelyn, her NCC team and the other volunteers perfectly exemplified what I want to accomplish during my career in forestry."
NCC sends out a big thank you to all the students, the volunteers, BCIT, Dillon Consulting and the City of Surrey's Salmon Habitat Restoration Program for making this two-day inventory event a success!