Interview with a FreshWater Watcher

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Taking the 20,000th FreshWater Watch sample

Rob Langston shares his experiences from FreshWater Watching with his students.

'I always enjoy watching the students discover their natural environment and the organisms with in it during water testing outings.'

Rob Langston, Geography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) high school teacher in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, took the 20,000th FreshWater Watch sample in our flagship freshwater research and improvement project.

The Lake Winnipeg Watershed where Rob samples water, is a vast international water network with water flowing from four US states and four Canadian provinces.

'The most rewarding and challenging part has been getting students outside of the classroom.'

'Too often, students arrive at school with very few connections to the natural world. This makes teaching geography or any natural science difficult as students are frequently lacking the lived experience about what they are learning in school. It is hard for students to be passionate and excited about any topic if they have never experienced it.'

I always enjoy watching the students discover their natural environment and the organisms with in it during water testing outings. It also allows me, as a teacher, to have teachable moments where I am able to connect what was taught in class to the real world. However, it can be challenging getting students outside more often with the issues of liability, costs, release time and transportation.'

When did you begin water sampling, and how did that come about?

'I began water sampling with my students about five years ago. At the time, I was a member of the Lake Winnipeg OPEN Water project.' [OPEN Water is an international project developed to increase students’ knowledge of the Lake Winnipeg Watershed.]

'My first time water testing was when OPEN Water held a water conference in Brandon, MB and students from the towns of Minot, North Dakota, USA and The Pas, Manitoba met in Brandon and water was tested at numerous sites in the Lake Winnipeg Watershed. This event was so successful that I continued water testing with the students in my grade 11 geography class.'

'All future test were completed using the FreshWater Watch testing equipment and including submitting our results on the website. We have continued to test water and record organism sightings using the iNaturalist app.'

Over 10,000 enthusiastic volunteers and scientists measured more than 3,000 lakes, streams, ponds and wetlands make up the growing FreshWater Watch community. 

Image: Earthwatch/John Hunt

'Our planet is facing numerous serious challenges, it is important that students are informed, passionate and hopefully willing to act on these issues and I believe citizen science is a step in that direction.'

How do you feel about your sampling site?

'I enjoy all of the testing sites. Despite all being in urban areas the sites vary significantly. One is a wetland in a residential neighbourhood, another is a drainage canal that runs parallel to rail lines, two are in an urban greenspace while the last location is the Assiniboine River which flows through our community.'

'What I like about the testing sites are that each one has different factors that can protect or threaten the watershed. Many of the waterbodies are ones that are driven by daily and rarely does anyone think about the health or the importance of these features.'

FreshWater Watch data supports local and regional partnerships between scientists, businesses, environmental agencies, decision makers, NGOs and citizens. 

Image: Earthwatch/John Hunt

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing our freshwater ecosystems?

'In my opinion, in my region of the world, the largest problems facing our freshwater ecosystems are wetland draining, eutrophication, invasive species and a lack of scientific research.'

'Wetland drainage is making headlines in Manitoba as changes in agriculture has caused more drainage to occur in our province and upstream from Manitoba. This has resulted in a loss of a natural filtering system, the inability for the land to store water and a loss of valuable habitat. I also believe this has contributed to the many floods we have seen in the recent years.'

'Currently, zebra mussels and other invasive [non-native wildlife] species have been found in several lakes in our province. Many of our lakes have seen algae blooms, fish kills, swimming warnings etc due to the impacts of eutrophication.'

'Another less discussed issue is the destruction of riparian areas [important ecologically diverse banks of a river] by cabin owners across the province. Many smaller lakes in southern Manitoba are nearly completely enclosed by cabins and no riparian areas are left to protect these waterbodies.'

'Finally, a concern that I personally have is how social media is having a negative impact on our freshwater and the fisheries in them. With the use of social media and other technologies, people are finding it much easier to catch fish and it is putting a lot of stress on our waterbodies and the organisms in them.'

What would you say to someone else who was thinking about joining a citizen science project?

'Citizen science is a fast growing, exciting and valuable part of the science world today. I support citizen science as it is an authentic learning experience for students and their results have the potential to lead to real change and informed decision making. I feel very strongly that any citizen science that allows students to leave the classroom and gain lived experience in their environment is very worthwhile.'

'I believe this project has given my students a better understanding of the hydrology and the physical geography of this area.  In this region of the world, we have an abundance of high quality freshwater and by sampling some of these waterbodies I believe it gives awareness to something that many people take for granted daily.'


FreshWater Watch is Earthwatch’s global project that engages members of the public in fun hands-on-activities in monitoring the health of their local water bodies. FreshWater Watch clearly highlights why citizen science matters, and an important reason is that it opens up science for everybody from corporate leaders to children, anyone, anywhere can help save the planet.

Images: By Shahnoor Habib Munmun [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

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