Astoria High School biology students waded into the Yeon easement pond near Sunset Beach last week to collect dragonfly larvae for a National Park Service project.
The larvae, known as nymphs, were collected to determine their mercury levels, which help show overall levels in the national park ecosystems. High mercury levels could be dangerous to the dragonflies, fish, wildlife and humans.
Students worked in teams to gather the larvae out of the pond. While one student used a net to grab the nymphs, another handled them and others recorded the data and made observations.
Cole Beeson, a sophomore student, said his favorite part was scooping the larvae with the net.
“You get to get in the water,” he said.
The Dragonfly Mercury Project relies on the national parks partnering with citizen scientists, such as the students, to compile the data. The students collected 20 samples from the Yeon Pond that were sent to a national testing center. The next day, another class also collected 20 samples from a pond off the Fort to Sea Trail.
“Their data actually goes into a nationwide database,” Astoria High School biology teacher Nick Baisley said.
Lewis and Clark National Historical Park in Astoria is one of more than 50 national parks across the country to partake in the project. It is the only national park in Oregon to join.
Carla Cole, a natural resource program manager at the park, found out about the project while attending a national conference in Oakland, Calif., earlier this year.
She assured the organizers the local park has active community engagement and education programs that could be used for the project.
“We were really set up to jump in and join in the effort,” she said.
The dragonfly project started four years ago at the Acadia National Park in Maine. More than 800 citizen scientists have participated since then, contributing more than 4,000 volunteer hours.
The samples are sent to either the University of Maine, U.S. Geological Survey or Dartmouth College laboratories to analyze the mercury.
Along with understanding the impact of mercury and connecting people with the national parks, another focus of the project is to support youth engagement.
Cathy Peterson, the national park’s education program director, said people often think science projects must be done in laboratories with strict protocols. Sometimes it does, but this project is an example of how local students can help, Peterson said.
Peterson hopes to expand upon the project and work with more local classes.
“We worked with biology teacher Nick Baisley for a while about doing some kind of hands-on work with his students,” Peterson said. “So when this came up, we connected with him.”
Cole said she went into the biology class beforehand to show the students pictures of the nymphs. She explained how dragonflies spend about five years underwater before becoming winged adults.
“They really stand out against the other aquatic insects,” Cole said. “They kind of look like crickets. They have these incredible lower jaws that can dart out and extent to snatch up prey.”
At the Yeon Pond last week, the students knew what they were looking for. Besides the nymphs, the students enjoyed seeing other waterlife such as carp, newts and snails.
“The more we get them outside, the better,” Baisley said.