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Students help national park with dragonfly mercury project

The Dragonfly Mercury Project relies on the national parks partnering with citizen scientists such as the students to compile the data.
By Kyle Spurr

The Daily Astorian

Published on October 8, 2015 10:25AM

Sam Colson, a sophomore at Astoria High School, looks for dragonfly larvae in the Yeon Pond Sept. 30. The collecting process is part of the Dragonfly Mercury Project, a nationwide initiative to asses mercury pollution levels and its effect on the environment.

Joshua Bessex/The Daily Astorian

Sam Colson, a sophomore at Astoria High School, looks for dragonfly larvae in the Yeon Pond Sept. 30. The collecting process is part of the Dragonfly Mercury Project, a nationwide initiative to asses mercury pollution levels and its effect on the environment.

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Carla Cole, natural resources project manager with Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, shows a dragonfly larvae collected from the Yeon Pond as part of a nationwide initiative called the Dragonfly Mercury Project.

Joshua Bessex/The Daily Astorian

Carla Cole, natural resources project manager with Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, shows a dragonfly larvae collected from the Yeon Pond as part of a nationwide initiative called the Dragonfly Mercury Project.

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Carla Cole shows students how to bag dragonfly larvae collected from the Yeon Pond.

Joshua Bessex/The Daily Astorian

Carla Cole shows students how to bag dragonfly larvae collected from the Yeon Pond.

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Astoria High School students look for dragonfly larvae in the Yeon Pond on Sept. 30.

Joshua Bessex/The Daily Astorian

Astoria High School students look for dragonfly larvae in the Yeon Pond on Sept. 30.

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An exoskeleton of a dragonfly larvae sits on a table.

Joshua Bessex/The Daily Astorian

An exoskeleton of a dragonfly larvae sits on a table.

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Joshua Bessex/The Daily Astorian
A dragonfly larvae, called a dragonfly nymph, bottom, swims in a sample tray after being collected by Astoria High School students Sept. 30.

Joshua Bessex/The Daily Astorian A dragonfly larvae, called a dragonfly nymph, bottom, swims in a sample tray after being collected by Astoria High School students Sept. 30.

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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.

Citizen scientists

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.











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