Volunteer Spotlight: Citizen scientist Kristin Wilmes

"Citizens who feel comfortable getting out and doing science are all the more important in this era." Thanks for your service, Kristin! | July 7, 2020

Community Science in a pandemic

Meet our North Sound Stewards citizen science volunteer of the quarter, Kristin Wilmes!

Tell us about yourself! What are one to three things you like to do?

My three favorite things to do are go on a hike with my family, work in the garden and read a good book.

What has been the most fun, memorable, or impactful experience you’ve had as a North Sound Steward?

With public schools being closed towards the end of the year, I had the opportunity to bring my 8-year-old son along to gather water samples. It was a memorable opportunity being able to share this experience with him and show him what scientists can do to help keep the environment clean and people safe.

What inspired you to join North Sound Stewards?

One reason I joined the North Sound Stewards is I love to get outside and do field work. It’s a good feeling knowing the volunteer work you are doing is contributing to local science and efforts to keep our waterways clean. I also thought it would be a great way to meet other people who have similar interests.

I had the opportunity to bring my 8-year-old son along to gather water samples. It was a memorable opportunity being able to share this experience with him and show him what scientists can do to help keep the environment clean and people safe.”

Which of the Citizen Science programs are you a part of and what are some ways you participate?

I have been volunteering in the BEACH program, where I gather water samples at different sites across Whatcom County. We also gather other data like temperature, salinity and tide information. I’ve participated in online webinars that North Sound Stewards put on, covering topics like the risks the proposed Chehalis River Dam poses for salmon. These have been a really great way to stay up to date on local science and policies while still staying safe at home. Another way I have been participating is with apps like iNaturalist and Water Reporter. Unfortunately, there have not been as many opportunities to get out and do citizen science with social distancing guidelines, but I look forward to participating in more programs as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Tell us something you’ve learned through the program that really sticks with you.

I learned that Little Squalicum Creek can have high levels of enterococcus, a type of fecal bacteria. I am extra cautious about my kids washing their hands after playing in any creek now that I have seen the data around bacteria in this creek. I hope our water testing can eventually lead to the restoration of this area, and a clean-up of its waters.

If you had one thing to tell others about community science, what would it be?

Citizen science is a great way to get outside and do something positive for your local community. The data you gather can help the environment, keep people in the community safe, and help decision-makers create better-informed policies.

What do you think the role of citizen scientists is now in the era of social distancing?

I think citizen science will be as important as ever in the era of social distancing. Many public agencies and non-profits that do this important scientific monitoring may have a harder time with funding and paying employees to continue the work. Employees may not be able to get out and gather data due to health concerns. This makes citizens who feel comfortable getting out and doing science all the more important in this era. With the climate changing, we’ll likely see more issues with water quality and invasive species, so it is essential for communities to continue monitoring our environment and gathering data so we know how to deal with problems when they arise. Citizen science is a great way to do this!

How do you hope people will stay connected with protecting our waters during all this?

I think the stay-at-home period made people realize how amazing the natural lands all around us are. People seemed very appreciative to be able to get back outside and go hiking in the mountains or take a walk on the beach. I also hope that this pandemic reminds people how important it is to keep our land and our waters clean for our own health. If our environment is clean and strong, it makes our communities healthier, more resilient and better-prepared to deal with situations like this.

Why did you come to Whatcom, and what are your favorite things about your new community?

I moved to Whatcom County about two years ago when my husband got a promotion at work. I have found so many things I love about the area. There are beautiful mountains, endless hikes, the view of the islands across the bay, and a wonderful community that has so many fun events to explore and enjoy!

Learn more about being a citizen scientist in the era of social distancing.

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