The Texas Stream Team works to patrol and protect the Texas waterways to conduct scientific research and promote environmental stewardship.
By: Andrea Bolt
The Texas Stream Team (TST) has discovered the secret to ridding Texas waterways of harmful monofilament and other marine debris: utilize and harness the power of the source from whence it came – people.
That’s right: This network of trained citizen scientists and other partners work together to patrol and protect Texas’ 191,000 miles of waterways to conduct scientific research, to promote environmental stewardship and to help clean up the mess. Started in 1991, TST has grown to include 8,000 community members, from birders, anglers and students to kayakers, “river rats” and others putting in 45,000 service hours to monitor and collect information about Texas waterways.
The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) all came together to form a cooperative partnership in order to start and run TST.
According to Meredith Miller, senior program coordinator for the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University, citizen scientists are trained to understand the importance and science of water quality and the information that they collect.
“Each month, our members monitor and report pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen and other indicators of water quality at their favorite sites,” Miller said. “That data supports academic research, informs conservation policy and serves as a de facto early warning system for water quality events across Texas.”
That means every month, more than 400 TST citizen scientists collect water quality information concerning Texas rivers, lakes, bayous, wetlands and more at over 150 different sites throughout the state. Citizen scientists can be anyone with an interest in conservation and canoeing, from fishermen and students to senior citizens and beyond. A new TST program called Monofilament Finders allows many of these same folks to find and track monofilament.
“Some people only collect and track monofilament – maybe on a regular basis or just when they are out fishing or enjoying nature,” Miller explained. “Over 100 people have taken our monofilament collection bags and data collection protocol cards. We hope to increase that number this summer!”
Miller said she’s extremely proud of TST and its multiple programs. She’s hoping that much will be gleaned from collected monofilament data and that this will help lead to lasting change.
“Hopefully the data collected by everyday people all around the state can help us paint a picture about where monofilament accumulates and how it affects the environment. This will allow us not only to clean it up, but to help educate Texans about how to keep it out of the environment in the first place.”
Monofilament can be dangerous, even deadly, to wildlife across the state. According to Miller, sea birds, migrating birds, wading birds, turtles, fish, manatees, alligators and even dolphins and whales are harmed by monofilament along the coast. “Upstream, birds, fish, frogs and mammals like beavers can be injured or killed by discarded monofilament,” she elaborated.
Miller is excited about plans to expand the Monofilament Finders project, which was funded by the aquarium’s Wildlife Care, Conservation and Research (WCCR) Fund. “We are working to increase the number of available monofilament recycling stations and also the number of people who collect, track and recycle the fishing line,” she said. “We’ll be offering more collection bags all across the state this summer.”
Projects TST manages:
• TST Water Quality Monitors: TST provides an introductory suite of basic or “core” water quality testing services to interested citizen scientists. All prospective citizen scientist monitors must undergo a training session that introduces the concepts of watershed awareness, as well as point source and non-point source (NPS) pollution. The training session instructs citizen scientists on the importance of monitoring basic water quality indicators such as pH and water temperature. All citizen scientists who are certified as “core” water quality monitors and wish to perform further citizen science NPS monitoring have the option to attend an “advanced” training course that includes instructions on how to monitor additional water quality components such as E. Coli.
• TST Paddlers: Kayakers and canoeists can collect higher quantities of data at more locations or in hard-to-reach areas, improving our understanding of water quality issues in lakes, rivers, streams, estuaries and bays.
• TST Anglers: Anglers collect water quality and environmental data at their favorite fishing spots, adding valuable information to our statewide network and database.
• TST Biomonitors: Citizen scientists use riparian assessments and macroinvertebrate bioassessments to evaluate the health of lakes, rivers, streams or estuaries based on the riparian vegetation and habitat, and the aquatic insects that live there. Data is coupled with water quality data and used to track ecosystem and habitat health over time.
• TST Divers: Scuba divers and snorkelers utilize TST water quality monitoring and biological monitoring protocols to collect data on the surface and underwater, providing a different perspective on water quality and habitat health in Texas’ deeper waters.
• TST Monofilament Finders: Citizen scientists collect and track loose fishing line in water bodies around Texas to reduce damage to aquatic and bird habitats. Tracking removal of this pollutant from Texas waterways improves habitats and lets communities target education to prevent littering.
For more information, visit the Texas State Aquarium online at www.texasstateaquarium.org.
Photos by Laura Thorne/Courtesy TST” and “Jim Sohn/Courtesy TST”