Citizen scientists sought

Volunteers asked to assist monitoring of potential radiation in B.C.'s coastal waters.

Citizen scientist are being sought across Vancouver Island to collect data for a new, University of Victoria-led radioactivity monitoring network.

The group is looking for volunteers along the B.C. coast to collect water samples and share science-based information on ocean health within their communities.

The InFORM network is monitoring low-level radioactivity that is drifting across the Pacific from the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. “There’s great public demand for information about the impact of the disaster on the marine ecosystem and on the health of British Columbians,” says UVic chemical oceanographer Jay Cullen, who heads the network. “Our goal is to provide the public with the best information possible about risks to the environment and their health.”

Volunteers are being sought in 14 areas along the coast: Port Hardy, Port Renfrew, Bamfield, Tofino/Ucluelet, Nootka Island/Tahsis, Winter Harbour, Bella Bella, Hartley Bay, Prince Rupert, Haida Gwaii, Salt Spring Island, Powell River/Sunshine Coast, Vancouver and Victoria.

The goal is a sampling team of 10 to 15 volunteers per area. Water samples will be collected monthly for three years and sent to labs for analysis. “Ideally, the samples would be taken near the coast rather than up inlets,” says Cullen. “And it’s best if the Haida Gwaii samples are obtained on the west side of the islands.” The levels of radioactivity present in water samples will not pose a health risk to volunteers, he stresses.

The InFORM network involves scientists in Canada and the US, health experts and NGOs, but the citizen scientists are critical to its success, says Cullen. “We’re inviting those with a stake and an interest in marine environmental risk assessment to get involved.”

The collected data will be disseminated online and through community meetings up and down the coast. Coastal residents interested in volunteering are asked to contact Cullen before Sept. 30 via a contact form at www.fukushimainform.ca. Once he has compiled a database of interested citizens, the network’s NGO partners will go into the communities to organize the groups.