Hello! I am Fabbiha, a Community Scientist for Swim Drink Fish, and I would like to share my experiences as a volunteer for this wonderful organization, and what these experiences have meant to me.
Being a university student who majors in Environmental Science, I am quite interested in environmental data collection and in the topic of clean and healthy water. So, when I stumbled upon Swim Drink Fish, an organization that helps ensure that shorelines have swimmable, drinkable, and fishable water, it felt like it was a match made in heaven. My studies have given me the chance to go out into the outdoors and collect data for research projects; however, I never had the opportunity to help ensure the environment is a safer and cleaner place for the community until I started volunteering for Swim Drink Fish.
I am a Community Scientist for the Toronto Sampling Team, and our goal is to collect water samples, measure the depth and oxygen level of the water, and record other environmental observations. A number of locations are sampled, but the ones I have been to are Marina Four, Rees Street, and Bathurst Quay on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Our primary goal is to test the water samples to check the amount of E. coli present. E. coli levels are high when untreated sewage spills into the lake from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) due to heavy rainfall and other problems like high volume.
We collect water samples using a small plastic bag called a whirl-pak. It is always fun to lie down at the edge of the harbour and scoop up water in the bag! Sometimes, it is a little challenging for me to reach into the water due to my short limbs (I am only 5’0), but thanks to the patience and encouragement of the coordinators, Isabel and Maddie, and the other volunteers, I am always able to get the job done. Sometimes, I use a pole (whom we have affectionately named Bob) to scoop up the water by simply attaching the plastic bag to one end of it.
Collecting environmental data makes me wonder why a certain data point or environmental observation is the way it is. For example, the depth and the turbidity of the water seem to be different each time we sample. Sometimes, I brainstorm with the other volunteers about what may be the reasons for the different depths and turbidites. Before I began sampling, when I walked around the harbours, I never stopped to think about the science behind water. But spending more time doing hands-on work in the environment has caused me to perceive the water more scientifically and develop a deeper appreciation for it. So, in many ways, being a Community Scientist has made me a better environmental science student.
Furthermore, when I record the amounts of debris in the harbour (such as cigarette butts, plastic, styrofoam fragments, and more), the dire state of water pollution dawns on me. A few times, we have even discovered some dead mallards and geese and seen ducks eating from the sewage overflow at Bathurst Quay.
Having said that, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Many of the birds we observe seem to be healthy. Most of the time, Marina Four and Rees Street pass the E. coli test, although Bathurst Quay consistently fails. Bathurst Quay is almost always quite dirty, but one time, we found the water to be relatively clean and clear, and on that same day, I saw a number of carp there for the first time! This just goes to show how much wildlife can thrive when pollution does not get in the way.
Having the opportunity to collect environmental data, and getting to meet environmentally aware and like-minded individuals has been a rewarding and eye-opening experience for me. Swim Drink Fish is succeeding in its goal of connecting people with water, because it has definitely brought me closer to water! I look forward to continuing monitoring water health and meeting new people.
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