Swim Drink Fish: Trapping the Light Fantastic in False Creek

Kaitlyn, Gabriela and Alicia “Trapping the Light Fantastic” August 26

August 26, 2022 False Creek – It’s hard (and a bit sad) that the amazing Sentinels of Change Light Trap Project is coming to an end. When it started back in May, the whole investigation of tiny sea critters – baby Dungeness Crabs – seemed impossibly complicated. There was a lot of scientific protocol, and the risk of screwing up was a bit nerve-wracking.

Last April, False Creek Friends had signed up to be one of 24 local community groups entrusted with a complex Hakai Institute investigation that went from one end of the Salish Sea to the other. Clearly, many of the other groups were quite experienced in community science. Indigenous communities already had a lot of experience with light traps – like the Nisqually Indian Tribe – see here and here) . And there were well-established environmental orgs like the amazing Mayne Island Conservancy .

So the possibility of screwing up ? Pretty good!

WOW! Alicia makes a positive ID on a red-banded shrimp

But now that we are nearing the end , it was a lot of fun to have Swim Drink Fish on hand to help put the project to bed. Water stewards Alicia Elgert, Gabriela Pistner, and Kaitlyn McElgunn  got right into the fairly stringent scientific protocols and trapped fantastically.

The trio was warned in advance that it was likely that there would be ZERO larval Dungeness Crab in the trap – the waters have been too warm and the adults were taking a break from producing offspring.

But maybe even better – the surprise when Alicia discovered (and identified) a remarkable red-banded transparent shrimp. You can see her observation here.

The tiny shrimp cooperated and nestled right up against the ruler

Is this tiny, transparent shrimp important? The reason why this is a good question has to do with the whole notion of biodiversity.

The main idea seems fairly radical: that every organism in a functioning ecosystem has a place within it. In other words, as radical as this may sound, every living thing matters. every species matters. Take it away, and it leaves a hole. Take too many away, and you face ecological collapse.

This has been the main lesson in this work we have been doing with Hakai Institute. None of us knew in advance why such a seemingly unimportant plankton – the “megalopa” of the Dungeness Crab – could end up telling us so much about the health of the entire Salish Sea. But it can, and that’s why it’s called a “sentinel” – a sentinel species, like the canary in the coal mine – that stands guard by revealing the health of the sea.

And so interesting – that’s exactly what organizations like Swim Drink Fish do – they stand guard, its members Gabriela, Kaitlyn and Alicia keeping careful watch as truly modern stewards.

And sharing their delight when they’ve discovered and identified a tiny shrimp that still finds a home in False Creek.