California Academy of Sciences Engages "Citizen Scientists" To Monitor Health of Ecologically Threatened Mountain Lake

SAN FRANCISCO (July 28, 2000) — Mountain Lake, one of the only freshwater lakes in San Francisco, and the only lake in San Francisco’s Presidio in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is a classic example of a natural ecosystem heavily impacted by human activity. The lake is bordered by a high-density residential area, golf course and major highway and suffers from increasing sedimentation, algae infestations, and invasions by non-native species. Currently at nine feet, the historic depth of approximately 30 feet has been reduced as a result of a natural process, but development projects such as the construction of Highway One have drastically accelerated this reduction. Despite its imperiled state, Mountain Lake is also home to remnant native populations of plants and animals. It continues to provide resting and feeding areas for migratory birds and is a park much-loved by neighborhood residents.

As part of an inter-agency collaborative project to mitigate the impacts of decades of human activity and preserve the natural habitats at Mountain Lake, the California Academy of Sciences has launched an environmental education program, enlisting "citizen scientists" to monitor water quality and species that live in the Mountain Lake watershed. The Mountain Lake Enhancement Project is managed by the Golden Gate National Parks Association in partnership with the Presidio Trust and the National Park Service. The project, currently engaged in the public review process with enhancement work expected to begin later this year, was accelerated when inexplicable fish die offs and concerns for the health of a resident swan, Myrtle, prompted Friends of Mountain Lake and the National Parks Service to move forward quickly with the restoration of the lake.

The "citizen scientists," ages 12 — 42, include students from local schools and universities. "Our efforts at Mountain Lake are grounded in the belief that a deep understanding of biodiversity and a keen appreciation for the natural world arise from field-based experiences," said Meg Burke, Chair and Curator of the Academy’s Education Department. The students and volunteers are trained in scientific observation, data collecting techniques, basic concepts of biodiversity and the merits of long term studies as the project will span at least three years and possibly longer.

"Long-term monitoring will allow participants to detect patterns and changes over time that will help shape future management practices," said Joseph Kinyon, an environmental educator for the Academy. "Residents have a unique opportunity to help improve the health of their environment and understand first-hand the importance of environmental stewardship." Data are currently being collected to determine population and habitat patterns among birds, zooplankton, reptiles and amphibians. Once patterns have been established at Mountain Lake, the citizen scientists will then monitor changes that occur in species and water quality as the lake undergoes enhancement efforts. Hopefully, this documentation will reflect an improvement in environmental health and biological diversity in the watershed as the enhancement of Mountain Lake progresses.

In addition to the National Park Service, the Golden Gate National Parks Association, and the Presidio Trust, Mountain Lake Enhancement Project partners include the California Native Plant Society; City College of San Francisco; Friends of Mountain Lake; Galileo High School; Golden Gate Audubon Society; Kittredge Elementary School; San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department; University of California Cooperative Extension; University of California, Berkeley; Urban Watershed Project; URS Greiner Woodward Clyde; and Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School.

The Academy’s education program at Mountain Lake is funded in part by Alza, the Chevron Corporation, the Laural Foundation and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Support for the Mountain Lake Enhancement Project has been provided by mitigation funds from the San Francisco International Airport.