(From the left): Meaghan Fortune, Ronan Merrill, and Amanda MacDougall pull a seine in Ben Eoin to catch small fish and shrimp.

SYDNEY: The sixth year of the Bras d’Or Watch will be different from previous incarnations.

Project manager Jen Cooper explained how it will vary.

“We did two different kinds of outreach programs so that people could still get out and explore and enjoy the Bras d’Or and get to know some organisms, but they can sort of do it on their own terms with their family and friends, or whatever they like, in a safe way and share what they find with photos,” Cooper said.

Cooper noted that the Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve Association (BLBRA) has hosted the popular citizen science program each summer since 2015, and this year, participants are encouraged to explore the lake, but in a safe way.

“It’s important to them that people interact with the ecosystem in the Bras d’Or because once you know an ecosystem more intimately, you’re more likely to protect it, it kind of instills stewardship,” Cooper said. “They’re all about, not just ecological balance, but also humans being part of that. They encourage sustainable businesses and sustainable practices in the lake, so for them it’s really important to engage people in positive practices around the lake.”

In addition to attracting supporters of the Bras d’Or Lake, the watch also provides important data which this year is being provided by ACAP Cape Breton.

“It is good to have data to compare over the years and to look back on if you suspect there’s been a change,” Cooper noted. “This year, the association contracted ACAP Cape Breton to continue the field work.”

Contributed photos
This Atlantic silverside was caught in a seine in Whycocomagh, photographed, then released.

Despite the limitations due to public health protocols, Cooper was happy to hear that one local community was able to have an in-person event.

“The St. Peter’s community went ahead and threw an after-party where they did host a community event after ACAP was finished taking the data there,” Cooper noted. “They did get people coming by and checking things out in-person which is interesting and it did work for that community.”

To continue community engagement, Bras d’Or Watch partners, BLBRA and ACAP Cape Breton, have hosted a bioblitz and photo contest.

Participants shared their plant, fungi, and animal photos on the user-friendly on-line data base inaturalist.ca which allowed participants to quickly share their photos and have their information available globally.

“That one is more scientific, because it’s not including photos of humans, it’s only natural elements,” Cooper explained.

The Bras d’Or Watch photo contest was open to anyone interested to submit photographs of anything in the biosphere among wildlife, people, activities and sustainable businesses. Photos had to be posted to the Bras d’Or Watch Facebook page by end of day July 19 which included a name, and the description, location or area where the photo was taken.

“They’re encouraged to share photos of nature, or photos of people being active, or businesses being sustainable within the watershed,” Cooper noted.

This picture of saw wrack, or Fucus_serrratus – a common Bras d’Or seaweed – was submitted to iNaturalist as part of the week-long bioblitz.

As of last week, Cooper added that Bras d’Or Watch 2020 attracted 1,065 observations and collected 453 species.

“It’s interesting because we’re getting far more species than we’d usually get,” Cooper added. “We’re covering far more of the Bras d’Or Watershed than we usually would. It’s unfortunate that we lost that social component but at the same time, there’s also a lot of benefit to it.”

For more information, visit the Facebook pages “Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve Association,” “Bras d’Or Watch,” and “ACAP Cape Breton” or call ACAP at 902- 567-1628.