Drones, Robotic Rovers and Citizen Scientists Join Forces to Sample a Lake’s Biodiversity

Lake Merritt is a tidal lagoon in the heart of Oakland, Calif. The oldest wildlife refuge in the U.S., it is home to numerous birds and shares many marine species with nearby San Francisco Bay. Even sea otters occasionally visit. Last weekend the Lake Merritt BioBlitz set out to explore this rich biodiversity and got a taste of the future of citizen science. Supported by iNaturalist, the California Academy of Sciences, Wild Oakland and the Oakland Museum of California, participants armed with smartphones photographed plants and animals from all around the lake. The goal of the BioBlitz is to use volunteers to count the species living around Lake Merritt. Accurate species counts allow scientists to assess the lake’s health and determine how well current recovery programs are working.

Scientists and naturalists were on hand to help identify species and educate volunteers. Autonomous drones buzzed overhead, landing gracefully to collect water quality measurements. Remotely operated submersibles surveyed the lake bottom, documenting the lagoon’s aquatic diversity. These high-tech tools joined a team of more than 150 local citizen scientists.

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