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Earthwatch "A team" heads for the mudflats.

Surveying the Mud Flats
by Cherie Briggs, Earthwatch Teacher Fellow, Washington

We had another filled day, leaving the camp at 8 a.m. and returning at 6 p.m. We arrived at the Swinomish Indian Reservation to help survey the mud flats.

Susan and I were the second group to help with surveying, and the team the day before had had some difficulties. They were not able to stay upright in the mud. Dr. Liebow introduced us as the "A team" and guaranteed we would be very effective. Boy, did that make me feel some nervousness because I had never done anything like this — ever!

We were outfitted with rubber boots and given a quick lesson in the tasks at hand. Our job was to plot 5-by-5-feet square grids as we moved out into the bay and record what was growing in each grid.

This survey takes place once a month. The data that is recorded then gets transferred to software that will allow the tribe to see the changes in the bay from month to month. They want to watch the results closely to keep the tide flats healthy. They are in a major battle against a weed called Spartina that is damaging the shellfish. Shellfish are very important to the tribe's economy.

We spent the next several hours plotting the grids in the mud. I had a blast and became the "recorder" for each grid. I plan to bring a copy of my work and a blank sheet back to my students so they can learn how to survey our school grounds. This is a great example of how we graph and grid in the real world.

As for falling in, I successfully stayed afoot. I did get stuck in the mud once but managed to work myself out the mess. Phew!

Photos courtesy of Earthwatch