image- snapshot day
Volunteers Chuck Kozak and Vimal Kapur drop off their water samples to Brittani Bohlke, water resource specialist at the San Mateo Resource Conservation District. Photo courtesy Carol Hunter/Review

It’s time for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s annual checkup.

Saturday was Snapshop Day, when water samples were taken of all the creeks, streams and rivers flowing into the local marine sanctuary, giving regulators a “snapshot” of overall water quality. The event happens the first Saturday of May every year and involves hundreds of local volunteers from Pacifica to Morro Bay. Last weekend was the event’s 20th anniversary. 

Lisa Emanuelson is the volunteer monitoring coordinator for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. She said that Snapshot Day is one of the longest-running citizen science projects.

“It is a huge achievement to keep a citizen science program going for 20 years,” she said. “To have viable data for that long is really incredible, with all these people (learning) how the ocean and watershed are connected.”

Chuck Kozak of La Honda has been volunteering with Snapshot Day for all of its two decades, visiting the same sites year after year. On Saturday, he came by the outreach table at Pillar Point Harbor to drop off his samples from Martini Creek in Montara. 

“It’s been interesting over the years to see the improvement,” he said. “I’ve seen oxygen levels going up, clarity improve.” 

He said many years ago there were problems in the creek due to horse stables and poorly constructed labor housing upstream. 

“The county has gotten that all cleaned up,” he said.

This year, Kozak was leading two rookie volunteers, Vimal Kapur of San Carlos and Jessica Blodgett of Redwood City. Kapur said he heard about the volunteer opportunity through some conservation program classes. 

“It’s good to be part of a hands-on experience,” he said. “You feel how much care people are taking of the creeks and rivers.”

Volunteers like Kozak, Kapur and Blodgett measure temperature, dissolved oxygen, acidity levels and conductivity in the field, then collect samples to send to the lab to analyze nutrient and bacteria levels. The information is used by resource agencies, local governments and community groups to protect and improve the health of local streams and determine which ones should be included on the list of impaired and threatened waterways. 

Emanuelson said that, in general, creeks and rivers at the bottom of large watersheds experience more impacts from agriculture, urban and industrial pollution, and disturbances. That is good news for the Coastside.

“The good thing for a lot of San Mateo County sites is that there are not a lot of issues,” she said. “If nothing crazy is happening, that is a great story.”

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