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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Medway Park & Community Garden, Charleston, South Carolina, USA

Pollinator_Garden_Design_Lydia_Cox.jpg
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Medway Park & Community Garden, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
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lrcox



Registered: May 2020
City/Town/Province: Charleston
Posts: 1
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I started volunteering with the Charleston Parks Conservancy, a non-profit that helps manage and lead community activities for Charleston, South Carolina's city parks, by contacting their community programs director with the idea to create iNaturalist citizen science projects for local parks. iNaturalist is a citizen science platform developed by the California Academy of Sciences and National Geographic that allows users to instantly identify species, create research-quality data by uploading photos and sounds, and connect with over a million scientists and naturalists to better understand and protect nature. I first began using iNaturalist to identify organisms as a hobby during my third summer volunteering as a children's camp counselor for the Charleston Museum's Nature Trailers summer camp at a local wildlife sanctuary. The ecological applications of this innovative citizen science platform seemed endless, and I set up my first iNaturalist project at the wildlife sanctuary to log the species we encountered during the summer camp and to build a record of biodiversity that museum staff could use moving forward for educational purposes.
After my successful implementation of an iNaturalist project with the Charleston Museum, I was motivated to get involved with the Charleston Parks Conservancy to foster environmental literacy and awareness in my community. The Conservancy was on board to try this new initiative, and I began building the projects through the iNaturalist website. Members of the Conservancy guided me on selecting parks to include, and for each park I created the location of each project based on satellite boundaries, added a detailed park description and cover photo, and completed ground-truthing. I was then able to successfully launch 27 unique iNaturalist projects! In addition, I serve as an administrator for all of the projects to help curate the observations and identifications, with the Conservancy's executive director as my supervisor. The goal of these projects is to help increase public involvement with wildlife and to create records of biodiversity in the parks. To date, over 1100 observations have been made by over 250 observers across the iNaturalist projects for the parks, and those numbers are expanding quickly. So far, 48% of these observations have been identified to research-grade level. These observations can be used for real scientific research; a 2018 study in Applications in Plant Sciences noted that the ecological and environmental context of data collected, georeferenced locations, and increased observation volume collected through iNaturalist citizen scientists were very beneficial to researchers.
Using these projects, I also initiated the Conservancy's involvement as the first organization in the state of South Carolina to participate in a national citizen science effort, known as a 'bioblitz', to photograph and identify pollinators. I was inspired to take action in my community after observing firsthand the numerous trials my pair of backyard beehives encountered over the past ten years. I gained experience and knowledge about the many obstacles currently facing honey bees and other pollinators such as habitat destruction, pesticides, and competition and predation from introduced species. The pollinator bioblitz even experienced delays and changes due to COVID-19, but my community found some very interesting species of native pollinators! Fifteen species of butterflies, moths, and wasps, as well as six unique species of bees were found by participants over a weekend, and it was exciting to see the community gain an increased awareness of pollinators in the world around them.
I also took a hands-on approach to increasing native bee populations by constructing native pollinator houses, birdhouse-like boxes filled with artificial nesting cavities for bees and wasps, for each of the Conservancy's four community gardens. I put my construction skills to the test and spent many hours building the boxes by recycling old fence boards, cutting them to size, and drilling them together. I then filled these wooden structures with bamboo and small logs to create nesting cavities. These native pollinator houses were hung in each community garden and will provide a small refuge of habitat in our increasingly urbanized area.
Building these pollinator houses led to discussions with the Conservancy's executive director and community garden specialist, and I began a volunteer internship to design a pollinator garden of native plants adjacent to the organization's Medway Community Garden. The goal was for the garden to serve as a host site and food source for native pollinators, as well as an opportunity to educate the public about the importance of pollinators. Designing a plan for the pollinator garden involved the acquisition and application of many new skills. This volunteer endeavor was my first landscape design, and I had little knowledge of pollinator-friendly or native plants in my area. I researched in gardening books and online resources from environmental organizations to evaluate plants based on their sun and water needs, size, bloom season, and usefulness as either a host plant or food source for pollinators. This inquiry was the most difficult part of the effort, but it was very rewarding as my list of plants and knowledge of native plants grew quickly. I had weekly videoconferences, and occasionally socially-distant on-site meetings, with my internship leaders at the Conservancy. Their knowledge was an invaluable tool, and with their insights and feedback, I was able to turn my hours of research into an actual garden design with accessible pathways, seating areas, and garden 'rooms' organized by plants that would attract hummingbirds, moths, butterflies, and bees.
The garden design project was a big undertaking for me, but the knowledge I've gained from meeting with gardening experts in the Conservancy and the anticipation of how it will help local pollinators has made it all worthwhile! Pollinator species face numerous threats and many are declining globally; they are crucial to nearly all ecosystems and play a large role in sustaining human health and economies. The need to provide pollinators with resources is vitally important, and I hope my native pollinator houses and pollinator garden will provide a small refuge for these species in my increasingly urbanized area. Additionally, I look forward to seeing how the pollinator garden will benefit local gardeners with plots in the adjacent community garden through an increase in pollination activity and crop yield. In 2019, over 180 households grew food in the Conservancy's four community gardens, and generated more than 1900 lbs. of produce. If the pollinator garden concept can be expanded in the future and further increase yields, the sky's the limit!
The pollinator garden installation is a work in progress and I plan to continue my involvement to its completion. The Conservancy is currently working on the logistics and fundraising necessary for purchasing plants and installing pathways and benches in the pollinator garden. I look forward to volunteering to help plant the garden and creating informational signage about pollinators and the native plants that will be found in the garden. When completed, this garden will not only contribute to pollinator conservation and increase crop yields but also increase environmental literacy and awareness by providing an opportunity for my community to engage with pollinators and their habitat, learn about the challenges that native pollinators face, and experience first-hand the benefits that pollinators can provide for their community garden.
My mentors at the Charleston Parks Conservancy and my volunteer efforts have inspired me. I've learned that one person can make a difference and that the combined efforts of a motivated organization can be momentous. I will start college in the fall of 2021, majoring in biological sciences. I look forward to an exciting career where I can continue to not only better understand the ecology of the world around me, but make a difference in my community!
Date: November 24, 2020 Views: 880 File size: 15.4kb, 263.9kb : 1467 x 819
Hours Volunteered: 160
Volunteers: 1
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17
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