Hi, I am Luisa. I am an acquatic scientist working at the University of Siena, Italy, with Prof. Steven Loiselle. I am really proud to present the first citizen-science FreshWater Watch project in Italy! I live in the countryside between Florence and Siena, and managed to create a group of people interested in supporting scientific research while getting their feet on the water for a while! This group of people consists of high-school students and interested citizens.
On Friday 13th of May, we organized an event in the village of Sambuca Val Di Pesa, Municipality of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, Province of Florence, Italy. There is an historical attention to water resources and culture of respect for the environment, as a local community has lived along the Pesa River for centuries and is very keen in understanding and monitoring the state of the ecosystem.
On monday morning (16th of May), we held a lecture to 22 high-school students from the Liceo Linguistico Giovanni Pascoli in Florence. Together with their Science Professor, Bruna Figliomeni, the students agreed to monitor key rivers of the Arno basin (5th biggest river in Italy, 1st River in Tuscany, flowing to the Tyrrenian Sea). By this joint effort, we manage to cover many points in this area by citizen-scientists' observations (see map).
In my scientific research, I am focused on marine litter and bio-geo-chemical cycling of anthropogenic compounds in marine environments. I have a European Fellowship for a project called POSEIDOMM (www.poseidomm.eu), looking at the interaction of microplastics with organic matter in the ocean. In POSEIDOMM, we combine scientific research with outreach activities and science communication. So, what brings me to the river (besides the fact that I don't live by the coast)? Well, we all know that ecosystems are complex. And aquatic ecosystems are all connected. As water flows from the river to the sea, so does litter flowing along. And it is estimated that globally, 80% of the debris found at sea have a terrestrial origin (GESAMP, 1991). There we go, clean rivers, clean seas. So, the first step is to create consciousness, make people aware that the problem exists, and it is connected to our everyday lifestyle. FreshWater Watch is a powerful tool as it allows people everywhere in the world to discover, collect scientific data and discuss by comparing local results to global results on the state of freshwater systems. And, by gathering information on litter we can eventually estimate the amount of debris transported to the Tyrrenian Sea by local rivers in Tuscany. Friday evening was meant to present the project and recruit volunteers and I think we did it pretty well by showing a documentary on garbage patches in the ocean. The Mediterranean Sea is not much different in litter concentration than other oceanic gyres. That was shocking, fo me too, used to see that kind of things.
The rest was pretty easy, we live in a privileged community, where recycling rate is almost 87%, a lot for a small European municipality! So, people are generally respectful of the environment and interested in knowing more, and doing more. Then, Prof. Loiselle and myself explained the purpose of the project. Why joining FreshWater Watch as a group of volunteers, why in Tavarnelle, specifically asking to monitor litter besides nutrients, phosphates, turbidity and the other FreshWater Watch parameters. Gianluca, probably the first FWW citizen-scientist in Italy, was there as well to share his experience and motivate people in doing the same. We gathered a group of about 14 people and the Municipality of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa (to which Sambuca belongs to) has given us full support in the future months to come. Next step, will come the training of the volunteers, I will keep you posted!
With the students, it's another story. I have to say that the class is highly motivated, all in the age of 18, and they'll have to choose their way by next year, I mean, they'll have to decide (if they haven't already) what they want to be in the world, and how, whether they want to undertake scientific careers at university (or not), and if they want to go to university at all. In any case, they have to be aware of what they do not want in their future. And I bet, none of them wants dirty rivers, dirty seas, polluted air. It does not matter whether they'll be scientists one day. It does not matter what their future profession will be. The environmental awareness goes further beyond than that. Everybody needs clean water. It's about the future they want, and how to contribute to build it. And, this class will be also the first class in Italy taking part in FreshWater Watch research! I told them they should be proud of it. I am curious of the results, now we just have to set the sails and let this adventure start.