Volunteer Spotlight: Steve Myers

Posted by KristenM on October 24th, 2017
Man sitting on bench on beach

SERC volunteer Steve Myers sits at the SERC seining beach, where students from all over the Chesapeake wade into the water to search for fish. (Credit: Sara Richmond)

by Sara Richmond

After Steve Myers retired from a nearly 40-year career in information technology, he decided to try something different. Over the last two years, that “something different” has included teaching students how to use seining nets and paddle canoes, measuring trees at a stream restoration site, banding ospreys, and monitoring mangroves as a citizen science and education volunteer at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC).

With SERC’s education program, Steve leads field trips with visiting students. “One of my favorite parts of volunteering is seeing the reaction on the kids’ faces when they experience something they’ve never done before, especially kids who have grown up in the city,” he says. “Seeing them hold a fish or a crab for a first time—that’s kind of neat.” Occasionally, the students also spot water snakes passing by the seining beach. Steve says some of the kids are tentative about being in the water when snakes are around, but they quickly learn that the snakes won’t bother them. Last year, students named one of the frequently visiting snakes “Bob.”

Some of the creatures they encounter are less welcoming. “We caught a fairly sizable blue crab in a net and it latched onto me and wouldn’t let go,” Steve recalls from a field trip last year. “Finally, one of the teachers helped me out. I was trying to act nonchalant about it, but it hurt!”

He admits that he was apprehensive about getting involved with the education program at first, as he did not have prior teaching experience. However, Steve says he’s learned something new with every field trip he assists with, and he encourages others who are considering volunteering to not be intimidated by the idea of teaching for the first time.

“If you like being outside, chances are you’re going to like being here,” he says. He also adds that volunteering has provided opportunities beyond his regular education and citizen science program responsibilities, such as attending lectures, getting to know SERC scientists, and participating in events like an osprey banding trip at Patuxent River Park.

When he’s not working with field trips, you can often find Steve helping scientists in the lab or forest. With SERC’s Stream Restoration Project, Steve is helping determine the impact of a recent restoration on Muddy Creek, a stream that runs through SERC’s campus. Before its restoration in early 2016, the stream had eroded to the point that its channel was several feet deep. When rain fell, instead of flowing onto the surrounding ground, or floodplain, as with healthy streams, excess water rushed towards the Bay, carving away the banks and carrying pollution with it. Even the nearby vegetation started to change, as plants and trees used to growing in the damp conditions of a healthy floodplain were replaced by those that prefer drier conditions. Now that the stream has been restored to its original depth, Steve and other citizen scientists are tracking how trees along its banks are faring by measuring their circumferences. In the nearly two years that the team has been monitoring them, they have noticed that some trees have gotten smaller from being rooted in waterlogged soil. Steve and the team continue to track the trees’ growth. Ultimately, their work will help determine which stream restoration strategies are most effective.

Two men measuring a tree

As a citizen scientist, Steve Myers helps SERC technician Jay O’Neill measure tree growth at the Muddy Creek Stream Restoration project.

Steve is also helping with a second citizen science project: Mangroves and climate change. Mangrove plants are critical to tropical and subtropical coastal areas, protecting the shore from hurricanes and other adverse weather, sheltering fish and birds, providing food for marine life, and improving water quality. As Earth’s temperature warms, mangroves are migrating north, so SERC researchers want to understand how temperature changes and other conditions in their new homes may affect them. To find out, they planted mangroves from Florida, Baja California, and Panama in chambers in SERC’s Mathias Lab that simulate temperate and tropical environments. As some mangroves experience freezing temperatures similar to what they may encounter as they leave their tropical habitats, Steve helps collect data to determine how different species of mangroves react. The project will also provide researchers with a better idea of how far north mangroves can spread.

Steve hopes that students and other visitors leave SERC with a clearer understanding of how everything in nature is tied together. “You can’t alter one thing without having an impact on something else,” he says. “In the past, humans haven’t done a very good job of managing those relationships, so it’s even more important that we manage them now.”

Want to join the team? Contact Karen McDonald (Education) or Alison Cawood (Citizen Science).


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