Julie Gordon, Rose Gordon and Justen McCubrey survey the Mill Brook in Casco last year as part of the inaugural Stream Explorer program. Contributed / Kim McCubrey

Recruiting is on again this year for volunteers to seek out big water bugs in area streams.

Stream Explorer volunteers will be looking for macroinvertebrates, or large aquatic insects like these that were found in Gay Brook in Raymond last year. Contributed / Paul Robichaud and Bill Keller

The Stream Explorers program’s survey of large aquatic insects helps the state Department of Environmental Protection monitor the health of Maine’s rivers and streams. Held for the first time last year in the Lakes Region, the program is expanding this year in southern Maine.

“Land use and climate change is affecting stream quality. The DEP can’t monitor all the rivers and streams and can only get to around 50 to 60 a year,” said Hannah Young, a conservation associate with Maine Audubon. “They don’t have the resources to monitor all the streams and rivers, so there is a real need for this.”

Maine Audubon is teaming up with the DEP, the Lakes Environmental Association and the Portland Water District to recruit community scientists for the Stream Explorer program.

Volunteers are assigned to specific sites to seek out stone flies, may flies, midges, aquatic worms, leeches, caddis flies, crayfish and riffle beetles, which “are excellent indicators of a changing environment,” according to Maine Audubon.

“Some require cold, clean water and high-quality habitat. Others can tolerate warm, polluted water or poor habitat quality. So the presence or absence of different species can inform us about both water quality and the ecological health of a stream,” Maine Audubon says.

The data compiled by the Stream Explorers gives the DEP the first indication that a a stream might need a health examination. If there are only pollution-tolerant macroinvertebrates present, Young said, the department “may need to go there and see what’s going on,”

Last year’s work found that several streams, including Norton Brook in Falmouth, needed additional department review.

Roughly 30 streams in the Sebago Lake watershed were part of the Stream Explores program last year, including the Crooked River, Dingley Brook, Gay Brook and Mill Brook. This year’s program, which begins next month and concludes in October, will continue to focus on that area, but is expanding to a cover a larger area of the state. A list of streams that will be surveyed is still being compiled.

“This year we are expanding to southern Maine because we got so much interest from the public last year,” Young said.

Paul Robichaud, of Windham, was among the 25 volunteers in last year’s Stream Explorer program that surveyed 27 streams near Sebago Lake.

He decided to help after learning of the sheer number of streams that need surveying.

“It might never get done if just professionals were to do it,” Robichaud said.

Windham resident Bill Keller also volunteered.

“It increases awareness of our stream habitats and how critical they are to life here in the watershed and on our planet in so many ways,” Keller said.

Alanna Doughty, an educator with Lakes Environmental Association, said the Stream Explorers program not only helps catalog macroinvertebrates, it gives people a better understanding about the world around them.

“The best way for people to care for the environment is by creating a connection with it,” Doughty said. “This is a great opportunity for people to connect with their local waterways.”

Young shares that perspective.

“The more folks get in touch with their surroundings and understand what you are going to find, you are going to start, hopefully, looking at things more critically when you are out and about,” she said.

Young said volunteers don’t need to be trained scientists to participate.

“You don’t have to have a scientific background whatsoever. Last year was the first time I had ever surveyed macroinvertebrates,”  she said. “This is a great programs for families, kids or anyone interested in streams around them.”

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