Written on: September 8th, 2021 in Outreach
By Katie Goulder, Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Program (WMAP)
Olympics Big and Small
The 2020 summer Olympic games. We waited an extra year for them to arrive, ready to cheer on fan favorites like Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky in their popular sports of gymnastics and swimming, as well as watch newcomers such as Athing Mu make running 800 m look fun and easy. This exciting international event only happens once every 4 (or in this case 5) years and has us all glued to our TV’s for NBC’s primetime coverage of our favorite sports. But did you know there was a secret Olympics that happened locally every summer?
That’s right! The lesser-known Wetland Olympic games happens every field season from late spring to early fall by local environmental scientists throughout Delaware’s many wetlands. As the 2021 seasonal wetland technician, little did I know that in accepting this job that I would also be competing in rigorous, albeit more obscure, Olympic events while performing my fieldwork duties.
During the summer fieldwork season, the DNREC WMAP team is out monitoring and assessing both non-tidal and tidal wetlands throughout the state. Because wetlands come in many shapes and sizes, each site we evaluate presents its own set of challenges. Forested flat? Thick and thorny greenbrier vines ensnare your feet. Tidal mudflat? The mud may be a foot deep or it may be 3 feet deep. And there is no way to know until you take that step. Saltwater marsh? Changing tides can cause a small creek that was easily traversed in the morning to transform into a 4ft deep channel you have to wade through with your backpack over your head. Overall, working in wetlands provides unique opportunities to develop creative solutions to interesting problems. And thus, the Wetland Olympics were born.
I feel that the Wetland Olympic events emulate those of the actual Olympic Decathlon events in that they necessitate a combination of strength, agility, and endurance. A few of the most common events that the WMAP team competed in this summer include:
These are just a few examples of the athletic feats required of the wetland scientists on a daily basis in order to perform fieldwork in a difficult and dynamic environment.
Going for Gold
All in all, it has been a very exciting season working in wetlands throughout the state. I have learned so much about the different types of wetlands, the methods used to evaluate them and the variety of projects to preserve and protect the wetlands that remain and restore those that have been lost. While we don’t have medals in the Wetland Olympics, I can’t imagine a better team to train and “compete” with in each of these events.