Sustainability intern Rob Monico aims to make waves in water conservation

rob-monicoBetween organizing the Frost Campus Bioblitz and Del Crary Park Shoreline Cleanup events to researching water conservation strategies and rain water catchment systems, Rob Monico kept busy interning at Fleming College’s Office of Sustainability.

From June to December 2017, Rob has been working as the Water Conservation and Sustainability Intern through the Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) Clean Tech Internship program. He is responsible for researching water conservation strategies that can be implemented at Fleming College campus locations.

During his internship, Rob researched a rainwater catchment system for the Frost Campus Living Wall, and community gardens at Frost Campus and Sutherland Campus, which he hopes the college will implement in the future. “I also updated the Residence Green Living Guide to educate students on how to conserve water. For example, play a song while you shower to keep the shower under five minutes— just don’t play ‘Free Bird’ or ‘Stairway to Heaven,’” he laughed.

While part of Rob’s internship was research-based, the Water Conservation and Sustainability Intern also spent time organizing sustainability events. Rob was part of the leadership team for the Peterborough/Kawarthas/Northumberland Envirothon, which was held at Sutherland Campus in April. The event challenged local high school students to compete in environmental science tests and the winning team went on to compete in the Ontario Envirothon held at Frost Campus.

In September, he executed the first 24-hour bioblitz at Frost Campus, which is a biological inventory to help quantify the number of species in a given ecosystem to assess the decline in biodiversity. He coordinated a visit from Leslie Frost Public School that day as well, welcoming 300 elementary students to campus to learn about different ecosystems.

Shoreline cleanup
Shoreline cleanup event at Del Crary Park

The following month, Rob led a Fleming College shoreline cleanup at Del Crary Park in Peterborough, Ont., which was in partnership with World Wildlife Fund Canada as part of their Living Planet @ Campus program. Rob said 60 staff and students came to the cleanup on Saturday, Oct. 14 to help.

Needless to say, with all of this event planning and water conservation research, Rob certainly put his Fleming College education to use. Rob is an Ecological Restoration Honours B.Sc. – Joint Trent-Fleming Degree/Diploma graduate (Class of 2016) and a Project Management graduate (Class of 2017).

“I developed my project management skills through this internship, which was great because I finished that program here,” said Rob, who previously worked as a student employee and completed his Project Management applied project at the Office of Sustainability. “I also developed communication and leadership qualities as I started to oversee student workers and their projects, as well as event planning.”

Rob’s advice to current students is to take initiative. “Don’t wait for doors to open or expect that doors even exist, kick them down or make your own opportunities,” he said. “Fleming is all about ‘Learn, Belong, Become’ and they are all about making opportunities, accommodating student ideas, and getting involved in the community. You don’t know unless you ask!”

Rob credits Fleming staff and faculty for accommodating his request to blend his student worker role at the Office of Sustainability with his Project Management studies, so that he was able to combine his work with his academics.

Ecosystem Management and Ecological Restoration Students Present Their Experimental Design Projects

em-group-2Testing the metal concentration in lichen from air pollutants, Ecological Restoration students Adam, Brendan, David and James used some high tech equipment to determine the results of their experimental design projects.

Choosing lichens as the study subject because they are excellent bio-indicator organisms  – they gather nutrition from the air and, in doing so, accumulate air borne pollutants – the group based their research project on a 1966 study on Long Island that showed the further you get from the city, the more lichens you will find. The students’ study focused on Toronto’s city effect on lichens. The students theorized they would find a lower concentration of heavy metals in lichens the further they got from the city.

Studying four sites (each one an increasing distance from Toronto), the students performed an inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry (ICP-OES) test on 17 lichen samples, looking for traces of 14 different metals such as nickel, cadmium and lead. While they found no statistical difference in 13 of the metals tested at the four sites, copper was the exception. The concentration of copper found in the lichens decreased the further they were from Toronto.

While surprised by the results, the students said one factor they didn’t take into consideration was the effect of wind patterns on their chosen sites.

The students’ experimental design project is part of the Ecosystem Monitoring and Assessment course taken by fourth semester Ecosystem Management Technician and Ecological Restoration students. The students presented their projects as part of a conference-style event at the Lindsay Golf and Country Club on April 5.

Organized by faculty member Barb Elliot with support from Jason Kerr, the Ecosystem Management program technologist, the day is set up as a mini-conference to prepare students for real world work within their field, which often requires public speaking and presentation skills. The groups presented their findings to faculty members (Barb, Josh Feltham and Mike Fraser) and their fellow students with the opportunity for questions from the audience.

For each project, the students had to develop a hypothesis, an alternate hypothesis and prediction, and then test out their hypotheses based on study designs, sampling methods and statistical analysis techniques learned in the classroom. All of the projects involve students going out into the field to collect data.

Other projects included a study of the Subnivean Zone, the ecosystem that exists between the ground and the layer of snow closest to the ground; the Effects of Urbanization on Benthic Macroinvertebrates in Jackson Creek; and Determining the Growth Rate and Age difference of Sugar Maples in Urban and Rural Sites.

Taking inspiration from the book What the Robin Knows, Ecological Restoration students Mark, Shannon and Emily focused their experimental design project on black-capped chickadee vocalizations and how they relate to human behaviour.

The book, by Jon Young, shows that you can learn everything you need to know about the environment around you based on bird behaviour and language.

For their project, the students wanted to explore the way human behaviours and actions connect to a chickadee’s vocalizations. So the group chose a ‘sit-spot’ in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park where they could listen to and record chickadee calls – chickadee vocalizations range from songs to companion calls to territorial aggressiveness and alarms.

As part of the experiment, the students took a baseline measurement and then tested four human behaviours (quiet, such as walking, and loud, such as stomping) as well as predator calls from owls, hawks, and shrikes. Following each test, they took six-minute recordings to capture the resulting vocalizations from the chickadees.

The group reported a significant difference between the baseline and the tests they performed. They found predator calls had the highest response of a warning vocalization – the chickadee-dee-dee call we all know. According to the group, the amount of ‘dees’ on the end of the call signifies the alarm level – the more dees, the greater the alarm. In fact, they recorded one warning call that had 23 ‘dees’ on the end of it.

The quiet human behaviours resulted in more ‘feebee’ calls – where chickadees are checking in with their mates while the louder human behaviours resulted in fewer feebees and more warning calls.

Their conclusion? They found evidence to support the suggestion that chickadees are affected by human behaviours but that humans are not perceived as much of a threat as predators.

Great job by all of the students on their experimental design projects!

  • By Laura Copeland, Communications Officer