Protecting Our River
To create a community to monitor and protect the biodiversity of the L.A. River and its tributaries.
Protecting Our River (ProtectingOurRiver.org) is a community engagement project that mobilizes L.A. residents from a variety of backgrounds to help monitor the biodiversity of the L.A. River and its tributaries. We aim to increase community awareness and participation in conservation of biodiversity by merging science, art, and community involvement. We hope to serve as an example to show how scientists, neighborhood leaders, conservation groups, writers, community scientists, educators, students, and artists can work together to address environmental issues.
This project is led by CALeDNA, a University of California community science initiative that aims to monitor California’s biodiversity through environmental DNA (eDNA) – the DNA organisms shed into the environment. Community scientists, who are volunteers that participate in scientific research, collect soil and water samples throughout California. UC researchers analyze the eDNA in these samples and identify the microbes, fungi, plants, and animals in the area. By monitoring all seven kingdoms of life, researchers can study components of the food web, track pathogens, discover new species, and find species that drive changes in an ecosystem. Since its launch in 2017, over 1,300 community scientists have collected samples from over 1,600 sites.
- Monitor the biodiversity of the L.A. River system using researchers, conservation groups, and community scientists to measure current conditions and the impact of enhancement and conservation efforts.
- Create an open-data platform to provide access to biological and environmental data about the L.A. River from collaborating conservation groups, government agencies, and researchers.
- Connect scientists with local educators to generate interest and provide career guidance to young students, especially those from groups underrepresented in STEM.
- Engage the community by sharing activities, interpretation of data, stories, and art from all participants.
Results from the Pilot Supported by Metabolic Studio
- Collected 52 sediment and water samples from the Hahamongna area of the Arroyo Seco and Maywood area of the L.A. River with volunteers from CALeDNA, Heal the Bay, and LA Waterkeeper.
- Processed the samples and created an open-data site ProtectingOurRiver.org to share the results.
- Identified 8 species of fish, 729 types of bacteria, 329 types of algae, 83 types of land plants, and 84 animal species, enabling exciting and powerful comparisons of the river sections.
- Held a workshop with 12 organizations to co-analyze the results and plan a Year One design that would benefit conservation, restoration, biosafety, and public education.
Year One Plan
- Collect biodiversity data using eDNA and iNaturalist at sites representative of the entire LA River three times a year.
- Process and analyze over 360 sediment and 72 water eDNA samples. Work with our collaborators to interpret the eDNA results.
- Digitize existing biological and environmental datasets about the L.A. River along with eDNA results.
- Create a platform where the public, policy makers, and researchers can browse the integrated data to better understand the river’s ecosystem.
- Create online educational material that shows the connection between basic research and real-world application.
- Hold workshops and solicit art and stories from the public to increase appreciation and awareness of the river’s biodiversity.
- Collect, process and analyze additional eDNA samples.
- Create online tools that enable the public to analyze and interpret data, and learn about the scientific process.
- Self-publish a bilingual book of art and science that highlights the discoveries and activities of the project.
- Publish open-access research articles in a peer-reviewed journal.
- Engage the Los Angeles County Museum of Art about the potential for an exhibit on the L.A. River based on this project.