Field Ecology Concepts Help Endangered Coho Salmon

December 7th, 2022 - 5:46pm

College of Marin (COM) students have been working on ecological restoration of the Lagunitas watershed for the past 20 years and have changed the landscape for the better. 

Industry-related agricultural development and general urban sprawl have seriously degraded the watersheds in West Marin over the last 100 years. Government agencies and nonprofit organizations, such as Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN), are implementing ecological restoration plans for some of the disrupted watersheds. 

For thousands of years, coho salmon have returned from the ocean to the freshwater streams where they were born. Their return has long been viewed as a bellwether of wild salmon health in the Bay Area and Central California. During the last 20 years, biologists have seen declining numbers of coho nests, which are traditionally used by experts to estimate salmon numbers.

During the fall 2022 semester, students from Professor Fernando Agudelo-Silva’s Biology 112 class participated in a project that addressed recovery of several endangered species, including coho salmon. Working in disrupted watershed areas of the San Geronimo Valley site, COM students planted seeds and seedlings along banks of streams where salmon spawn. The revegetation of the banks improves water quality for the hatching of salmon eggs and survival of young salmon.

Encouraging growth of vegetation along these banks helps bring the ecosystem back into balance and also gives students an experience in the field where they can apply their knowledge. According to Agudelo-Silva, these projects allow students to connect theory and practice. Perhaps more importantly, they are able to apply that learning to better understand the art of adjusting classroom theory to the field reality.

“They realize the practical use of theory learned in the classroom to a real-life situation that contributes to the survival of a special and endangered coho salmon population,” says Professor Agudelo-Silva. “They see that individuals can make a positive and concrete contribution to the restoration of ecosystems.”

Students also benefit from exposure to the different career paths they can pursue while earning their degree. Professor Agudelo-Silva adds that this work experience gives students an advantage, making their applications stand out when they transfer or look for jobs and helping them transition to employed professional.

SPAWN is a local, nonprofit organization initiated in 1997 as part of the Turtle Island Restoration Network. Working in West Marin, the organization seeks to protect endangered, wild coho salmon as well as the forests and watersheds they need to survive. Each year the organization engages hundreds of people to learn about the majestic endangered salmon, restore watershed habitat, raise native redwood trees, and study salmon health.

Read the 2016 Story: COM Students Use Field Ecology to Help Endangered Coho Salmon