Each year the Bay Nature Institute board and staff select remarkable individuals to receive a Local Hero Award in recognition of outstanding work on behalf of the natural world of the San Francisco Bay Area. The 2022 recipients will be celebrated during the 12th annual Bay Nature Local Hero Awards event from 2 to 5 p.m. at the David Brower Center in Berkeley on March 27. Please join the festivities in person or virtually!
From exploring Cape Cod beaches on the East Coast during childhood to becoming a nature educator on the West Coast, Megan Isadore has long been drawn to water and the creatures that inhabit it.
“We lived everywhere from deserts to mountains to really lush and tropical lands,” says Isadore, whose father’s work in the foreign service meant the family moved frequently. “It made me pretty adventurous as far as things that I was wanting and willing to try out.”
Isadore’s interests and intrepid outlook converged seamlessly a little more than a decade ago when she co-founded the River Otter Ecology Project (ROEP), a Bay Area-based nonprofit organization with a mission of engaging the public through education, research, and community science to support watershed conservation and restoration. “Otters are an indicator species, so [by studying them] we can know if our watersheds are in good shape or not,” Isadore explains.
When Isadore and her collaborators began ROEP, one of their inspirations was a basic question: were river otters present and their populations increasing in the San Francisco Bay Area, despite official records that maintained otters largely didn’t live in the region’s nine counties? To find an answer, they built “Otter Spotter,” a community science tool that allows the public to report river otter sightings; partnered with regional park and public science organizations; and put out the word about their project.
In 2015 ROEP published the Otter Spotter data and Marin County monitoring data in the peer-reviewed journal Northwestern Naturalist in a paper titled “Return of North American River Otters, Lontra canadensis, to Coastal Habitats of the San Francisco Bay Area, California.” It heralded an otter homecoming and became part of ROEP’s platform for more complex research and broader outreach.
The ROEP now has a team of 14 field monitors who oversee camera traps that provide population data; collect scat to analyze what otter prey upon across seasons and locations; and track the presence of several bacterial diseases. The organization recently published the Otter Spotter story map, displaying otter sightings throughout the region. Isadore and her team also continue to teach high school and community classes, lead field trips, and regularly publish research.
“Moving into working with volunteers in many roles helped solidify the fun of sharing knowledge,” Isadore says. “Teaching became a joy. Slowly it permeated all of my work, and now I feel that it’s among the most profoundly satisfying experiences.”