LEO Network

CEC Final Report 2017

Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium / June 2017


The Commission for Environmental Cooperation, though its generous support and advocacy, has been instrumental in helping the LEO Network expand from its roots in Alaska to both Mexico and Canada.

LEO's partnership with the CEC has accomplished a great deal in the last year:

  • Creation of the LEO User Guide, accessible and searchable online via the leonetwork.org website. The User Guide is available in English, French, and Spanish.
  • Creation of the LEO Informational Video, a 1-minute animated introduction to LEO, also available online in English, French, and Spanish.
  • Establishment and training of three new LEO hubs: in Ensenada, Mexico; Victoria, British Columbia, Canada; and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada.
  • And finally, translation of the LEO website and mobile app into French and Spanish.

All of this broadens the reach of the LEO Network: outside of the Alaska, outside of the United States, to non-English speakers, and to new knowledge holders.

We think the LEO Network has benefited tremendously from these enhancements and expansion.

About the LEO Network

The Local Environmental Observer (LEO) Network is a mobile and web-based platform that allows its members to share observations and knowledge about unusual environmental events. The purpose of the Network is to increase understanding about environmental change and to help identify healthy and effective ways to address or adapt to those changes.

The Network is based on the idea that connecting people from different knowledge backgrounds is key to understanding our changing world. LEO was originally developed in Alaska to bring local area experts in rural communities into contact with topic experts who might be far away. Today, the Network includes people from many places, representing different knowledge backgrounds, and possessing a wide range of skills and expertise.

Arctic communities have been among the first to experience significant impacts from climate change. In 2009, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) established the Center for Climate and Health to help describe connections between climate change, environmental impacts and health effects. In 2012, with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), LEO Network was launched as a tool to help the tribal health system and local observers share information about environmental change.

The LEO User Guide

With CEC's support, in 2016 the LEO team authored and published the LEO User Guide, a conceptual introduction to the LEO network for observers, consultants, and hubs. The User Guide is available online, via the LEO website at leonetwork.org.

The User Guide is available in English, French, and Spanish.

The LEO User Guide is arranged according to the three main audiences it supports: Observers, Consultants, and Hubs. We define these roles as follows:

An Observer is a LEO Network member who has submitted an observation to the Network. Observers are considered experts by the LEO Network, because they have particular knowledge of an area and/or topic. Good observers can often detect subtle changes and provide insights into causes, connections and the significance of the event.

A LEO Consultant is an expert who possesses interest in a subject and the capacity to provide technical assistance about a specific observation or series of observations. In most cases, such help would entail taking a few minutes to comment by email.

A LEO Hub is a regional center for administrative or technical support. Hubs have regional and topical expertise and act as facilitators, helping to engage a wide range of members and organizations in the Network.

This diagram is one of many included in the LEO User Guide.

The LEO Information Video

The LEO team engaged a visual artist in Montreal to produce a one minute animated introduction to the LEO Network. It is available on the LEO website in English, French, and Spanish. The English version appears here:

The French and Spanish versions of the video are available on leonetwork.org, at the following links.

French Version

Spanish Version

The LEO Information Video has given us a clear, fun way to explain LEO very quickly. It has become an important part of our presentation materials, especially when introducing LEO to a new audience.

Support for French and Spanish

Another significant improvement to LEO in the last year has been in its multilingual capabilities. Users of the LEO website and online tools may now choose the language they would like to work in: English, French, Spanish, and others.

In addition to supporting observers and hubs working in different languages, we have also enhanced our capability to publish in multiple languages. For example, it is now possible to receive an observation in Spanish, and then translate it and publish it in both French and/or English. Our hub partners in Mexico (GECI) have used this feature extensively.

In addition to the immediate benefit of supporting French and Spanish speakers in North America, the capability to work in non-English languages has allowed us to pursue new partnerships, such as in Scandinavia and in Iñupiaq and Yup'ik communities in Alaska.

LEO Network Expansion to Mexico

In August 2016, Mike Brook and Korie Hickel of ANTHC led a two-day workshop at the GECI offices (Grupo de Ecología y Conservación de Islas) in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. Also in attendance were representatives from the CEC.

The first day of the workshop was dedicated to the role of observers, while the second day focused on hub operations.

GECI is a unique organization with a tremendous amount of scientific expertise in-house. As an organization, it is dedicated to the preservation of Mexico's hundreds of coastal islands. Through their work on those islands, GECI personnel frequently interface with the communities that live there, as well as with fishermen and divers that operate nearby. GECI's vision for LEO is to introduce it to those communities as a way of gathering real-world information from local observers and traditional knowledge-holders. GECI personnel will serve as both LEO hub administrators and subject-matter consultants.

Since the workshop in August, 2016, LEO membership in Mexico has steadily risen (note that the chart below only reflects LEO members that have volunteered their home community when enrolling).

The GECI, CEC, and ANTHC team. Taken outside of the GECI offices in Ensenada, Mexico.

Korie Hickel leads the group in a LEO discussion.

Mike Brook presents LEO to the group.

LEO Membership Growth in Mexico

The LEO Network has expanded to over 50 members in Mexico by June, 2017.

Name Members
Ensenada, Baja California 34
Mexico City, Mexico City 5
Mérida, Yucatán 4
Tijuana, Baja California 2
La Paz, Baja California Sur 2
La Paz, Baja California 2
Ejido Ensenada, Baja California 2
Campeche, Campeche 2
Tapachula, Chiapas 1
Punta Flor, Chiapas 1
Veracruz, Chiapas 1
Alaska, Chiapas 1
Australia, Chiapas 1
Zulum, Chiapas 1
Guadalajara, Jalisco 1
Monterrey, Nuevo León 1
Puebla, Puebla 1
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo 1
Heroica Guaymas, Sonora 1
Tampico, Tamaulipas 1
Santa Cruz, Veracruz 1
Independencia (La India), Veracruz 1
Nuevo México, Veracruz 1
Sisal, Yucatán 1
Progreso de Castro, Yucatán 1
San José del Cabo, Baja California Sur 1
Loreto, Baja California Sur 1
Bahía Asunción, Baja California Sur 1
Chapingo, Baja California Sur 1

LEO Communities in Mexico

As of June, 2017, LEO has spread to 17 Mexican communities.

Note that the numbers shown here only represent LEO members that have volunteered their home communities.

One of GECI's first published LEO Observations appears below. It is also significant because it is the first LEO Observation to be available in more than one language.

Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico

Observer: During the summer of 2015, Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) was almost absent in the waters surrounding Isla Todos Santos, in contrast to the summers of 2014 and 2016, when large beds of this species were present.

Coastal ecology expert: The Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera, Figure 1) is an important ecosystem engineer, modulating ocean currents and available light while creating habitat for numerous invertebrate and vertebrate species. Urchins, fish, crabs, seals, sea otters and starfish utilize the resources within a kelp forest to create a rich and diverse community that depends on the presence, expanse and health of the kelp bed. In addition to providing habitat for a number of commercialized species, the kelp itself represents an important fishery, with kelp harvests dating back to 1956 along the Baja California peninsula1.

M. pyrifera is most abundant in Bahía Todos Santos during spring and summer1 due to spring upwelling which generally increases nutrient concentrations in the water column, particularly in the lower half. Increased nutrient concentrations in the water column, coupled with increased solar radiation result in increased algal growth. M. pyrifera captures nutrients from the lower portion of the water column and subsequently translocates them upwards to the canopy; however, if the lower portion of the water column is nutrient poor and the kelp is unable to absorb enough nutrients, the canopy will recede and the kelp may die off 2.

Nitrate (an essential nutrient for kelp) concentrations and water temperatures in Southern California are known to have an inverse relationship, with water temperatures higher than 15.5°C generally containing less than 1 µM of nitrate3. El Niño events have been tied to massive kelp die offs, as a typical El Niño results in increased water temperatures coupled with decreased nutrient concentrations1, 4, 5. The strong 2015-2016 El Niño most likely resulted in increased water temperatures around Isla Todos Santos and decreased nutrient concentrations that led to the massive kelp bed die-off.


Andrea Liévana MacTavish. Interdisciplinary Coastal Ecology. Biological Oceanography. CICESE.



  1. Casas Valdez M, Serviere Zaragoza E, Belda DL, Marcos R, Aguila Ramírez, R. 2003. Effect of climatic change on the harvest of the kelp Macrocystis pyrifera on the Mexican Pacific Coast. Bull. Mar Sci. 73(3):545-556.
  2. Jackson, GA. 1997. Nutrients and production of the giant kelp,(Macrocystis pyrifera, Phaeophyceae) recruitment near its southern limit in Baja California after mass disappearance during ENSO. J. Phycol. 35:1106-1112.
  3. Zimmerman RC, Kremer, JN. 1984. Episodic nutrient supply to a kelp forest ecosystem in Southern California. J. Mar. Res. 42:591-604.
  4. Tegner MJ, Dayton PK. 1991. Sea urchins, El Niños, and the long term stability of Southern California kelp forest communities. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 77:49-63.
  5. Tegner MJ, Dayton PK, Edwards PB, Riser KL. 1996. Is there evidence for long-term climatic change in Southern California kelp forest? CalCOFI Rpt. 37:111-126.
Figure 1. Macrocystis pyrifera.

As with all LEO hubs, GECI has a permanent presence on the LEO website, where a visitor may browse the Observations published by the hub, and also the LEO members involved in hub operations.

The list below highlights a few more observations published by GECI in the last year.

LEO Network Expansion to British Columbia, Canada

In November 2016, Mike Brook and Mike Brubaker from ANTHC led a two-day workshop in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. This workshop marked the official kick-off of the new First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) LEO hub. The workshop was held in the spectacular First Peoples' House on the campus of the University of Victoria (see photos at right).

First Nations representatives from Vancouver Island and elsewhere in British Columbia were in attendance, as well as representatives from numerous BC-based science organizations, the CEC, the United States EPA, and INAC (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada).

As with the earlier workshop in Ensenada, this one focused the first day on observing and the second day on hub operations (with a significantly smaller audience the second day).

As of May 2017, the FNHA hub has contributed over 60 Observations to the LEO network!

Attendees of the British Columbia LEO workshop in Victoria, BC.

The British Columbia workshop was held in the First Peoples' House on the campus of the University of Victoria.

As is a recurring theme in the LEO Network, seasonality is central to many Observations submitted to the FNHA hub. One such Observation - about the unusual appearance and disappearance of a species of hummingbird - appears below.

Note that this post is a compelling example of merging a local observer's unique perspective with a scientific point of view.

Masset, Haida Gwaii

Observation: Rufous hummingbirds usually show up with first Salmon Berry flowers and then stay all summer. We often saw 4 or more at our feeder at any one time. This year one showed up late by 2 weeks. Saw it for 2 days and then it disappeared. Had one sighting May 12th. And that's all. There are no hummingbirds this year for the first time in decades. - John Disney, Economic Development Officer, Masset, Haida Gwaii.

LEO BC Coordinator Comment: Rufus Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) breed further north than any other hummingbird. Given the consecutive years of record warm air temperatures, particularly in Alaska and parts of BC, the summer breeding range of Rufus Hummingbirds may well have shifted further north toward Alaska from this Haida Gwaii location, and from other central BC locations. Their known distribution would lend credence to this hypothesis. Ann Nightingale, co-president of the non-profit Rocky Point Bird Observatory made similar observations of decreases in Rufus Hummingbirds in 2012 on the Saanich Peninsula of Southern Vancouver Island, and attributed the decrease to climate change (McCulloch 2012). Masset, Haida Gwaii is about 750 km north of Central Saanich. The lack of individuals in the spring of 2017 near Masset could represent temporal variability, but Mr. Disney has a long time-series of observational knowledge of this species, suggesting that this observation does indeed reflect a truly novel change in that area. - Tom Okey, PhD., Ocean Integrity Research and UVic Environmental Studies.


The Rufous Hummingbird on Wikipedia

The Rufous Hummingbird on All About Birds


McCulloch, S. 2012. Bird experts aflutter over drop in rufous hummingbird numbers. The Victoria Times Colonist 16 Aug 2012.

BirdLife International (2012). "Selasphorus rufus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.


Land and Ocean Temperature anomalies 2016 (NOAA).
Range map of Rufous Hummingbirds (Rufous Hummingbirds travel nearly 4,000 miles from breeding grounds in Alaska and northwest Canada to wintering sites in Mexico (Cornell Lab of Ornathology and Natureserve)
Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) on Saltspring Island (Ryan Bushby)

The FNHA hub has contributed to robust growth of LEO membership in Canada. (Note that the data shown here only reflect LEO members that have volunteered their home community when enrolling.)

LEO Membership Growth in Canada

The LEO Network is approaching 200 members in Canada as of June, 2017.

Name Members
Vancouver, British Columbia 22
Victoria, British Columbia 21
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories 15
Prince George, British Columbia 13
Montréal, Quebec 10
Fort St. John, British Columbia 7
Edmonton, Alberta 6
Whitehorse, Yukon 6
Norman Wells, Northwest Territories 5
Kamloops, British Columbia 5
Terrace, British Columbia 5
Calgary, Alberta 4
Hay River, Northwest Territories 4
Iqaluit, Nunavut 3
Tofino, British Columbia 3
Toronto, Ontario 3
North Vancouver, British Columbia 3
Campbell River, British Columbia 3
Chilliwack, British Columbia 2
Sherwood Park, Alberta 2
Bamfield, British Columbia 2
Nanaimo, British Columbia 2
Ucluelet, British Columbia 2
Surrey, British Columbia 2
Williams Lake, British Columbia 2
Guelph, Ontario 2
Fort Smith, Northwest Territories 2
Montréal-Ouest, Quebec 2
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan 2
Haines Junction, Yukon 2
Sherbrooke, Quebec 1
Québec, Quebec 1
Etobicoke, Ontario 1
Ladner, British Columbia 1
West Vancouver, British Columbia 1
Moncton, New Brunswick 1
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador 1
Mississauga, Ontario 1
Niagara Falls, Ontario 1
Peterborough, Ontario 1
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario 1
Blainville, Quebec 1
Gatineau, Quebec 1
Montréal-Est, Quebec 1
Whistler, British Columbia 1
Vernon, British Columbia 1
Kelowna, British Columbia 1
Quesnel, British Columbia 1
Richmond, British Columbia 1
Salmon Arm, British Columbia 1
Smithers, British Columbia 1
Sooke, British Columbia 1
Summerland, British Columbia 1
New Westminster, British Columbia 1
North Cowichan, British Columbia 1
North Saanich, British Columbia 1
Bowen Island, British Columbia 1
Invermere, British Columbia 1
Bragg Creek, Alberta 1
Abbotsford, British Columbia 1
Medicine Hat, Alberta 1
Okotoks, Alberta 1
Colwood, British Columbia 1
Delta, British Columbia 1

LEO Communities in Canada

As of June, 2017

LEO has spread to many communities in Canada (note that the numbers shown here only reflect LEO members that have volunteered their home communities).

In addition, the FNHA LEO hub has contributed many excellent observations to the LEO Network in the last year. A great way to browse them all is to visit the FNHA hub page on the LEO website.

A small selection of FNHA posts are highlighted here:

LEO Network Expansion to Northwest Territories, Canada

In March 2017, Mike Brook and Mike Brubaker from ANTHC led a LEO workshop in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. Since the workshop was only a single day, it provided an overview of LEO, with an emphasis on observing. The next day, an informal meeting covered hub operations with a small group from NWT.

Participants in the workshop came from all over the NWT, plus some other Canadian provinces. Additionally, representatives from CEC and INAC were in attendance.

A highlight of the workshop was the opening "talking circle," where all participants were invited to share their own observations of environmental change in their communities.

The NWT hub is very new, and has had little traffic thus far. Still, a significant Observation was shared in the workshop about an alarming birch tree die-off that appears to be happening in Yellowknife. This Observation is not published yet, but appears below in draft form.

Attendees of the Northwest Territories LEO workshop, held in Yellowknife, NWT.

The "Talking Circle" that kicked off the workshop.

The workshop was held at the Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife.

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada

Observation: Many of our birch trees are dying in Yellowknife. Big branches at the time then the whole tree is gone.

LEO says: For general information about the Northern birch see Wikipedia.

Natural distribution map of Betula papyrifera Source: USDA
Paper birch leaves. (Source: Wikipedia)

Multi-National LEO Projects

Projects are the LEO Network's mechanism for tracking ongoing phenomena relevant to a particular theme or geography. One positive side-effect of the LEO Network expanding to Mexico and Canada is that now it is possible to use LEO Projects to track phenomena across national borders.

Some of these Projects are highlighted below, including the full details of a cross-border Project pertaining to Seastar Wasting Syndrome.


Location: Pacific Coast, Bering Sea

Description: This project tracks observations or starfish for wasting disease.

Background: Starfish wasting has been widely report on the West Coast of North America and there are observation that have been submitted in LEO Network including Southeast and Southcentral Alaska.

Funding: Open Invitation

Partners: Pending

Observing Guidance: Observers are asked to collect observations of environmental conditions, appearance of starfish, indications of the extent and type of impact. Detailed photos of individual starfish are encouraged. For guidance on collecting observation please see the seastarwasting.org guidance. LEO Network will connect observers with relevant observations to the sea star observation network.

Source Data: LEO Network

Outputs: Inclusion in LEO Network Map and Timeline. Feedback from consultants as available.

Project Updates:


A great resource for Citizen Science and in general about Starfish Wasting is the Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring: Trends and Synthesis at UC Santa Cruz. Please see the Seastar Wasting Syndrome

Note: Melissa Miner has presented to the LEO Network back in December of 2013. To view presentation or download a PDF version of, Sea Star Wasting Syndrome: detecting, tracking, and following the progression go to the LEO Network -WEBINAR- website archive and scroll down.

Media: (2013-11-04) The Seattle Times – Widespread starfish illness has been reported on the West Coast, "Marine scientists are finding a large number of dead starfish along the West Coast stricken with a disease that causes the creatures to lose their arms and disintegrate." by Seattle Times

Photo by M. Brubaker

Overall LEO Network Growth

Thanks to our new partnerships with CEC, GECI, FNHA, and NWT, the LEO Network has grown significantly in the last year.

The total number of Observations within the LEO Network has continued a steady climb as LEO has spread throughout North America.

Total Observations to Date

The total number of Observations in the LEO Network continues to grow, with significant contribution from Canada and Mexico. As of June, 2016, LEO is approaching 800 published Observations.

LEO Membership Growth in North America

LEO continues to grow robustly in Alaska and the rest of the United States, while expanding to Canada and Mexico.

LEO Communities in North America

Visit the Communities section of leonetwork.org to explore these communities in more detail.


With the support of the CEC, the LEO Network has expanded and improved considerably in the last year. This has not only increased the number of LEO Members, Observations, Communities, and Projects, but has also contributed many excellent ideas, use-cases, and scenarios to the network. One example is multilingual support. The support for multiple languages now within the LEO system - started with French and Spanish as part of this project - has now been expanded to cover many circumpolar and indigenous languages, and has opened up LEO to many new communities.

What's Next

The LEO team, along with our hub partners, are pursuing a number of new directions for LEO in the coming years. A common theme for us will be engagement of new members, organizations, and communities. For example:

  • We hope to continue to expand into new regions, first by building interest among local LEO members, and ultimately by establishing new hubs. Support for additional languages will continue to be important. At the time of this writing, we have active language translation efforts in Iñupiaq, Yup'ik, Mongolian, Japanese, and Portuguese. These are all volunteer efforts. We think language translation is a valuable and straightforward way for new LEO members to get involved, and we think our multilingual focus will increase as a result.
  • We hope to engage new organizations and communities by providing unique, valuable tools for them. For example, we envision LEO as potentially critical infrastructure for many scientific initiatives, because it provides a local, human-level view of phenomena that are typically studied at a much larger scale. Likewise, we envision LEO as an important resource for the communities themselves, as it provides access to subject-matter expertise that would otherwise be elusive. Finally, we will continue to take a cooperative approach with other citizen science networks, of which there are many. Our goal is to further their efforts, not compete with them, so outreach and collaboration will continue to be important for us.
  • Finally, while LEO has been successful at engaging "super-observers" in Alaska and elsewhere, we believe there are lower tiers of observer that would willingly participate in LEO if they had a convenient, rewarding way to do so. We hope to bring alternative engagement paths for those LEO members. For example, while relatively few LEO members write lengthy, thoughtful observational narratives, many members would happily participate in a "me-too" capacity, essentially agreeing or disagreeing with an observation that has already been posted by another member. A second example is mainstream news coverage of environmental events. We believe that there are many "news hounds" who are well-versed in environmental phenomena even if they aren't witnessing them first-hand. We think there's a place for this type of contribution to the LEO Network, and we've begun experimentally collecting news coverage where it compliments our existing observation posts.

We look forward to the continued growth of LEO in the coming years, and thank the CEC for their support in this endeavor.