Island Student-scientists add to water data at West Neck Creek

EMILY LINDEN PHOTO Daybreak over West Neck Creek.

EMILY LINDEN PHOTO Daybreak over West Neck Creek.

Eight Shelter Island students were at West Neck Creek October 21 to take water samples last week, identifying plant life and studying tides.

It’s the fourth consecutive year Shelter Island School teacher Dan Williams has brought his marine science students to an Island site as part of the county-wide “Day in the Life of the Peconic Estuary” program.

What’s critical to Mr. Williams about the creek is discovering if acidity — a factor that affects aquatic life — has increased in the water since last visited three years ago. Students, wearing waders and life jackets provided by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), took water samples and also examined plant life around the site.

They also took tide readings to determine the direction and pace the creek’s water moves.

Roi Carbajal, a junior, and Junior Pantaleon, a freshman, were taking pictures of plant life to compare with pictures taken three years ago. The comparisons will tell them if the atmosphere around the water has had a positive or negative effect on the plants in three years

Classmate, Alberto Morale, a sophomore, was sketching the scene, as had been done in past years, again to compare the site to what it had looked like in 2014.

Mason Marcello, a junior, was taking water samples to check for plankton that is generally at the bottom of the food chain and important to maintaining an ecological balance in the water. He explained that some of the water samples will be compared with tap water from Island sources.

Ashley Pantaleon, a sophomore; Sincere Smith, a freshman; and Kimberly Chica, a junior, donned waders and life jackets to venture out into the cold creek to take samples of both water and aquatic life at a greater depth than at the shores.

Using a seine fishing net, the students, under the guidance of USGS official Irene Fisher, were able to get a look at some of the aquatic life in deeper water and then later to do so near shore, gathering up tiny fish for examination before returning them to their habitat.

In both cases, the students took water samples to be tested and used for further study in the classroom.

Those who waded into the water pronounced it chilly at this time of year. But all said they preferred to learn from an on-site field trip than from books and lectures.

“I’m liking it,” pronounced Dan Schultheis, a freshman. “It’s pretty nice and I’m out of school.”

Mr. Williams spoke to Ms. Fisher about the possibility of getting to a dock where some even deeper water samples could be taken in the future. She promised to look into that possibility.

With work completed for this year at West Neck and following a snack break, the students headed out to Bootleggers Alley to gather water samples there for the first time.