Young Island citizen scientists explore Coecles Harbor

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO Shelter Island students explored Coecles Harbor Friday in ‘A Day in the Life of the Peconic Estuary’ program. As student Ray Karen takes measurements of the tides from shore, United States Geological Survey staffer Brendan McCarthy (facing the shoreline) leads three other students (backs to camera, l-r) Melissa Frasco, Lucio Martinez and Elizabeth Larsen in taking water measurements.

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO
Shelter Island students explored Coecles Harbor Friday in ‘A Day in the Life of the Peconic Estuary’ program. As student Ray Karen takes measurements of the tides from shore, United States Geological Survey staffer Brendan McCarthy (facing the shoreline) leads three other students (backs to camera, l-r) Melissa Frasco, Lucio Martinez and Elizabeth Larsen in taking water measurements.

Some young Shelter Island citizen scientists agreed a field trip Friday to Ram’s Island gave them a better understanding of the place they call home.

This is the third successive year students have participated in a program run by Brookhaven National Lab, The Central Pine Barrens Commission and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, aided by the Peconic Estuary Program and Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Marine Department. More than 900 youngsters, 3rd through 12th graders, and their teachers from 18 schools around the Peconic Estuary, spend a day taking measurements, samples of water, pictures of plants and writing about their “Day in the Life of the Peconic Estuary.”

Nine Shelter Island students — most from teacher Dan Williams’ marine biology and advanced placement environmental courses, along with a few members of the Science Club — ventured out to Coecles Harbor, donning waders and joining United States Geological Survey staffer Brendan McCarthy to measure water temperature, acidity, conductivity, turbidity and dissolved oxygen.

Others divided into two groups, one measuring tides and the other plants along the shoreline.

Students have done measurements in the classroom, Mr. Williams said. But to go out into the water brings the research to life, he added.

The students, all seniors, were unanimous in their appreciation of the experience, “The kids just eat this up,” Mr. Williams said.

“I love it,” said 18-year-old Zoe Bolton. “We live in such a different area than the rest of the world.”

Ms. Bolton is considering a career in the hospitality field, but still enjoys exploring the Island’s environment.

Olivia Yeaman and Sophia Strauss, both 17, were looking at aquatic plants and discovering how humans affect their environment. “Hands-on is so much more interesting” than sitting in a classroom and reading about the environment, Ms. Strauss said.

It’s important to learn about the soil and how it affects plants, said 17-year-old senior Julia Labrozzi.
Lucio Martinez, one of the first to venture into the water, reported that it was “really fun.” But the 18-year-old said it was also really cold. The waders kept the students dry, but they could still feel the chilly water temperatures.

Another of the first group into the water, Melissa Frasco, reported that the acidity level was higher in open waters than it measured in the more stagnant inner areas. It’s unhealthy if the water is too acidic, the 17-year-old said.

While her future doesn’t lie in biology, but more likely psychology and substance abuse counseling, she finds her AP biology studies interesting.

Ray Karen, 18, agreed. He was taking measurements of the tides every five minutes to determine how quickly they come in as Alex Hernandez, 18, was busy photographing plant life around the water.

In the first year of the program, students were divided into two groups — one led by Mr. Williams at West Neck Creek and a second group at Mashomack Preserve where science teacher Sharon Gibbs and Mashomack’s environmental educator Cindy Belt worked with some students.

Mr. Williams hopes that next year he and Ms. Gibbs will be back. The aim is to make comparisons of changes that may have taken place over three years, he said.

Elizabeth Larsen, 17, is interested in a career in marine biology. How would she categorize getting up close and personal with Coelcles Harbor? “Definitely amazing,” Ms. Larsen said.

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