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Students become citizen scientists as they gather data of Peconic Estuary at Indian Island County Park

Equipped with chest-high waders, fishing nets, binoculars, collection buckets and more, students from elementary to high school age became citizen scientists Friday.

The students, including a group from the Shoreham-Wading River School District, took over the Peconic estuary at Indian Island County Park as part of the “A Day in the Life” event. Students documented and gathered information that helps determine the health of the estuary and other river and saltwater ecosystems on the island.

“All of that information tells us the snapshot of the estuary at this point for today,” said Dana Schaefer, who teaches science research at Shoreham-Wading River High School. “Then because we’ve been coming back to the same site for about five years now, we’ll go back, and we’ll look at the data from each of the previous years and we’ll just compare.”

Apart from the freshman participating in the event for the first time, Ms. Schaefer had upperclassmen who had participated in the event before, helping the newcomers as student overseers.

The events are sponsored by Brookhaven National Laboratory in partnership with Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Southold’s Cornell Cooperative Extension also participated in the event. Scott Curatolo-Wagemann, CCE’S fisheries program director, has been involved since the program started 10 years ago at the Carmans River. He was at the event to help support Ms. Schaefer in guiding the students.

Mr. Curatolo-Wagemann helps students with seining techniques and helping them differentiate and correctly document the kind of fish they catch in the nets. 

“It’s really about them getting some hands-on learning experience,” he said.

Students were broken up into four groups. The first group measured the current direction and speed of the tide at the bay. They also measured air temperature, cloud cover and wind. Group two sketched a map of the site and collected  sediment sample of the shoreline and site bottom. The following group did a chemical analysis of the estuary. They would document the water temperature, measure the dissolved oxygen and measure the pH in the water.

Five other Long Island districts — Springs, Eastport/South Manor, Brentwood, the Ross School and Shelter Island — participated in the events in other areas of Long Island. According to a DEC press release, in total more than 2,500 students from 40 school participated.

“Doing this is just a really good way of letting students participate in monitoring our water quality here because it is such an important ecological feature, not only for the Island, but for the world,” said Ava Merced, a SWR senior.

Mel Morris, one of the founders of the “Day in the Life” event, stopped by to see all the students participating and gave credit to the teachers for making the event work.

“The program works because we have dedicated teachers who want to do this,” Mr. Morris said. “It’s a lot of work for a teacher just to come out and do all this stuff.”

Another “Day in the Life, event will be held on Friday at the Connetquot River.