The students, some in waders and life preservers, stood in or just outside the amber-tinged headwaters of the Peconic River Tuesday, releasing hundreds of brook trout they'd raised from eggs into the cool, fast-moving water.
In what has become a rite of spring at Longwood schools, some 50 students made the trek to the annual release this year, including high-school biology students, special education children from the fifth and sixth grades, and advanced placement environmental science students from high school. It's the third year of the program. Fifth-graders were urged to say "Happy Earth Day" when the fish were released.
In all, 400 pinky-size trout, called fingerlings, were released into the headwaters of the Peconic in Manorville, six months after the students first greeted them as eggs in November.
In between, students learned lessons in stream ecology, marine biology, record-keeping, journal writing, chemistry and life, students and teachers said. The young brook trout are raised in tanks, where the water temperature and chemistry are constantly monitored.
Students feed and measure the fingerlings through their first months, said Ivan Suarez, who teaches the Advanced Placement Environmental Science program and chairs the high school science department.
The newly released fish face difficult odds in these waters, prey to larger fish and other predators. "It's sad, but it's called life for a reason," said 10th-grader Lenny Trionfo of Shirley. Still, he said, "We learned a lot. It's a lot of commitment."
Trout eggs from the Cold Spring Harbor fish hatchery are brought to the school by the conservation group Trout Unlimited, said Tony Ertola, a member of the group's Art Flick Chapter. "This is an education program, not a stocking" one, he said. The group's mission is to increase protection and awareness of Suffolk's cold-water fisheries.
This was the first year special ed students from the Longwood middle school participated, said Karen Horn, chairwoman of that department. The idea was inspired by special ed teacher Artie Miller who "thought it would be a great experience for the kids" after he saw tanks of fish at school last year.
Suarez said a total of 500 trout survived from the 2,400 eggs initially donated, a considerably better rate than the normal 10 percent or less that make it. The remaining 100 will be released before the end of the school year.
Suarez said a future goal is to electronically tag some of the trout to monitor them after release. The school is looking for grants to fund the work. "If we can establish a population of brook trout, that would be our ultimate goal," he said.