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Program gives students a day of hands-on marine research

Long Island middle and high school students canvassed the Fire Island shoreline as part of the "A Day in the Life" program in which they work alongside their teachers and environmental educators.

Students from four local high schools participated in the "A Day in the Life” program on the shores of Fire Island on Friday. The students collected samples of what will be used as data to study the ecosystem. (Credit: Johnny Milano)

You didn't need a fishing rod to discover what was in the water off Fire Island on Friday. Long Island middle and high school students canvassed the shoreline there as part of the "A Day in the Life" program to conduct marine research alongside their teachers and environmental educators.

Northport High School freshman Devon Gilmore was among the more than 100 children to participate. Now in its eighth year on the Island, the program expanded last year beyond just rivers to incorporate Fire Island.

“Science doesn’t have to be limited to four walls,” said Kimberly Collins, a Northport High science teacher who guided her students through the day. “It’s important to get kids out of the classroom.”

Students and educators from Northport, Bay Shore High School, Nathaniel Woodhull School in Huntington  and Longwood Jr. High School  in Middle Island were spread across Fire Island on Friday.

Participants shared a range of responsibilities, from fishing with a large net called a seine to testing water samples. The hands-on science exploration will run every Friday through Nov. 2 with different schools, and also will include visits to the Nissequogue River, Connetquot River, Forge River and various locations within the Peconic Estuary.

The day is coordinated by the Central Pine Barrens Commission, Brookhaven National Laboratory's Portal to Discovery, the state's Department of Environmental Conservation and Suffolk County Water Authority. More than 2,500 students will participate in the program, guided by 38 partner agencies and 40 schools.

Gilmore  was among those who conducted an aquatic biology survey using a seine net and other supplies such as a collection bucket, measuring tape, clipboard, waders and life jacket provided by program sponsors to determine what species live in the Fire Island waters.

Dressed in waders and waterproof boots and in the shadow of the Fire Island Lighthouse, Gilmore took three separate samples for surveying purposes. After each haul, he and his classmates would kneel beside the edge of the net to gently pick out the fish and place them in a bucket of water. The students would then assess what the net returned. Friday’s hauls consisted mostly of silver side fish, which were all returned safely.

“It’s really fun,” Gilmore said after his survey was complete. “I’ve done this by myself, but it’s nice to do it for a purpose.”

The students’ findings will be added to the website portaltodiscovery.org that offers analysis of the health of Long Island’s ecosystem.

“A day in the life helps students develop an appreciation for and knowledge of Long Island’s river and estuary ecosystems and collect useful scientific data,” said program coordinator Melissa Griffiths Parrott. “It teaches students to become stewards of water quality and Suffolk County’s spectacular natural resources.”

The program allows students to determine how a river and estuary fit into the larger ecosystem, organizers said.

Bay Shore High School senior Denikel Lawrence said she credited the program with helping her to identify a career goal.

"I think by being here last year, I learned what I wanted to do in the science field," said Lawrence, 18, of Bay Shore, who participated in the program for the second consecutive year. "I want to study hydrology and water quality and eventually environmental law."

Lawrence was among the students to examine the physical and chemical aspects of each aquatic ecosystem, such as where fresh water and salty seawater meet and the amount of sediments, nitrates, phosphates, and oxygen levels in the water.

To Kathy Krause, chief of interpretation and education for Fire Island National Seashore, this is why she is grateful the program exists.

"For us, it's not just about the environment, it's about getting kids jazzed about science," Krause said.

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