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LI students 'get their hands dirty' studying wildlife, collecting data on local rivers

Smithtown East High School students explore how the

Smithtown East High School students explore how the Nissequogue River and estuary impact the ecosystem on Long Island. The event was organized as part of the "A Day in the Life of a River" program where students collect data  about water quality and biodiversity. Credit: Newsday / John Conrad Williams Jr.

Hundreds of Long Island students this fall are live-streaming — on real streams.

An annual program makes it possible for children from 35 schools to fan out to rivers from Hempstead to Orient Point to study wildlife and collect data about water quality and biodiversity.

Organizers say the "A Day in the Life of a River" program introduces children to potential careers while bringing them closer to the natural environment that surrounds them every day — even if sometimes they don't notice.

"We get to see some of the most beautiful parts of Long Island," said Mel Morris, Brookhaven National Laboratory manager of special projects and the program's founder. "They may know them because they go swimming there, but they have no idea that they’re a viable ecosystem. … It gives them a different perspective of it and maybe that helps them become better stewards."

The program is run by the Upton lab with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Long Island Central Pine Barrens Commission.

This year's program began Sept. 24 and is scheduled to conclude Nov. 5.

Morris said 1,800 students from grades 4 through 12 are involved this year. The lab trains teachers to lead the expeditions, pairs them with local parks officials and DEC specialists and provides the necessary equipment to take measurements.

Last Friday, dozens of students from Center Moriches and William Floyd high schools collected statistics about water temperature and sediment cores on the Forge River between Mastic Beach and Moriches. The data will be added to the laboratory's records from previous years' studies to track the river's health, Morris said.

Just as important as data are deer and other wildlife, teachers said.

"They get an appreciation for different ways to sample a river," Center Moriches teacher Alison Golosaro said, adding, "it’s not just data collection."

"They get real-life experience outside of a lab setting," William Floyd science teacher Anya Swiss said. "You’re not going to get to see a bald eagle in a classroom."

William Floyd senior Joseph Lucenti, 17, of Mastic Beach, whose family lives along the Forge River, said he was excited that his classmates saw what he sees every day. Wearing waders, they plunged into the stream and found crabs and jellyfish among other aquatic critters, he said.

"It was fascinating what was in the water," Lucenti said. "We went to Osprey Park and we saw the eagle. That was really cool because eagles are really rare."

Morris said he launched the Long Island program 11 years ago on the Carmans River in Brookhaven Town. It was modeled on a program held on the Hudson River, he said.

The Long Island version grew quickly and includes about a dozen locations this year.

Activities are simplified for younger students. Older students are selected based on their aptitude and interest is pursuing careers in math, science and technology.

Besides all the technical mumbo-jumbo about turbidity and tidal flows, teachers said, the kids just have a plain old good time.

"The kids love it. It’s a lot of fun," Swiss said. "They love to get their hands dirty. They love to get outside."

'A Day in the Life of a River'

Brookhaven National Laboratory's annual "A Day in the Life of a River" program has held events this year on the Carmans and Forge rivers in Brookhaven Town, Green Creek in Sayville, Carlls River in Babylon, Gardiner County Park in Bay Shore, the Massapequa Preserve, Fire Island and Nissequogue River in Smithtown.

There are three remaining dates:

Friday

Southold, Riverhead and Orient Point

Oct. 29

Connetquot River, Oakdale

Nov. 5

Mill River, Hempstead Town

SOURCE: Brookhaven National Laboratory

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