From Lazy Point in Napeague to the Potato Dock in Orient to the headwaters of the Peconic River at Brookhaven National Lab, nearly 900 students from 17 schools throughout the East End spend today on a unique field trip — measuring some of the most important scientific features of the Peconic Estuary.
This is the second year that students on the East End have participated in A Day in the Life of the Peconic Estuary, a project organized by Mel Morris of Brookhaven National Laboratory, with the help of the Peconic Estuary Program, the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission and environmental groups and science teachers throughout the East End.
The project began on the Carmans River several years ago, and has since expanded to the Peconic Estuary, the Nissequogue River and the Connetquot River.
Early this morning, 11th grade students in Janine Ruland’s AP Biology class at Mattituck High School gathered at Veterans Beach on the Peconic Bay. With the help of environmental educators from Group for the East End, they took turns at four sampling stations.
At the first station, they took turns dragging a seine net across the bay bottom, bringing it in to count the marine organisms in their catch.
At the second station, they did chemical testing of the dissolved oxygen, pH, salinity and nitrate and phosphate levels in the water.
At the third station, they took a core sample of sand from just off the shore, then examined the core sediments for what they tell about the qualities of the estuary.
At the fourth station they measured the current and tide.
They performed all of these tests last year, and next year they plan to do it again, compiling thousands of pieces of data that will give scientists information on the health of the estuary.
Twelfth graders Nina Lentini and Kimberly Scheer were documenting the whole process for the school yearbook, and to make a video montage that they hope to put together for the school’s morning television program.
They’d both done the sampling last year, on a cold, hazy, rainy day that was nothing like the beautiful morning that greeted the students this year.
“Getting the soil sample was the hardest part — pulling it out was difficult, but great when you finally managed,” said Ms. Lentini, who had volunteered to go into the water to get a core sample last year.
Ms. Scheer said she doesn’t really like beaches, but she does like science, and after participating in A Day in the Life of the Peconic Estuary last year she got a job at Veterans Beach.
She hopes to study mechanical engineering, with the hopes of helping to build wind turbines and solar farms.
Ms. Lentini plans to go to the Rochester Institute of Technology to study film or game design, and she’s trying to convince Ms. Scheer to join her there.
By the time the students had finished three rounds at each station, Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, who’d spent the morning with students at the crescent beach at Indian Island County Park, stopped by to give the kids a pep talk.
Their work, he said, was helping the Peconic Estuary recover from the brown tide that devestated the scallop population in 1985. This past season, he said, was the best scallop season since then, and he said when his generation can no longer work to protect the bay, they will pass that job on to the students gathered at the beach today.
Their teacher, Ms. Ruland, said she chose Veterans Beach as the site of the project because it’s a place where most of her students hang out in their spare time.
“I wanted them to look at the environment through the lens of something they know well,” she said.
She said citizen science, like the project they’re doing today, is valuable both to the scientific community and to people everywhere.
“They are a part of something larger. Everyone has a role and a stake in our environment, and they feel like they’re contributing on every level,” she said.