Students as Ocean Stewards

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High School students in Lori Racaniello’s two oceanography classes experienced a real-life outdoor laboratory when they visited the Fire Island National Seashore at Smith Point Park to explore the physical parameters of the marine environment and catalogue the organisms residing there. The students toured the Nature Center and learned about the FINS’ ongoing research of the dynamic coastal environment with David Raymond, an environment program specialist from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Among the important aspects of their visit were lessons on the horseshoe crab and piping plover and how these are being managed by local scientists. They also learned about the breach from Hurricane Sandy that has developed into a new inlet that is being studied by scientists from Stony Brook University.

The students also participated in hands-on inquiry labs to determine the physical parameters at the beach. They developed a beach profile using surveying equipment; explored the composition and size distribution of sand along three sections of the beach; studied the wind and wave conditions, which are the fundamental forces that shape the beach; determined the water quality of the ocean and the bay and seined in the bay to observe some of the local flora and fauna that inhabit the shallow waters. They also collected water samples for further analysis back in their classroom and to observe the microscopic organisms of the ocean and bay. A hike along the boardwalk and many photos of the flora and fauna were also taken to catalogue the native species and develop a nature field guide for the area they explored.

“The day’s enrichment activities are an important aspect of the oceanography’s curriculum to have a fundamental understanding of barrier island dynamics and to learn about global warming and how it is affecting Earth’s oceans and coastal communities,” Mrs. Racaniello said. “Knowledge about these physical parameters, observations and data collected is crucial to maintain a sustainable coastal environment as future stewards of this local resource.”