I learned a great deal about eels from Graham Swift’s remarkable 1983 novel Waterland set in the watery fens of eastern England. The history of the scientific understanding of the eel – Aristotle posited that they sprang from the mud – and the mystery of their epic migration to spawn in the Sargasso sea feature in the story of a beleaguered history teacher and the twists and turns of family and local history.
I have learned even more by digging into the Citizen Science American Eel project and following some of the links.
The American eel (Anguilla rostrata), a migratory fish, is born in the Atlantic Ocean and enters North American estuaries, including the Hudson River, as tiny, see- through “glass eels” each spring. Once they arrive, they soon gain pigment and become part of the ecosystem for years to come. The species is in decline over much of its range, and baseline studies, like the Hudson River Eel Project, of populations are crucial for management decisions.
During this project, teams of scientists, students, and community members collect glass eels using specialized nets and traps on several Hudson River tributaries each spring. The juvenile fish are counted, weighed, and released, and other environmental data is recorded. At the end of each season the data is compiled and sent along to decision-makers.
The project directly involves students and volunteers with scientific design and field methodology. Participants experience their local ecosystem firsthand, and collect important information and relevant data about migrating fish.
This is what high school students in Brent’s science classes were doing last week – functioning as citizen scientists monitoring the eels in the Fall Kill Creek as it approaches the Hudson in Poughkeepsie. These students are not learning about science they are thinking and working as scientists in the field. Or in this case in the water.
It was a cold day – even with a few snowflakes in the air – and these kids were hip deep in the creek. But no matter. This is important and useful work.What better way to inspire a passion for science. And all that book learning? Well now it has meaning, context, relevance and importance. That knowledge is now just-in-time and can be put to work.
Examples like this one abound in every division at PDS. This just happened to be a notable one from this week.