July 9, 2008

Scientists Net Fish for Local Schoolchildren

By Amanda McGregor, The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.

Jul. 9--SALEM -- The Atlantic Ocean served as a classroom yesterday for students who mucked along the shore on a scientific mission.

About 45 first- and second-graders from Saltonstall School crammed the shoreline at Forest River Park around 12:30 p.m. to watch a team of three state scientists wade into the water with a giant net to catch a haul of ocean critters.

The children clamored and shrieked as they plucked crabs, flounder and silversides from the netting to place them in buckets of water for observation.

"I saw a fish," said Leah Morganstern, 7, who crouched in the sand. "It was blue. When I tried to pick it up, it slipped. I like fish a lot."

Students marveled at hermit crabs and small sand shrimp, which, true to their name, looked like sand and blended into their surroundings.

"The hermit crabs are my favorite because they don't bite me," said Kurt Koloseus, 7. "Ocean (creatures) are cool because they can breathe underwater."

For more than a decade, the state Division of Marine Fisheries has collaborated with Saltonstall School to carry out an annual catch with students. They also count and identify everything they collect and have kept records since the program's inception in 1997.

"It does give us a snapshot in time of what's going on here," said Kristen Ferry, a marine fish biologist who led the team and guided students through yesterday's activities at Pioneer Beach.

Ferry scooped up a large black crab to pass around, but it proved too feisty, so she returned the snappy creature to the bucket.

"I'm trying to get kids to know and love their local ecosystems," said Teegan von Burn, the science integration specialist at Saltonstall School. "If they know it, they'll love it and protect it."

She has used Forest River Park as a "test site" for hands-on studies of insects, trees and salt marsh. And the park is just a 20-minute walk from Saltonstall.

"It's been really exciting," von Burn said.

Yesterday, the scientists used a net called a beach seine -- a simple, timeless tool, Ferry said, adding that, "Probably native tribal people used something very similar to collect fish hundreds of years ago."

It was von Burn's mother, Christina Bash, who founded the Saltonstall partnership with the Marine Fisheries when she was the school's science integration specialist. When she retired two years ago, her daughter stepped into the job.

"They're learning science out here in the field," von Burn said, "picking stuff up and studying it -- and it's relevant to their area."


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