Mattapoisett Land Trust board members and Education Program Chairman Ellen Flynn braved the cold temperatures and damp conditions on Friday, May 18, when they joined educator Lynn Connor and members of her Old Rochester Regional High School Marine Biology class in the field. The location: Eel Pond.
Connor, with the financial support of the MLT, has been taking students into the field and specifically this location for a number of years. As new technology and tools for measuring plankton and other microscopic organisms such as underwater cameras have become available, Connor has employed these tools, deepening the experience for the students. Yet good old-fashioned rubber boots, pails, and siphoning tubes are still needed as several of the students stepped in to collect water samples and demonstrate to their benefactors how they plot changes in water quality at this sensitive location.
Eel Pond has been the site of extensive research by Connor’s students for a number of years, primarily collecting data on oxygen levels, an indicator of health for the ecosystem. The news is still very guarded, the students shared. The site is nearly completely surrounded by parcels of land that have been landscaped for decades, land disturbances that have added nitrogen-rich fertilizers into the pond, a process called nitrification.
Once all the data is collected, it is added to the GLOBE Program, an Internet site that allows students and observers from around the world to enter data that plots the health of bodies of water. The data may then be shared and accessed by students and scientists internationally.
MLT sponsors the students’ studies by providing transportation financing. But that’s not all, as earlier in the week MLT also provided assistance to ORRJHS Grade 7 classes with a field trip to the Cape Cod Canal.
Right in their own backyard, the Cape Cod Canal is an engineering marvel many take for granted. But for 240 students from the Tri-Town area on May 16 and 17, they learned the history of the canal, how it is managed, and the marine life that depends on its waters.
Flynn said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave a presentation on the building of the canal and how it oversees the traffic flow through this man-made phenomenon. The students watched a film produced by the Army Corps then headed outside to learn everything from the construction practices employed to build the canal to its water currents and tides. The students also got a chance to learn about life-saving water craft used in the early days of the canal.
Dennis Arsenault, a member of the Army Corps, also discussed how the railroad bridge, which spans the canal, is maneuvered into place allowing trains to cross the watery expanse while water craft are halted.
Woods Hole Research Center marine scientist Hillary Sullivan gave a presentation to the students on the life cycle of the herring. Sullivan’s participation was also supported in part by the MLT and added to the overall educational experience of the students.
Sullivan explained how herring, a salt-water fish, must migrate inland each spawning season in order to breed and lay their eggs. The students observed the fish jumping up a “fish ladder,” a man-made device necessary due to the construction of the canal that gives the fish access to freshwater streams.
With an annual education fund of $5,000, the MLT supports local students, not only with educational experiences outside the classroom, but also with annual scholarships primarily geared to students pursuing a career in the environmental sciences.
The MLT, in partnership with the Buzzards Bay Coalition, will also be sponsoring a student trip to the Saw Mill River in Acushnet on June 18. The 19-acre former lumber mill site is now a park where one can observe water birds, canoe, or hike the walking trails that traverse a restored red maple swamp via boardwalk. The students will learn about the importance of maintaining healthy environments around freshwater sources.
To learn more about the work of the Mattapoisett Land Trust, visit www.mattlandtrust.org.
By Marilou Newell