By Allegra Boverman
ROCKPORT — Eighth graders at Rockport Middle School have been helping NOAA to study water and soil quality in Rockport for the last four years.
They were continuing the work last Thursday and Friday at Millbrook Park and Front Beach, which are linked by a creek.
The program was developed by Rockport Middle School science teacher Carolyn McWilliams.
By rotating through 20 stations set up from the start of the study, the students are tracking the American eel, both juvenile and adult, and its presence in the area by testing water and soil quality and identifying and tabulating the number of invasive plants and crabs to the area. The students have also been examining phytoplankton and zooplankton at the beach.
A few tiny eels, also known as elvers, were seen in the pond and stream in Millbrook Park.
American eels are born in the Caribbean, swim up to New England and are in either brackish or fresh water as they grow up. At some point, they swim back to the Caribbean to spawn. This can take between six and 30 years, meaning that environmental changes now can have an effect over three decades or more, according to NOAA fisheries biologist and communications team member Colleen Coogan of Rockport, who was working with the students.
There were nets cast out in a section of Front Beach, and every single crab that was collected was invasive, said Coogan. The native population are rock crabs, while students found Asian shore crabs and European green crabs.
Students also built, from scratch, little robots that could, with cameras attached, look underwater.
Over the summer, a dam and an eel/fish ladder will be constructed in the Millbrook Park area and after its completion, the students will continue to track, compare and contrast their data and continue to share it with NOAA.
The students work over the two-day period with several NOAA summer interns and NOAA scientists and they collaborate closely with a 1:4 scientist to student ratio.
The work is multifaceted, involving biology, earth science and physical science.
Allegra Boverman can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3448, or at email@example.com.