Pirate Explorers: Finding Treasure in the Indian River Lagoon

Latest update May 9, 2019 Started on March 1, 2019

Our school is located on the Indian River Lagoon, the most diverse estuary in North America. Students will lead a year-long monitoring effort to assess the health and determine best practices and actions to protect the lagoon.

March 1, 2019
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From the Buckley Lab:
How do you know if that will work? That is a common question among scientists and engineers, and often the answer is, we don't, we're going to test it out! Students from the marine biology honors class along with help from students from Dr. Monahan's biology honors class were able to help create 'test' cages this week for a collaborative project with the Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA) and our neighbors to the south, The Moorings Yacht & Country Club. The cages will house oysters which will be used as a sentinel species to track the concentration of toxins in the Indian River Lagoon. The test cages will be filled with about 30 oysters and hung from docks at varying depths, sunlight exposure, and locations to determine the areas in which they do best. The project will then continue in the Fall of 2019 using the research-based approaches that were found most successful. In Fall, students will have the opportunity to add cages to the dock at Saint Edward's to collect data about many topics from toxin concentration, to oyster survival and growth, and other organisms that are using the oysters as habitat. We are looking forward to this continued partnership and finding out the results of the pilot study in the Fall!

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In The Field

From the Buckley lab:
While learning about the Indian River Lagoon, students have had the unique, and unfortunate, experience of witnessing first-hand (personally and through media outlets) the decline in the water quality and the negative impacts this has had on wildlife, as well as humans. To further investigate factors such as temperature, salinity, nutrients, and amount of sunlight, students created microcosms of the Lagoon in a 1-liter clear, plastic bottle to monitor how these factors influence the growth of microbes such as algae and bacteria. They have learned, and experienced, that eutrophication is a main contributor to the harmful algal blooms that have impacted the Treasure Coast for the past several years. They will monitor their 'mini-environments' over the next two weeks for color changes and count the number and areas of bacterial growth they observe. Stay tuned for updates on the bottles next week, and the results the following week.

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From the Buckley lab:
Here are some of the amazing posters the students created to promote The Seven Principles from Leave No Trace to encourage the responsible use of the outdoors. We had a great discussion about how to effectively communicate these principles to visitors and residents in a way that will promote change in their behavior. The students realized although they get frustrated with people's behaviors when others do not care for the environment, they realized that having a calm approach and providing education would be the best approach to effect change!

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In The Field

Students (Honors Biology 2) were out in the field today to begin pilot work for our year-long monitoring study of the IRL. They are working on protocols and selecting equipment and materials that best meet their needs and goals of the study. Today they began by taking a number of measurements typically associated with the common Water Quality Index protocols.

Students worked in teams to assess:

  1. Salinity
  2. Temperature
  3. Nitrates
  4. Phosphates
  5. Dissolved Oxygen
  6. Fecal Coliform
  7. pH
  8. Biological Oxygen Demand
  9. Turbidity

They used tab test kits from LaMotte and focused on surface water around our dock area and mangrove shoreline. Together they created a data sheet for recording measurements and their plan is to transfer to a google sheet for analysis of long-term data (see attached photos for their field notes).

Students have already identified some issues with nitrate testing, the color of lagoon water may be interfering with reading the results. Also, our DO results seem not to align with other factors, so students are interested in trying different kits or maybe even getting a DO probe.

We are really excited to be kicking on this grand expedition and we hope you continue to follow along with our progress - we have some exciting surprises in store!

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From the Buckley Lab:
Part of learning about all the treasures the Indian River Lagoon has includes understanding how to use them properly. We were very fortunate to have Matt and Jessie, one of the Leave No Trace Suburau Traveling Trainer Teams, join us last Friday and educate our students about The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace and best practices for utilizing the outdoors responsibly. Students also learned the importance of sharing those practices with nearly 7.5 million visitors to our Lagoon every year. Students were challenged to come up with a slogan to help educate others about one of the best practices they learned about. They are continuing this project and developing a persuasive and effective poster or video about actions people should or should not take while enjoying the outdoors. Students shared that they enjoyed the enthusiasm the trainers brought and the realization they can impact behaviors in their community. Check back next week when the final products will be shared!

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We've got lots of exciting plans to share with you. Over the next year, we are going to engage students with the Indian River Lagoon in robust and innovative ways across courses, disciplines, and grade bands. We want to develop an Explorer Mindset among our students and our larger community, demonstrate the ability and impact of taking action, and help protect our most treasured asset. Ultimately, we want to model a powerful approach to educating high school students as we strive to support a planet in balance. So follow us on this Expedition and let's see what we can achieve together.

Here are just a few pieces of what you can expect over the coming months:

  1. Guest blog posts from two of our students who have served as Water Ambassadors for the EarthEcho Water Challenge this past year and will continue next year as Senior Ambassadors.

  2. Data updates on water quality measurements taken and analyzed by students. Our goal is to develop a temporal representation of water quality along our shoreline over a year's time, so we can better understand seasonal fluctuations and impacts of extreme weather events.

  3. Nature photography. We want to get students outside more and connect them to nature. We will use this platform to share some of their best shots of wildlife captured in, on, and around the Indian River Lagoon.

  4. Curriculum updates. We will share how this expedition alters what and how we teach. The expectation is both teachers and students are going to learn new ways of thinking about their world and interacting with their environment, so we want to share those experiences in real time! And we'd love feedback from fellow teachers, students, and explorers on ways to continue to improve and innovate our pedagogy.

  5. Citizen Science. As part of our curriculum changes, we plan to implement citizen science projects and embed them within courses so students can be exposed to a variety of different kinds of science and contribute meaningful data to local and global projects that interest and inspire them.

We've got even more planned and we're excited to see how it unfolds. As Pirates, we know the seas aren't always calm while on expedition, but we're ready for the challenge.

In The Field

Our students participated in A Day in the Life of the Indian River Lagoon. A citizen science project that monitored water quality along the entire length of the lagoon on a single day. Students, scientists, and other interested stakeholders worked together to essentially create a map of water quality along the lagoon. This was a great opportunity for students to get out in the field and work alongside scientists to better understand the lagoon they live, play, and work on.

Students tested for pH, salinity, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, and temperature. Since they also learn about the Water Quality Index in Environmental Science classes, this is a great connection for them.

Many thanks to Missy Weiss from S.E.A. a Difference and coordinator of A Day in the Life of the IRL.

We hope to expand on this work and monitor water quality in the lagoon adjacent to our school in partnership with nearby communities and The Nature Conservancy.

Expedition Background

The science department at our school weaves environmental themes across grade bands and disciplines because we believe in teaching students about the world, how it works, and ways they can make the world a better place. Our unique location along the shores of the Indian River Lagoon, the most diverse estuary in North America, permits us to be in the field daily. Our lagoon is the lifeblood of our community, it is essential the economic, recreational, and tourism activities of the region.

But our lagoon is also under threat from human activity. It has suffered from toxic algae blooms, excess nutrients from farms and septic systems, dredging, destruction of mangrove forests, and coastal development. Our students want to monitor and assess the health of the lagoon over a years time to better understand the issues impacting the lagoon. Benthic areas, under dock areas, and mangrove shorelines are prime habitat for a plethora of organisms, but these areas can be difficult to monitor without disturbing the fragile ecosystems.

So in addition to standard water quality monitoring protocols, we're hoping to use an underwater drone to conduct population estimates of various species and to get a fish eye view into these critical areas. We'll be able to compare our data across seasons, pre and post rainfall, after storms/hurricanes, and more.

Students have already participated in a local Citizen Science project to monitor water quality along the entire length of the lagoon and can frequently be found on our dockside classroom for Marine and Biology labs.

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