1,800 students will work with scientists Oct. 4 to measure lagoon health

If you’re anywhere along the 156-mile Indian River Lagoon on Oct. 4, you have an excellent chance of encountering some of 1,800 students and their teachers collecting water samples, seining marine creatures, creating maps and documenting their activities on video and social media.

Welcome to “A Day in the Life of the Indian River Lagoon” – a single-day citizen science event to measure and monitor the health of east-central Florida’s ailing artery at some 35 sites at one moment in time.

“This is such a poignant time for the lagoon. People have their eyes and ears glued to the lagoon,” said Missy Weiss, event organizer and executive director of a new Sebastian-based environmental education and citizen action group called S.E.A a Difference Environmental Services.  “We need to do something about it and the next generation is part of that.  They are citizen- and student-scientists and they have a big responsibility.”

Dr. Kerryane Monahan, science chair at St. Edward’s School in Vero Beach, says 38 St. Ed’s sixth-graders will be stationed at the school’s dock next to the mangroves while another 10 students in 10th through 12th grades will be working at the Oslo boat ramp.

“I’m kind of passionate about having kids do science . . . getting them out in the field and doing laboratory science,” Monahan said.  “They’re going to be central to this really neat thing that’s so important to their everyday lives.”

The information students collect – water quality, nutrient levels, salinity, fish counts and sediment content – will be turned over to Weiss’ group to be published on its website (https://seaadifference.org/) and incorporated into lesson plans at all 33-plus participating schools.

Teachers prepared for the day at professional development workshops this past summer.  They will be assisted at each site by mentors from 35 environmental groups, agencies and research institutions such as the Ocean Research and Conservation Association; Florida Institute of Technology; Marine Resources Council; Pelican Island Audubon Society; and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Monahan said St. Ed’s teachers have already begun weaving Indian River Lagoon water quality into their science lessons.

“This is not a one-and-done.  It goes across the course,” she said.

Some 40 sixth-through-eighth graders from Gifford Middle School will be conducting their research at MacWilliams Park and Boat Ramp, assisted by staffers from the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

“It’s a really unique experience that most kids don’t get to do,” said seventh-grade science teacher Lisa Presti.  “The fact we have this lagoon right here – there aren’t many ecosystems like it.  An awesome opportunity.”

Presti said a team of student documentarists will put together a presentation on their work for the entire school and turn over their data to Sea a Difference.

Weiss said “A Day in the Life” was enabled by a grant from the Indian River Lagoon Council.  She hopes to make it an annual event.

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