For the past twelve years I’ve been working together with local schools on a citizen science endeavor to gather chemical and biological data on the health of the Passaic River at the Essex County Environmental Center in Roseland, New Jersey.
The projects purpose is to encourage and engage student involvement in establishing data resources for scientific use as a basis for sound decision-making. In doing so, students have authentic place-based experiences that address real-life environmental issues in order to contribute to the protection of the natural resources in our communities. In using the river as a rich learning laboratory students become ecologically aware of their surroundings and their immediate community impact. Hopefully through their participation they foster an ethic of appreciation for the environment and go forward as a steward who has the tools to make individual choices that work to protect and improve the health of our environment.
Classes graph all the combined collected data to examine changes taking place and make realistic recommendations that can help to continue to improve the recovery of the river as a valued public resource. Together we learn that just being concerned about the environment is not enough however there are small choices and changes we can make that help to leave it better than we found it.
For our Passaic River studies we use the Earth Force Standard Water Monitoring Kit and examine phosphate, nitrate, pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and temperature of water and air.
We also collect, identify and release aquatic organisms or macroinvertebrates that act as indicators of the health of the water. We assign each macroinvertebrate a point value based on their ability to tolerate pollution (1pt), be somewhat tolerant of pollution (2pts) and pollution intolerant (3pts). Emphasis is put on accuracy and precision of collected data to ensure results are useful and comparable.
David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula. He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife. You can follow him at www.natureintoaction.com