WINDSOR – Drizzle and mist could not deter this group of students and their teachers on the morning of May 9. St. Gabriel middle school students visited Granby’s Salmon Brook Park to achieve the ultimate goal of raising baby Atlantic salmon, or fry, from eggs: the release of the minnow-sized fish into Salmon Brook, from where they will eventually migrate to the ocean.
Science teacher Meg Rosa started the yearly project in 2001 and has kept it alive ever since, despite talk of state budget cuts that could end the program, run by the Connecticut River Salmon Association (CRSA). The program is good to go for another year.
Ms. Rosa said that a CRSA-provided tank in her classroom received 200 eggs from Kensington Hatchery in mid-December. According to Ms. Rosa, the eggs began hatching for about two weeks beginning at the end of February. She said that the CRSA is “very helpful,” acting as a liaison, answering questions and providing developmental index charts to mark salmon growth.
“Every degree of water temperature tells the rate of growth,” she said. “We set up a schedule and check three times a day. They’re 96 percent developed today; that gives them the chance to adjust to their environment before they have to search for food.”
During the months preceding the release, Ms. Rosa’s sixth, seventh and eighth graders study various ecosystems that the salmon move through on their migration, as well as body structure of the salmon and their survival and life cycle.
The first order of business at the park was the salmon release. Students gathered around Ms. Rosa to help compare the brook’s water temperature to that of the water in the cooler carrying the fry. She asked kids to add brook water to the cooler to acclimate the tiny fish to their new environment.
Soon, each child received two or more fish in a cup to gently pour into a shallow area off the sandy shore. For the past three years, this has been now-eighth grader DeAnte Anderson’s favorite part of the trip, he said. Before releasing his salmon, he announced their names to classmates: “DeAnte, DeAnte Jr., DeAnte III, and DeAnte IV.”
St. Gabriel Principal Patty Martin said the program “is certainly worthwhile. The students get a lot out of the hands-on activity; it makes them value their world and environment. They learn the life cycle of salmon and how it applies to other fish” and discover other signs of life, such as invertebrates, insects, worms and tadpoles.
Eighth grader Justin Lam echoed the thought. “You learn a lot about the environment and ecosystem of what the salmon lives in,” he said.
Classmate Max Mossberg said he enjoys “hands-on activities on and around the river.”
Sixth grader Saffron Gaudiosi thinks the program is “really cool. We learned to take care of them [salmon] and their cooler and where their habitat is.”
After lunch, each class set off with grade-specific packets to record their observations and the tools to carry out the instructions for their experiments. The sixth grade focused on “Exploration of Temporary Wetland”; seventh, “Biotic Characteristics”; and eighth, “Abiotic Characteristics.”
A small, still pool of water not far from the brook served as the temporary wetland, since it dries up by mid-summer, according to Ms. Rosa. The sixth graders measured the size, depth and pH levels, while searching for a variety of organisms. Depth was measured by using a string marked in centimeters tied to a long stick. A rock tied to the other end fell to the pool’s bottom.
Alongside the stream, seventh graders skimmed the water with nets to retrieve plants and organisms, and filled jars with them to take back to the classroom. They checked under rocks and logs to find brook inhabitants, but returned them to their hiding places to restore the original environment.
Grace Strauch used an aquascope, a kind of underwater telescope. “You put it in the water and it breaks the current so you can see everything underneath the water. We saw tadpoles, baby fish, larva and a lot of rocks.”
The eighth grade’s job was to monitor water quality conditions, including pH and oxygen content, current speed and the state of the stream’s bottom. Max Mossberg and Matthew Blackwood, wearing high fishing boots, stood in the 51-degree water and tested the current.
Despite the drizzle, all went well, according to Ms. Rosa. “The fish are gone – that’s a good thing – and the kids probably found things they didn’t expect.”