Escape to an Estuary!

By Terry Ippolito

OK, I admit it: although I cannot do it often enough, I need to get away from my desk and computer in New York City and get out there to see what is happening in the real world. And, more specifically, experience the real world of environmental education.

Recently, I went to Port Monmouth, New Jersey to see what some 5th graders were going to be doing on a field trip. This was not a run-around-and-do whatever field trip. Through the efforts of the Monmouth County Park System, this day had a purpose: to teach students about the estuary at Sandy Hook Bay. And I had one too: I wanted to see firsthand what a project EPA is partly supporting really looked like.

An estuary, in case you wondered, is an ecosystem created where fresh water meets salt water. It is a special place. The students learned that as they Terry's-picture##went through four “stations” or activities: seining, shell talk & beachcombing, stewardship activity & plankton study and a boat ride.

From the vantage points of being on shore and then off shore, the students learned about the plants and animals that depend on the estuary, were amazed at the variety of creatures the seining net brought up, and proudly named the different ones when I asked what they were. They found out how to stop trash from getting into the estuary’s waters: don’t litter because that stuff on the street ends up being swept into the estuary during rainstorms. They took a look at the New York – New Jersey Harbor Estuary from the deck of the boat and get a sense of how many different communities share that ecosystem.

I am pretty sure that the things the kids learned that day will stay with them. The field trip was part of a series of classes that preceded and followed the field work so they could connect their classroom learning with their real world outdoor experiences.

It was definitely worth the trip, even if I did have to get back to my office for the afternoon.

About the author: Terry Ippolito, the Environmental Education Coordinator in EPA’s New York City office, lives in Brooklyn, about a mile from Jamaica Bay. She takes that street-to-beach litter connection seriously and picks up litter each morning on her way to the train.

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