Saturday, July 26, 2008

Monmouth County Park System

July 23-25

Twelve 10-14 year olds and four staff members spent three days at Sedge. Although the weather was predicted to be horrible (intense thunderstorms accompanied by heavy downpours) the worst of the bad weather came at night or missed us entirely. We continued to catch lots of big crabs and our “Baltimore crab fest” dinner is becoming a regular event.

Due to the forecast of severe thunderstorms we stuck closer to home on our regular kayak trip day. Instead we chose to fish. We divided into two small groups to fish in Mud Channel. Our technique was to motor into the tide and drift back with the current. Both groups were successful in catching nice striped bass. The 22½ “ fish fought so well that the anglers thought that they had snagged the bottom. Unfortunately we did not have a camera to record the event, but both fishers will long remember holding and then releasing their trophy catch.

The campers and the staff were intrigued with the different jellyfish. When we were invited to join New Jersey Network News to talk about these animals the students readily agreed. We met Desiree Taylor at the Island Heights Yacht Club with buckets containing Ctinophores, Multi-ribbed Hydromedusae, and a large Lion’s Mane. The campers gave a wonderful explanation of how the different jellyfish live and interact with their environment. They were especially excited to describe how they all had a chance to see the jellyfish light up in their hands when the stirred the water around the Sedge dock.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Governor’s School- Matt Perdue

Matt Perdue led the fourth and final group of students from the 2008 Governor’s School for the Environment. Although he had never been to Sedge Island, Matt helped his group to an experience at Sedge that was every bit as good as those of the more experienced teachers who preceded him.

The focus of this group was political issues. Students got a first hand look at many environmental factors affecting Barnegat Bay. They viewed the results of dredging and building a dike in the inlet. They saw how the build up of algae caused by Eutrophication is having an adverse affect on the shellfish population. They learned about the efforts of volunteers from the Barnegat Bay Shellfish Restoration Project to begin rebuilding stocks of clams and oysters. They discussed the implications of building a cooling tower at the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station if the plant is relicensed for another twenty years.

The three-day experience was not all work. We had beautiful weather for our paddle to Barnegat Inlet and a lengthy dip in the pleasantly warmer waters of the ocean. We fished and crabbed and clammed. One of the highlights of the experience was our evening meal. We prepared soft and hard clams, blue mussels and blue fish. But the highlight of our dinner was our crab fest. We sat outside on the side porch cracking and eating crabs caught earlier in the day as the full moon rose over the marsh. It doesn’t get much better than this!

During their visit, two groups were fortunate to be able to observe a former Governor’s School student who is now working with Rutgers University as he conducted research on the effect of temperature on the vital eel grass beds in the shallow bay waters. They could see first hand how an experience as a high school junior can lead to an exciting career opportunity.

I was privileged to be invited to attend the Governor’s School for the Environment final banquet at Stockton College. I told the entire student body and faculty that I was proud to be associated with a group of young people who although they hold strong opinions about various environmental topics, they are willing to listen to opposing points of view. Students like these are the key to the survival of Barnegat Bay and other natural areas in New Jersey. I hope the Governor’s School programs will continue long into the future.

Jim Merritt

Monday, July 14, 2008

Governor’s School Group 2: Wild-writers

This group of bright and enthusiastic teenagers began their 3 day stay out at Sedge with a bit of snorkeling and clamming along the southern edge of the island. As the questionable weather passed, we were able to head out on our 1 mile long mosquito-ditch loop around the sedges. Along that loop, they learned about the various animal and grass species in Barnegat Bay, such as the fiddler crab, peregrine falcon, and spartina alterniflora. Here they also learned about the natural hydrology of a salt marsh, and various manmade alterations to the area, including the introduction of various invasive species such as the green crab and phragmites grass.

The next day our group was joined by Dr. Jim Merritt and his daughter on the way out to the dike along the Barnegat Inlet. Along the walk from the bay to the beach, the Wild writers learned about the various plant species that dominate the dune landscape along the barrier island, and then finally enjoying a few fun hours at the beach. The group’s activities were concluded with a series of team building activities led by Dr. Merritt, and then quiet reflection on the marsh environment and some stargazing.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Governor’s School –Mike Crowell’s Group

Although this year’s Governor’s School for the Environment had reduced numbers of students and also had cut backs on the length of the program, the first group at Sedge was better than ever. Students from all over NJ came together for the first time on Sunday night and with very little time for bonding, arrived at Sedge on Monday morning. We had to abort our first kayaking experience due to the potential of thunderstorms but we easily filled in with other activities including clamming and a session in seining led by a student from MATES who had volunteered at Sedge several years ago.

Our long kayak trip to the dike was no problem for these students because they worked together very efficiently. The ocean water was in the high 50’s but everyone went in for a dip and some stayed in for quite some time. Having limited electricity provided an additional “special experience” as the group went without lights both nights and was very conservation minded when using water. On the second night we did a series of trust activities- all in the dark!

Guest visitors added to the experience. Jamie Hayden took many photographs and also helped the students enhance their photography skills. I look forward to seeing his pictures including a special nighttime shot where the students “wrote with light.” John, an intern from the Conserve Wildlife Foundation, talked about the CWF programs and was very helpful to the Sedge staff and especially to Tony Raniero who is recovering from a medical problem.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

New Jersey Audubon Island Explorers Groups 1 and 2

Explorer Group 1 was made up of 16 middle school children from Morris County. Many in this group were eager to jump right into their favorite activities such as fishing, or kayaking out to the “Bahamas.” This five day group started with a lot of team building and group activities where they learned about different aspects of the Barnegat Bay area, which were eventually tied together in our 8 mile kayak paddle out to the dike behind Barnegat Inlet. The weather for the 5 days that this group was out there for was nothing short of spectacular. The water was crystal clear and the wind was light, picking up slightly during the afternoons. This group remained energetic and enthusiastic the entire time they remained on the island.

Explorer Group 2 consisted of 14 slightly younger middle school children from the northwest region of New Jersey. Even though it was their first time on Sedge Island, they remained open and optimistic about the entire experience. Beginning their second day, the group piled into the kayaks to paddle out the 8 miles to the dike. With a steady pace, and a keen eye, they were able to observe and learn about a huge array of organisms living within the marshes, from the horseshoe crabs, to the various types of marsh grasses, to the quick diving peregrine falcon. Again, the weather could not have been nicer for this group, with only a little rain during the night.

With both Audubon groups, all of the students were required to research one organism that they observed during their stay, and design a field guide page for that plant or critter which was added to the Audubon Island Explorer field guide. This marvelous guide has been steadily growing with each Audubon group that has come out to the Sedges over the past four years. At the end of each group session, the children’s parents were invited out for lunch, and to see what their children have learned over the week. The kids expertly taught their parents about plants, kayaking, crabbing, birding, and many of the other animals that they observed. It was truly amazing how everything came together at the end for these kids.