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Beach’s ‘water wizards’ learn magic of local environment

Four students, all from the Colonial Beach school district, participated in the 4-H Water Wizards Program July 7-9, 2010. The Water Wizards Program was started 5 years ago by Wendy Herdman, Extension Agent for Westmoreland and Richmond Counties.  The purpose of the program is to introduce the concept of water quality in the unique Northern Neck environment and the effect that human activity can have on water quality.  Attendance by students is free – they just have to fill out an application form and submit it to the Extension Office.  The boys — Christian Tinsley, Logan Sandy, R.J. Brann and J.W. Musselman — were treated to three action-packed days filled with information about the ecology of our local land and waterways.  There was a lot of learning taking place, but all in a fun, informal atmosphere.

On the first day, the boys gathered at James Monroe’s birthplace and began with a brief introduction to the life of James Monroe.  Then the boys got to business learning about the Chesapeake Bay watershed and water quality.  Activities included investigating each participant’s tie to the environment, studying maps of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, introducing the concept of water and water quality indicators.  The boys hiked down to Monroe Creek and drew water samples and then measured seven different indicators of water quality: temperature, pH, salinity, phosphate and nitrate concentration, dissolved oxygen and turbidity.

The second day started off with a tour of the Colonial Beach Wastewater Treatment Facility.  Plant Supervisor Jill Tighe, Curtis and the rest of the staff walked the boys through the waste water treatment process and showed them all of the steps along the way, including the finished product.  They then were transported to the dock of Joe and Natalie Kelly where Bill Parker and Natalie showed them the oyster floats with oysters ranging in age from 2 months to 3 years old. They talked about how the oysters grow by filtering the water and how this filtration helps to clean the water. They talked about the importance of clean water and about the importance of gardening oysters to assist in the water quality of Monroe Bay, the river and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. The boys were interested to see how many other creatures show up in the oyster floats — namely predators like the blue crab. A couple baby eels also escaped when we opened the bag of small oysters.

Wendy Herdman had the members of the group test the water at the Kellys’ pier, using the skills that they had learned on the first day at Monroe’s birthplace.  They found the water to be low in phosphates and nitrates; at a good level of dissolved oxygen and at 0.10 salinity, which is good for growing the oysters.  She spent the rest of the afternoon discussing how the things that we humans do help to pollute our waters, and ways that we can change our actions to help bring about a positive change in our environment.

Day three was the highlight of the program.  The boys, along with their chaperones, Wendy Herdman, Natalie Kelly and Jim and Terry Rankin, traveled to Reedville by bus provided by the school system and boarded the fishing charter boat “Heritage” for a day of fishing on the bay.  Captain Dave Fisher and his first mate Joe Boarman assisted the boys in catching 53 blue fish over the course of about four hours of fishing time.  Captain Dave is an expert at finding the fish, and once he found them, the boys were kept busy catching them.  There were several times during the trip that all four of the boys were pulling in a fish at the same time.  As we motored back to port, the boys tested the water again — and by the third day, they were all proficient at using the instruments and getting the readings.  While they were running their tests, the first mate cleaned and filleted all 53 fish — and put them in bags to send home with everyone for dinner.  It was an excellent day at sea!

The Water Wizards program is an excellent way to teach our youth about ecology, water quality and how we can all affect those in a good or not so good way.  Herdman plans to run the program again next year, and encourages students ages 9-13 to sign up. Information will be available through the schools.

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