2014-11-13 / Nature

Rogers Students ‘Hands On’ at Gooseneck

By Jack Kelly


Sophomores (L to R) Sarah Thurman, Michael Garvey, and Julianna DiMeglio observe and record the biodiversity of wildlife in the salt marshes’ habitat. Sophomores (L to R) Sarah Thurman, Michael Garvey, and Julianna DiMeglio observe and record the biodiversity of wildlife in the salt marshes’ habitat. For the past 11 academic years, Rogers High School biology teacher Scott Dickison has utilized Newport’s Gooseneck Cove salt marshes as a living classroom and laboratory. Students study the dynamics of wetlands, the biodiversity of wildlife and marine life, and the interdependence of flora and fauna through hands-on projects. The initial eight weeks of the fall semester are dedicated to once-aweek field trips to the wetlands, as Dickison’s classes make the short journey from the school to the marsh to perform tasks that augment their classroom studies.

Gooseneck Cove has been undergoing restoration for the past six years. Once a dying, stagnant marsh suffering from decades of abuse and neglect, the wetlands have become a vibrant and healthy habitat for wildlife and native vegetation. Throughout the restoration process, Dickison’s students have made many contributions to the program. Classroom projects included growing native plants, shrubs, and marsh grasses, which were then planted across strategic areas of the wetlands. Marsh grass seeds are still collected each fall as part of the curriculum, and the resulting grasses are planted in the spring.


Aspen Hatch and Elyah Swain collect litter. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Aspen Hatch and Elyah Swain collect litter. (Photos by Jack Kelly) On a recent sunny morning, Dickison led his sophomore biology class to the wetlands. Under the ever watchful eyes of Dickison and student teacher Dana Reed, the aspiring biologists quickly formed teams and began to perform their specific scientific assignments, including water quality testing, plant identification and collection, marine life sampling, wildlife observation, and litter collection. Teams perform different tasks each week, which gives the students a fuller understanding of restoration efforts.


Dickison assists sophomore Charles Taylor in recording water quality test results. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Dickison assists sophomore Charles Taylor in recording water quality test results. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Water quality tests and ebb and flow tidal ranges were recorded and compared to previous data, allowing students to see how tidal change impacts water quality. Marine life sampling, through catch and release, revealed a number of small fish species, as well as shrimp and crabs. These exercises permit the students to actively observe the seasonal changes in marine life populations within the marsh.

The team assigned to wildlife observations recorded a number of avian species, including gulls, migratory songbirds and waterfowl, as well as the sighting of a large white-tailed deer stag. Evidence of other marsh denizens, such as coyote and mink, was revealed through tracks and scat.

The litter collection team picked up plastic bottles, wrappers, Styrofoam cups, paper, beer cans and bottles, and other trash. Dickison estimates that his students have removed hundreds of pounds of litter from the area over the tenure of this vital educational program.

“We learn that healthy coastal salt marsh systems are important as nurseries for various fish, crab and shrimp species; wintering grounds for waterfowl; nesting habitats for breeding birds; and vital stopovers for migratory avian species. Wetlands also offer flood protection during storms and assist in maintaining clean ocean waters,” Dickison explained as he gathered his young protégés for the return trip to school.

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