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Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership - 2013-05-21

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“Hooks will come your way, but you will survive”

Guest post by Danielle Pender, N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences
May 21, 2013

Students at Exploris Middle School release their shad into the Neuse River

Students at Exploris Middle School release their shad into the Neuse River (Exploris Middle School)

In spite of an ominous weather forecast, educators from the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences and a group of teachers recently ventured onto the Roanoke River for a canoe trip. This overnight expedition was the culmination of this year’s Shad in the Classroom program.

Karen Curry, a teacher at East Wake Middle School, described the impact of the trek on her teaching outlook. “It’s easy to get caught up in the daily stress and activities of teaching school and forget about the beauty and peace of nature. This trip has renewed my appreciation of our natural world and revitalized my commitment to promote the importance of protecting our natural resources.”

Teachers stayed high and dry while camping on the banks of the Roanoke River. While there, they experienced firsthand the “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” calls of barred owls. Not your typical songbirds, their sounds were reminiscent of a troupe of monkeys howling.

Teachers set up camp on platforms along the Roanoke River

Teachers set up camp on platforms along the Roanoke River

The group learned about other local birds, aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, fish, and plants in the Roanoke River basin while paddling along Gardner Creek and Upper Deadwater Creek. Teachers on the trip also visited the Edenton National Fish Hatchery, where they received a thorough tour and were able to compare commercial hatchery operations to their classroom shad tanks.

A tour of the Edenton National Fish Hatchery

A tour of the Edenton National Fish Hatchery

Earlier in April, the teachers on this trip adopted American shad eggs from two North Carolina hatcheries to raise in their classrooms before releasing them into the Neuse and Roanoke rivers. Led by the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, the Shad in the Classroom program receives significant logistical and financial support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, and APNEP.

American shad are an important recreational and commercial anadromous fish. Shad grow and live in the ocean but ascend our coastal rivers to spawn. After the young shad fry grow in the river for a few months, they migrate back out to the ocean.

Study of the shad’s life cycle provides students with an opportunity to learn about ocean and freshwater ecology, human uses of aquatic resources, and our stewardship of these species and their habitats. This exciting and experiential learning program connects teachers and students to American shad restoration efforts and their local river basins. They receive hands-on interaction raising American shad from egg to releasable fry in the classroom.

Shad in a net

Shad in a net (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Twenty classrooms participated in the program this year. Teachers and students learned the importance of maintaining the genetic integrity of shad stocks by releasing only into the river basin from which the parent fish came. This program also exposes students to careers in biology and ecology and increases teachers’ and students’ environmental awareness.

Shannon Hardy, Exploris Middle School, summed up their experience: “I just love watching the kids fall in love with the river in the fall, and then come spring we nurture little shad and set them free on their migration. It is a powerful journey for 11-year-olds!”

Floating the Roanoke River

Floating the Roanoke River

In addition to a week of caring for shad fry in the classroom, some teachers and students were treated to other related enrichment experiences.

Some students learned how wildlife biologists collect the broodstock with an electrofishing boat. The electric shock temporarily stuns the fish, which are then surveyed and used for spawning in the hatchery.

Others learned about the genetics of American shad with the help of Dr. Morgan Raley, a researcher with the Museum of Natural Sciences. Students completed an educational exercise called “Who’s your Shaddy” to identify the parents of a particular juvenile shad by examining the genes of the fish.

Eighth graders at Red Oak Middle School had an adventurous release at the boat ramp in Weldon. These 300 students saw firsthand the importance of the American shad and striped bass fisheries at the boat ramp, which was busy with anglers from along the shore and in boats.

Students at Red Oak Middle School prepare to release their shad in Weldon

Students at Red Oak Middle School prepare to release their shad in Weldon

The program clearly impacts the students. One middle schooler encouraged her shad fry with the words: “The journey may be hard, hooks will come your way, but you will survive. There will be predators and food may be difficult to find, but you will survive. Life will be a challenge and come like a thunderstorm, but you will survive.”

Shad as a metaphor for life. As is often the case, sometimes the students become the teachers.

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