Showing March 21 at Colonial Theatre

Student kelp project recognized in ocean documentary

By Ben Holbrook | Mar 20, 2017
Photo by: Ben Holbrook Northport sixth- and seventh-graders grew kelp this year to study its impact on ocean waters. Because of their work, the students were featured in a documentary exploring how national security, marine commerce and conservation intersect with ocean sustainability.

Northport — When sixth- and seventh-graders at Edna Drinkwater School began growing kelp in their science class at the beginning of the school year, they had no idea the project would catch a documentary crew's attention.

Around the second week of September, students in John Van Dis' science class started growing kelp using microscopic spores, which they anchored to nylon lines. Early into the project, students were concerned the spores wouldn't make it but after a few months they began to see progress.

The project's purpose was to allow students to explore sustainability, particularly as it relates to agriculture. As the students learned, there is far more available space in the ocean for growing plants and other organisms than there is arable dry land.

In addition, the students learned their kelp possessed other beneficial properties, such as its ability improve water quality in its immediate vicinity by removing harmful contaminants. In the future, Van Dis said it would be helpful to establish a permitted site, possibly in the area just off the school's waterfront property that has been closed to fishing because of poor water quality.

Once the kelp matured, students took a field trip to Hurricane Island where they helped researchers place the plants. Also, some of the kelp was used in concocting a variety of spice blends, which to the surprise of some students, were actually palatable.

“At first I wasn't looking forward to (growing) the kelp, so I wasn't thrilled about the spice,” said Gracie Coombs, one of the students who participated in the project. “But once I tasted it, I quite enjoyed it.”

It was during the spice-making process that a documentary crew learned about the students' work and asked to film them. The crew was in the process of making "Ocean Frontiers III," a documentary that looks at the United States' first regional ocean plans and the intersection of national security, marine commerce and conservation, according to the film's description.

You might think that participating in a film that's being shown locally and nationally would be a highlight for students, but for some the chance to visit Hurricane Island is a memory they won't soon forget.

That was the case for student Maggie Vinci who noted very few students would have had the chance to visit the island and take an active part in putting out the kelp lines.

In addition to the kelp project, students have also been experimenting with filtration systems using fish and plants. The experiment is set up so that the waste from the fish feeds plants, which in turn filter the water the fish live in. So far the project has been a success and the intent is to use the data they've gathered and apply the practice in a larger tank in the school's greenhouse and aquaponics lab.

As for Van Dis, he said he's very pleased with the work students have done, notifying how gratifying it is to hear them talk about how empowered they feel and their desire to continue to do such work. Principal Todd Martin echoed those sentiments and said students at the school are fortunate they have the chance to engage in such hands-on learning. He recalled his days in middle school where the extent of his science education was almost entirely textbook-based.

“What a gift they are getting in science education,” Martin said.

"Ocean Frontiers III" will be shown at Colonial Theatre in Belfast Tuesday, March 21, at 7 p.m. A question-and-answer panel will follow the film.

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