NYU Hudson: The Hudson River Education and Stewardship Program
Hudson River Education and Stewardship Program
The NYU Wallerstein Collaborative launched a citizen science program this year to conduct water quality monitoring of the Hudson River Estuary. The NYU Hudson River Education and Stewardship Program, funded by the Water Resources Institute engages NYC middle and high school teachers and their students in monitoring and studying the Hudson River Estuary with assistance from graduate students from NYU's Environmental Conservation Education Masters Program. The NYU Hudson program has begun it's second school year in September of 2012.
For more information, visit the NYU Hudson website: http://steinhardtapps.es.its.nyu.edu/nyuhudson/
Program Assistant, The NYU Wallerstein Collaborative for Urban Environmental Education
IWASH: Improving Wetland Accessibility for Shorebirds and Horseshoe crabs
Improving Wetland Accessibility for Shorebirds and Horseshoe crabs (IWASH) is a program developed by ornithologist and citizen science manager Dr. John Rowden of the New York City Audubon Society. The program focuses on cleaning up the wetland ecosystem of Jamaica Bay of Brooklyn and Queens by empowering local schools and communities to take charge of their environments. This map shows Jamaica Bay and the five beaches (circled) that were part of the program: Plum Beach, Bay Dunes, Dubos Point, West Pond, and Big Egg Marsh. Jamaica Bay is a vital habitat for horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds. Every spring and early summer, hundreds of horseshoe crabs make their way to the shores of the various beaches found in the bay to spawn and lay their eggs which are in turn used as a source of food and energy for migratory birds that pass through Jamaica Bay as a “rest stop” on their migrations.
The goal of the program is to study the correlation between human-induced beach litter and its effects on the relationship between horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds. Scientists believe that the beach litter reduces the optimal success rate of mating horseshoe crabs by inhibiting them from reaching the beach or causing the crabs to become trapped or tangled in the garbage. This in turn affects the amount of eggs being laid which migratory shorebirds depend on as a source of fuel when they make a stop in Jamaica Bay. With a grant from the Toyota Together Green Initiative, NYC Audubon Society launched IWASH to conduct beach cleanups and collect data on horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds. In this photo, ornithologist and citizen science manager Dr. Rowden talks to students about shorebirds.
As a graduate student in NYU Steinhardt’s Environmental Conservation Education Program, I jumped at the opportunity to be an intern for IWASH and the NYC Audubon Society along with two of my colleagues, Rebecca Schultz and Lindsey Ludwig. Internships in the M.A. program in Environmental Conservation Education are a requirement and this was an opportunity for NYU to collaborate with NYC Audubon. It was our responsibility to create an environmental education program for five schools from the Jamaica Bay region. Participating schools included: Sheepshead High School in Brooklyn, PS 144 in Forest Hills, IS 318 in Brooklyn, IS 5 in Elmhurst and Jamaica High School of Jamaica, NY. With input from our academic advisor, we developed a three-part program for each school where we would first conduct an in-class session that educated the students about Jamaica Bay, horseshoe crabs, shorebirds, their relationship, the negative human impact on the area, and what we could do to help. Here's what Lindsey had to say about this experience: "The IWASH project provided each of us with the opportunity to teach in a formal classroom environment within the New York City school system. Teaching students about issues pertaining to their local environment and the nature in their backyards created interesting conversations and learning experiences for all of us -- students and educators." Here, Rebecca (left) and Lindsey show students how to make entries in a field journal.
Next, we would take the students on a field trip to a designated beach site known to be a horseshoe crab spawning habitat and conduct a beach cleanup. In this image, Rebecca and two Jamaica High School students rescue horseshoe crabs that were caught in debris. One of our schools filled as many as thirty large trash bags, which only scratched the surface given the time allotted. Finally, we would return to the classroom for a post-clean up session to discuss and reflect on the students’ reactions to the beach cleanup and instill a sense of accomplishment and environmental stewardship which emphasizes that every little bit helps in keeping our environment safe and clean. Many of the students were shocked to see the amount of pollution on the beach while others recognized a majority of the litter represented items from their daily lives. “Engaging the students in beach clean-ups," said Rebecca, "allowed them to explore their local natural resources and become environmental stewards in the community. For some of the students, it was their first chance to see, smell, touch, and experience the local beaches. For us, as interns, this experience allowed professional growth, and gave us the opportunity be a part of the students’ experience, and a part of an important conservation project here in NYC.”
One of the most amazing aspects of the IWASH program was the horseshoe crab monitoring sessions Rebecca, Lindsey, and I conducted with Dr. Rowden at high tide several times a month, along with other members of the NYC Audubon Society. For most of the season, this monitoring occurred at dusk which resulted in a beautiful scene of anywhere from dozens to hundreds of horseshoe crabs making their way onto shore to continue a 400 million year old mating ritual.
We collected some of our data through random number sampling. In this photo, I'm using a square quadrat to count how many male and female horseshoe crabs fall within the quadrat's borders. I would record that number, pick up the quadrat, and move a determined number of paces, and repeat the procedure. We collected additional data through horseshoe crab tagging. By tagging the crabs, scientists are not only able to track and follow the crabs to learn of their activities between mating seasons, but they can also monitor migration patterns, age, growth, and other changes in behavioral patterns. The data collection is ongoing and the NYC Audubon Society will analyze it over time. The ultimate experience of being surrounded by these living fossils, especially on a beach that we had just cleaned, was incredible.
This internship proved that empowering locals to take charge of their own environment can be very effective. Giving local schools opportunities to work with community organizations benefits not only the environment, but the students themselves. Being part of the IWASH program has made Rebecca, Lindsey, and me realize how effective environmental education can be when integrated with citizen science. The benefits of environmental education can be seen in all aspects of a society beyond the natural environment itself, including but not limited to the social, economic, and scientific communities. We only hope that these efforts will have a long lasting effect and that the program continues in the future. “IWASH brought together a number of partners," said Dr. Rowden, "all working to improve Jamaica Bay for the wildlife and humans that rely on and benefit from it. It was a privilege for me to work on the project and I'm truly grateful for all the hard work that everyone put into it."
For more information about the New York City Audubon Society, visit www.nycaudubon.org.