Friday, September 30, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - Youth Fisheries Academy - Day Camp Season Comes to a Close

Hello, it’s Tree again! As July came to a close, so did the Youth Fisheries Academy day camp season. The last camp was particularly memorable as we ended this year’s programming with a huge success.

The final camp took place at a beautiful location at a restoration site along Deer Creek near Shelton. We worked with a group of student employees from the Mason County 4-H Forestry Leadership Summer program, which enrolls up to 24 high school students, giving them a chance to learn about managing natural resources sustainably through hands-on experiences helping natural resource professionals with service-learning projects. It was a perfect fit as the program is also designed for students who want to explore and experience activities in forestry and wildlife-related careers.

Measuring cobble size
Trying to explain the importance of, as well as different ways to measure canopy cover, vegetation, river discharge, streambed cobble size, and macroinvertebrates, is a lot to cover in 1 hour, but this group of high school students actually made the lesson easy. During my time in college, I’ve done field labs that use a gravelometer to measure cobble size and determine streambed make up, which is one of the exercises we do at the stream sampling station. The youngest participants of the season were under 10 years old, so needless to say they have a great head start! Many of these activities were simplified for the younger campers, but that wasn’t necessary for this group of high school students as they were eager to learn the tools of the ecologists’ trade. I was very impressed with how enthusiastic they were and how quickly they leaned and utilized the methods taught.

I was happy to end on such a good note with an amazing group of students who seemed to truly enjoy and benefit from the camp. At the end of the day, I think that all of the students learned a great deal about the importance and function of fish and wildlife, as well as how we can gain information about them.

--Tree Steele, STEP Fisheries Technician


Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Life Aquatic 2011 - Youth Fisheries Academy at the Beach with Squaxin Island Tribe

This summer has been full of so many wonderful camps with countless memorable moments; each event was unique due to the combination of campers and locations. Our first camp took place at Priest Point Park in Olympia and demonstrated the success that we would continue to see in future camps. We had 17 campers between the ages of 10 and 15 who registered for this free event through Olympia Arts, Parks & Recreation (one of our many partners). Most campers did not know each other, so the team-building activities at the beginning of the day were especially important for developing interpersonal skills. Campers were then split by age into four groups and spent about 50 minutes at each of our learning stations. We had a great group of kids with many different interests. Everyone seemed enthusiastic to be there and participated fully in the camp. I was a bit nervous going into this first camp of the season, but once we began interacting with the campers it became much more natural and was a lot of fun.

Collecting fish from seine net
This camp featured a unique opportunity because of the easy beach access. Scott Steltzner, fisheries biologist for the Squaxin Island Tribe, led a beach seining activity that was very popular with the campers. The seine was 10 feet deep and 120 feet long with weights on the bottom and buoys on top to keep it upright in the water. One end of the net was secured on shore while the other end was pulled around by a boat, encircling fish in the net. Then the campers and staff demonstrated a great team effort by pulling both ends of the net up on shore. The fish were then removed from the net and placed into buckets of water for observation. We caught loads of fish and several species, including juvenile Chinook salmon, staghorn sculpin, starry flounder, and surf smelt. It was great to see some campers apply what they had learned in the species identification module to these live samples. Students had the opportunity to weigh, measure and record data on the fish we caught. They loved being able to hold and examine the fish and it was great for them see how much life there is in just a very small area of Puget Sound.

Observing fish catch
In an effort to measure our impact and improve future camps, we had each camper fill out an assessment form to rate our performance (enjoyment level and knowledge gained). We received fantastic reviews and it was awesome to hear the kids telling their parents all of their new fisheries knowledge as they were picked up from the camp. And I hope they were aware of how much WE enjoyed teaching them and how much they taught us in return. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to our summer camps and eagerly anticipated the camps to come.

- Claire Wood, STEP Fisheries Technician


Friday, September 2, 2011

Makah NFH Hosts Youth Fisheries Academy

One of the most interesting Youth Fisheries Academy camps we had this year took place at Makah National Fish Hatchery in Neah Bay, WA. Neah Bay is located on the Olympic Peninsula on the westernmost tip of the continental U.S.--quite a drive from Olympia! We had two day camps at the hatchery--the first camp was a group of kids who were enrolled in a summer school program and their ages ranged from 4 to 12 years old; the second camp was a small group of middle and high school students.

Playing the "Salmon Homing Game"
The activities we prepared for the first group were different from our usual Youth Fisheries Academy curriculum due to developmental differences in the age groups. We had a fish dissection station, telemetry and salmon life cycle bracelet station, a macroinvertebrate identification and fish printing station, fish identification and health station, and a hatchery tour. This was a really great group of kids and it was a fun challenge to adapt our curriculum and activities to suit a larger age range. Some of the most exciting parts of the day were the team-building activities we facilitated. We played the "Salmon Homing Game", where the campers were blindfolded and used a string (which represented a river) to navigate upstream, finding their way back home using their sense of smell. This was a really fun way to teach kids about the salmon life cycle and the amazing journey salmon make back to their home stream. Those themes tied in well with the other two unique aspects of this camp, the salmon life cycle bracelet and fish printing activities. The salmon life cycle bracelet activity involved making a bracelet in a specific pattern that represented the life cycle of a salmon. Each bead’s color represented a different stage of life, such as the egg stage, the migration downstream, avoiding ocean predators, the return migration and spawning. The finished product was a bracelet or necklace that told the whole story of a salmon’s life from birth to death.

Fish dissection station
The next day we had another camp, but the age group was very different. We were working with a small group of middle and high school students. That day, we had more typical stations--fisheries technology, fish anatomy dissections, fish heath and identification, water quality testing and macroinvertebrate identification, and a tour of the hatchery. Once again, it was a great challenge to switch gears from working with youngsters to teens. The water-quality testing station was new for us and Tree did an excellent job teaching the campers about the importance and process of water-quality testing. We tested water from a nearby pond for dissolved oxygen levels, turbidity, nitrites, and pH. It was a great opportunity to discuss pollution, run off, and water quality in general!

As the Youth Fisheries Academy continues to grow and develop, we plan to connect with even more diverse communities and groups of kids. Neah Bay is a part of the Makah Indian Reservation and a significant portion of the population is Native American. Salmon are a vital component of the culture, community, natural history, and industry of Neah Bay and it was fantastic to show the campers that there is a lot of positive energy and excitement from all over the state surrounding salmon. One of my favorite moments from the second camp was during one of the dissection sessions with two high school campers. We were talking about the process of dissection and how it is similar to, yet different from, gutting fish-- which they were very familiar with--when one of the campers exclaimed how interesting and valuable it was to know what each organ was and that next time he was gutting a fish, he would pay much more attention to what he was removing. To me, this represents a poignant and graceful cultural connection between the youth of Neah Bay and the hatchery, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the scientific community. After receiving very positive reviews and an invitation to return to Neah Bay next summer, I hope that we can continue to reach out to the youth of Neah Bay and show them the many connections and opportunities surrounding salmon and science!