“The fish is chasing the crab. That’s mean,” said Lucas, 10, as he observed a small tank filled with sea creatures that he and 11 other local schoolchildren captured.
It was one of many lessons the youngsters learned about aquatic nature during a 90-minute visit to the Socrates Sculpture Park Beach just off Vernon Boulevard at Long Island City’s Hallets Cove on July 18.
Each of the dozen Goodwill Industries campers from IS 10’s Beacon program who participated in the City Parks Foundation’s Coastal Classroom that day had the opportunity to don a chest wader, a heavy-duty waterproof suit that protected most of the diminutive wearers nearly up to their necks, and enter the shallow waters of the East River to learn firsthand about what lives within the water.
“It was kind of cold,” said Ankita, 10, as she emerged from the water. “You’re learning how to fish and it’s fun. We were catching the wonders of the water.”
CPF runs educational programs year-round, with the spring and summer water-based lessons focusing on river ecology, water quality, urban waterfront restoration and preservation. This year, different groups of youngsters have been coming to Hallets Cove three or four days a week since April. The free program runs through mid-August.
Working in pairs and supervised by marine educator Luis Gonzalez and his assistant Patricia McNamara, the students extended seine nets which were connected to two poles to gather marine samples, eventually transferring them to a tank where they could be observed up close.
Then, with the help of flash cards, they were able to identify what they had captured: blue crabs, silversides, jellyfish, red seaweed and sea lettuce, among other samples of marine life.
A depiction and discussion of the marine food chain brought the lesson to an end.
Fish owner Lucas said he “learned about the kinds of fish in the river and how to fish.” But he was perhaps most impressed with the chest waders, saying, “I’m not used to getting not wet in the water.”
According to Coastal Classroom’s director, Joel Rodriguez, “We’re trying to educate the local community so there is a mental change about the water. Most people who pass by think this is dead,” he said, pointing to the river, but “there’s something more than garbage” in there.
Rodriguez said the first Coastal Classroom was conducted in 2007 and, while he couldn’t estimate how many youngsters have participated over the intervening years, he indicated that the program has had a major impact.
He recalled a particular young man who turned up one day and showed an interest in learning about marine life. He kept coming back, bringing with him one additional friend each time. It was only later on that Rodriguez learned that the teenagers were all members of a gang.
“They loved it so much,” he said, even taking on unofficial roles as teachers in the program.
The CPF, which was founded in 1989, is an independent, nonprofit organization that offers park programs throughout the city, working with public schools and community groups. In addition to various education programs, the CPF presents arts and sports programs and tries to inspire area residents to support their parks on a local level. Its programs reach more than 600,000 people each year..