Grant gives students role in protecting the Chesapeake Bay yellow perch

February 14, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

Like an expectant father making a crib, teacher Larry Ferguson spent his snow days last week sawing wood and Plexiglas.

The babies -- hundreds of them -- will arrive later this month.

The delivery date isn't firm, but when the surface water hits 50 degrees Fahrenheit -- yellow perch will be spawning in the brackish streams that feed into the Chesapeake Bay.

Teachers and students from Westminster High School and Sykesville Middle School will don rubber boots to scoop the globular egg masses into buckets and take them to elaborate tanks they will build in school, using $3,293 in new grants from the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

The two schools are among five in the state to get the perch grants from the trust, a nonprofit organization in Annapolis dedicated to the restoration and protection of the bay.

In June, when the fish have grown to about 5 inches, the students will put them back into the streams.

Meanwhile, the Westminster 10th-graders will witness the life cycle of the fish in their biology classes, and the Sykesville seventh-graders will learn how humans can aid the survival of yellow perch by raising them in a protected tank.

As for the young perch, they will have more of a fighting chance in the tanks than they would in the streams.

"The main reason I'm doing it is environmental awareness," said Jeff Alisauckas, a science teacher at Sykesville Middle. "[Raising the perch] will show how man could decrease the mortality rate of fish and increase the rate of eggs that survive."

The Westminster 10th-graders will focus more on the fish and their growth, said Mr. Ferguson, chairman of that school's science department.

"I thought, what better way to help kids see the process of a living organism from the egg state to the adult stage?" Mr. Ferguson said. While awaiting the arrival of the main tank materials, Mr. Ferguson began building four tables to hold the main tanks. He also sawed Plexiglas panels that will be placed in the tanks to separate the eggs from the hatchlings.

But the teachers are getting a little nervous about when the materials for the tanks will arrive.

"The timing is crucial," said Judy Plaskowitz, one of the teachers at Westminster involved in the project. "We have to get the tanks ready by the end of February."

Ms. Plaskowitz said she wants to collect the perch eggs soon after they're hatched, before they can fall victim to sediment, degrading water quality and other hazards in the mildly salty freshwater streams that the parent fish select for spawning.

Other Westminster teachers in the project are Claudia Lewis, Joan Epler and Dale Fogelsanger. Altogether, they have about 300 students in their classes who will participate in the studies.

Ms. Plaskowitz said the project gives students a range of tasks.They will monitor streams, maintain the tanks and keep logs.

Mr. Alisauckas said all 140 students in his team at Sykesville Middle will be at least indirectly involved with the fish, and about 10 will work closely with him to collect the eggs, raise the perch and release them.

He learned about the Chesapeake Bay Trust grant at a Maryland Association of Science Teachers' workshop.

Mr. Alisauckas received $519 for Sykesville Middle, and $693.50 went to each of the four teachers at Westminster High.

Each of the four science rooms at Westminster High will be equipped with one 55-gallon tank plus two 10-gallon tanks.

The grants also pay for a system to raise brine shrimp to feed the perch, plus plumbing, filters and monitoring kits.

Mr. Ferguson said that if the program is successful, he will ask the Trust for money to build tanks in all the biology rooms. "I decided not to be greedy and ask for all of them the first time," he said.

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