On the riverfront
Phil Ruggiero, a Dowling College senior studying biology and environmental science, took part in the study of the Connetquot River.

IB/Finnegan

On the riverfront

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
10/22/2015


ISLIP TOWN—Students from Dowling College in Oakdale spent several hours last week gathering water samples and sifting through sediment for the program “A Day in the Life of the Connetquot River.” Their work will help provide information to track any changes to the ecosystem there and hopefully lead to identifying the causes for those changes.

This program was sponsored by both public and private agencies, including Suffolk County Water Authority, NYSDEC, Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Portal to Discovery and Office of Education Programs, and the Central Pine Barrens Association. Melissa Griffiths Parrott from the Central Pine Barrens Association is a Sayville resident who is the first person from Suffolk County to become part of former vice president Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project. She had developed this program along with Mel Morris, an educator who works at Brookhaven Lab’s education department.

Morris said the idea for this event was born after attending a conference where a similar study on the Hudson River was done.

“I said [to Melissa], ‘We should do this for the Carmans River.’ She got excited about it,” he said.

Morris said the point of the project is twofold: The information gathered is good scientific research and it engages young people—on all levels of education—to become more mindful and involved in the health and well-being of their environment. 

The inaugural Carmans River study four years ago was successful.

“We got kids who lived along the Carmans River to do the testing,” Morris said. “We put together teacher’s manuals and a website. It was very effective and the teachers embraced it.”

This year, more sites were added to study a day in the life of the Peconic Estuary, Nissequogue and Connetquot rivers.

Last Friday, a group of college students gathered at the banks of the Connetquot River on their college campus with kayaks, poles and nets. Dowling is the first college to take part in this program.

Dr. Alex Smirnov, a Dowling professor and chairman of the earth science department there, smiled as he looked around the natural landscape and said, “This is a convenient excuse to get outside.” He added more seriously, noting the importance of the work he and his students were doing, “If something happens, how do you know what has changed? You need a baseline.” He also said that those studies should be followed up every year.

“I’m very excited about this,” said Phil Ruggiero of East Islip, who is a senior studying environmental science there. He and his classmates were looking forward to compiling the results of their findings. He added that the river’s health is especially important to him since he regularly kayaks there.

Zoe Norton of Sayville, a sophomore studying earth science, said she appreciates the importance of the work as well. “This is something I enjoy doing, too,” she said.

The four events this month involve 40 experts, 72 teachers and nearly 2,000 students from 29 school districts who are all garnering hands-on experience.

“They are becoming citizen scientists,” said Morris. “Their work is valuable.”

This June, the students will have the opportunity to present their findings at an event that will be held at Brookhaven National Laboratory.