Vernal Sampling & Monitoring

BY Amy Ferreira

Sandwich STEM Academy 

Project Description

The STEM Academy just recently completed construction of a vernal pool (June 2018), an outdoor living laboratory, on school grounds. This project was accomplished in conjunction with Mass Audubon. Students were involved in the construction process and are now invested in the growth and success of this vernal pool.

The creation of this wetland has given students the opportunity to compare and contrast biodiversity, colonization rates, hydrology and animal and plant composition among this new wetland and a naturally occurring wetland on campus. Students can also be taught science, math, engineering, history, and art by experiencing lessons firsthand at a wetland. Because natural wetlands are rare habitats, they are often difficult to investigate without incurring the high cost of field trips. We now have a wetland right on campus.

We are seeking funds to purchase sampling and monitoring equipment for student to use in the vernal pool. The STEM Academy, with a total of 465 7th and 8th grade students, currently has only three nets to use for sampling. We would like to purchase more dip nets, viewers, field microscopes, ID guides, and more.

This equipment will be integral in our ongoing studies of this vernal pool. Students will monitor the ecosystem’s abiotic and biotic factors to see how they change over time. Due to the ephemeral nature of this habitat, students will see changes over the course of a year, and start to compile data for long-term studies. These sampling resources will help establish baseline data and protocols needed for all these studies.

How will the project be evaluated (e.g. how will you gauge its success)?

We will evaluate this project by keeping track of several factors. One, we will record all observations and sampling efforts. We will do this systematically, with a data sheet provided to us by Mass Audubon and the Mass Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. This data will provide us with information about what is living in or using the vernal pool habitat. We will be able to assess any future needs of more equipment or different sampling methods after reviewing this data in June 2020. Secondly, we will record the number of students using the equipment and how often it is being used. If, for example, we find that the D-ring nets are the most successful in capturing species, we will know to budget for more of those the following year. And lastly, we will have students record and reflect on their experiences at the vernal pool. This will provide us with more qualitative data about the use of the equipment and the opportunity to be involved in this project.

Benefit to the students and the school

I believe this project will help the students, the school and the community.  It will help us to understand this new wetland ecosystem. More wetlands means more rare species habitat resulting in conservation biology, stewardship, and protection of rare ecosystems on Cape Cod.  It also means opportunities for students to explore conservation biology as a possible career path.

Students will learn field research techniques that they may later use in college or in a career. They will observe small and large ecological changes and test claims as to why they are occurring. In addition, students will learn more about the vernal pool ecosystem –its natural cycles and its inhabitants.

The results of these observations and sampling may result in students being able to certify the vernal pool. This process, coordinated by Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, relies on students or volunteers to submit documentation of certain biological and physical evidence of vernal pool habitat. If all criteria is met, then it will attain the status as a “Certified Vernal Pool”, and consequently be protected under the Wetlands Protection Act.

Lastly, this project is beneficial because students will be actively involved in a meaningful and on-going project which promotes environmental stewardship. The more hands-on learning you can provide for students, the more connected and interested they will be. This interest may spark a lifelong curiosity and passion for science and the environment.

Timeline of Project (when will you do the project, if applicable)

The timeline of this project will begin in Fall 2018 and continue through Spring 2019 and beyond. Students will be able to leave the school to conduct vernal pool sampling any day throughout the school year, with the most successful sampling occurring from March through October. If we were able to purchase this equipment, it would be used year after year by every seventh and eighth grade class that comes through at the STEM Academy. This would benefit hundreds of different students each year.