COLUMBIA FALLS — A months-long experiment in environmental science came to fruition earlier this month.
A group of Jonesport Elementary School kindergarten and pre-K students gathered at the Downeast Salmon Federation facility on the bank of the Pleasant River and released dozens of recently-hatched Atlantic salmon fry into the water.
That introduction to the wild was the first leg of a journey that will eventually send those salmon to the icy waters of the North Atlantic, perhaps as far as Greenland, before some of them, it is hoped, return to the Pleasant River where they will spawn, then die.
The round-trip might take as little as about three years, but adult salmon can spend six years or more in the ocean before returning to their home river.
The salmon release was the culmination of the school’s participation this year in the Fish Friends program of the Maine Council of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.
Program coordinator Hazel Stark said last week that Fish Friends got its start in Maine in 1992. Some 90 Maine elementary schools, about 10 of them in Washington and Hancock counties, are currently in the program.
Jonesport Elementary School teacher Jeanna Carver supervised the five-month program and accompanied the young biology students on their field trip to the to the hatchery.
“This year our youngest students at Jonesport Elementary had the opportunity to work with Fish Friends and study the lifecycle of salmon,” Carver said. “It was an amazing hands-on opportunity for them and they were really excited about the project.”
The introduction to the world of salmon began in January, when the students received a delivery of 200 salmon eggs from the Downeast Salmon Federation hatchery on March 2.
The eggs went into a classroom aquarium with gravel on the bottom, a filter to keep the fresh water clean and a chiller to keep it cool, mimicking the temperatures of the Pleasant River, which sink, beneath the ice, to about 1 degree centigrade in January and rise to about 10 degrees as spring arrives.
The eggs hatched into nearly transparent alevin around April 15. Over the next month, the alevin developed into fry and were ready for their release on May 17.
According to Carver, the kids loved the whole process.
“Their excitement carried through at home as well and we had parents coming in with their kiddos each morning at drop-off to see the progress that the salmon were making,” Carver said. “Many parents also accompanied us on our field trip, since we really became involved in this project as a community making a wonderful school-to-home connection.”
It’s up to the school to buy the necessary equipment, Stark said, but once it’s on hand it can be used year after year for the program. It is also possible for individuals and organizations to “sponsor” a school, Stark said, by purchasing new equipment or replacing old equipment for a school.
The Fish Friends curriculum is designed, according to its website, to teach students:
- What a watershed is.
- How humans impact watersheds.
- What habitat is.
- The effects of pollution on our rivers.
- How the water cycle works.
- What a diadromous species (such as Atlantic salmon) is and why they are important to other animals and plants.
- Why animals migrate.
- The Atlantic salmon lifecycle.
- How to monitor water quality for temperature, oxygen, turbidity, and acidity.
- The human need for clean water.
- How humans are working to improve the quality of rivers.
That’s a big order for short kids, but it doesn’t seem to have fazed the young Jonesport students.
Back from their field trip to Columbia Falls, Carver said, “we are currently working on a paper mache lifecycle of the salmon for our curriculum fair.”
For information, email Stark at [email protected]