Today is Earth Day. I am not sure if we are good to Mother Earth as we certainly are not good to each other. She is angry, we are angry as a nation and as a globe as one perusal through the news will assure you.
I wanted to find one positive life affirming story in which to boast, put hopes and aspirations upon. I want to believe Mulder, dammit!
So perusing the New York Times I was concerned as there was little there to which hang my hopes, then I found this story about of all things a PUBLIC high school.
The story is a great piece and if you click the link on the title you will see the video that accompanies the piece.
Public School, earth, water, nature and inspiration. That is a great Earth Day.
Equipped to Dive, Students Make Aquarium Their Classroom
By LISA W. FODERARO
APRIL 22, 2014
Andrew Sutchen, 18, was keeping his head down, trying to ignore the fish. It was hard to concentrate on the task at hand: performing underwater housekeeping for the New York Aquarium in Coney Island. “They kept biting my hair,” he said. “I felt a tug and saw that one had pulled some out.”
The fish — known as sergeant majors, among 40 tropical species in the Glover’s Reef exhibit at the aquarium — were feisty, but not really a threat. They grow to only six inches, and their teeth are too small to do any harm.
The encounter was all part of an unusual internship for nine students from the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, a public high school on Governors Island with a special focus on marine science and technology. Every other week over the past winter, diving students from the school have come out to the aquarium, part of the Wildlife Conservation Society. They donned their scuba gear, and then plunged into the 167,000-gallon Glover’s Reef tank, scrub brushes in hand to clean algae off the artificial coral reefs.
Daniel Vega, one of the Harbor School students, preparing to dive in the Glover’s Reef tank. “I really fell in love with diving and want to do it as a career,” said Mr. Vega.
“We run a diving program that’s basically shut down in the open water from around mid-November to mid-April,” said Joseph Gessert, the school’s diving safety officer. “So getting the kids in the water over the winter has filled a big hole. It helps keep their skills fresh.”
For some of the students, it was their first experience in the crystal-clear waters of the tropics, albeit in miniature. Glover’s Reef mimics the underwater world of Belize.
Fatima Moataz, a 17-year-old senior from Downtown Brooklyn, has logged plenty of hours in the city’s waters. She has surveyed for eel grass and scallops in Jamaica Bay for the National Park Service and helped restore oysters to New York Harbor through the Billion Oyster Project, an initiative led by the New York Harbor Foundation.
“The visibility in the bay is only about an arm’s length,” said Ms. Moataz, whose mother is a police officer and whose father is a restaurant owner. “But here you can see everything around you.”
On an overcast spring day, Ms. Moataz was putting 65 pounds of gear onto her 4-foot-11-inch frame, including a bright yellow compressed air tank and assorted gauges, devices and hoses. She then slipped into the 76-degree water from a deck at the top of the tank, and using her flippers, eased her way to the bottom.
Working amid 800 individual fish, which include the flamboyantly hued Queen angelfish and the odd-looking cownose ray, was a thrill, she said. “The first time I was here, a Moray eel was coming toward me, and I was like, ‘My fingers aren’t little sausages,' ” she recalled.
The students from the Harbor School have joined about 60 adult diving volunteers who augment the aquarium’s own staff in keeping the various tanks shipshape. The regular volunteers not only scrub off algae, which quickly builds up on surfaces, but also clean the sandy bottom with special vacuums and buff the inside of the viewing windows with a chamois cloth.
In the wild, the algae acts as a food source for hundreds of fish species that are herbivores. But while half of the 40 species represented in Glover’s Reef are herbivores, their numbers are too small to control the algae growth.
David DeNardo, the aquarium’s general curator, said that enlisting the students, who are paid minimum wage as part of the internship, was a good way to further the aquarium’s mission. Eventually, the aquarium and the school plan to develop a curriculum related to the Glover’s Reef exhibit, so that the students can better understand the species whose habitat they are keeping clean.
“It gives us an opportunity to teach these kids our conservation message,” Mr. DeNardo said. “We look at this as a chance to foster the next generation of conservationists.”
The reefs in the tank are made from plastic and fiberglass.
“Even though it’s artificial, it’s so intricate that it allows for a community to form,” Mr. DeNardo said. “You’ll see a lot of natural behaviors, like territorialism, feeding and mating. Cleaning the algae may sound a little mundane, but it’s an incredibly important part of our husbandry.”
At the Harbor School, students take a regular complement of Regents courses, but by sophomore year, they must declare an area of specialization. Among the options are vessel operations, aquaculture, marine biology research and professional diving.
The aquarium interns are all in the professional diving track, which positions them to pursue such fields as marine science, tourism and construction. None had any diving experience when they enrolled in the school. They learned bit by bit, first in the classroom, then in a pool and finally in Jamaica Bay.
Daniel Vega, one of the interns, is headed to Florida after he graduates to attend a trade school for commercial diving, which involves underwater welding and construction, as well as search and recovery.
It is difficult work, with divers dispatched to far-off sites for six months at a time. But it is also lucrative. “I really fell in love with diving and want to do it as a career,” said Mr. Vega, 17, of the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn.
In addition to receiving valuable diving practice at the aquarium, the students are developing in other ways. “They are having a great experience,” Mr. Gessert said, “but they are also learning workplace skills — to be on time, to conduct themselves professionally, to be adults.”
And, not insignificantly, how to guard against gnawing tropical fish. “Next time,” said Mr. Sutchen, his hair still dripping, “I’ll wear a hood.”