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March Fellows Colloquium Recap: Oyster Biology and Anatomy

By Heather Flanagan
April 8, 2016

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The CCERS Fellowship at Pace is a two‐year professional development program that trains teachers to engage their students in hands‐on environmental STEM and restoration ecology in New York Harbor. The Fellowship is open to NYC Department of Education middle school teachers working in Title I funded schools. Classes and trainings are taught by guest experts, scientists from Columbia’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, curriculum specialists from New York Harbor Foundation, and partner organizations such as The River Project and BioBus/BioBase.

This month, co-founder of Fishers Island Oyster Farm Steve Malinowski and his son, Billion Oyster Project’s own Pete Malinowski provided the essential of the essential: core knowledge of the oyster, its lifecycle, physiology, and production systems. Their presentation explored the role of aquaculture in restoration science and the technical processes used at the Fishers Island Oyster Farm, plus an oyster anatomy lesson, shucking how-to, and of course some farm-raised oyster tasting!

Steve Malinowski describing the FLUPSY or “floating upweller system” that uses electric pumps to increase the flow of water and nutrients past the baby oyster spat in salt ponds. This is the first stage of grow-out after the hatchery where the larvae are set on their growing medium, called “cultch.” In our case, we use whole shells as cultch whereas Steve and all other farmers use ground up particles of shell as cultch to create single adult oysters that are effectively cultch-less.

Steve Malinowski describing the FLUPSY or “floating upweller system” that uses electric pumps to increase the flow of water and nutrients past the baby oyster spat in salt ponds. This is the first stage of grow-out after the hatchery where the larvae are set on their growing medium, called “cultch.” BOP uses whole shells as cultch whereas Steve and all other farmers use ground up particles of shell as cultch to create single adult oysters that are effectively cultch-less.

Steve took us through Fishers Island Oyster Farm’s fully vertically integrated production system, from breeding to FLUPSY (see above), and the two year grow-out of juveniles to market sized oysters. Then he highlighted the key benefits oyster farms can contribute to an ecosystem, including:

  • Removing particulates from the water to increase sunlight penetration
  • Consuming blooms of phytoplankton that arise from excess nitrogen
  • Providing structure for water birds like egrets and herons that are attracted to the fish who come to eat the organisms that set on the nets

Next, Pete walked us through some of the Billion Oyster Project’s current restoration efforts around the city at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Tappan Zee Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Bush Terminal in Sunset Park, Living Breakwaters in Staten Island, and Jamaica Bay.

Pete continued his presentation by opening and dissecting an oyster:

Pete demonstrates how to open an oyster shell- make sure to twist the knife and slide it under the shell to cut the adductor muscle!

Pete demonstrates how to open an oyster shell- make sure to twist the knife and slide it under the shell to cut the adductor muscle!

Then the fellows had a chance to try out oyster shucking- and tasting- for themselves!

After our hands-on oyster investigations, BOP’s curriculum specialists Ann Fraioli and Audrey Federman sought feedback on this month’s sample lesson plans- “Graphing the Tides,” “Harbor History,” and “Water Cycle.” Take a look at two pieces of student work that one of the fellows shared from Graphing the Tides:

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Clarissa Lynn (Central Park East II Middle School) noted that Harbor History was a great way to do observations and inferences with 6th graders, and that the “shock and awe” the New York Harbor photographs produced in the kids got them amped for their projects. Other teachers reworked the tide charts from Graphing the Tides with new data from NOAA and introduced alternate reading materials.

Next up was Bart Piscitello of Hunters Point Community Middle School (Long Island City, Queens) for the “microteaching” module. The concept of microteaching is teachers modeling classroom tested lessons to other teachers. In this case, second year fellows are invited back to a fellowship meeting to demo one particularly excellent classroom-tested BOP lesson so first years can see great examples of BOP lessons in action. In this way, second-year BOP fellows also serve to mentor first-years and provide tangible examples of what worked and what didn’t in the classroom and the field. In this session, Bart taught his watershed model lesson, making a relief map of a watershed using readily available classroom materials and simulating rain with a sprayer/misting bottle.

In the moment of truth, Rachelle and her group find out if their predictions for where the water in their model watersheds were accurate.

Rachelle Travis (Dr. Susan S. McKinney Secondary School for the Arts) and her group drew blue lines on their relief maps to predict where water would travel in their model watersheds. In the moment of truth, Bart mists the map to test the accuracy of their predictions.

Bob Newton and Matt Palmer from Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory closed out the night with a discussion about biological datasets, noting based on their prior work with the New York Harbor School that “high school students can generate publication-quality data.”

Bob loves a good data exercise!

Bob loves a good data exercise!

Throughout the first semester of the BOP Fellowship our guest experts help to build teachers’ foundational knowledge of restoration science and New York Harbor ecology. We started in February with Professor John Waldman, who provided an in-depth look at NY Harbor’s historical and present day ecology, using his book Heartbeats in the Muck as a reference. (Do yourself a favor and check out his Twitter– it is a veritable treasure trove of aquatic puns!) Professor Waldman facilitated an illuminating workshop on the surprising number of fish species that inhabit the Hudson Raritan Estuary (HRE) and where/how they originate, a field of study known as geozoology.

We’re looking forward to our April Fellows Colloquium on the 12th, when we’ll be moving on to the essentials of water quality and biogeochemistry of New York Harbor with Professor Brett Branco of CUNY Brooklyn College. Professor Branco will offer his rigorous scientific explanations of the key water quality parameters we monitor around the ORS, including significance and tolerance ranges for keystone species. In this session, fellows will get VERY hands-on, learning how to use four different methods and instruments for testing dissolved oxygen. To do this we will be bringing at least 10 gallons of East River water into our classroom at Pace!

Interested in reading more about BOP-CCERS and how we’re bringing hands-on restoration science to classrooms all over the city?  Sign up for our newsletter and click here to read all BOP-CCERS posts!