Sixth-graders collect young oysters
On a field trip to Sheffield Cove, students in the Lawn Avenue School sixth-grade class participated in an aquaculture experiment that adults at Roger Williams University developed. The children helped collect young oysters, which may someday help bring wild oysters back to Rhode Island waters, said teacher Charlene Tuttle.
It was a muddy job on a cloudy day, but it was also fun, the youngsters said, as they wielded shovels, manipulated shellfish gauges, and balanced clipboards to record all the data.
Steve Patterson of Roger Williams University showed the children how to count the oysters.
Patterson, coordinator of Rhode Island Oyster Gardening for Restoration and Enhancement, came to school in advance of the field trip to explain the oyster gardening project. Tuttle expects him to return to the classroom to answer questions and go over the findings when he has an opportunity.
“In addition, we will take a field trip to Roger Williams University in the spring to see the web lab there,” she said.
“This is the first time we have participated in this field trip,” Tuttle said. She said all three sixthgrade classes went on the field trip.
Tuttle said Fuhana DiBiase, project manager for the Science and Math Scholars and Deb Barone, a former science teacher who retired in June, made the connections with Patterson.
He organized the field trip, she said, and gave the children a chance to participate in the restoration project.
The field trip had to be scheduled for the fall because that’s the time the oysters have reached about an inch in size and are ready to be resettled in a shellfish restoration site.
Patterson said he has 27 oyster garden sites around the Bristol campus, plus 10 around Block Island and 11 around other locations, including Jamestown.
These particular floats were grown in the section of water approved by the state Department of Environmental Management but not in the waters by Marine Avenue. Patterson said he and Jamestowner Phil Larson, who went out in the water and brought up cages filled with juvenile oysters, had moved the floats over to the Marine Avenue area just for the field trip. The adults also opened the floats, which looked a bit like wire mesh suitcases.
Then the children reached in and pulled out clamshells crusted with growing oysters. The youngsters wore boots and gloves as they worked in the mud.
The children worked in groups. They organized the shells, counted oysters, measured the juvenile oysters, and kept a record of their findings.
Kendra Smith, 12, held a clipboard and wrote the numbers on a sheet of paper.
Fiona Eves, 11, explained the job called for several steps and started with dividing the shells up and laying them on a tarp.
They started by dividing the shells in half and they kept dividing by halves until they had 1/32nd of the total. Then they took one small batch and counted the number of oysters on each shell.
“The last remaining group is 1/32nd of the total count,” said Fiona, the daughter of Daniel and Erin Eves.
So once they had calculated the number of oysters in the 1/32nd batch, they only had to multiply the number by 32 to figure out the harvest. They didn’t have to count every oyster in the float, she said.
Patterson said the oysters had been grown from larvae at the hatchery at Roger Williams University where scientists placed the larvae on bags of empty clamshells. The clamshells – with oysters attached – go into the water packed in wire mesh floats until the oysters measure about an inch, Patterson said. Then, volunteers with the oyster project raise the floats and collect the oysters to be sent to restoration sites.
Reagan Sanchez, 11, used a white plastic gauge to measure the tiny oyster shells. Asked what an oyster looks like, she offered to run and get one. Reagan, the daughter of Julio and Ellen Sanchez, brought back a clamshell with one oyster – a small, partly developed shell attached to the end of the empty clamshell.
Patterson said the oysters eventually separate from the clamshell. They provide habitat for other species, including lobster, blue crab and tautog.
Even while they’re still growing in floats and protected from predators, the oysters are providing food and shelter for other sea life, like periwinkles, which forage on the algae that collects on the floats.
As long as the light hits, he said, the algae grows like a salad.
Kristen Spradley, 11, started to pick up a clamshell crusted with juvenile oysters when something pink caught her eye. Kristen had found a star fish attached to the float. The starfish was still alive. She returned it to the water.