Mars HS students will study on island
Cranberry Eagle
Written by:
April 2, 2014

ADAMS TWP — A group of Mars High School students will travel to coastal Virginia in mid-April for some hands-on science learning.

Science teacher Bill Wesley said 36 students and four adults will participate in the Wallops Island Marine Science Field Trip to learn interactive lessons in science, ecology, nature, the environment and marine biology.

The students will study for three days at the Chincoteague Bay Field Station at Wallops Island, which they will reach after a nine-hour trip on motor coach buses.

Wesley said the program was open to all high school students, whose field study on the island will be performed in an area that is protected and contains no development.

“The island is extremely pristine,” said Wesley, who accompanied students on the trip a number of years ago. “Nobody uses those beaches, tidal zones or marshes.”

He said the students will study the island’s ecosystems, animals, plants, vegetation, erosion and the ecocycles of the sand.

“We will learn more about zoology in four days on the island than we would here in four weeks with a book,” Wesley said.

Mars senior Teva Mayer said she signed up for the Wallops Island trip because she has set her sights on a career as a zoologist who either works in the field or as a nature photographer.

“I love everything to do with nature and the environment,” Teva said. “I thought it would be awesome to get some hands-on experience.”

She said pictures she has seen of students studying at the Chincoteague Bay Field Station show lots of time spent in the water, researching plants, animals and organisms.

“I hope it’s fun,” Teva said. “I’m super excited.”

Wesley said the students will stay in dorms a few miles away from the site.

Anne Armstrong, education director at the Chincoteague Bay Field Station, said the field research sites used by students are on the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, just north of Wallops Island.

She said Wallops Island has a long-standing connection to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, as the southern end of the island is controlled by the Navy and NASA. She said NASA launches sounding rockets for atmospheric research from Wallops Island, as well as Antares rockets that resupply the Internation Space Station.

She said the beachfront layout on the north end of the island protects the shore from waves, which makes tidal learning easier.

“We teach barrier islands and dune ecology classes out there,” Armstrong said.

She said Mars students will have the opportunity to use professional marine biology equipment in their field studies. By the end of the trip, the students will have explored all the main habitats on the barrier islands.

As an example, Armstrong said students will learn two collection methods they will use to study worms in the mud and intertidal fish. They will also test the water quality of a natural environment and look at plankton and small animals up close.

“The eastern shore of the United States has the most undeveloped coastline in the country,” Armstrong said. “It’s just a really special experience.”

Wesley said the trip will be funded through a grant from the Mars Planet Foundation and the students participating.