For about 20 years, Wilton High School has collaborated with Harbor Watch — an environmental-research group and subsidiary of the Westport-based nature center Earthplace — conducting boating expeditions in the Norwalk Harbor.
This academic year, students of Wilton High were honored for their findings at a regional scientific conference. Their study, based on about 20 “trawling” trips into the harbor, found a population decrease of a species known as winter flounder, according to Suzanne Steadham, Wilton High science teacher and Marine Biology Club adviser.
A routine outing consists of using onboard GPS in a boat to visit one of the harbor’s 20 “areas” (or boxes, if referring to the harbor grid map), dropping a “trawl beam” overboard, cranking the contents back up, and sorting and documenting various marine findings.
The research project, led by the high school’s Marine Biology Club, began in May and ran through October, and findings were presented at the 13th annual Flatfish Biology Conference in Westbrook on Dec. 3. The conference consists primarily of university and government-based science groups, which further emphasizes the high school achievement, Ms. Steadham said.
“The conference was a continuation of the [Marine Biology] Club. It allowed real world application to a school project which was a unique experience because school activities do not always allow for this,” said Wilton High junior Mackenzie Ward, co-president of the club.
“Our research was done to follow the patterns of winter flounder populations in the Long Island Sound for close to 20 years,” she said.
“Over time, a decline in their numbers has been seen and part of our research was to hypothesize the cause of this.”
The group was able to analyze findings and determine environmental factors that could have led to the decline. The specific factor was not isolated in the final presentation, and that aspect of the study was “inconclusive,” Ms. Ward said.
Students who participated in the convention included freshmen Griffin King and Tessa Markham; junior and vice-president Hannah Sullivan; Ms. Ward; and junior and co-president Laura Knapp.
“We bonded throughout the summer and fall seasons which allowed for an extremely cohesive team,” Ms. Ward said.
“Though I was interested in marine biology before joining the club, I didn’t know much about it,” Ms. Ward said.
“This experience has triggered my interest in it and I would love to explore marine biology in the future. I plan to be in the club again next year and possibly explore it in college.”
Co-president Laura Knapp shares this sentiment, and was excited about the endeavor, which fulfills her AP biology research requirement.
“I have always loved fishing, shelling, as well as going crabbing with my extended family. It is a great way to learn more about the activities that I like to take part in,” she said.
“Future environmental work is a possibility for me, but at the moment I have not decided what I would like to focus my career path around. However, I will always have a passion for marine life.”