Assistant Education Coordinator Johanna Hripto writes about her experience combining education and research at the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve. They really aren’t that far apart!
As the Assistant Education Coordinator for DNERR, I get to spend a lot of time teaching others about the Delaware Bay and sharing just how awesome and important our estuaries are. I have the opportunity to share my knowledge and passion of the environment with others while getting to interact with a variety of people from school groups and the public. The thing I find most exciting about our education curriculum is that we are lucky enough at DNERR to be able to incorporate research from our own Reserve right into our programming. Our researchers collect data to learn about the health of our estuaries, including water quality, marsh assessments, and the flora and fauna that rely on the marsh and Delaware Bay for life. I then get to take this research and finds ways to translate it into school and public programs, sharing DNERR’s efforts and findings with the community.
After graduating with a BS in Biology last May, I started work at DNERR the end of the summer, eager to learn how to translate my biology background into educational opportunities. After half a year at the Reserve of learning DNERR’s education curriculum and different interpretation techniques, my supervisor allowed me to continue my interest in biology research and help out with research needs around the Reserve (thanks Maggie!). I had experience with research projects and field work in college and was excited to apply what I learned to this new environment. At Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, we worked in thick deciduous forests and freshwater river ecosystems, mainly on the Susquehanna River. It’s been quite a difference learning about coastal ecosystems, salinity gradients, and remembering to always check the tide before going out!
So far I’ve been able to assist with SET readings (sediment elevation tables) to see how the marsh elevation is changing, horseshoe crab spawning surveys (counting spawning crabs as they come up on the beaches at night to lay their eggs), nekton surveys (using an otter trawl net in a river to see what you find- think blue crabs, fish, and American eels), and also with zooplankton collection and assessment (yes, like Plankton from Spongebob- he does exist!). I’ve also created a zooplankton lesson plan that allows students to collect, process, and identify their own sample taken right from our boardwalk at St. Jones Reserve. The lab is a reflection of the zooplankton assessment being conducted by our researchers, whose goal is to determine long and short term changes in zooplankton biodiversity and populations in the St. Jones River.
I’ve learned a lot already and am excited to experience more opportunities in the future and to continue finding new ways to tie it all back to education. After all, you can count all the horseshoe crabs you want but if you can’t tell the public why we do it, you’re missing something!