Salish Sea Heroes: Ms. Ross' 1st-2nd Challenge class at Island View Elementary

Mrs. Ross’ class training for the beach day by modeling a healthy beach for forage fish spawning.

Mrs. Ross’ class training for the beach day by modeling a healthy beach for forage fish spawning.

These 1st-2nd Grade students from Ms. Ross’ Class at Island View Elementary in Anacortes, WA turned into Salish Sea explorers to investigate a very important issue in the Salish Sea: forage fish spawning success. As we saw in the last Salish Sea Heroes feature, some forage fish, like surf smelt, spawn right on the beach. They need shade and just the right mix of sand and gravel to survive to hatch, then swim away on a high tide. Remember that forage fish are the essential link between plankton, the base of the ocean food web, and larger animals of all kinds, including sea birds, salmon, seals, and even minke and humpback whales.

Eric and Uly with their surf smelt survey gear ready to go and Superintendent, Dr. Wenzel, ready to assist.

Eric and Uly with their surf smelt survey gear ready to go and Superintendent, Dr. Wenzel, ready to assist.

They found eggs! Can you spot them, too? They look like grains of salt on the gravel.

They found eggs! Can you spot them, too? They look like grains of salt on the gravel.

First, these students learned about surf smelt from citizen scientists with Salish Sea Stewards, who visited their school. They built a model of a beach that is healthy for surf smelt right in their classroom, including sand, gravel, drift wood, and handsome, hand-sewn smelt dolls. Next, they went to the beach to search for surf smelt eggs left behind at the last high tide.

To know where to look they had to know the clue that shows a good explorer just how high the last high tide rose:  the line of beach wrack, (dead seaweed, reeds, and other debris) left by the waves as the tide turns and retreats. Then they used the scientific procedure they learned from the Salish Sea Stewards to collect sand and gravel in the same way at each sampling site. Did they find surf smelt eggs? Lots of them!

They sorted the eggs, which look a bit like grains of salt, from the sand with a method used in gold mining, then took their eggs into the lab to count under microscopes.

Stirring eggs and sand so that the lighter eggs float to the top and the sand gets washed away.

Stirring eggs and sand so that the lighter eggs float to the top and the sand gets washed away.

Thanks to these kids, more people know about surf smelt spawning habitat and we know a little more about which parts of that beach are healthy for smelt and which could use more plants for shade.

Counting living eggs and dead surf smelt eggs on a monitor connected to a microscope.

Counting living eggs and dead surf smelt eggs on a monitor connected to a microscope.

Thank you for helping ensure the health of surf smelt, Ms. Ross and her students at Island View Elementary School! You are true Salish Sea Heroes!

Mira Lutz