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Sci Tech    H3'ed 6/14/11

The River Project Teaches NYC Residents about Biodiversity of Hudson River

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My guest today is Chris Anderson, Director of Education for The River Project. Welcome to OpEdNews, Chris. Can you please tell our readers what the project is all about?

me with students and a blue crab

I'm so sorry it's taken this long to get back to you Joan.  Our busy season has begun and we are working in the field a lot.  

The River Project (TRP) is a non-profit organization focusing first and foremost on getting New York City inhabitants to the water that surrounds them.  In particular, we educate K-12 and college-aged students on the uniqueness, e.g., biodiversity, of the Hudson River Estuary and the important roles the aquatic ecosystems around NYC play in all of our daily lives.  We also do marine biology research projects with interns, other conservation organizations, and schools, and act as stewards within the community for the Estuary and New York Harbor.

What's your background, Chris? How did you come to be Director of Education there?

My background is in Ichthyology [the study of fish], as well as Marine and Conservation Biology.  I grew up in Minnesota where I spent a lot of time in and on the water in the many lakes and I developed an appreciation for aquatic wildlife.  I also always had aquariums and really enjoyed learning about fish physiology and behavior.  In college and graduate school, I did research projects on the early life histories of many different freshwater and marine fishes.  It wasn't until I found The River Project that I began teaching instead of focusing on research.  However, I still get to work on research teams in the estuary each year, mostly on SCUBA-related projects.

Sounds like the best of both worlds. Do you miss Minnesota? And what's SCUBA? I'm assuming it's an acronym for something.

I do miss Minnesota.  The winters are the one thing that no one misses about Minnesota, but the people are nice and it has recently been rated most livable, most bike-friendly (topping Portland) and MOST HIPSTER (topping Brooklyn)!  So, there are great things that I miss, but I think I need a coast forever.

SCUBA is indeed an acronym, standing for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.  I think it is widely considered its own word now.  We do several interesting research projects beneath the surface of the waterways around New York City and the only way to stay down for more than a minute is using SCUBA.  We are currently doing an extensive oyster plotting project in the piling field of what is formerly Pier 42 at Leroy Street on the Hudson River.  I have found live oysters congregating, which is something that the Hudson River has not seen for a hundred years, so we are excited about that.  As we continue to survey the remainder of Pier 42, we hope to find more live oysters throughout that artificial, man-made habitat.  

students checking our fish traps aboard the steamship Lilac

That is exciting. Can you share some anecdotes about the way the River Project has an impact on the school kids who participate?

Well, The River Project works with students of all ages, including kindergarten through college-aged adults, from all over the New York City area.  Along with "field trips," we offer extended educational programs that focus on a broad range of topics related to the Hudson River.  In these extended programs, we partner with schools and other organizations that help facilitate fun, hands-on activities during and after school.  One ongoing program we offer is called "This Is Our River" and is facilitated by Immigrant Social Services, Inc., a non-profit organization focused on enhancing the lives of youth and families in Chinatown.  
This annual program provides 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students at PS 126 the opportunity to use the waterways around NYC to improve their math and science skills.  For The River Project's portion of the program, students visit Pier 40 eight times to perform hands-on activities such as collecting fish and other organisms in traps aboard the historic steamship Lilac, collecting plankton for viewing/identifying under microscopes, assisting with oyster restoration projects, and testing many water chemistry parameters.  The TRP staff has several favorite students from that program that return on an annual basis to help with the new kids in subsequent years.  This and other programs like it often lead to great future interns at The River Project and we have even had former TRP interns or field trip participants bring in students of their own as they are now science teachers themselves!      

That must be gratifying, Chris. What haven't we talked about yet?

The main goal of The River Project is to get people to the water that surrounds them in New York City.  We want them to see the Hudson River and the Harbor and understand that these are vibrant ecosystems that NYC inhabitants are dependent on in so many ways and should not be thought of as scary places.  The waterfront should be welcoming and finally the City is moving in that direction.  We encourage teachers and camp counselors to bring their kids on exciting, hands-on field trips to The River Project where they will be able to tour an historic steamship (Lilac) and handle many live organisms right from the Hudson River.  
Participants can also do water testing, learn about and measure oysters, and catch live plankton in the river and identify them under microscopes.  The River Project is an excellent venue for learning and just having fun.  I'm excited to come to work every day and I love to show people the wonders of the life beneath the surface.  It doesn't hurt that visitors are usually on field trips so they're in good moods themselves! 

field trip!

Thanks so much for sharing what you do with our readers, Chris.  Good luck to you and The River Project!

Thank you, Joan.


Learn more about The River Project 
photo credits: The River Project

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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