High School Island Ecology Blog
Written by Educator, Lilla Fortunoff
A few days into our High School Island Ecology program, I asked a student, “Does hunting count as foraging?”
“I knew you were going to say that!”
To the credit of this student, that was maybe the 58th time that Carolina (my co-educator) and I had asked one of our 10 students to explain their thinking to the group, and it was only Wednesday. Trying to encourage students to go deeper into their thought process is important for multiple reasons - it forces them to either strengthen the conviction of their knowledge or opinion with evidence or explanation, or it helps to uncover the questions they may still have about a topic. Asking why over and over again can wear on the patience of the group, but it allows what would have been a two sentence interaction to turn into a complex discussion amongst all the students about their ideas on hunting and foraging.
This tactic is one that Hurricane Island educators use a lot. We try to help our students make deep connections with the environments they are in and with their peers. We dive in. We learned how to use field guides by trial and error with Hurricane wildflowers first, then moved on to using field guides to forage (not hunt, we determined) for wild edible terrestrial and aquatic plants. We then flocked to the kitchen and prepared chocolate sea moss pudding using carrageenan from a marine algae. We find our food and eat it too. Deep.
In some ways, this goal of depth was futile from the start, especially during a one-week program called Island Ecology. There is so much ground to cover (literally!) in one week. Our students were incredibly flexible as we explored the island. We went from searching for intertidal organisms at the ocean’s edge at low tide to the forests at the highest point of the island (only 160 ft above sea level, but that’s beside the point) where we identified and counted tree species to calculate the biodiversity index of the natural community. We learned about the lobster industry on the Fifth Generation (our small lobster boat) in Hurricane Sound and dip netted the benthic muck in the Ice Pond for freshwater macroinvertebrates. We discovered that we can learn from these macroinvertebrates (lobsters are also technically a macroinvertebrate, albeit marine and not aquatic…) about the qualities of the water they inhabit. Lobsters are sensitive to ocean temperature and freshwater macroinvertebrates have varying sensitivities to pollution. One can make a basic assessment of freshwater quality based on the macroinvertebrates living in the body of water. We could have spent an entire day on this alone, an hour and a half of searching for and identifying macroinvertebrates did not give us very much information, although we did find a caddisfly larvae which is a species that is very sensitive to pollution in its environment so that’s a good sign! This was just one of the many connections we found over the week between different ecosystems on and around Hurricane Island. The students were full of their own questions and were patient as we experimented with different ways to understand the land and sea more fully and make connections between the things they were seeing and learning about. They were patient during our daily quiet solo time before dinner in which they were prompted to write reflectively and creatively in their journals. So many questions, so many connections, the week flew by and we on Hurricane are better for it.