Environmental Science and Biology Students in the Field

Teacher Ryan Black engaged Environmental Science and Biology 2 students in a biodiversity study, employing a variety of technologies to collect and analyze data. Black explains, “iNaturalist is a community science app that allows users to share and record biodiversity information with a database which can be used for scientific research. The goal of iNaturalist is to connect people to nature and create a living record of life on Earth. Environmental Science and Biology 2 students used the app to contribute to our Westtown Biodiversity Studies. The overall project, the Westtown School Biodiversity Study, pulls all of the observations recorded on campus. Anyone with the iNaturalist app can contribute to these projects. 

“There are sub-projects that pull data from different parts of campus that Environmental Science students use to compare the biodiversity of different areas. All of those projects can be viewed via the “umbrella project” that shows all of our projects on one page: Westtown School Biodiversity Studies. Some of the Environmental Science students set up trail cams and recorded those observations on our Westtown Trail Cams project. And since there are a lot of avid birders on campus, we also set up the Avian Diversity Study. We may add more projects next year to show the diversity of other taxonomic groups.” 

We encourage you to visit these links to learn about our campus biodiversity yourself. Remember that anyone in the community with the iNaturalist app is welcome to contribute to these ongoing projects as well!

Black also took his Environmental Science 2 class to the Jersey shore for a day of service and learning. Students worked with reTURN the Favor, an organization that “…works to rescue horseshoe crabs on beaches open to the public, it primarily concentrates on rescuing crabs stranded on beach areas seasonally closed during shorebird migration and horseshoe crab spawning season occurring in May and June. Many horseshoe crabs spawn on these closed beaches and oftentimes become stranded, overturned, or even impinged behind natural or manmade structures. The reTURN the Favor program works with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection so that horseshoe crabs stranded on closed beaches can be rescued by sanctioned volunteer groups.” 

Black shares, “Students witnessed the awe-inspiring spectacle as hundreds of thousands of Atlantic horseshoe crabs gathered along the Delaware Bay shore to engage in their annual spawning ritual—a tradition that has endured for hundreds of millions of years! The ecological significance of this event cannot be overstated. The eggs laid during this mass spawning serve as a vital food source for numerous species, including endangered migratory birds such as the red knot. However, the future of horseshoe crab populations hangs in the balance. Threatened by habitat degradation, overharvesting for pharmaceutical purposes and fishing bait, and historically utilized as fertilizer, these ancient creatures face significant challenges.

In an effort to safeguard this invaluable species, students took partk in a meaningful initiative known as the “Return the Favor NJ” walk. Our mission? To rescue trapped horseshoe crabs along the beaches of Cumberland County (NJ), flipping over stranded individuals to ensure their survival. Through this hands-on community science activity, students will also gather crucial data on the gender distribution of the rescued crabs, which will be reported to reTURN the Favor NJ for further analysis.

“The students had a very successful day, working hard to rescue a total 348 horseshoe crabs. While the abundance of crabs was fairly low, it is still early in their spawning season. The students also witnessed a great abundance of shorebirds at a few beaches which limited our ability to conduct rescues at these locations (the shorebirds take priority and we are careful not to move them). So while the horseshoe crab numbers were low, it was great to see robust shorebird activity. We collected data on the numbers of flipped/trapped male and female horseshoe crabs as well as deceased Diamondback terrapins (turtles). All of the data we collected was reported to reTURN the Favor.” If you’re interested in their findings,  here is some of the data.