Students work to turn Neuse silver

Thursday, May 6, 2010

KNIGHTDALE - East Wake Middle School students became wildlife biologists last week and released shad they grew in the classroom as part of a "Silvering the Neuse" program.

"The kids are loving this connection to nature and this is just a good way to get kids aware of their natural environment and the world that surrounds them," said Patty Matteson, public affairs director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The program is sponsored by the service and the N.C. Museum of Natural Science. A grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Foundation paid for 10 tanks for students to raise fish and release them in the Neuse and Roanoke Rivers. East Wake Middle School is one of five schools in Wake County that participated. The idea is to help students value the ecosystem and to learn the way scientists restore fish killed off from pollution. It also helps them have a part in replenishing the dwindling population of shad in the Neuse.

East Wake Middle School teacher Karen Curry heard about the program at a science workshop sponsored by Wake County Schools that she attended last year.

It struck a chord with Curry, who majored in wildlife fishery science at the University of Tennessee. Her husband, Bob Curry, is the chief of inland fisheries with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

"It's something that I appreciated and I wanted the kids to appreciate it too" said Curry.

She sold eighth-grader Zach Moore, who pored over a microscope in the classroom on Thursday, looking for shad embryos.

"It's not like a regular classroom," he said. "It's hands-on stuff."

For five days, students nurtured the 5,300 eggs in a red tank on the shelf in the back of Curry's science class. That included monitoring pH, ammonia, nitrate, chorine and the temperature and removing fish egg sacs that won't hatch. From 30 to 50 percent of them will make it to "fry" or young fish, said Matteson.

The name - silvering the Neuse - came literally from the way the river used to run silver, said Matteson. Up until the 1900s, so many shad were returning to spawn, they turned the river a silver color. Now, because of pollution, shad have diminished.

Students learned that the shad they release will swim to the Pamlico Sound and some will travel as far as the coast of Nova Scotia before returning home to spawn.

The study also incorporated some historical elements like how George Washington fed his troops shad from the Potomac and how slaves who were shad fishermen helped "build" the Underground Railroad and spy on Confederate troops from their prime spots on the river.

Shad was such an important part of communities along the Neuse that shad parties are still thrown there today, Matteson said. Curry participated in one in Williamston when she went on a camping trip sponsored by the wildlife service.

"There are so many connections with shad in our history," said Matteson.

One fact stuck with student Alma Matias, who is troubled by the fact that every piece of debris outside usually makes it to the Neuse.

"I try to pick up candy wrappers and trash and throw it in the trash can," she said.


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