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A LEAP FROM STUDENTS TO CITIZEN SCIENTISTS

A LEAP FROM STUDENTS TO CITIZEN SCIENTISTS

WILMINGTON, N.C. — On a cool spring night, a group of Pine Valley Elementary School students were on a mission— a frog mission. They quietly shuffled down a path in Halyburton Park. Some placed their cupped hands strategically around their ears. Some turned their bodies like radar, scanning. None spoke. All listened. 

After several minutes and the go ahead from their teacher, they turned in the twilight and walked back to their impromptu, outdoor classroom. What had they heard? Only cars and a motorcycle. Any frogs? No. What had they learned? A lot. 

Months ago the students visited the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and met with Andy Gould, outreach coordinator. He trained the students and their teachers to be FrogWatchUSA volunteers. They learned about frog species in North Carolina and what they sounded like. They learned amphibians are critically endangered, threatened by habitat loss and pollution. They learned how they could help by collecting scientific data. 

The young people began applying these lessons in the field this spring. On multiple evenings the students along with their parents, Gould and lead-teacher Kelly Crowley ventured to the same spot within Halyburton Park to listen for and identify frog species. Each night different students monitored and recorded the prevailing conditions: temperature, wind, rain levels and time. The group, as many as 50 at times, listened for a chorus of frogs. Some nights they heard and successfully identified multiple species. Other nights they didn’t hear a single frog. 

“Hearing nothing is as important as the students hearing something,” said Andy Gould, outreach coordinator at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. “We still learn and need to identify what is different. It is all useful information.”

The students are using more than just their listening skills according to Crowley. They are collecting real data and helping researchers. “This makes science real and fun,” said Crowley. “They are applying what they learn and becoming citizen scientists.”

In addition to training 75 elementary students, Gould conducted free FrogWatchUSA trainings throughout the spring adding 50 more pairs of ears to monitor and collect data at local wetland sites from February through August and submit their data online.

“Amphibians are important species to keep an eye on, because they are very sensitive to changes in their environment,” said Gould. “If we see them in our area, it means our habitats are healthy and thriving. If we notice their absence, we may want to look further into potential causes.” 


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