WARREN, NJ -On April 1, the Wetlands Institute of Stone Harbor brought the wonders of the ocean to Warren Middle School. Marine Biologists Kaitlin Gannon and Sue Slotterback presented a traveling environmental program to 7th grade Science classes. They explained how important the coastal habitats are to our state and brought numerous animals along provide for a hands-on experience.

Most of the sea creatures that the Wetlands Institute brought were native to New Jersey, which captured the interest of all. Students were introduced to the animals by observing and touching each, in accordance with their comfort level, while learning how to properly handle them.
The sea star was the first to make its debut. While people call them starfish, they are actually not fish, just as jellyfish is a misnomer. Atop the sea star is an orange spot that is often mistaken for an eye, but as students learned, is actually somewhat of a trap door that lets in water. Next presented were the mussel and clam. While many people like to eat mussels, ribbed mussels are not as tasty as the popular blue mussels. They are filter feeding bivalves which eat plankton floating in the ocean.
The sea urchin, also known as the Atlantic or purple sea urchin was subsequently displayed. They are herbivores who use their spines for protection. Gannon and Slotterback went on to show snails, spider crabs and hermit crabs to the group. The horseshoe crab was the animal that brought forth the surprising reactions. Expecting as much, Gannon explained that although often feared, they are rather harmless. Gannon also showcased the European green crab, one of the invasive species not native to NJ. Having no natural predators, they are more aggressive in terms of food and shelter. Invasive species are significant to marine biologists’ studies as they greatly impact ecosystems.

After mini lessons on each special visitor, the children were encouraged to pick up each animal and were challenged to discover their special adaptations. Conversations ensued including predator-prey relationships, anatomy, and classification. In Kelly Brown, O’Brien Speckin, and Dan Ticchio’s classes this presentation directly supported the curriculum and lessons that have taken place throughout the school year. Students have been focused on the study of taxonomy, as well as ecosystems.
The presenters were impressed with students’ background knowledge and the teachers were equally proud of their high-level thinking and inquisitive nature. At the conclusion of the program, students were even more eager to visit the Jersey shore this summer as they will be able to see these coastal creatures up close once again.