MAYS LANDING — The “pond” behind Oakcrest High School may look like a water retention basin.

But for students in David Jungblut’s Research Science class it has been a real-life science experiment in the use of cattails to help prevent erosion of land under bulkheads, while providing food for native species.

On Wednesday, they were out at the pond, measuring the cattails that had begun growing in two habitat containers. In one, the plants they started from seed seemed to be doing better than the transplanted cattail, but students speculated that may be because its first location had been too shady for the plant. Their second container had a tall, healthy-looking plant.

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“Our first attempt didn’t go too well,” Tyajah Cooper, 16, said of the initial dead plants.

“They didn’t get a lot of light where we put them,” said Roberto Tanenbaum, 18.

The class project grew out of individual student projects, many of which dealt with environmental issues.

Cooper was studying snakes and reptiles. Connor DeLusant, 17, was interested in weather. Nhu Dotohuynh studied dragonflies, and Tyler Parent, 16, studied bunkerfish.

Parent said bunkerfish are decreasing because of lower oxygen levels in water. That is putting stress on other fish that rely on them for food.

Jungblut said their discussions eventually led to talking about what they might be able to do to restore stressed natural environments. One day, while they were out at the pond, Dotohuynh suggested growing cattails, which are an important food source in her family’s native Vietnam.

“She understood how important they are in her country,” Jungblut said.

“In my country, they are used like a vegetable,” she said. “They taste kind of like cucumber.”

Students experimented with building a cattail habitat container to start their plants, which would need extra support near bulkheads where the land area had eroded. Jungblut happened to be remodeling a bathroom and used a small metal cart as a frame for one habitat.

During their class on Wednesday a bird sat in the metal cage, and spiders and tadpoles were found in the others. Students measured the growth on their cattails and talked about how they might expand their project and what extra steps they might need to implement it.

Tanenbaum noted that there might not be much soil near some bulkheads, so they would have to have larger containers to hold dirt.

Jungblut said students are more aware of their local ecosystems and are interested in how to protect them. The class gives them the opportunity to try out their ideas and learn how to research them. He is looking into possibly having the cattails study published in a science education journal, and next year’s class could continue the project.

The course also gives students a chance to research other areas of interest.

DeLusant did a project on tornadoes, and Radames Portalatin researched sharks. Students also presented their results at a Research Science Symposium at the school library, where they had to explain their project to other students and staff.

Tanenbaum said he has been fascinated by shadows since the fourth grade and was interested in studying if they could be used as a gauge of measurement.

“But I didn’t have the math skills to do this in fourth grade,” he said. “Now I do.”

Contact Diane D’Amico:

609-272-7241

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