Chincoteague Bay Field Study

7th graders venture out on an inspiring ecological study of a wildlife refuge

Written in Collaboration with Brent Hinrichs, Assistant Head for Academics and Lower and Middle School Director

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During the last week of October, our 7th graders headed to the Chincoteague Bay Field Station, located in Wallops Island, Virginia where they participated in hands-on environmental education and research. The focus of the student’s research during the 3-day, two-night experiential learning expedition was in the context of three questions:

  • A sense of place: What is our relationship with local waterways?
  • Interconnections: Understand human interactions with natural ecosystems: What is our place and role in the environment?
  • Environmental Stewardship: What is our responsibility to places, other cultures, communities, ecosystems & earth? What can we do to sustain our resources for future generations?
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Lab time and outdoor research focused on the study of the intertidal zones at Chincoteague Bay. The indoor activity included time in the Field Station Lab before heading outside to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on Assateague Island. At the Refuge, the students wandered knee and waist-deep into the waters of the bay to explore the life and characteristics of the intertidal zone which comprises much of the coastal ecology in this area. The students loved being in the water – despite the cold - and it was a highlight of the day.

After lessons on proper paddling techniques, the students went out on kayaks to further explore the ecosystem. They kayaked along the Pocomoke River, venturing through the salt marsh, over eelgrass beds, and through the coastal creeks of the Chesapeake and Chincoteague Bays.

The Pocomoke is a meandering river within the Pocomoke River State Park. Students were in tandem kayaks, outfitted with PFDs, and they paddled their way along this slow, but beautiful river. The guide took several opportunities to share observations and lessons about the river and during a reflection time in the evening, many of the students reported seeing turtles resting on a log in the river as a highlight of the day. 

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NASA’s restricted Wallops Island is home to one of the most productive ecosystems on the plant. The students visited the salt marsh on Wallops Island to conduct a field study of its wildlife, food sources, marsh formation, and tidal zonation.

The students studied and compared the density, salinity, and temperature of salt marsh water vs. bay water in an area where berms of oyster shells, a result of human activity from decades ago, no longer allow the bay water to flow through the salt marsh. This lesson highlighted the impact of human activity on the coast. Before leaving the salt marsh, students spent some time removing invasive species from the salt marsh using clippers and gloves.

The trip wasn’t all work, however. In the evenings, the students and their chaperones cooked dinner on the beach over a fire and in the morning, they enjoyed breakfast together before heading out to conduct research. It was a great opportunity for the students to get field-experience and real-world application of the theory and knowledge gained in the classroom.

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Brent Hinrichs

Assistant Head for Academics
Lower and Middle School Director

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