ATLANTIC CITY – Juan Aponte admitted he’s “not an underwater kind of person.”
“What lurks under the water, it kind of frightens me,” the Atlantic City High School senior said.
But after seeing how a remotely operated submersible can take video of a shipwreck at the bottom of the ocean, his perspective might be changing.
Aponte and several of his classmates spent the morning of Oct. 20 at Stockton University’s Coast Day, an event coordinated by Susanna Moskalski, associate professor of Marine Science, and held at John F. Scarpa Academic Center. Students from Atlantic City and Egg Harbor Township high schools checked out a variety of displays and exhibitors focusing on the theme of coastal change, conservation and resilience. The students also listened to a lecture about sea level rise, had the opportunity to take part in a craft with shells and even learned how to cast a fishing rod.
“I’ve learned a lot of new things so far, about windmills, horseshoe crabs and the submersibles. They were really cool to see what it was like underwater,” Aponte said. “It’s been very fun to see new things and get out of the classroom and actually learn interesting things about what’s going on below the water.”
That’s exactly what Moskalski hoped would happen with the “public education and outreach event” that returned to Stockton after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19.
“In the Marine Science program, all of our professors have a particular research expertise. We’ve got a lot of stuff that we know,” she said. “We would like to not just keep that to ourselves. We want to be a good neighbor and make good relationships with Atlantic City to share what we know.”
Using Coast Day to share that knowledge in a fun and interesting way is very important, said Amanda Norvell, the dean of the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
“I love the hands-on aspect of this,” she said as she walked around the Fannie Lou Hamer Room to visit with some of the 21 exhibitors, such as the Barnegat Bay Partnership, the Atlantic County Utilities Authority and the American Littoral Society. “Many times, school is so tied up in memorization and learning facts. But part of what we should be doing is sharing the excitement and joy of science and then really connecting it to problems that we can try and solve.”
As Denise Jenkins reeled in a “fish” during a casting lesson by Adam Aguiar, associate professor of biology, there was no doubt she was having fun.
“This is my first time holding a fishing rod, and I caught the largest fish!” said the Atlantic City High School sophomore. The “fish” she caught was actually a plastic replica reeled in with a rod using a magnet. But Jenkins didn’t care, it was just another cool part of Coast Day.
“This is actually my first field trip since I came to ACHS,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed this opportunity because I’m learning a lot, and I really like marine biology.”
She was especially impressed with an exhibit that researched seal scat and another detailing the kinds of trash found in the ocean.
“They’ve been teaching about the good (in the ocean) and the bad, and what the bad does to the good,” Jenkins said.
Emily Loeb, who graduated from Stockton this year with a Biology degree, was excited to bring her ACHS marine science students back to campus for the event. She said her class had just been learning about windmills, sonar and remotely operated vehicles.
“Just to connect what we are learning in the classroom to hands-on experiences here at Stockton has been really positive,” she said. “The students are loving it.”
One of the biggest hits of the day was the Marine Field Station’s exhibit. It featured a side-scan sonar used to map the bottom of the ocean and find shipwrecks and a remotely operated vehicle to take video of the buried vessels. Students used a joystick in a video simulator to pilot a ROV to the bottom of the ocean, sort of like a retro video game.
“I think this was a real eye opener for them,” said Steve Evert, the director of the Marine Field Station. “They didn’t realize that this was the what the ocean bottom looks like right off Atlantic City.”
Evert said events like Coast Day are great opportunities for his staff to interact with the public, connect with schools and show potential students the equipment they could use if they were to major in oceanography or hydrography at Stockton.
“I think students don’t often realize that this is a part of the field of marine science,” he said. “Everybody just thinks of seals, fish and other sea critters. But our program is more broad than that. We want students to realize that there is work in these fields and they can use some of this technology as undergraduates.”
Lucia Osborne hoped Coast Day would allow her to make any kind of a connection to the students. As the Delaware Bay Shore Program Director for the American Littoral Society, she brought along horseshoe crab shells and information about how important the animals are to the South Jersey ecosystem and the medical community.
“A lot of these kids have probably never been to the Delaware Bay, so if we can bring it to them, and even better make those connections that allow us to eventually be able to bring them to the bay,” she said. “Stockton is bringing people to the coast and that is so important. It’s not just today at Coast Day. It’s creating lifelong memories.”