Westpark fifth-graders wow marine conference

Did you know there are worms that fight, and that plankton prefers open ocean water to bay water?

Those are among the findings of Westpark Elementary School fifth-graders, who have been busy conducting scientific research projects to learn more about the San Diego Creek Watershed.

Westpark scientistsIt all began with a field trip to the Ocean Institute at Dana Point Harbor, where the young scientists took part in scientific investigations, obtaining samples of benthic mud and surface water plankton. Along with identifying a number of interesting creatures, students from the classrooms of Mrs. Briseno, Mrs. Haboian, Mrs. Yee and Mrs. Martinez conducted experiments on the water cycle, water chemistry and fish dissection. They also learned about the importance of watersheds, and how they affect the health of the ocean, before beginning their own scientific investigations.

Students and parents later met IUSD science specialist Vicky Anthony at a dock on Balboa Island to gather samples of water, mud and plankton before returning to Westpark, where they conducted water quality tests and observed their plankton samples under the microscope. Dr. Don Reish, emeritus professor at California State University, Long Beach, brought fighting polychaete worms called Neanthes arenaceodentata and discussed their life cycles. As a result, some students launched a research project about “fighting worms.”

This month, the Westpark fifth-graders returned to the Ocean Institute to present their research on plankton and the fighting worms at the annual Kids’ Conference on Watersheds, which drew 232 students from schools in the area. The Westpark teams in particular received kudos for their outstanding presentations.

Said one fifth-grader afterward, “I’m pretty tired, but a little sad it’s over!”