Ferry students study marine biology in Fla.

MARTINS FERRY The Martins Ferry High School Chemical and Physical Science Honorary Society, headed by biology teacher Clay Sheldon, took its education out of the classroom and across the country to participate in the forefront of hands-on research into the field of marine biology.

During March 1-7, 20 juniors and seniors visited Biscayne Bay Natural Park in the Florida Everglades and the Florida Keys.

Sheldon said the trips have been a yearly occurrence for the past 15 years, with every other year focusing on marine biology. Two years ago, students traveled to Biscayne Bay to help establish a secondary education program.

This year, students were involved in the program’s operation. The Ferry students worked with a professor from the University of Miami, studying the infestation of lionfish in the Florida Keys. Sheldon said lionfish were accidently released into the area and these Pacific Ocean animals have no natural predators, research into their impact on native sea life is an ongoing process.

The students participated in measuring and dissecting lionfish to determine their stomach content. Any fish larger than 20 centimeters was subject to DNA analysis to confirm that they were all descended from the same group t hat accidentally got loose at Fort Lauderdale.

“No one has researched lionfish before,” Sheldon said. “This is ground floor data.”

The trip also included planting 200 trees and shrubs on Elloiet Key as part of a habitat restoration program for a species of swallow tail butterfly on the brink of extinction. They also examined invertebrates and searched for nocturnal creatures such as alligators and pythons.

The high schoolers worked with students from Florida International University as well as the park system. Sheldon said the researchers complimented the students for their help. Activities typically began at 8 a.m. and lasted 10:30 p.m.

“It’s not a vacation,” Sheldon said. “These kids were down there to learn. They were working.”

They also worked with dolphins, which are used in encounters with autistic children.

“I think it’s an enriching program,” Sheldon said.

DeFrank can be reached at rdefrank@timesleaderonline.com