SOUTH PORTLAND — Mahoney Middle School students gathered Wednesday at on the banks of Trout Brook, eager to release the fish they’ve been raising for the past four months.

The baby brook trout, provided to Maine schools by the Portland Water District’s TroutKids Program, are used to enhance science curriculum in classrooms and provide a hands-on, alternative learning experience to students.

According to Sarah Plummer, PWD environmental education coordinator, the almost 20-year-old program serves more than 700 students in the state. Throughout the month of May, several participating schools – including South Portland, Gorham, Gray and Cumberland – have released their fish into habitats suitable for trout survival.

In South Portland, the Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District and the city partnered with PWD for Wednesday’s release.

“Students get to analyze data and make the decision themselves regarding the release of the fish,” Plummer said. “They are the ones that raised them, and they are the ones that will let them go.”

Classes typically receive the trout eggs in late January or early February, and monitor their development from the egg stage to the fry stage – the point in their development when they are ready to be placed in a suitable river or stream.

“This project emotionally connects students to something that is living and reliant on clean water. They become invested in something that is alive and depends on them for survival,” Plummer said. “When the students are feeling more connected, they will make more of a positive impact on our environment and our water.”

Over the course of the project, students gain insight into local water issues. They study watersheds, the trout life cycle and other related environmental topics such as stormwater run-off, pollution and sustainability.

“In the classroom, students monitor tank conditions, and make sure the temperature and pH levels are healthy for the trout,” Plummer said. “And their teacher, Julia Pitt, has been terrific at deepening the students’ knowledge and given them a great grasp on how their actions on land can affect their local water sources.”

On the day of the release, students performed water quality tests and macroinvertebrate sampling, which offers insight to the health and condition of a body of water. They also conducted shoreline assessments to ensure the new habitat is healthy for the trout.

“We were looking at the animals living in water, to see if the water is tolerant for them,” student Anna Smith said. “Trout have to be in good water so they can survive. We don’t want them to die.”

Students also conducted a stream-side assessment hike in the surrounding area to survey vegetation, and looked for possible pollutants prior, to the release.

Plummer said professional oceanographers and scientists joined in the excursion, which added another layer of importance to the idea behind the trout release.

“We hope students see value in this work, and may consider future careers in science,” she said. “They’re not just looking at water. They’re identifying so much more than that. It’s just a rich experience for students all the way around.”

Krysteana Scribner can be reached at [email protected] or 780-9094. Follow her on Twitter: @krysteana2016.

Mahoney Middle School students at Trout Brook Wednesday in South Portland, preparing to release the fish they’ve been raising the past four months.

Oceanographer Deb Debiegun, center, works with Mahoney Middle School students Wednesday on the day of their brook trout release. The students performed water quality testing and sampling, and conducted shoreline assessments, before releasing the fish into Trout Brook in South Portland.

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