The jellyfish, stingrays and other marine animals Hilliard Bradley High School sophomore Allie Holland often saw during her childhood in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, inspired her to think about a career in marine biology or zoology.
“I would walk along the beach and see (marine life), and after moving here and missing it so much, I think it raised my interest even more,” Holland said.
Holland was among 20 Bradley freshwater marine-ecosystems students who practiced hands-on marine-biology skills with staff members from Ohio State University’s School of Environment and Natural Resources on May 9 at a natural pond at Clarence W. Latham Educational Park, on the west side of Cosgray Road just north of Scioto Darby Road.
Students in the freshwater marine-ecosystems classes at Darby and Davidson high schools participated in activities at the pond May 3 and May 10, respectively.
It was the first year the students visited Latham Park for such activities, said Hala Zahreddine, managing partner with Hilliard-based Urban Park Development LLC, a firm that specializes in designing park-related amenities, developing environmental-education programs for children and adults and finding funding through grants and public-private partnerships.
Zahreddine said she coordinated the event with assistance from the city of Hilliard, Hilliard City Schools and Norwich Township.
Butch Seidle, Hilliard’s public-services director, said the city has a $7,500 contract with Urban Park Development to seek grants for the city in connection with the improvement of the educational park MJC Holdings LLC, the developer of the Square at Latham Park, committed to build in connection with the Square at Latham Park, a mixed-use development under construction to the west of the park.
“When plans were approved (for the Square at Latham Park), the developer committed to creating an education park,” Seidle said.
He said the park would become a place for students to study nature and the environment and last week’s marine-biology excursion would be an annual event supported by the city, district and township.
Zahreddine said she reached out to Ohio State and then involved the students as part of the effort to develop and utilize the 19-acre educational park.
The students used a seine, a weighted net that is dragged to catch fish, often on a shoreline, and a Secchi disk, an instrument that measures the turbidity, or clearness, of water.
A Secchi disk, named for its inventor, Angelo Secchi, is a weighted disk that is lowered into the water until it disappears from view.
Notches on its rope indicate the depth to which the disk was lowered and the maximum depth at which it still be seen indicates the water’s turbidity.
Applied to a natural body of water, it measures how “eutrophic” or “oligotrophic” it is, said Eugene Braig, program director of aquatic ecosystems at Ohio State.
Water that is eutrophic has dense plant life, such as algae, and can be considered “too productive,” resulting in lower levels of oxygen that can cause fish to die, he said.
Oligotrophic water has low plant nutrients and abundant oxygen, often is found at high altitudes and has fewer microorganisms, Braig said.
Most ponds in urban settings are eutrophic, he said.
The students also searched for aquatic insects, considered how runoff stemming from development can adversely affect natural water bodies, and studied organisms under microscopes.
Braig visited classrooms at Bradley, Darby and Davidson high schools in advance of their field trips to the pond.
He also gave them perspectives on marine biology as a career.
“It’s a career you can have if you enjoy it, while making a difference in the world,” he said. “You can do it for a living.”
Katie Ulring, who instructs two sections of the freshwater marine-ecosystems class at Bradley, said the activity is invaluable her students considering careers in aquatic ecosystems.
Trisha Van Meter, a Bradley senior, said she plans to major in marine biology at Ohio State University.
“I’ve always had an interest in sea life,” Van Meter said.
For other students, the class satisfied a science requirement for graduation but still proved interesting.
“I thought (a pond) was just water but it takes a lot to keep it healthy,” said Bradley senior Niya Shalash.
By the time students return next year, initial improvements at the park should be complete, Seidle said.
Urban Park Development assisted in obtaining a $40,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to help extend multiuse leisure paths from the park to adjacent neighborhoods and add signs that explain the natural wildlife in the park and the 4.5-acre pond, Zahreddine said.
Seidle said the city has set aside about $300,000 in its 2019 capital-improvement-projects budget and would seek grants up to $175,000 for a shelter house and other improvements next year.
On May 14, Hilliard City Council authorized Seidle to submit an application for a NatureWorks grant administered by ODNR.
The city could receive as much as 75 percent of the cost to build the shelter house with a deck to overlook the pond and erect signs that describe native plants, according to the legislation.
The project is estimated to cost $375,000 and the city’s portion would be $225,000 if it is successful in achieving the maximum allowable grant of $150,000, according to Clark Rausch, Hilliard’s deputy city engineer.