Sifting Through the Sand: Students Assist Researchers with Crab Count

On a typical morning at Santa Cruz’s Natural Bridges State Beach, children and adults can be seen walking, playing and exploring the shore and sand along this scenic stretch of coastline. On Saturday, October 15, some 25 visitors to the beach were Mount Madonna School (MMS) students and parents taking part in LiMPETS (Long-term Monitoring Program and Experiential Training for Students), an environmental monitoring and education program for students and teachers and other volunteer groups.

“The event was well-organized, and the fieldwork leader was knowledgeable and engaging for both kids and adults,” observes Stephen Harrington, an MMS parent who participated in the survey along with his 8th grade son, Ethan. “It was real ecological fieldwork. For middle school kids (and adults) it is fun and very educational to actually be performing the work instead of just watching or hearing about it. The information we gathered will be used by biologists to answer real questions about coastal ecology.”

The MMS group came to assist researchers in finding and counting the numbers of Pacific mole crabs ( emerita analoga ) along sections of the shoreline. The group identified just one baby crab during their morning as part of the official survey – far fewer that the students expected. Researchers are quick to point out, however, that even “zero” counts are as good as any other in the base line survey research.

“I thought we would find more,” explains 6th grader Gracie Howley, “because most of the time when my Dad and I go to the beach we look around and find lots of crabs.” Howley added that she liked learning how to collect data and use the equipment needed for sampling.

To help with identification, researchers showed students photos depicting male and female crabs, females with eggs, and juveniles. “We had to be very careful,” explains 6th grader Will Murphy. “Sand crabs are fast and light and can scuttle along really quickly!” 

“This research activity brought many families together at one of the most beautiful beaches in California,” notes James PD Rohan, the MMS middle school math and science teacher who organized the students’ participation. “This contributes to building a wonderful sense of community and appreciation for the natural environment.” To follow up on the data they collected at the beach, Rohan says students will be going online during science class and comparing what they collected with information gathered by other local school groups.

“Through this monitoring effort, these citizen scientists are establishing a web-linked database from which we can better address current and future impacts,” explains a spokesperson for LiMPETS. “The LiMPETS network connects teachers, students, and the community to the ocean, involves them directly in a real scientific endeavor, and increases their awareness of, and interest in, the marine environment.”

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Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Marketing & Communications  [email protected]

Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.