STA’s Esther Kennedy examines plankton with a student. (Brielle Schaeffer/KCAW photo)

How many things live in our backyard, and how are they connected? That’s what little scientists were trying to discover during a Junior BioBlitz on Wednesday (4-27-16). The kids tromped in muskeg and listened to birds during the daylong survey of ecosystems.

Downloadable audio.

Think of it as a giant nature scavenger hunt.

“So we should be jotting these down. So far we’ve said varied thrush, American robin …”

Nearly 100 fourth-graders from Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary school set out to observe as many different living things in Starrigavan Valley as they could.

“This is a bunch of plankton that we just collected and if you look inside you might see a bunch of jellies …. Can you see those?”

“We went out bird watching and found six types of birds. And We went for insects and we got a couple of water striders and soldier beetles and a couple other bugs,” 10-year-old Matthew Leach said.

He says he learned a lot during the BioBlitz about what happens around us everyday.

“I didn’t really look into this stuff I never really noticed it all,” he said. “It’s kind of interested me to get out and do all this stuff.”

He says one of his favorite parts of the day was netting microscopic plankton and little jellyfish. In fact, the jellyfish station on the dock was really popular. Here’s Esther Kennedy, an environmental specialist with Sitka Tribe of Alaska, who ran that station:

“Of course everyone loves looking at jellyfish.”

And it was educational. Jennifer Purcell is Sitka Sound Science Center’s spring Scientist in Residency Fellow.

“Most of the people here think that the small jellyfish they see are just baby big jellyfish but there are probably 60 species or so that live here and never grow up into big jellyfish,” she said.

Getting hands –and eyes– on science took a lot of partners, such as the Tribe, National Park Service and Science Center, but it helps to make science more tangible.

“It all feels very sterile if you’re just looking at a picture of a bird in a book and thinking, ‘Oh, I guess that bird eats pictures of bees in a book,'” Kennedy said. “And in this case here they are outside looking at the whole ecosystem and the whole food chain and trying to think about how plankton and large predators interact.”

And that fits right into the lesson plan.

There’s no final tally of all the organisms yet but the students will be going through their field notes in the coming weeks. And the data collected will be used to compare the ecosystems from year to year.