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WATERSHED SYMPOSIUM

Josh Phillips shows his propeller-driven jet boat prototype. ().
Josh Phillips shows his propeller-driven jet boat prototype. ().

By BILL LUNDQUIST

GOLD BEACH – Scientists gathered here Wednesday to talk about their research on red tides, fish hatcheries, habitat restoration, and new designs that could revolutionize the jet boat industry.

These scientists work in conjunction with major universities, use nuclear reactors in their research, and have hands-on experience in the South Coast area.

In the break between presentations, the esteemed colleagues filled up on Cheetos and brownies and entertained themselves by jumping off a platform and rolling on the lawn while listening to Sans Prophet, a local blues band.

None of the scientists had yet graduated from high school, and many were well-shy of their freshman year.

They came from schools throughout Southwestern Oregon to attend the 2002 Research Education Watershed Symposium at the Event Center on the Beach.

Most of them are still 100-percent "kids," but their projects have already had real-world impacts on streams and seas. They have stretched the boundaries of what is known.

Take Gold Beach Union High School senior Raygen Yantis, for example, and her mathematical analysis of HAB population dynamics on the West Coast.

HABs, or Harmful Algal Blooms, cost the economy $100 million a year, and are a huge public health problem, yet the United States has fallen behind the world in monitoring and researching HABs, said Yantis.

Working with a research program at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, Yantis is doing her part to change that.

Of course, everyone knows that HABs, or toxic tides, result from phytoplankton producing phytotoxins, causing PSP, or paralytic shellfish poisoning.

But how many adults in the room knew red tides are caused by dinoflagellates and brown tides by diatoms?

Actually, Yantis' use of those words and concepts had as great an impact on the adults as if she'd teleported herself from one end of the stage to the other, but the best was yet to come.

When Yantis displayed slide after slide of the mathematical equations from the statistical and calculus programs she used in her research, even the middle-school kids, hopped up on lunchtime brownies and rock 'n roll, fell silent in awe.

The adults in the audience shifted nervously in their seats, remembering that their closest brush with science at Yantis' age had been rebuilding a carburetor or deciding which after-shave or makeup was sexiest.

No one yet knows why HABs appear or disappear, but with Yantis on the case, it's clear that won't remain a mystery for long.

Members of the South Coast Fishermen and the Curry Anadromous Fishermen, who helped sponsor the symposium, were clearly more comfortable with the presentation on salmon enhancement on the Coquille River.

Coquille High School has its own hatchery: the Cunningham Creek Fish Hatchery, sponsored by the Oregon Salmon and Trout Enhancement Program.

Spawning salmon now return to within 50 yards of the high school. In 1998, only six returned, but that number rose to 34 Chinook last year. Coho, of course, are released back into the stream.

Students in the school's Natural Resources class check the fish trap regularly, measure the fish, and obtain brood stock for the hatchery.

The females are killed for their eggs, while the males are squeezed for their milt and released to go their merry way.

Many of the girls in the audience didn't seem to think that was quite fair, but there was remarkably little sniggering among the middle-school students over the facts-of-life of salmon sex.

By the time the Coquille High School students got to fry, parr, and the machinery used to feed and raise young salmon, the fishermen were in heaven.

It's not just the high-schoolers who are having a real impact on habitat on the South Coast.

Blanco Middle School, in Port Orford, has the BEEP, or Blanco Environmental Enhancement Project.

The BEEP is 16 acres that were logged off in 1992 to raise money for the school. Ever since, the BEEP has been the subject of student habitat-restoration projects.

One class was developing a plan to address erosion. In real terms, that means the students are digging "water bars" across the old logging road to divert rain runoff into the brush, where it can be filtered instead of washing silt into the stream.

Other classes are doing stream surveys on the BEEP and learning how to be landowners and managers.

Still others are concentrating on the pond created by a logging road. They want to plant trees for shade, and may then be able to introduce fish into the pond.

Another class is studying gorse and Port Orford Cedar root disease on the BEEP.

Not to be outdone, the eighth-grade science class at Azalea Middle School in Brookings is monitoring the air and water temperatures on Jacks Creek, along with the dissolved oxygen. While they're at it, they're picking up trash along the stream.

Powers High School students obtain clippings from rare native blue elderberry bushes, raise them, and sell the plants to the U.S. Forest Service.

They pot 50 plants a week and soon hope to have 600. The National Tree Trust and Wal-Mart donated supplies.

Students also presented practical inventions that could some day change Curry County.

Tanner Mathison, from Riley Creek Elementary School in Gold Beach, built a windmill to generate electricity.

He found he would need a much bigger windmill to generate much of anything, but he and his ideas still have plenty of time to grow.

A project closer to fruition is the propeller-driven jet boat of Josh Phillips.

Phillips, a senior at Gold Beach Union High School, already works in the jet boat industry.

Jet boats are used on the Rogue River because they can travel in extremely shallow water.

Phillips knows, however, that jet boats also suck up prodigious amounts of fuel, about a gallon every mile, and contribute to the erosion of banks and sand bars.

A propeller-driven boat would affect the environment less, and would save the operators a fortune in fuel costs.

Phillips is determined to make it so. He fabricates aluminum models from his engineering studies.

Each one has so far failed, but Phillips learns from his mistakes, improves the design, and builds bigger and better models.

Countless other students poured their hard work into the symposium, as did the adults.

Most of the costs were paid for by the Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Service and federal Title III funds.

For the fourth year, the Curry Anadromous Fishermen cooked and served lunch.

An anonymous donor paid for door prizes, including fly-fishing outfits and a mountain bike, and Fred Meyer gave discounts.

Ken Bierly, the deputy director of the monitoring program for the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, was good enough to come down and give the keynote address.

"Everything us adults try is not always successful," he said.

Nevertheless, the students also had an opportunity to tour booths displaying some of the adults' best efforts, from the Yurok Tribe Fisheries Department, to several state agencies and watershed councils throughout Southwestern Oregon.

OSU Extension Agent Frank Burris and AmeriCorps Worker Anthony Kirk organized the symposium.

Burris said the idea of the symposium and projects is to teach kids, through hands-on experience, that the resources in their part of the state shouldn't be either locked up or exhausted, but can be used wisely.

Included in the symposium was the awarding of two $500 scholarhships. Yantis and Phillips were the winners of these awards.

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