Scientists from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources recently visited Park Creek School in search of an endangered species of fish.
The field scientists were connected to Park Creek as a result of ongoing conversations with Bob Bethel and Stephen Bontekoe, who previously partnered with Park Creek on a separate agricultural project.
After spending a few hours wading into Mill Creek, the creek surrounding Park Creek's campus, they found the trispot darter, a federally protected fish, in a tributary of the creek.
Joseph Kirsch, biologist from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said that he is excited about the opportunity to partner with Park Creek to help protect this endangered fish.
"Mill Creek, which runs around the school property, is designated critical habitat for this fish," Kirsch said. "We could provide not only the financial assistance needed to do some of those conservation work that we've been talking about, but also provide the technical expertise."
Both Kirsch and Park Creek's principal, Will Esters, see an opportunity to incorporate the conservation efforts on Park Creek's campus with the curriculum being taught in classrooms.
"Will has been having a discussion about incorporating agricultural practices and conservation with the education curriculum of the school," Kirsch said. "Not just this school, but the greater area as a whole. If we can help with bolstering that conservation discussion in the education curriculum, I think that's where we can plug in fairly nicely."
Ani Escobar, aquatic diversity biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, explained the importance of protecting the habitat of the trispot darter. Escobar said this type of fish is only able to live and reproduce in specific areas with shallow water that often dry up during the summer months.
"We're trying to find these habitats, and they're actually pretty fragile or vulnerable because most of the year they just look dry," Escobar said. "They have a tendency to get paved over or overlooked. We're looking at identifying and possibly restoring and protecting some of these habitats for the trispot darter."
After the scientists were able to confirm the presence of the trispot darter, Esters said he is excited about the potential for the future.
"I've had a keen interest in enhancing learning opportunities for our students by taking advantage of the fields, forests and streams that surround our school," Esters said. "These are the first steps of a larger dream to enhance learning and the surrounding Park Creek ecosystem."
View the slideshow below for photos of the search for the Trispot Darter!