September 22. 2013 7:37PM

Ocean Discovery Day

NH students educated, inspired during Ocean Discovery Day at UNH

Union Leader Correspondent

Sarah Jansury, 12, a seventh-grader at Gilmanton School operates an underwater robot in the deep water tank at the University of New Hampshire's Chase Ocean Engineering Laboratory during Student Ocean Discovery Day on Friday (GRETYL MACALASTER PHOTO)

DURHAM — The Jere A. Chase Ocean Engineering Laboratory was abuzz with activity Friday as 800 elementary, middle and high school students explored dozens of different work stations focused on marine science.

It was the second year the University of New Hampshire laboratory held an Ocean Discovery Day for students, and attendance nearly doubled this year due to demand.

Inside, students had a chance to operate an underwater robot in the massive deep-water tank while outside they learned about plankton, marine mammals, and had a chance to dissect squid, a popular activity among students of all ages.

"It's kind of cool because I got to paint a real fish and they might let us cut the squid. I've never seen a squid before," said Ainais Cruz, 8, a third-grader at Manchester's Henry Wilson Elementary School.

The event served as a preview for the public Ocean Discovery Day held Saturday in New Castle, home of the Judd Gregg Marine Research Complex, and on campus at the Chase laboratory.

UNH Marine Docents, volunteers from a variety of coastal organizations, as well as faculty with the new UNH Marine Program, manned the many work stations and did their best to impart their knowledge and excitement to the students.

Dari Ward, a program associate with New Hampshire Sea Grant and the UNH Cooperative Extension, said the focus of the day was to foster a love for marine science and the ocean environment among students.

"There is so much out there to learn and this grabs kids and gives them an experience they can take home that will allow them to delve into an area they haven't been introduced to before," Ward said.

This includes students interested in engineering and computer science.

In one classroom, UNH faculty demonstrated the Telepresence technology that allows researchers to "tag along" with ocean research vessels without leaving the comfort of their office.

Members of the public can also tune in online when a research vessel is out to sea and follow along with what their underwater robots are seeing.Jake Malatesta, 14, and Jack Fogarty, 14, both eighth-graders at Moultonborough Academy, said they were intrigued by a demonstration on oil flume testing, and a discussion about how trash in the ocean is discovered and dealt with.

"It shows how people can get together to help get rid of garbage in the ocean and save millions of animals," Malatesta said.

He said he thinks the visit will inspire students to keep the ocean clean and get more involved in ocean-related activities.

"I learned a lot more about marine biology than I did before," Malatesta said.

Mary Fougere, a science teacher at Gilmanton School, said she also likes that her students are exposed to many other adults working in the field, and other teachers agreed that the hands-on exposure offered more than they could ever present inside the four walls of a classroom."

They are just excited to see something different. We don't have a lot of marine life in Manchester," said Henry Wilson Elementary School social worker Nicole Duclos said.