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DEC experts feed knowledge to inquisitive youngsters on Earth Day

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Eight-year-old George J. Neddo found plenty of exhibits to pique his curiosity Saturday at the Dulles State Office Building, where the state Department of Environmental Conservation put on an exhibit for Earth Day that attracted about 500 people.

DEC staff fielded question after question fired by George, a Cub Scout from Black River Troop 33. After touring the many Earth Day exhibits from DEC and other agencies in the morning, George persuaded his mother to come back in the afternoon so his 11-year-old brother, Richard E., also could tour an electrifier boat used by DEC to stun and catch fish for research.

George, who learned how the boat operates, explained how electrically charged anodes and cathodes dangle under the boat like spiderwebs to create a large electrical field. Long poles extending from the stern dangle the charged lines in the water.

“There’s a motor and generator inside, and you can turn the pole where there are fish to stun them,” he said. “The boat costs $60,000.”

His mother, Stacey A. Neddo, smiled as she watched her son display his newfound knowledge. She said the inquisitive second-grader, who attends Ohio Elementary School, never runs out of questions.

“He wants to go into construction, but an expert from the DEC sparked his interest,” she said. “Maybe we’ve opened up a different career path. They don’t know what to expect about careers until someone shows them, and I feel my job is to help them do that. I want them to find something they love doing so they don’t trudge through life.”

The DEC exhibit was among many events planned in the region and around the world to promote environmental protection for Earth Day, officially Monday.

Others attending the event Saturday learned about what DEC is doing to boost the population of lake sturgeon, a threatened freshwater fish that is present in the Black River, St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. Region 6 aquatic biologist Rodger M. Klindt, who has led efforts to increase sturgeon here since the early 1990s, demonstrated how he uses an underwater camera called a Sea Viewer to locate underwater habitats suitable for the fish. He said eggs hatched by sturgeon require clean gravel surfaces, which allow oxygen to flow freely. Weeds and pollution suck up the flow of oxygen that eggs need to survive and hatch. When DEC locates a habitat suitable for sturgeon, biologists often will decide to enlarge its scope by dumping gravel onto the floor’s surface.

Thanks to such efforts, Mr. Klindt said, the sturgeon population in Jefferson County has begun to climb since the late 2000s. The climb will be slow, though, because female sturgeon don’t become sexually mature until they are 14 to 23 and hatch eggs only every four or five years.

That comeback could speed up, he said, if more anglers throw sturgeon back into the water after reeling them in. “Educational programs have helped,” he said. “They might be off the threatened species list in 20 years.”

Threatened fish species weren’t the only issue spotlighted on Earth Day. Students from South Lewis Middle School who are members of the Jefferson-Lewis Reality Check program demonstrated the ways cigarettes and tobacco products are advertised to appeal to the eyes. Brianna L. Lawrence, 14, Port Leyden, pointed out how cigarettes and chewing tobacco are packaged to look similar to candy. She learned that cigarette butts are the number one source of litter in the United States and that it takes about 10 years for them to decompose.

“Our main objective is to get tobacco companies to stop targeting youth,” Miss Lawrence said. “They take tobacco products and make them look like candy.”

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