By Kimberly Sullivan, Aquatic Resource Education Coordinator
The beginning of 2020 was a typical year for the Aquatic Resource Education Program. Schools across Rhode Island were in the process of receiving their Atlantic salmon eggs to raise throughout the spring; scout and youth groups were booking their annual ’learn to fish’ trip at the ARE Training Pond; partners from the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership to host their annual Providence Teachers Academy field trips; Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association and the ARE program were beginning to advertise for their annual summer Youth Fishing Camp; and the Providence Parks Partnership had just received the Recreational Boating Fishing Foundation’s Vamos a Pescar
grant to work with the State to increase fishing among our urban communities. Then, an unknown flu-like virus caused everything to come to an abrupt halt. Atlantic salmon fry were quickly picked up from the schools that closed therefore, ending in-person programming and large events. People were directed to avoid large gatherings and stay home. But, amidst the health crisis and the cancellations, Rhode Island’s Aquatic Resource Education Program forged ahead working on Fish and Wildlife social media campaigns to help people safely continue fishing Rhode Island waters, creating virtual programs and adapting in-person programming to reflect the RI Department of Health Directives.
Like other educators across Rhode Island, ARE staff soon became acquainted with ZOOM, video editing programs and other forums such as Google Classroom to help reach the public. Using ZOOM, staff were able to virtually meet with students who participated in the state’s Envirothon and created a virtual field day complete with a trip to the side of the stream to conduct macro-invertebrate sampling. Staff also created a virtual Project WET teacher training so that teachers could become acquainted with and receive the Project WET 2.0 Guide to use with their students in the midst of the pandemic. Since fly tying in person was not an option, Dana Kopec, the ARE Technical Assistant, developed a ‘Fast Fly’ video series to post on the website to keep our fly fishing constituents engaged. As the staff becomes more familiar with virtual training and video editing, 2021 will allow DEM to offer a virtual fly tying series, ‘Come Fly Tie with Me,’ which will include beginner videos on how to fish and much more.
While the ARE Staff focused on developing new skills to reach the public, we were able to get a few in-person programs off the ground following a COVID19 protocol within the parameters of the RI Department of Health. Each program had to ensure that all participants and staff conducted a health screening before participating. In addition, all participants and staff had to wear masks and keep at least six feet between family groups. Attendance numbers were severely restricted as well. Even with the restrictions, the ‘Come Clam with Me’ classes were maxed out at 15 participants, the boy scout fly tying programs were very popular, and Newport Police Department’s Youth Camp surf fishing events were well attended.
2020 was a challenging year, but many new skills for public outreach have been acquired and the ARE Staff looks forward to incorporating them into its program to serve even more Rhode Islanders in 2021. For more information about Rhode Island’s Aquatic Resource Education program, please contact Kimberly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.