Photo provided 
Southmont High students waded into Sugar Creek to catch fish using electrofishing equipment.
Photo provided
Southmont High students waded into Sugar Creek to catch fish using electrofishing equipment.

Southmont High School students recently turned Sugar Creek into their own personal laboratory. The students from Southmont science teacher Tony Gonczarow’s dual credit biology class tested the water and studied the species in Sugar Creek at Deer’s Mill.

Gonczarow said he chose Deer’s Mill for the experiment site because it provided a good access point to the creek. Though he pointed out this was just one measurement at one location of the creek, he said the results show that Sugar Creek is in good condition. Some of the things that he said points to the good quality is that there is a robust fish population, that the water is very clear and that the creek has a rock and sand bottom that is not covered in silt.

“We didn’t test for any specific chemicals – and of course this is just a snapshot,” he said. “But we found that Sugar Creek is in very good condition.”

He said it is important to study water quality because it deteriorates over time and will eventually affect the environment and fishing prospects. “If you start losing invertebrates and the fish that feed on them, you eventually lose the game fish,” he said.

The students collected data including temperature, turbidity, dissolved oxygen levels, pH, flow rate and conductivity at the creek. The students did not test for specific chemicals or compounds in the water, but Gonczarow said he might bring his Environmental Science class to do that later in the school year. He said testing for specific chemicals is the surest way to tell the quality of water.

They also studied the different species of invertebrates and fish at the creek. They found numerous kinds of bugs and larvae as well as a healthy population of fish. Gonczarow said the students found several types of Garter fish including the rainbow variety.

The students caught the fish they studied with electrofishing equipment. The equipment consists of net on a pole that is equipped with an electromagnetic current that stuns the fish, but does not hurt them. Gonczarow brought in Vincennes University Professor Curt Coffman to teach students how to use the equipment safely.

The students classified the invertebrates and fish and studied the results of their testing. Gonczarow said this hands-on experience is valuable for their growth in the scientific field. “It’s neat for the kids to work as scientists and be able to evaluate their data,” he said. “It is more rewarding for them to be able to collect their own data to study.”

Gonczarow said the class will do 14 or 15 hands-on labs over the course of two trimesters. He said the experiments give students a leg up in college, especially if they plan on pursuing a career or major in a biology-related field like medicine or environmental science. “Having this prior experience in high school will give them an advantage over other kids who didn’t have an opportunity like this,” he said.

He said this class is just one of several dual credit courses that Southmont offers. This class in particular will give students three lecture hours and one lab hour to apply toward their college degree, provided they receive a C or higher in the class. He said these classes are a good chance for the kids to gain experience going into college and to save money along the way.

“It’s a great savings for the kids,” he said. “They can go in with up to 20 credits.”