Students discover endangered species in river

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WCAV) -- As part of a science class that focuses on water quality, it's a discovery that's been years in the making.

A group of seniors at St. Anne's Belfield School in Charlottesville, Virginia is responsible for finding a federally endangered species.

The senior seminar focuses on environmental statistics.

"This was the first senior seminar that I wanted to be in when I had the chance to pick a senior seminar just because I've heard from past seniors that it was a great class," said STAB senior, Jack Schultz.

The class was started by instructor Pearce Johnson five years ago.

"Over the last five years, we have been looking at water quality with the intention of trying to find this endangered species called the spinymussel," said Johnson.

The James River Spinymussel is designated as federally endangered.

After years of collecting data and comparing water quality at various sites, the students were able to find the species in the Rivanna River watershed.

"It's a mussel but the difference is, it's not the classic mussel," said STAB senior Alex Bertone. "It actually has spines on some of them."

There were only seven known sites where the species existed in Virginia until the group of high school seniors found the eighth.

"I don't think these guys know that they're doing actual real science," said co-instructor Erica Bartos. "I also teach physics but we've known Newton's been right forever and ever, but this is sort of groundbreaking."

"We could just learn about it but we actually get to go look at it and find it for ourselves so I think it's a way better way to learn," added Bertone.

The students have begun a capture and recapture study with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

"We are now involved in a state study where all our data is going to the state," said Johnson. "This is the first real research that's being done on an endangered species in our watershed, which is a pretty big deal."

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