The signs read that these waters contain unhealthy levels of fecal coliform after rains, and fish caught here shouldn’t be eaten. Not surprising, since this was the Brandywine in downtown Wilmington. It’s the norm for any urban stream, unfortunately. You wouldn’t know it from the surface. It was a picturesque spot, and certainly didn’t look impaired.
We circled the fifth graders around a picnic table and introduced todays activities. We were going to determine the health of the Brandywine by looking for benthic macroinvertebrates, the things that live on the bottom, mostly insects, which tell us so much about water quality. The presence of some kinds of benthic macro indicates great water quality while the presence of others means horribly unhealthy conditions. We had the kids predict the water quality of the Brandywine with thumb votes. Most pointed down, including mine.
The kids instantly got into the river, even though the air and water temperatures were in the 50’s. Most had boots. Some didn’t but that didn’t matter and it wasn’t long before a student fell in, but came up laughing in the knee deep water. They loved searching for life and were instantly connected to the Brandywine even though most had never been to the river before. I couldn’t keep up with excited requests. “Mr. Keith what is this?!?! Mr. Keith check this out!” The hour flew by.
Amazingly these students found organisms that typically need pretty clean water to live. The Brandywine isn’t a trout stream. But it’s not a cesspool either, and there is a lot to celebrate and be thankful for. Including these Wilmington fifth graders.
This trip came at a time when I was just about to give up on river snorkeling. I had other more seemingly pressing things to take care of, and after a summer of muddy water coupled with the frustration of cancelled trips, it just seemed that creek snorkeling was a futile idea. These kids proved me wrong. I was supposed to inspire this group to take action, but they inspired me to continue on the stream path I started 5 years ago. I can wait to come back here in warmer weather and take them snorkeling, so we can document the underwater world of the Brandywine, and spread the thankful inspiration that comes from exploring amazing rivers.