Students Create Zebra Mussel Documentary


A documentary film created by MCLA students is teaching the local community how to help prevent the spread of zebra mussels - an invasive aquatic species - from one body of water to another.

A problem throughout Berkshire County from Laurel Lake to the Housatonic River as far south as Stockbridge, the mussels reproduce rapidly and can clog man-made structures like pipes, dams and docks. They also are hazardous to people walking or swimming with bare feet because of their sharp edges.

More than a dozen local water bodies have been identified by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation as being at a high risk for infestation. In addition to the film, clips will be taken for use as public service announcements on local television stations.

Environmental studies professor Elena Traister said the idea to develop documentaries on issues of local interest was first discussed in a mini-summit held last year by MCLA's Berkshire Environmental Resource Center. Through the documentary, "We can get the word out about what these zebra mussels are, why they are a nuisance and what people can do. ... It tries to get people to do their part in reducing the spread of these invasive mussels."

Recent MCLA graduate Nicholas Smith '10 of Chicopee, Mass., hopes the 30- minute documentary will serve as an education tool.

"My role was to synthesize my environmental background with my communications experience.  I did all aspects of film production from preparing the interviewees and camera operating to editing," Smith said. "I have always been particularly interested in invasive species and graduating this May with a major in English and a minor in environmental studies, I figured this was the best project to define my educational experience at MCLA."

In addition to Smith, Patrick Maguire '11 of Natick, Mass., Derek Merker '11 of Floral Park, N.Y., and Ann Scott '10 of Clarksburg, Mass., worked on the project as an environment studies internship. Thomas Flores '10 also participated for his independent study experience in film. English/communications professors Mark Miller and Joseph Ebiware advised the students on the project, along with Traister.

Technical advisor Peter Gentile of MCLA's television studio said this is not the first time the College has engaged in community outreach. "But this is the first time we've done a collaborative with environmental studies students. It's nice in that respect. It's a new approach for us. It's matching one of our students who's got the television, technical side and it's matching up with some environmental studies students who are doing the research side of it."

Smith is happy with the result, which he said he is proud to have been a part of.

"The film helps strengthen my portfolio for graduate school and, aside from learning the technical parts of avid editing, the project taught me how to better prepare for my next project," he explained.

In addition to being screened at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield and being made available through various community Web sites, the zebra mussel documentary was shown on Northern Berkshire Public Television, Willinet in Williamstown and on Pittsfield Community Television.

"It's a great role for MCLA to have because we have the resources and enthusiastic students with the ability to work on projects like these," Traister said.