SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — After nearly two years of research, planning and building, these students are seeing their hard work and determination come to fruition.

Harlingen CISD students, along with their engineering and science teachers, coordinated the first test launch of their science vessel Wednesday morning at the Isla Blanca Public Boat Ramp on South Padre Island.

According to Harlingen High School engineering teacher Paul Tenison, the launch is part of a community service project named Worldwide Automated Vessel Exploration (WAVE).

“We’re doing a launch to test our electronics, boat stability and the logistics of getting the vessel into and out of the water,” Tenison explained during the launch. “The students designed this autonomous boat to collect data from the Gulf.”

A total of 12 students and five teachers from Harlingen High School, Harlingen High School South and Early College High School have been working on the project in three separate areas — construction of the boat, data collection and communication systems.

“The students have learned a lot and we haven’t heard of a high school team doing a project like this,” Harlingen High School engineering teacher Daniel Guajardo said. “We’ve heard of universities, but not high schools so they certainly have an advantage when they go to college and work with projects like this.”

Students and teachers from Harlingen High School South are responsible for the science portion of the project.

According to Harlingen High School South environmental science and biology teacher Jennifer Vela, her students are specifically testing for microplastics.

Vela explained that microplastics are tiny particles that can’t normally be seen such as those produced from plastic bags and fishing line that float across the top of the water.

“They are mistaken as food sources by small invertebrates and that plastic ends up in the food web,” Vela said. “So it’s a process called biomagnification where the chemicals from the plastic end up in the tissues of whoever is consuming it and whoever consumes that ends up with the same chemical in their tissues.”

Vela said her students are also responsible for monitoring atmospheric data such as wind temperature and wind speed.

According to Vela, the students were selected based on their performance as sophomores in their chemistry class.

“The students are loving this project,” Vela said with a smile. “Most of the students here now are enrolled in AP environmental science or AP chemistry so they’re able to directly tie that to the class that they’re in now, as well as what they’re going to be majoring in when they go to college.”

Alyssa De La Cruz, a senior from Harlingen High School South, has been working on the project for two years and plans to major in exercise science in college.

“I’m so passionate about ocean wildlife and I think this is great progress to help monitor ocean wildlife,” she said. “I think it’s amazing what we’re able to do. That’s exactly why I wanted to participate in the project.”

De La Cruz said she hopes the test launch will provide insight on the work the student’s have completed.

“In general, I hope the project helps teach the public about the amount of plastic that’s in the ocean,” she added. “I hope it also shows how much we need to reuse, recycle and how people’s actions impact ocean wildlife.”