Friday, December 14, 2018

Salish Food Web Fun!

Quilcene kids connect with ecosystem

We began our program with a beach walk to pick up trash.
The kids found a long piece of Kelp and decided to turn in into
a jump rope! Staff photo.
This week, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center hosted the Quilcene Elementary School through a program funded by the Discuren Foundation that allows students to receive a multi-day interactive science education program. This particular program was three days long, and we hosted a multitude of different classes. We covered topics from whales to invertebrates, and all the way to plastics in our environment.

Yet, one particular class stood out to me: Salish Sea food webs.

I love teaching kids about how vastly complex ecosystems are. Ecosystems are like a huge puzzle, with so many different and complicated parts, and this can make them a difficult concept grasp.

This is why I love the education tools we have here at the PTMSC. We created such a fun and simple way to understand these key concepts.

Salish Sea food webs began with some simple review of key concepts such as: What exactly is a model and how do scientist use them? As well as, how can we use them?

Diving right into the first activity, the kids got to create a food web linking the relationships between some of the animals right here in our aquarium.

AmeriCorps members, Michael Siddel and Mandi Johnson, discussing their findings after completing the food web. 
Staff photo.

In order to create this, the kids had cards with the picture of an animal they could find in our tanks. They needed to use information set around the room to find what animals they might predate on, and what might eat them.

Once this was figured out, the creature was placed on the board with energy flow arrows placed between the relationships the students had uncovered. This generated a food web of our aquarium – with a few additions like humans and sea gulls, too!

Generating a visualization like this shows how complicated the entire food web system is, especially considering we were only looking at such a small part.

Fortunately, this lead into a discussion of how some species play a much larger role than we would have thought. Take for example, the sunflower sea star.

Sunflower sea stars were shown to be important predators, which most kids found to be surprising. When we looked at what might happen to different populations if we took them out of the ecosystem, we were then able to discuss the current issue of Sea Star Wasting Disease.    

AmeriCorps member, Mandi Johnson, working with the kids to determine
where their animal belonged in the food web. Staff photo.

Afterwards, the class moved onto another activity. We played a game, with the students simulating a small ecosystem including plankton, herring, salmon, harbor seals and transient orcas. In this game, we demonstrated an ecosystem, with each species being able to ‘feed’ off the species they would naturally consume in the wild by collecting the contents of their stomach pouch. We continue this game until all of one species had been eaten, thus bringing our ecosystem to an end.

At the beginning of each trial, as a group we determined how many of each species the next trial would begin with. Thus, giving the kids a chance to realize what a balanced ecosystem means and what numbers are needed to achieve that balance.

We concluded with a discussion of "bug killer" toxins that were leached into the environment and what this means for each species. Explaining this concept of bio-accumulation helped us to relate the Story of Hope in our museum and what we can do at home to help create positive change.

Written by AmeriCorps Volunteer Program Educator Mandi Johnson

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