Environmental Education, Salmon, South Sound GREEN, Water Quality

Water testing in South Sound

IKPThis fall nearly 1200 students visited their local waterways to find out how healthy the water is for salmon.  With mostly sunny, dry days this fall, students fanned out across the Henderson, Deschutes, Eld and Totten Watersheds.  Overall, 57 sites were tested.  Student data showed better than optimal levels of dissolved oxygen in the Deschutes River, cold temperatures (all below 9 degrees C), and low turbidity.  Students will trek back out to their monitoring sites this February to once again collect and test the water, this time making observations on how increased rainfall might change their results.  Many thanks to the teachers and multiple parent and community volunteers who turned out to make this day a success!

Environmental Education, Nearshore, South Sound GREEN, Uncategorized, Water Quality

How Many Seashells Does She Sell on the Seashore?

Nearshore 2018 Infograph_Short

Hopefully, for the ecosystem and the beach goers, none.
With the oceans becoming more acidic it is harder for shelled marine critters to build strong outer protection and secondary shellers (like hermit crab) are having trouble finding homes! Each item on the beach, whether it’s shells, crab molts, or rocks plays an important role in the beach’s local ecosystem.
And that is the main message being shared at the seashore during Nearshore Field Trips!

This spring South Sound GREEN hosted 770 students to participate in the Nearshore program. Students ranged between 5th to 8th grade, and came from 6 local schools. The Nearshore program is a field trip that South Sound GREEN offers as a way for students to connect their freshwater monitoring experience with the marine waters of Puget Sound.

For many kids this is the first time seeing some of the different marine species up close and in person, and gives students an introduction to marine biology. “I am thankful for this experience because I got to see new animals in a beautiful place” Aeivet, 5th grader. Through this hands-on program students learn about what affects marine water quality and how their freshwater monitoring site is connected to the Puget Sound. The students get to collect plankton samples, identify the plankton under microscopes, and use a Secchi disk to measure turbidity with Pacific Shellfish Institute. They also get an overview of scuba diving and interact with marine life brought up to the surface by the divers.

Students had the opportunity to explore the subtidal zone at Zittel’s Marina, and then then intertidal zone at Tolmie State Park and Johnson Point Beach. In this nearshore habitat they identified marine life with South Sound Estuary Association’s Beach Naturalists and discovered various adaptations that help the organisms to survive in the different habitat zones. During the programs, 255 volunteer hours were spent helping students to identify over 90 different marine species.

Julia from Lydia Hawk wrote “This was one of my favorite field trips in fifth grade! And thank you for letting our class experience this!” If each person that went to beach to experience the amazing marine ecosystem (like the 770 students in the Nearshore program) collected a souvenir, there would be very little for others to enjoy and even less left for marine critter’s to build their homes.

So remember the next time you’re on a vacation and want to take that beautiful cockle shell home, Life’s a Beach. Or rather Beach = Life.

Environmental Education, South Sound GREEN, Student GREEN Congress, Uncategorized, Water Quality

A Congress Where Kids Make the Decisions

Over 500 student delegates from 30 schools around the South Puget Sound and Nisqually Watersheds gathered at The Evergreen State College for the 26th Annual Student GREEN Congress on March 22nd. This year’s Congress theme focused on the Orcas of Puget Sound, featuring a welcome from State Representative Beth Doglio (LD-22) and a keynote presentation from Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales, a program where students can experience the world as the animals around them do. With the Southern Resident Killer Whale population at critical levels, it was a special opportunity to connect students’ work studying local streams to broader issues of environmental stewardship in their communities.

Photo credit: Nisqually River Council

South Sound Global Rivers Environmental Education Network (GREEN) and the Nisqually River Education Project host Student GREEN Congress each year as the culmination of water quality monitoring programs with classes around local watersheds. Student delegates ranging from 4th grade through high school participated in a “State of the Rivers” session, sharing water quality data and developing action plans to improve their local streams and rivers.

Congress photo.jpgStudents also learned from experts dealing with today’s environmental issues and took part in hands-on, science-based educational workshops, including salmon dissections, investigating stream bugs, shellfish tasting, tree planting, and much more. Student GREEN Congress gives a unique opportunity to investigate other topics related to water quality.

Photo credit: The Olympian

One student who attended Congress wrote “The best part of GREEN Congress for me would have to be taking a Volcano class and meeting new people.” Even the teachers are excited about participating, “My students and I loved the break out classes. Each student was able to explore their individual interests in the water quality area.”

Final Congress InfographicThis year 159 volunteers, teachers, parents, and professionals supported the event by leading workshops and State of the Rivers sessions, guiding students around campus, and much more!

Since Student GREEN Congress began in 1992, thousands of students and hundreds of teachers have used hands-on learning to make a meaningful difference in their own backyards. The event is supported by many community partners who make this educational experience possible. In addition to support from Thurston Conservation District, Nisqually River Foundation, and The Evergreen State College, many community partners, along with local artists, scientists, and educators committed to environmental stewardship came together to put on another successful Student GREEN Congress. A special thank you to the Nisqually Indian Tribe for donating smoked salmon and seedlings as gifts for the 500+ student delegates.

Photo credit: Nisqually River Council
Environmental Education, South Sound GREEN, Uncategorized, Water Quality

How Clean is Your Stream?

Water quality is a major issue not only here in the Pacific Northwest but all over the world. Local Olympian students, grade 4th through high school, are taking a closer inspection to truly see if the water quality in their neighborhood is healthy with the help of South Sound GREEN (Global Rivers Environmental Education Network). South Sound GREEN is a watershed education program in Thurston County that educates, empowers, and connects about 50 classrooms and 1200 students in watershed studies annually. Students conduct stream investigation that include water quality monitoring, benthic macroinvertebrate sampling, and projects to improve the watershed.

At the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, I went into classrooms to teach the students what is a watershed, how humans influence water quality, and what are the best optimal standards for water quality (which of course are based on salmon… we are in the PNW!). Many students think watersheds are tanks that hold water for houses, when in reality watershed are areas drained by a river system, or other bodies of water. Or they believe that woody debris lying in the stream is bad rather than seeing great habitat for aquatic life. After learning about good examples of riparian zones and acceptable water quality standards, we take the 1231 students and 143 teachers/volunteers outdoors to test the waters.

In February and October, I went out with the classes to sample water from their adopted creeks, lake, or beach to conduct tests for dissolved oxygen, turbidity, nitrates, pH, temperature, and fecal coliform bacteria. Once the data is collected the students then compare these numbers to the previous sampling data, noting patterns and trends. By analyzing the data, students have a better understanding of point source pollution and non-point source pollution in their watershed. They can then come up with an action project that will help lessen the impacts of human activity and improve water quality at their testing sites.

This data collection and analysis will prepare them for attended the annual Student GREEN Congress where student delegates present their data and discuss the health of their watershed with other students to find out how they can protect their watershed.
So I ask, how clean is your stream?

Environmental Education, Salmon, South Sound GREEN, Student GREEN Congress, Uncategorized, Water Quality

Did You Know Salmon Can Run?

Every fall a new batch of AmeriCorps swarm Washington State to inspire the next generation with education or #GetThingsDone by improving the environment. Just like the AmeriCorps, salmon are on their final migration back to the natal streams to lay way to the next generation and deposit nutrients into the environment. I began my journey to Washington with only the knowledge of how to eat salmon, but by November I would become somewhat of a salmon expert.

AmeriCorps Member – Aeriel

While serving with South Sound GREEN (Global Rivers Environmental Education Network), my main duty is to educate youth on water quality to the standard that salmon require. If you have never been to the Pacific Northwest, salmon is life. Not only is it one of the economic back bones of this region, supporting conservation jobs and fish markets, but it was and still is an essential food source for many local Native American Tribes.

Teaching Pacific salmon species using fingers on the hand.

Almost anything around here can be linked back to these anadromous fish. Love the orcas of the Puget Sound? Well, salmon are their major food source. Use to drink Olympia Brew Company libations? The chinook run is on the Deschutes River which was the water source of the once brew company. Or maybe you love seeing the beautiful evergreen trees in the evergreen state? Once again, salmon nutrients can be found in tree 3 miles deep into the forest. Over 137 species rely on the salmon in the ecological chain! See what I mean? Anything can be linked back to the Pacific fish.

Chum salmon spawning in McLane Creek.

That is why every year people flock to witness these astonishing salmon runs. No, salmon are not literally running… wouldn’t that be a sight! But instead these salmon are migrating from Alaska into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and head down to the South Puget Sound where they nose their way back to the natal stream. I get the pleasure of educating the locals and tourist about this unique spawning display. People gather around stream banks to watch as the fish struggle swimming against the current, males fighting for dominance, and the females digging redds with their tails; all to get the chance to release gametes creating the next generation

As a salmon docent, I get to spend my days with salmon that are spending their last few determined to spawn and with people that are enjoying the splendors of Mother Nature. Between the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail supported by South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group and McLane Creek Nature Trail sponsored by Stream Team, I have educated 286 students from 9 different schools and engaged with 243 visitors. All of this was achieved within 4 weeks, and there is still yet another week left in the salmon run! As people continue to view and ponder the curious world of a salmon I will be there to help fish for the answers.

Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail