Welcome to the Watershed and Invasive Species Education Program’s blog, which features interviews, informative articles and pictures of science in action. The West Coast Sea Grant WISE program is dedicated to helping teachers learn about emerging watershed issues, which can be used as tools to engage students in science learning and community action. Feel free to explore, and thank you for reading.
Just like lions are the top predators of the savanna, lionfish (Pterois volitans) have quickly become the top of the food chain in the Atlantic Ocean. Native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean, these venomous fish were first found in the Atlantic in the 1980′s and were believed to be originally released by exotic fish aquarium owners off the coast of Florida and then carried northeast to North Carolina and Bermuda by the warm gulf stream current as eggs or larvae. Here, the lionfish are able to eat just about anything smaller than them including fish, shrimp, crabs and octopus. Until recently they had no natural predator, but people have begun to hunt lionfish for food- after removing the venomous spines they make a tasty dish.
Figure 1. The lionfish blends in wonderfully with its surroundings, making it an even larger threat to unsuspecting prey. (Photo taken by: Michael Harte)
As seen in an episode of the “Octonauts and the Lionfish” cartoon, this fish is also highly aggressive. The Octonauts is a British children’s show on BBC that features a crew of eight underwater adventurers, who live in the Octopod, an undersea base. These adventurous critters include a polar bear, tabby cat, penguin, octopus, sea otter, rabbit, dog, and vegimals (half-vegetable and half-animal) that talk, walk, and explore just like humans. In this episode, they find a lionfish duo, Lilly and Louie, while monitoring a coral reef in the Atlantic Ocean. The preferred habitat of lionfish are coral reefs and shipwrecks, and just like Lilly and Louie, they work together to hunt in packs and herd their fish prey. When discovered, the pair of lionfish was indulging in a wide assortment of unsuspecting undersea critters that are not accustomed to looking out for the lionfish as a predator. Another advantage that the lionfish has is that it uses a suction mechanism to eat its prey in “just one fast gulp,” as the lionfish in Octonauts kept repeating. This television show is a great way to educate small children about invasive species, food webs and conservation while they watch!
Another recent appearance of the lionfish on television was on “Ocean Mysteries” with host Jeff Corwin in the episode, The Hunt for Lionfish(watch the episode trailer below, or follow this link for the full episode). ”With no natural predators to stop them, an endless supply of fish to feed on and armed with those venomous spines, they are literally eating their way across the Atlantic,” explained Jeff Corwin about lionfish as he prepared to dive with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) divers to investigate the invasive lionfish off the coast of Georgia. NOAA researchers emphasized that one reason the lionfish is such a successful invasive species is because a mature female can produce up to 30,00 eggs almost every four days! Not only were multiple lionfish found within depths that divers can reach, but they were also found at over 400 ft deep off the coast of Curaçao with the use of a high-tech submarine known as a man submersible. Finding lionfish at these depths indicates that they are extremely adaptive and are able to survive at ocean depths much deeper than previously expected, giving them the ability to invade a variety of marine environments. As the submarine crew spears the lionfish at this depth, Corwin reminds viewers that even though this is a beautiful living creature, it is making a largely harmful impact on its environment and must be removed to preserve the health of the ecosystem.
At shallower depths, the lionfish has been found to have wiped out up to 95 percent of native fish in some parts of the Atlantic Ocean, but a recent Oregon State University and Simon Fraser University study found that there is still hope. Dr. Stephanie Green and her team used ecological modeling to determine exactly what percentage of lionfish to hunt in a habitat to revive the native fish populations. Contrary to many invasive species situations, this research shows that eradication of the lionfish is not necessary to allow native fish to thrive in “safe havens, small pockets of reef where lionfish numbers are kept low” and then spread to other reefs. On the reefs where lionfish numbers were kept below a density (or biomass) threshold in the model, native prey fish increased by 50-70 percent.
Figure 2. A representation of the predator and prey population relationships between invasive lionfish and the native Atlantic Ocean fish that lionfish prey on. This displays the potential effects of lionfish population control by people intending to limit the impacts by reducing the lionfish populations through harvesting and preventing further introduction. (Created by Danielle Goodrich)
This predator-prey population dynamic graph (Figure 2) displaying a model relationship between the fish that lionfish prey on and the lionfish (predator). It shows that the two populations’ numbers are dependent on each other and that the lionfish introduction caused a drastic decrease in the prey population. This model is based off of the research conducted by Dr. Green and her partners and predicts that after human intervention (removal of lionfish to a certain biomass threshold), the lionfish population would be expected to decrease and cause the prey population to increase soon after, allowing the two populations to fluctuate with each other and eventually reach a sort of equilibrium.
If population numbers are maintained at a healthy ecological level, the lionfish could be overall beneficial in regards to scientific study. The venomous spines on all sides of the lionfish’s body are what protect it from many potential predators, but this harmful armor has the potential to be useful for humans as well as the lionfish. The Animal Planet presents a clip from Wild Recon: Lionfish Venom in which Donald Schultz captures a lionfish off the coast of Belize to take a venom sample from its deadly spines. Schultz reports that through further research lionfish venom could be found to be a building block for heart medication. After its spine extraction, this lionfish will go into captivity and kept for educational purposes. This alternative to hunting keeps the critter alive, enables for the public to learn about this issue, and prevents it from further harming the marine ecosystem off Belize.
To learn more about the lionfish invasion, teachers can find curriculum to educate their students, even from the West Coast. The Florida Sea Grant was part of the team that developed lesson activities for their region, including one called Lionfish… Could They Invade Our Waters?!?!, which is part of the teacher’s guide, Intruders in Paradise: Invasive Species in Florida. Through education and selective hunting, the war on lionfish is one that still could be won!
Dear WISE Teacher:
I am planning to take my middle school students on several invasive species-related field trips this school year, and in the past I’ve run into the problem of how to encourage their curiosity but discourage their need to “own” the organisms. Students like catching critters, and somehow they manage to appear in my classroom after the trip (either alive or dead). Please advise me on how to keep the organisms in their own environment while still making the learning personal.
Sincerely, Middle School Science Teacher
Dear Middle School Science Teacher:
You didn’t say whether or not the captured critters were native or invaders. No matter; it’s good you show concern for their welfare, regardless of their status. Showing this to your students will legitimize the idea of being observers in someone else’s home. You can follow the example of the Resource teachers in the Outdoor School programs, who set up small tanks (5 gallons or smaller) to display caught organisms temporarily, while students satisfy their curiosity without permanent removal from their habitat or “home”.
Always insist that students keep native organisms in their “own homes”. This keeps you from having to transport without traumatizing, and provide the needed equipment and monitoring in the classroom. Aquatic organisms in particular require regular filtering/cleaning of their environment. If students capture an invader (example: bullfrog in Oregon), you might consider removing it and providing a temporary classroom home until you can donate it to a museum, wildlife teaching facility or research program. Due to the trauma involved with killing any animals (possibly for you and/or them), it’s not a good idea to approve of killing invasive organisms within sight of any of your students. Additionally, you may find parts of animals or non-living organisms; you could consider preserving them for classroom observation, presentations and displays; don’t forget plastic bags and containers for your trip, with specific usage instructions for the students. Lastly, a camera is a great learning tool (most students have good ones on their cell phones), and you can take closeups and have students take pictures of themselves with the temporary captive.
A word of advice….If you do wind up taking an invader out of that environment, don’t let the students give it anything but a scientific name; they get much too personally attached.
Editor’s foot note: National guidelines to help prevent the risk of invasive species from classrooms were approved in Nov. 2013 and are listed on the Federal register for public comment before final adoption. These guidelines will be posted as soon as they are available.
The newest ideas in science education were on display and in the airwaves at the National Science Teachers Assn. meeting (NSTA) “Bridges To The Future” Area Conference in Portland on October 24-26th at the Oregon Convention Center and Doubletree Hilton Hotel. This included a lot of focus on the Next Generation Standards in science that are being adopted by many states nationwide. My business there was to find out how learning through Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) was finding its way into the teaching of educators in the region, as well as the resources and curriculum of vendors that supply our region. Mission? To see what content was (or was not) being promoted and how this might influence choices of classroom teachers to incorporate watershed and AIS content.
WORKSHOPS ON USING LIVE PLANTS AND ANIMALS…..BUT NO INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT TO DO WITH THEM AFTER THE LESSON
Wisconsin Fast Plants, Brassica rapa, are from a family of plants well known for being weedy. Lets take care to properly dispose of seeds and other plant material.
This year’s Conference was divided into three strands related to the STEM and the Common Core. So much to see and hear, so little time; there were quite a few sessions I wanted to attend that were running simultaneously, so I had to choose WISELY! Having looked at the choices ahead of time, I decided to attend a popular workshop on Wisconsin Fast Plants, which is an elementary classroom exercise in taking data with Brassica rapa plants (originally found in Nepal) while learning about Mendelian genetics, plant anatomy and morphology, and environmental variables. (The content is also useful in life sciences, biology, environmental sciences and teaching education college programs.) Another topic in the workshop was the interdependence of organisms, and teachers were encouraged to try using a cosmopolitan species of butterfly known as “cabbage whites” from Carolina Biological to observe feeding habits and metamorphosis. This company spec-sheet on “Brassica Butterfly” makes a point of the USDA warning regarding release of the insect: http://www.carolina.com/teacher-resources/Document/cabbage-white-brassica-butterflies-care-handling-instructions/tr10483.tr.
The session was run by a “Carolina Teaching Partner,” and heavily attended with teachers eager for instruction and the free materials provided. I was curious about both the use of these plants (germinates in 3 days, 35-40 day seed-to-seed cycle) and the disposal of the materials, particularly the seeds. Teachers did not ask about the issues related to the viability and disposal of seed from this plant, which would most likely be thrown into the classroom garbage. I wondered if teachers would mistakenly place these soil materials in garden compost or wash them down the sink? Proper disposal of the organisms was not brought up in the workshop by the presenter, nor was there any questions or comments about the freeze-dried honeybees on toothpicks, used by students to pollinate the plants. (Does anyone else have a problem with this?) Brassica rapa is listed as an invasive week in Weeds of the West and Weeds of the United States and Canada (SWSS, 1998; Burrill et al., 2006). There is also an issue of escaped transgenes between Brassica rapa and Brassica napus, observed in Quebec in the early 2000′s (published in Molecular Ecology in 2007).
Karen DeBaker (left) and Ely Teragli (right) at Tualatin Clean Water Services partners with the WISE program to encourage learning about invasive species in the classroom.
It would have been excellent to have heard some kind of discussion about sterilization of seed material and soil, or vacuuming the classroom after use of these seeds, as they are very small and can easily stick in the clothing and shoes of students and teachers alike, and be carried outside inadvertently. It is easily possible to view these organisms as invasives, or possibly how their growth habits, durability, variation and success rates (as well as success in competition) compare to known invasive species.
SHIPPING FROM STEM TO STERN – A PATHWAY FOR LEARNING ABOUT INVASIVE SPECIES
Given the importance of the engineering and science associated with the logistics of shipping freight in our society, and its role spreading invasive species around our globe, I attended a session called “Shipping from STEM to Stern”. This was an elementary and middle school level presentation by teachers from Parcells Middle School in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan. The emphasis here was on “loading math and engineering into the science classroom via the shipping industry”. It turns out that Laura Mikesell (Sci. Dept. Chair) is spearheading invasive species education at her school. This middle school, being on the Great Lakes, is the perfect site for learning about vectors in the shipping industry that introduce invaders into local ecosystems (including barge-as-habitat issues). We had an exciting discussion about collaborating to bring their school’s information to the WISE website!
SLEUTHING THE EXHIBIT HALL FOR INVASIVE SPECIES LEARNING
Carolina Biological displaying live painted lady butterflies. Butterflies are raised in the classroom, then released by the students. This activity is one exception to the “Don’t Let it Loose” rule for classrooms.
In between workshops was the “Great Teacher Lure” known as the Exhibit Hall, where resources abound. This is where teachers make most of their contacts (vendors, other teachers) and pick up “freebies” that can be utilized directly in the classroom. There were many biological supply houses here, non-profits and agencies with links to utilizable teacher resources, as well as curriculum and book publishers. Although I saw very few exhibits with learning materials on invasive species, companies like Arbor Scientific, Carolina Biological Supply, Flinn Scientific, Inc., Frey Scientific and Mountain Home Biological are now labeling their packages to warn teachers about proper disposal of live or formerly living classroom materials. Some (eg. Carolina) provide flyers inside the packages to give information about the species, of which the Oregon Sea Grant study on Live Plants and Animals in the Classroom contributed to increasing awareness.
Carolina Biological brought quite a few live species to the Exhibition Hall to promote their available species and cage collection, and seemed very interested in the ethical treatment and disposal of these creatures. When I queried other company’s reps about whether they would be willing to include an extra impetus inside the package about AIS (see: Habitattitude flyer), some promised to get back to me on this (and did not). It would be entirely appropriate for customers of these vendors to ask the same question: “Would you be willing to enclose information in your shipping materials that promotes awareness of ecosystem disruption by invasive species?”
Applause to publishing companies like LabAids, Inc. have chapters in their Life Science (Middle School) and Biology (High School) textbooks directly devoted to the issue of dealing with species like zebra and quagga mussels, and challenge students to look at the science and the math related to out-of-control populations. Talking to other publishers did not yield a lot of elementary or middle school content that even mentioned this serious problem, and this included the NSTA bookstore on site. I talked to a variety of elementary student reading book publishers that included many titles promoting ecological awareness and stewardship, but none that directly confronted the issue like what we’ve recently seen in the Stone Soup comics by Jan Eliot published nationwide. Maybe I should team up with an artist to do this myself!
Would I do this again? Absolutely! The potential for contacts and influence of the individual is mighty in a venue like the NSTA Conference. There were many other opportunities to learn about the inclusion of invasive species education in the work of teachers and companies around the country, and we encourage all WISE teachers to find out what is currently happening with their adopted curriculum, administrative support level and self-chosen vendors.
(A Note about the author: Thea Hayes, Educational Consultant is a WISE Teacher alum (1st group!) and a Board Member of the Oregon Invasive Species Council. She recently retired from PPS after 21 years of teaching public school science, and continues teaching as a substitute, tutor, and religious school teacher at Congregation Beth Israel in Portland. Her many volunteer efforts include curriculum development with Tualatin River Keepers and the Lent School Garden Committee, and blogging for OSU Sea Grant Extension WISE Teacher Program.)
The next best thing to starting your own website with great resources to share is finding those made by others that do the same thing. One of those wonderful internet spots is Student Science: A Resource of the Society for Science & the Public. A quick search titled “Invasive Species” uncovered 34 articles on creatures such as a new invading shrimp-like crustacean called the European mysid shrimp, Argentine ants and lionfish, as well as a great article on asian carp (“Alien Carp Leap Onto the Scene” by Roberta Kwok on September 11, 2013). All the articles I read include something they call Power Words, which are useful vocabulary for teachers and students alike, as well as activities (here, a word search). WISE Teachers would be highly interested to read an interview of our very own OSU professor Dr. Sam Chan from the Eureka! Lab by Bethany Brookshire on October 29, 2013 in “Teachers: Can They Be Eco-Villains?” This article focuses on the role of live creatures in the classroom, the effect of releasing invaders on native species, and the responsibility that we all have in role-modeling ecologically sustainable behavior. Dr. Brookshire’s writing is readable and thought-provoking. Highly recommended! https://student.societyforscience.org/blog/eureka-lab/teachers-can-they-be-eco-villains
On March 11, 2011, a tsunami off the coast of Japan dislocated an estimated five million tons of debris that was sent into the Pacific Ocean. On June 5, 2012, a large concrete, steel and Styrofoam dock from Misawa, Japan, washed onto the Oregon Coast. The 188-ton dock landed on Agate Beach, Ore., after being carried over 5,000 miles by currents and winds. It carried with it about 100 living marine species of near-shore Japanese origin, some of which are known to be invasive on the U.S. West Coast. This is a hot topic for scientists and community members alike, because natural disasters like the 2011 Japanese tsunami must be considered as a mode of transportation for aquatic invasive species.
Pictures and copy from the species guide.
The Japanese Tsunami Debris Key Aquatic Invasive Species Watch Guide plays a number of roles. First, it includes descriptions and photos of some of the marine species that were attached to the dock. It also indicates whether or not they should be considered invasive along the U.S. West Coast, and tells what to do if you spot invasive species on marine debris. Lastly, it provides specimen collection protocols. Oregon Sea Grant developed the guide so that more people can learn about tsunami debris, the invaders it carries and the potential effects that this could have on the Western U.S. coastal ecosystem.
More specifically, teachers can also use the publication and the new STEM tsunami curriculum to learn about the topic and incorporate it into student coursework. The main goal of the WISE program is to remain dedicated to the education of teachers about watershed issues and engage students in science and community action. Similarly, the tsunami curriculum provides STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education through the study of natural phenomena, coastal engineering design and the human interaction. By using both resources, teachers can integrate this unique form of invasive species dispersal into their curriculum. Once again, these are events taking place right here in Oregon, and students can follow the current research in the classroom. Not only can students learn about the tsunami debris and the invaders it carried, but they can also become a part of the research if they take part in specimen collection at the beach or visit displays of the dock. Involvement in both the scientific education behind the tsunami debris and civic engagement along the coast are great ways to engage students in and out of the classroom.
In the summer of 2012, an enormous Japanese dock washed up on the Oregon coast, bringing with it over 100 species of sea creatures, most considered non-native to the West Coast. Even though the magnitude 9.0 Japanese earthquake happened over two years ago, the continued arrival of floating tsunami debris along the Pacific Northwest coast illustrates the long-term effects that tsunamis can impart, including a newly discovered phenomenon: the threat of invasive species hitchhiking across the ocean on tsunami marine debris.
Japanese dock washed up on the Oregon coast summer 2012
Because of the tsunami’s impact and relevance, Oregon Sea Grant at Oregon State University has developed a new tsunami-related curriculum that integrates science, civil engineering and the role of people and communities to connect science-based lesson plans to the impacts of tsunamis, including actions that individuals and communities can take. Oregon Sea Grant WISE program has been busy sharing this curriculum with teachers. It is now available for free on line, and we have presented it at several workshops specifically focused on getting students and teachers excited about STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math), including a LEGO League robotics “Nature’s Fury” workshop on October 19th 2013 and a SMILE (Science, Math, and Investigative Learning Experiences) workshop March 16, 2013
At the WISE/SMILE workshop, a group of WISE teachers met at Oregon State University and learned all about the animal hitchhikers from Japanese tsunami debris, and just as importantly, how they can help kids learn about tsunamis. Part of the lesson plan involved interacting with the sea creatures themselves.
Teachers studied invasive species at the tsunami workshop.
In the conference room where the workshop took place, water-filled jars sat arranged on tables. These jars contained large-clawed crabs, slimy clusters of kelp, starfish, gooseneck barnacles with long stalks and a strange-looking, shrimp-like animal called a caprellid that resembles the monsters in the movie “Alien.” Teachers picked up the specimens and examined them more closely, studying the animals’ unique attributes and matching them to the names and descriptions on their checklists.
The activity was one of many that teachers tested for the first time, playing out activities that they could use in their own classrooms. In one activity led by Hinsdale Wave Research Lab education and outreach coordinator Alicia Lyman-Holt, teachers gathered at the back of the conference room, observing two long, plastic tubs filled with sand and water. Grabbing wooden paddle boards, the teachers pushed against the water, causing the waves to lap up against the sand and wash over plastic blocks that looked like buildings. With enough force, the water could completely knock over the buildings, mimicking the full force of a real tsunami.
This quick activity represents the nature of tsunamis in real life – they’re not giant tidal waves that instantly envelop the coast. Instead, they’re a series of shockwaves, giant ripples that emanate from an event like an earthquake.
Other activities introduced real life applications of math by showing how to calculate the speed of an incoming tsunami and help determine how much time people have to escape the advancing wave. And the sea creatures in jars came in handy when they provided the teachers with a hands-on opportunity to interact with the Japanese dock creatures in a scientific scavenger hunt called a “bioblitz.”
Bioblitzes are a great way to introduce students to a wide variety of species: participants scour a natural area for organisms, identifying them and marking them on lists to get a feel for the biodiversity of a habitat. While this sort of activity is a lot of fun, it’s hard to pull off in the classroom. The new curriculum provides a way to do the entire activity indoors.
Organisms found on Japanese floating dock on Agate Beach, Oregon, June 2012. Image Credit: Jessica Miller
For this exercise, teachers used preserved specimens from the dock and compared them to their checklists by going down a list of characteristics and matching them up by description. An excellent lesson in taxonomy, this bioblitz had the advantage of being portable, making it more accessible to classrooms.
Earlier this June, Siuslaw School District teacher Andy Marohl tried out the tsunami curriculum with a class of eighth graders, and he says the experience was helpful for his students. Since the curriculum is adaptable and easy to rearrange depending on available time, Marohl focused on the introductory slideshow and bioblitz.
“They were especially interested once they found out about the European blue mussel,” Marohl says of his students. “They thought it was pretty interesting about the pathway that marine debris can take, and they were really curious about the potential impact of these invaders on their shores.”
Marohl says that his students were curious about the larger effects of potential invasive species in coastal ecosystems. He talked about the Japanese kelp Undaria and described how it could impact kelp forests in shore environments.
“I’m definitely interested in invasives and teach about them every year, so the curriculum was engaging to me from the get go,” Marohl says. “I thought the bioblitz activity was great. As a teacher, I found it really interesting.”
The WISE Program’s tsunami curriculum is now available for free online. Please visit the WISE webpage for curriculum, downloadable slideshows and further tsunami resources.
“Teacher Features” are a regular feature of the WISE Blog, where we interview an outstanding teacher who has integrated invasive species learning into their class. We are so pleased to feature Thea Hayes, who has been an inspiration in her passion for raising awareness about invasive species.
Name: Thea Hayes
School: Portland School District
Subject: Earth, life and physical sciences
Grades: Middle school
Photo courtesy Thea Hayes
How did you first hear about the invasive species workshop and why did it interest you?
In 2007, I’d heard about the program through email. I worked with another science teacher who was into the same kinds of things as me, and she and I both decided to go to the first WISE workshop, so we were in the first group of teachers in Newport. I liked the fact that we were going to be working with scientists from Oregon State University. We also did a combination of lecture, hands-on activities and site visits. It was a good all-around combination of activities that kept my interest and became something useful for me in my classroom.
What did you learn from the workshop?
For one, I learned about a lot of different species that I hadn’t known about before. I’m a kind of “invader” from New York. When I moved to Oregon, I already knew about invasive species on the East Coast (like gypsy moths and kudzu), but I didn’t know about a whole bunch of them here. I found out about aquatic invaders and why it’s so important to learn about them. I also did not realize that while we’re battling invaders that are already here, there’s also a battle to keep them out. Oregon is at the forefront of that.
How have you used your invasive species knowledge in the classroom?
First of all, I integrated it into the different curricula when I had that leeway. Another thing I did was develop my professional relationships by bringing speakers into the classroom so that the students knew there were people in the community interested in their learning. I was also able to organize field trip opportunities so the kids could do stewardship projects. We did activities in class that got students thinking about the issues, and I also posted all kinds of materials that were given to me as reminders of what the concerns were, so that students would utilize them and be aware of what was going on.
One year, I took my students to Bonneville Dam, and I connected with the public relations person there beforehand to focus on the effect of AIS on the native fish as well as the dam operations. We developed a day-long activity, which included people discussing and talking about invasive species, including how to keep the zebra and quagga mussels out. We talked about invasive fish in the river and how that could affect the salmon. This program involved several members of the onsite staff, and they also brought in experts in various aspects of the dam operation. I was very impressed with their interest and involvement in that. It’s hard not to be enthusiastic. And for the kids, it’s pretty high interest, especially if you integrate the hands-on aspect of it. It allows for lots of different kinds of Bloom’s intelligences to be utilized in and out of the classroom.
How have your students benefited from learning about invasive species?
It’s a combination of things. The first thing is that they’re more aware of the world around them – their world has expanded. They get to see that there are issues that surround them that they never would have thought about. They get to become experts at something when they make the effort, and get the opportunity to teach other people, which gives them a feeling of legitimate accomplishment. Another important aspect of growth when you do this kind of work is collaboration– they get to develop the critical job skill of working successfully with others. And don’t forget: when students have professional visitors that take the time to share expertise and exchange ideas with students, they really do “get” that their learning experiences matter.
How are you and your students using aquatic invasive species knowledge in the community?
My students developed a survey to distribute to teachers and the Portland public. That survey was the basis for a larger survey that was sent nationally. They got involved in something that turned out to be bigger, and they were able to find out what other people thought. We looked at the results of the survey, and were able to be involved in something that went beyond just a grade in a classroom. This is just one example of authentic learning that keeps students engaged and motivated.
Invasive species have once again made it into the newspapers, but this time in the comics section. In a wonderful blend of science and art, nationally syndicated Stone Soup creator Jan Eliot’s latest storyline involves her character Alix, a young girl interested in science, who releases an invasive crayfish into the wild. Inspired by getting to know former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) director Jane Lubchenco and soon-to-be director Kathy Sullivan, Eliot created the strip with science education in mind.
Kids learn about Oregon’s native signal crayfish.
Alix is a young biologist-in-the-making, based off of Eliot’s own interest in ecology and marine biology. “I thought for a brief period of time that I might study marine biology, but I ended up going into art and English,” Eliot says. “But I just love that world. I’m an itinerant tide pool stalker; I’m the one that searches out the science stories in the newspaper, so it’s really fun that I have this character who can be a vehicle for those interests.”
Eliot consulted with Sam Chan, Oregon Sea Grant’s aquatic invasive species specialist, to make sure she had some of the details right – that the red swamp crayfish is in fact a common invasive species and that it preys on smaller, native crayfish.
In the story, Eliot says that Alix finds a crayfish while on a camping trip, but when she realizes she can’t keep the crustacean as a pet, she releases it into a local creek near her home, not realizing the danger she’s creating for native crayfish. As the crayfish flies through the air towards the water, it thinks, “Invasive species in the house!” While the the story is fiction, the scenario is a way that invasive species are spread. See the strip here: http://www.gocomics.com/stonesoup/2013/08/03
Eliot was going to end the story there, but a fan encouraged her to pursue the topic, impressed by Eliot’s inclusion of invasive species in her comic. “It’s the perfect storyline for the first weeks of school,” Eliot says, “to have [Alix’s] science teacher take a trip to the creek with her students and all they can find is this huge [crayfish] that has eliminated the rest of the population.”
Eliot’s science teacher character Erma was named after a user-friendly decision tool on the NOAA website called ERMA (Emergency Response Management Application). Since Alix is so involved with science, Erma’s science-savvy ways allow Eliot to channel her own love for science through her comic.
“There’s a fun purpose in it too, addressing the whole ‘girls in science’ aspect,” Eliot explains, “and having a little girl that’s fascinated by all things in the marine world.”
The invasive species storyline will play out over the next few weeks, and you can follow Stone Soup online at Go Comics. You can read more about Sea Grant’s involvement with Jan Eliot at Oregon Sea Grant’s blog, Breaking Waves.
Blackberry pie. Frog legs. Ravioli. It’s the makings of a delicious meal, but there’s a twist – each dish is made from species invasive to Oregon. On August 25, the Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) will throw their second Invasive Species Cook-off, part of its “Eradication by Mastication” campaign. Co-sponsored by the Oregon Invasive Species Council, the cook-off will take place at Chintimini Farm in Philomath, where professional chef Matt Bennett will prepare creative combos out of local invasives. A few items on the menu are wild turkey, bull frogs, feral pig and dandelion greens.
Delicious Cajun bull frog legs; photo courtesy of the Institute for Applied Ecology.
Another facet of the entertainment is a competitive cook-off between local chefs, an invasive species version of Top Chef. Each chef will start with the same set of ingredients, including feral pig and blackberries, the challenge being to create a compelling dish that tops the others.
Last year, IAE Director Tom Kaye says he concocted a dish of his own – invasive bull frog legs from bull frogs that he caught himself in the E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area. Some of his favorites from the last event were wild turkey ravioli and pulled nutria, which he says is a lot like pulled pork. “Nutria have been adopted into the culinary arts of various restaurants in the South, and a bunch of Southern chefs have gotten into it,” Kaye explains.
As a fundraiser for the IAE, the cook-off is all part of the larger ecological message that invasive species are harmful outside of their native terrain. By making unusual meals out of these species, more people can become acquainted with their presence in Oregon, as well as how to keep them out of our state.
Invasive blackberry pie; photo courtesy of the Institute for Applied Ecology.
“Trying to get rid of invasives by eating them is really tongue in cheek, but it does literally bring people to the table to talk about the issue,” Kaye says. “It’s very serious business, but there’s no reason we can’t engage a greater proportion of the public by finding the fun and humor in it.”
In our last post, we introduced WISE teacher Julia Harvey, a biology and environmental science teacher at South Eugene High School who was accepted into NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program. Julia is currently in the Gulf of Alaska, and she’s posted some great pictures of walleye pollock, squid and fin whales as she learns from the scientists aboard the Oscar Dyson. She works 12 hour shifts and helps process fish caught for the survey by weighing them, measuring them and organizing them by sex.
Photo by Julia Harvey
Julia’s ship has an exercise room, a mess hall and a lounge, and she’s busy blogging away about her adventure. Make sure to follow Julia’s blog for more updates.