Feb 19 2013

The World of WISE

Filed under Announcements

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.

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Apr 14 2015

To Flush or Not to Flush? Part I

Filed under Uncategorized

This blog is the first in a three-part series introducing a framework for considering social circles, institutions and rational information to guide and enhance environmental education programs. We introduce the use of the “Human Capacity to Act” (HCA) framework – through the issue of Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) disposal.

 Illustration 1

Illustration by Yuko Shimizu


Have you ever thought about what you should do with your unused medication? Although the drain might be an easy way to dispose of those medications, it is not the safest for water and other natural processes outside your home. A growing concern for people and the environment is the frequency of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) emerging as pollutants in our lakes, rivers and estuaries.


Figure 1

Figure 1. Studies have shown that the worldwide annual per capita consumption rate of pharmaceuticals is 15 grams, but it is actually three to ten times higher in developed countries (50-100 grams) (Zhang, Geißen & Gal, 2008). The average American today takes slightly more than 10 pills a day (Frey, 2013). With this increased use, comes the increased presence of these pharmaceuticals in the waterways (Morace, 2012).



People’s Actions Can Make a Difference

A large portion of PPCPs enter our natural waterways through wastewater due to improper disposal. As described in Adam Piore’s “Blissed out by Prozac”, most wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to treat and remove pharmaceuticals, and many of these substances pass through the treatment process into nearby rivers, lakes and streams consequently affecting drinking water and other environmental resources for humans and other organisms. Planning and building new wastewater treatment plants can take decades, and it is near impossible to anticipate emerging contaminants. For example the Brightwater Treatment Plant in Washington went into plan in 1999 and building was completed in 2012 (See Figure 2). New classes of PPCPs that were not planned for treatment emerged during the plants construction. The Brightwater project uses an advanced Membrane Bioreactor (MBR) technology during the secondary treatment to remove remaining debris and inorganic material. Still trace amounts of pharmaceuticals and pet care products can be left in water after the process (King County, 2013). It would not be economically feasible to include the technologies needed to remove all PPCPs.


Figure 2

Figure 2. Bridgewater Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, Seattle WA. Completed 2012.



With advances in medicine, wastewater treatment technology will often lag behind new drug chemistry- an unforeseen consequence. The increased levels of PPCPs in the environment are putting the ecosystem at risk, with problems ranging from degradation of water quality to negative impacts on aquatic organisms. Fish and other animals accumulate high concentrations of chemicals when exposed to them through water and these can have detrimental effects on the ecosystem function if it continues to excel. Providing education and means that enable people to reduce and properly dispose of unwanted or expired PPCPs can reduce the amount of and risks from them in our waterways.


“The ultimate aim of education is shaping human behavior” (Hungerford & Volk, 1990). Consumers and stewards of PPCPs are exposed to ever increasing forms and volumes of outreach and education to influence their actions. Learning how to better reach and inform consumers on proper PPCPs disposal is a new focus for scientifically based education activities. Our blog proposes a framework for considering the influence of social circles, institutions and rational information to guide more effective education programs that can help reduce the amount of unused PPCPs improperly disposed into the environment.


Next time on the WISE Blog: learn about the Human Capacity to Act framework that researchers use to direct their education measures at their audience.


Illustration 2 

Jack Ohman, The Oregonian

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Nov 21 2014

Interview with Trevor Sheffels: The Nutria Expert

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Have you ever thought about the exciting careers related to invasive species? In this blog we introduce Trevor Sheffels, who has recently completed his Ph.D degree in Environmental Sciences and Resources at Portland State University. His research focused on addressing nutria management issues in the Pacific Northwest. Trevor had also completed his Master of Environmental Management degree at Portland State.


Trevor Sheffels filling a needle with an anesthetic drug to sedate a nutria before attaching a radio transmitter to track activity/movement


Q. Why did you choose to focus your research on nutria?

A. The Oregon Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan lists the nutria (Myocastor coypus) as a species that is already causing impacts and requires further research and evaluation. Although regional feral nutria populations have been present for approximately eighty years and caused substantial damage, there was very little scientific research on nutria in the Pacific Northwest. As nutria populations continue to expand, the number of nutria damage complaints has increased recently as well. My graduate research focused on the regional status of nutria populations and potential solutions for reducing nutria damage. Both my Master’s report and Ph.D. dissertation are available online (links below).


Ed Martin_Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

Ed Martin/ Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

Q. Nutria has been a focus on both your Masterʻs and Ph.D research. How did your Masterʻs research differ from your Ph.D work?

A. As part of my Master’s work, I developed a regional nutria distribution and relative density map. A vital step in nutria management involves understanding the location and relative size of regional nutria populations. Past regional nutria distribution maps were outdated, incomplete, and lacked density information. The map I developed will be used to inform future nutria management efforts.



Q. How is this map useful?

A. The map can be used to develop spatial management strategies, identify potential locations for new invasions, and provide a basis for regional habitat suitability models. Since nutria inventories are not currently conducted, the map was created by systematically questioning fish and wildlife biologists who have a working knowledge of their respective areas.

Q. Have you discovered anything from this work?

A. We have discovered that nutria populations in the Pacific Northwest are larger and in more locations than were previously realized.

Q. Developing a map on nutria distribution is impressive. Was your map used as a part of your Ph.D research?

A. For my Ph.D. research, the map was used to test a temperature model I developed with others to spatially describe current and potential future suitable habitat for nutria in the region.

Q. What did you learn about nutria from the temperature model?

A. While the model showed that nutria are currently occupying most available habitat, it also suggested that nutria populations could potentially move east of the Cascade Mountains as the climate warms. I also attached radio telemetry devices to nutria to track behavior patterns in urban wetlands and discovered that nutria were more active during the daylight hours than has been reported in other regions.

Q. Is it possible to prevent the damage caused by nutria?

A. I documented that nutria can heavily damage young woody plants used for restoration efforts and demonstrated that plastic tree protection tubes can be effective in preventing feeding damage while the trees and shrubs become established. My hope is that all of these findings will be useful for current and future nutria management!

Q. I am sure we all hope that these findings can be useful in nutria management. Are there other ways we can inform people on the issues with nutria?

A. In addition to research, another important step in addressing the regional nutria issue is public outreach and education. Many people do not even realize that the nutria is a non-native species, so I gave many public presentations to increase awareness and share why nutria can be so harmful to the environment.

Q. Can you suggest a way we can make people feel they can do something active to address the nutria issue?

A. Land managers who recognize nutria as a threat need to know how to address the problem. I organized two regional nutria workshops to facilitate regional communication and cooperation, provide general information about nutria, highlight current nutria control and eradication research, and discuss future regional nutria management strategies. Participants came away from the workshops with the desire and tools to address the nutria problem, and that is exciting to me!

Master’s report: http://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1023&context=centerforlakes_pub

Ph.D. dissertation: http://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1664&context=open_access_etds

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Jun 05 2014

A legacy of Stewardship on the Oregon Dunes

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Authored by:  Field Ranger Brian Hoeh
Florence— Siuslaw 7th graders from Andy Marohl’s class came to the Oregon Dunes Day Use Area in April to join the fight against Scotch Broom, one of Oregon’s worst invasive plants.
Armed with gloves, ratchet loppers, and large weed pullers, students freed an open space on the hillside for native plants to re-establish. Students picked up where Siuslaw 4th graders left off in March, and where previous classes have come for the last 5 years.
Project organizer Jim Grano stated, “these kids can see the difference they’ve made, and that’s something they can have pride in every time they come back here.”
The Oregon Dunes are shaped by an intricate balance between life and elemental forces. This process allows diverse ecosystems such as rainforest, lakes, wetlands and open sand to all thrive in one place. Scotch Broom and European Beach Grass were first planted to stabilize shifting sand in the early 20thcentury, and have since become invasive, threatening the long-term survival of the dunes.
The Day Use Area restoration project was organized and led by Siuslaw Stream Team Leader Jim Grano, teacher Andy Marohl, and Siuslaw National Forest fisheries biologist Mike Northrop. It was also supported by SOLV, a non-profit which seeks to build a stronger future for the places Oregonians love.
Grano founded the Siuslaw Stream Team in 1995, and has led in countless projects which link local school groups to ecosystem restoration throughout the Siuslaw Forest and watershed. His programs have an impact both in the environment and in young people’s lives. For Grano, the connection between schools and restoration work is obvious; “education is restoration,” he says.
These programs now link Siuslaw students to an ongoing effort of community partners working to preserve the Oregon Dunes, using innovated solutions to fight the threat of invasive species.
Students took breaks from their grueling work to explore the surrounding dunes on guided hikes led by Siuslaw National Forest field rangers. The goal was to connect students to this unique place, and show how they are now part of the dune’s story.
“It’s neat to think about what the dunes might look like in a thousand years,” said one 7th grader, walking over a buried forest where tree tops protrude through sand. Today, it was up to the students, who may be part of reason this landscape survives.
Contact: For more information about the Siuslaw National Forest visit our web site at www.fs.usda.gov/siuslaw or call 541-750-7000. Stay in touch through twitter.com/siuslawNF and www.facebook.com/DiscoverSiuslawNF.

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May 29 2014

Keep the Mussels Out

Authored by: Amy Schneider, Danielle Goodrich, Sam Chan, Tania Siemens, Jennifer Lam

At a check station along the Oregon border, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) technicians intently watched a bucket full of water. It wasn’t the water they were interested in, but rather the creatures found clinging to a boat, that removed and placed inside a bucket of water to watch them open their shells, proving they were alive. They were invasive zebra mussels, and they weren’t supposed to be there.

They had hitched a ride on a boat from Lake Erie, and although the boaters had stopped at a check station in Wyoming where their boat was pressure washed and cleansed of mussels, the technicians there had missed a spot. A week had passed since the boat left Lake Erie, but the eight zebra mussels that remained were still alive when they reached the Oregon border. Because of the check station, the mussels did not make it into the state, and they are currently an invasive species that hasn’t established in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest… yet.

Zebra Quagga Mussels

Figure 1. Zebra and quagga mussels are the only freshwater mussels in North America that can attach to objects using byssal threads, the adult. The most notable different between the two species is that the zebra mussel has a distinct flat edge, while the quagga mussel doesn’t. (Amy Benson, U.S. Geolocial Survey)

Quagga and zebra mussels are freshwater mollusks that were first unintentionally introduced to the Great Lakes  in the United States from the Caspian Sea (right next door to Sochi, Russia, the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics) in the early 1990s through the ballast water of ships from Europe. Such an invasion would not had been possible in the Great Lakes from ocean- going ships  had it not been for a series of canals and locks constructed in the late 1800’s that allowed access to the Atlantic ocean. Most notably, they have invaded the Great Lakes and Lake Mead in Nevada, causing a whole host of problems, from over-filtering the water to clogging up drainage pipes with their prolific growth.

Figure 2. Viewers can appreciate the rapid rate at which these mussels invaded, seen on a time lapse map of zebra and quagga mussel confirmed sightings created by the U.S. Geological Survey.   Since their introduction to the Great Lakes, zebra and quagga mussels have spread across the United States. Note that the Pacific Northwest states are the only region in the USA that are still free of mussels. Keep in mind while watching, that the dots represent sightings of either mussel and do not necessarily represent their current established range. (US Geological Survey)

Teachers helping to prevent the mussel invasion

Teachers are doing their part to prevent the spread of these damaging mussels to Oregon, Washington and California by educating students about these highly invasive species. A classroom lesson plan is available for students to learn about the impacts of the mussels and specifically about the drying time required to prevent their spread. Through the activity, students will discover that the amount of time that a boat must dry before entering a new waterway varies based on climate. Through the WISE Mussel Quarantine Model teacher lesson plan, students will get a chance to learn about the harmful impacts of the zebra and quagga mussels and ways to prevent their spread to new regions, including the Pacific Northwest. The activity utilizes the 100th Meridian Initiative Drying Time Estimator for Zebra/Quagga Mussel Contaminated Boats to display the drastic differences that precipitation, humidity and temperature have on the desiccation or drying time required to prevent the spread to a new waterway. Students can gain familiarity with the biological tolerance of these invasive species, climate science and math to make predictions on how long it takes to desiccate these invasive mussels through the use of simple and intuitive models.  These models can help students see math and science as tools they can use to help them.


sample model

Figure 3. Models can initially seem daunting, but this figure demonstrates that virtually all models operate on the same principle. With a certain input (in the case of the mussel model above, that would be location and date) and pre-existing data (predicted climate conditions for each location and date), a certain prediction will be given (drying time to desiccate mussels). (Danielle Goodrich)

Zebra Quagga Mussels Characteristics

The goal in Oregon is to keep the invaders out, and five check stations along the Oregon border are helping to make that happen. According to Rick Boatner, Invasive Species Coordinator for ODFW, the check stations caught and decontaminated 18 invasive species-ridden cases over the past year. A recent Salem News article, Paddlers -Remember to Carry Your Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Permit, reiterates that all manually powered boats 10 feet or longer are required to purchase and carry a permit as well as stop for an AIS inspection when trailering a boat or paddle craft past an open station. Boatner explains that “the program is designed to educate boaters about the threat of aquatic invasive species and what boaters can do to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species that are already in Oregon, like the New Zealand mud snail”. Access the 2013 Program Report to learn more about Oregon’s Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Program. Just this last week a truck and trailer had bypassed the Ontario, OR check station and were stopped by a Malheur County Sheriff. Inspections found that the boat was carrying a large number of juvenile quagga mussels on the hull and outboard motor from Texas. ODFW boat inspectors decontaminated the pontoon boat carrying invasive quagga mussels and protected Oregon waters from this threat.



Figure 4. There are a variety of potential pathways for invasive species that are associated with human activities. Adapted from Invasive Species Pathways Team Final Report (USDA, 2003)

Boatner says that if a quagga or zebra mussel invasion were to happen, it would be costly to the state of Oregon. “Currently, there’s not a good method for eradicating a mussel invasion,” he confesses. Once they’re here, they’re typically here to stay, and it’s not always cheap to deal with them. According to ODFW, the power industry in the Great Lakes area has cost an estimated $3.1 billion over a six year span.

Prevention is the best way to keep quagga and zebra mussels from harming Oregon’s watersheds, and the recent addition of check stations to Oregon’s borders has played a part in screening out infested watercraft. As always, it’s important for boaters to clean, drain and dry their watercraft before moving it from one body of water to another. Under the right conditions, quagga and zebra mussels can live up to 22 days out of the water depending on the local temperature and precipitation, so never underestimate the resilience of an invasive species.

dont move a mussel2

Figure 5. Rick Boatner stands next to an educational invasive mussel sign on a trailer at a boat inspection station in Arizona. (Oregon Sea Grant Invasive Mussels in the West)



Learning about Invasive Species Impacts and Their Adaptability

The invasion of zebra and quagga mussels has a large impact on the local ecology, infrastructure, and waterways. Therefore, removal to prevent spread is a common necessity in invaded waters. Lake Piru has been found to be the first host of quagga and zebra mussels in Southern California that doesn’t receive water from the Colorado River. This leads to conclusions that the mussels were spread through other means, possibly hitchhiking on the boats or equipment of recreational boaters. On March 28, 2014, divers set out in Lake Piru to scrape mature quagga mussels off of underwater surfaces and were surprised to find an abundance of tiny mussels, indicating a recent spawn occurred sooner than expected. In response to this, there are plans to add predatory fish and tarps to the infested zone in order to aid in control efforts. Scientists, like Dr. Carrie Culver at California Sea Grant stress the importance of monitoring and understanding the environmental parameters of areas, such as Lake Piru, which are vulnerable to the spread of invasive species. Read the article Invasive mussels spawned sooner than expected, divers find for the full story.

MarinaLakePiruJan2014 659 Small

Figure 6. Recreational activities in Lake Piru make it especially important to monitor invasive species and environmental parameters that allow for their spread (Dr. Carrie Culver, California Sea Grant)

Models like the 100th Meridian Initiative WISE Mussel Quarantine Model lesson plan are great representatives of predicted outcomes based upon what we currently know. Yet, the wonderful and daunting fact about science and nature is that we don’t know everything and this especially applies to the environmental tolerances or limitations of invasive species which are continually being defied. One of the reasons that zebra and quagga mussels are successful invaders because they are able to withstand conditions that we didn’t think possible, for example they went undetected in Lake Mead for some time because scientists didn’t search deep enough for them.  That is why it is important to educate boaters and paddlers to clean, drain, and dry their water crafts and to always keep an eye out for the mussels and other invasive species in all sorts of habitats.


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Mar 13 2014

The Lionfish’s Roaring Impacts on Ocean Fish Populations; Research and Educational Tool for Classrooms

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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.

lionfish2_Michael Harte

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.

 lionfish population dynamics_2

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!

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Jan 21 2014

Ask a WISE Teacher!

Filed under Resources,Teacher tools

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:5356293-THUMB
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.

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Jan 21 2014

Science Teacher Resources Abound at NSTA/OSTA Area Conference

Filed under Events,Feature Stories

By Thea Hayes:

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.



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.


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!



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.)








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Dec 19 2013

Superior Resource for Invasive Species Teacher Sleuths

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!

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Dec 19 2013

Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris Species Watch Guide

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.
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.

Access the species watch guide at the following link: http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/sgpubs/g-13-002

Access the STEM tsunami curriculum at the following link: http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/invasive-species/toolkit/tsunami-stem-curriculum

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Oct 28 2013

Teaching Tsunamis and Invasive Species

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

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.

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

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.


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