Eelgrass as Teacher – Integrating Tradition, Science, and Learning on the British Columbia Coast

Eelgrass as Teacher – Integrating Tradition, Science, and Learning on the British Columbia Coast

Eelgrass as Teacher

Integrating Tradition, Science, and Learning on the British Columbia Coast


by Nikki Wright

ith a respectful hush, students squat on the sand or sit on logs on the warm beach, listening intently to Trish speaking about the way her indigenous Coast Salish community harvested herring roe in Deep Bay, B.C., Canada when she was ten. You can hear a fir needle drop in the forest behind her as she recollects her memories of watching the shoreward migrating herring , so thick, she says, they were “like little bits of shining glass in the Bay.” The families would collect the roe from cedar boughs placed in the bay and store it in long storage bins, where she would race past and swipe some to eat before Grandmother would find her out.

These high school students were in a very special site, a Gulf Island on the British Columbia coast, learning first hand the traditional stories of Native peoples harvesting and storing the riches of the sea. During their time on this beach, they would explore eelgrass beds, which are also used for herring spawn sites, in the interface between ocean and land. They found myriad critters crawling and scurrying between the blades. This exploration of the mysteries of sea life so close to the shore would lead them further down the road of revelation and possibly to a lifetime of marine discoveries.

Shortly after I had listened to Trish on that extraordinary beach, I accompanied a grade four class on a beach within the boundaries of Victoria on Vancouver Island. With small class groups alongside me, I walked gingerly in gumboots in an eelgrass community at low tide. Once again, I had a glimpse into these wondrous undersea gardens, watching the small kelp crabs and juvenile seastars creep along the emerald green blades, and witnessed small flounder gliding under the sand. A whole world opened up before us. This is the magic of eelgrass in quiet bays and coves and estuaries.

SeaChange Marine Conservation Society, a community conservation group on Vancouver Island in British Columbia presents these kinds of opportunities in the spring, summer and fall each year to schools at all levels. Many times, eelgrass (Zostera marina –one of the two native species of eelgrass on the BC coast) is a gateway of learning during our time on the shore and in the estuary. This is the story of my experience with eelgrass as a teacher. The following are suggestions for exploring a seagrass community for Grades 1-6.

When I first started marine naturalist work in Victoria, Canada, I was a SCUBA diver diving for sea creatures and demonstrating their behaviour to elementary and middle students. Most of these young people were more familiar with facts about coral reefs and sharks across the world than with the sea cucumbers, Great Blue Herons and pipefish of their local marine world. This introduction to local sea animals was a first step, but unsatisfying to me as a marine educator. I wanted to teach ecology. I needed to find ways for young people to fall in love with the intricacies of an easily accessible natural system (Capra, 2005). I believed, and do so even more strongly today, that children learn best from the natural world when they are actively engaged in it (Krapfel, 1999). Eelgrass has afforded those opportunities through classroom, field and community activities. Students will observe ecological connections. The underwater blades offer viewing windows into complex food webs close to shore (Phillips, 1994). Students can extend their understanding of ecological relationships by investigating land use activities affecting these food webs. Teachers can help students understand the importance of citizen science in protecting shores with maps of the boundaries of eelgrass meadows made by their students.

    The Biological Diversity within Eelgrass Meadows
Eelgrass is a simple enough looking plant, but it has great importance to living systems, both human and non-human. It evolved from fresh water and migrated to the ocean in relatively recent geological time. Eelgrass shoots act like crab grass or strawberry plants in that they grow most successfully by rhizomes, or underground roots. One plant in a large meadow can be the parent of thousands of shoots, as they clone in muddy sandy substrates in shallow protected bays and estuaries in most temperate marine areas of the world. The intricate weaving of the underwater blades afford shelter for salmon from the hungry foraging of Bald Eagles, and the minute algae on the blades feed the small crustaceans called copepods that swim near the muddy bottom which in turn feed the outcoming salmon fry from freshwater streams. The plants are so popular with salmon that eelgrass meadows have been compared to salmon highways in the Pacific Northwest.

The high biological diversity available in eelgrass systems provides food for a diversity of organisms in several ways. In the Trent River delta on Vancouver Island, for example, 124 species of birds have been identified and includes over 38,000 individuals. Forty eight per cent were observed using the intertidal eelgrass (Z. japonica) of the delta for feeding, foraging or preening at some time during the year (Harrison and Dunn, 2004).

For younger grade levels, it is fun to explore eelgrass meadows for juvenile creatures – small crabs, seastars, and flounder for example. Because the weaving of the eelgrass blades provides good hiding places from predators, the beds are resplendent with new life.

The matted rhizomes help capture sediment and decreases erosion (Phillips, 1984) which is important for shoreline homeowners. All these benefits of this underwater vegetation can be demonstrated to school children in their classroom and outside on their local beach or estuary. It takes little or lots of time, depending on how far and deeply you as an educator would like to extend the lessons. This article assumes that you have the opportunity to visit your local eelgrass more than once over the school year.

I thought in 1993 I had found a simple way to teach ecological systems to children. Thirteen years later, after all the SCUBA dives, seining, kayaking, tide pooling, and mapping and restoring of eelgrass, I am still entranced with this nearshore plant that makes up underwater emerald forests.

Classroom Activities
A network of eelgrass conservationists along the entire coast of British Columbia maps eelgrass beds and locates potential restoration sites. Many of these individuals come into their local schools to help teachers with exploring the mysteries of eelgrass. They bring resource books with plenty of photographs, maps, stories, colouring books, overhead drawings and graphs of food webs found in eelgrass habitats, and eelgrass plants found along the beach. You can provide library books, web sites, stray eelgrass plants and help students explore ideas on how they would like to investigate their local eelgrass beds.

In preparation for the first field trip, students can formulate questions they wish to answer during their field trip, and discuss their hypotheses in small groups. For example, one group of fifth graders might formulate the following: “If young crabs use eelgrass for shelter, then they will be found in areas hidden from their predators.” They then could create a data sheet with spaces to record how many and what kinds, sizes and locations of crabs they observe.

Students should be reminded that they are visiting the living rooms (or habitats, depending upon the age group) of intertidal animals and plants that are already stressed from exposure to the sun. Examples of good beach manners are:

• Turn rocks back gently after lifting them
• Fill in any holes when digging
• Wash hands in the tub of saltwater next to the touch tanks before touching animals and plants
• Handle animals and plants gently.
• Avoid walking on plants and animals
• Do not remove attached animals or plants.
• Leave the plants and animals in their natural homes (habitats).

It is important that students be comfortable and safe and be respectful for the life they will encounter on their field trip. Sunscreen, extra socks, drinking water, towels and gumboots or shoes that can get wet or muddy. They can add their own beach etiquette rules.

Field Trip Activities
Students can become familiar with eelgrass ecology during a preliminary field trip lasting usually an hour and a half. Prior to the actual field trip, the class can be divided into three groups. We usually have three groups of ten students each.

The first beach station is the ”Habitat Aquaria.” We use two glass 33 gallon aquaria placed within a wooden frame and supported by two wooden supports. We fill the first aquarium with sand and “living rocks,” drift eelgrass and crab and chitons, sea cucumbers, small seastars, sand dollars, clams and the like collected by SCUBA divers. We place rockier substrate in the second aquarium with drift kelp and other seaweeds, urchins, living rocks with tunicates and coral algae living on them, limpets, turban snails, and crabs to demonstrate what lives beyond the shallow eelgrass meadows. Simple rubber tubs can be substituted for glass aquaria. Laminated field guides are distributed so that the students can identify and observe animals on their own before they are told what is in the aquaria. Buckets and tubs surround the aquaria are filled with seaweed and kelp to shade the animals that can be touched by the students under supervision. A hand washing tub full of saltwater ensures that sunscreen on the students’ hands will not harm the animals in the touch tubs.

The second station can be a “Detective Game.” Using the field guides students are asked to find and observe, without collecting, animals that have hard shells, or live in a community, or plants that have knobs growing on their blades. They convene after 15 minutes or so to share their findings. Detective questions could be ones such as:
• Two different kinds of edges on seaweeds.
• Evidence of an animal having eaten something.
• Three seaweed leaves with different textures (smooth, prickly, etc.)
• Four different odors/smells.
• Five different sizes of barnacle.
• Six different kinds of birds on the shore or near-by
• Seven human activities on or near the shore.
• Remember eight different sounds and repeat them to the group
• Name nine different ways people are using the shore or waters near-by.

The third station can be a “Making Art” display. On a large tarp, students at all grade levels enjoy as a group making a giant sea animal or an eelgrass or kelp underwater forest.

Beach seining in a protected bay or estuary is another way to acquaint students to the eelgrass community but it is crucial this be done in a very sensitive manner, as juvenile marine animals such as salmon fry and young flounders cannot tolerate exposure out of water or touch. When done under the careful supervision of an experienced leader, however, students are thrilled with the diversity of the collection from seining after they have helped haul the net shoreward. The specimens can be collected carefully and kept in cool seawater tubs for a short duration for observation by all.

Beach specimen presses can be done easily with moist heavy paper and cardboard between the paper. Students collect drift (unattached) eelgrass, seaweeds and flat pieces of kelp and design patterns onto the heavy moist water. The sheets are then placed between two wooden boards and tied together with a belt. The collection should be placed in an area that is well ventilated in the classroom. In just a few days, the students can open the press and discover their dried creations. Cards, posters and other art work can then be taken home or displayed.

Extension of Field Activities
A second field trip can be designed for mapping a local eelgrass bed during the springtime on a very low tide (less than 2 metres in B.C.). The methodology for mapping can be practiced in the classroom. Before that however, it is essential that students know why this particular habitat is important to map. After they have become familiar with its ecology during their preliminary field trip, students can interview community members, including fishermen, First Nations members and old time residents on what they remember of eelgrass in the local waters. This information can then be brought back to collate into maps.

On southeast Vancouver Island, one of the eelgrass mapping coordinators consulted with First Nation Elders and old time fishermen to find out where the eelgrass “used to be” in a large estuary. She brought that information to a classroom of 5-6th graders, and asked them to map the areas on nine baseline maps. The class then combined the maps to compare where the meadows were historically sited and where they grow presently. They discovered that a large area was impacted by log storage activities, but they also discovered that local community restoration efforts were underway to bring back the meadows where the log leases were no longer used.

Mapping can be as simple as following the upper boundary of an eelgrass bed and noting on a cadastral map where the bed begins and ends. Or students may want to map the upper boundary using a GPS unit and then measure the density of the bed using a transect line and quadrats. The scientific protocol that has been accepted in British Columbia for mapping eelgrass can be found on the Seagrass Conservation Working Group web site (Seagrass Conservation Working Group web site, 2002).

To show students how to measure eelgrass shoots within a meadow, you might try using a demonstration eelgrass grid, which takes little time to make. I suggest you find mesh material (we use the plastic mesh used to protect SCUBA tanks) with small (approximately 1⁄4 inch) spaces to thread green ribbon in dense patterns. Provide a quadrat (see below) and a ruler so that students can practice measuring the width and length of the blades. Thicker ribbon can be used to represent reproductive flowering plants.

It is important that they know before they map on the beach that reproductive shoots are ephemeral. If flowering shoots are not noted while mapping, the class might return the following year and observe that the bed they measured is less dense, and conclude that it has been damaged. Zostera marina is a perennial plant (Z. japonica is most often annual), but densities can vary from year to year because of the timing of reproduction and the fact that they shed their leaves up to seven times in one year (Durance, 2002). If the class decides to monitor one bed over several growing seasons, these are important factors for accounting for different shoot densities over time.
Considering the worldwide extent of seagrasses is estimated at 44 million acres, but that much of the extent has not been mapped, (Green & Short, 2003) there is a lot of mapping of eelgrass to be done everywhere! It is not difficult for students at all levels to inventory local seagrass beds whether they be Zostera marina or Z. japonica or another species of seagrass in your area of the world.

On many shores of southern British Columbia, both eelgrass species grow close to each other. We are having fun creating useful and easily memorized limericks to help us decipher the difference between the two species, as on some shores they look remarkably similar. One example of a “limerick in process” is:

Marina, like green onions,
it’s sheaths they do tear,
While japonica, like celery,
it’s sheaths pry open, to bare. (Sanford, 2006)

Students can make up their own rhymes and songs to identify species of eelgrass that they then can pass on to the next class for the following year.
Eelgrass meadows are naturally highly dynamic systems, often changing from year to year or from season to season, reflecting changes in the environment (Den Hartog, 1971) At one school, fourth graders are monitoring both species (Z. marina and Z. japonica) growing adjacent to each other over several years, to note competition or changes between the two. They pass on the monitoring data onto the next class before the next mapping expedition during the following spring.

What is needed
One quarter metre and one metre square quadrats can be easily made from aluminum or plastic pipe. These frames are set upon a 60 m transect line (polypropylene rope is easiest to use) at metre points randomly selected. The transect rope can have tape tied securely at one metre marks with the designated metre number marked on each tape. On the way to the site, students can call out numbers from 1-30, a recorder can write them on a data sheet (see illustration). Other equipment needed is GPS units or compass (for triangulation for site location), data sheets and pencils attached to clipboards, field trip supplies (sun screen, drinking water, first aid kit, snacks and hats), and binoculars. Make sure students are wearing gumboots or shoes or sandals that can withstand some saltwater.

To ensure success, visit the site yourself before the field trip so that you have a clear idea how to direct the students. Since eelgrass shoots tend to grow at different lengths and widths according to where they are located in the intertidal zone, it is important to place the 60 m transect line parallel to shore well within the range of the zone you may want to select beforehand.

For example, this could be a description of the bed before you:
Zone 1 is a narrow band 8 metres wide, located in the low intertidal and shallow subtidal. The zone is characterized by a sparse population of short eelgrass (length 25 cm, density 32 shoots/m2). Zone 1 blends into Zone 2, at a slightly lower elevation. The bed in Zone 2 is 50 metres in width. The majority of the bed is located in Zone 2.
During your preliminary visit, you may have decided to have the students map only one zone with their 60 m transect. By the end of the exercise, they might feel more confident to map more of an area at a later date. The pressure of the incoming tide dictates how much time is available to map one zone. It is best to arrive with your class at the site about an hour before the tide begins to recede. During this time, the students could identify the zones of eelgrass on the beach. You may have already visited the site at low tide, so you can help direct the discussion.

For a class of 30, you may want to organize students into groups of three: In each group, one student is the recorder, one the counter of shoots, and one measures one shoot in the right hand corner of the quadrat for width and length. Each group will have one third of the 30 numbers they randomly selected before they arrived on the beach. The recorder in each group makes sure the numbers are located accurately so there are 30 sets of measurements by the end of the mapping exercise. When the tide has returned, the data sheets are collected and returned to the classroom. Over time students will notice changes in the density and width of the eelgrass bed they mapped and will have lively discussions as to why that is.

Synthesizing Classroom Studies with Field Experiences
The classroom activities and field trips can be integrated across curricula. Students can photograph their art displays on the beach tarp and combine them with the pressed plant specimens to include on a wall mural in the classroom. They can write stories about the eelgrass animals they observed on the beach and combine facts about the creatures’ biology with fiction about their lives in the meadow. They can use math to calculate Leaf Area Index (mean eelgrass leaf length and width determined from sampling one eelgrass shoot in each of 30 quadrats) for determining the productivity of an eelgrass bed, and research the history and geography while they find local stories about the locations and uses of this seagrass, including Indigenous traditions.
The table below illustrates how lessons can focus on science processes (Gough & Griffiths, 1994).

Students at all grade levels can participate in restoration of eelgrass as part of a community effort to restore damaged fish habitat. Since 2000, in Tod Inlet on southeastern Vancouver Island, community members of all ages have completed five eelgrass transplants under the guidance of a local conservation group, a scientific advisor in partnership with provincial and federal agencies. Over the past four years, community conservation groups in 22 communities on the 27,000 km coast have involved students and families on mapping and restoration projects. This level of involvement can start simply with one person committed to a plant in one place, with equipment such as gumboots, an inexpensive tub showing students eelgrass critters, rope and a square of aluminum and pencil and paper.

Maps as Community Connectors
It has been estimated that as much as 80% of the pollution load in the ocean originates from land based activities (NPA, 2007). After researching its history and constructing maps, students might conclude that their local eelgrass meadows are not as dense or as extensive as they were, even as recently as 10-20 years ago. The maps they have created can be used to influence decisions affecting the shoreline, such as the construction of cement seawalls or the creation of riparian set backs to offset the erosion effects of seasonal storm events. Students’ maps can be displayed at a local council meeting, at festivals, in brochures and in presentations to other schools or community associations.
On the BC coast, we are making eelgrass a household term, because these maps created by people of all ages have heightened awareness of the importance of this crucial underwater plant community and have been included in regional atlases, official community plans and shellfish aquaculture plans and First Nations treaty negotiations. Knowing that their data collection has far reaching influence, even fourth graders will take special care for accuracy.

Eelgrass Restoration
It has been estimated that approximately 222,000 acres of seagrasses worldwide have been lost in the last decade (1990-2000) (Green & Short, 2003) because of development, forestry and agricultural practices, dredging and hardening of shorelines (construction of cement seawalls), to name a few.

Further Explorations
As students become more familiar with their local eelgrass meadows, teachers might want to facilitate discussions with their students about why eelgrass habitats are so important on the global scale. Students could establish research teams around such issues as the role of seagrasses in global respiration (amount of carbon and oxygen released and absorbed into the atmosphere), the impact of eelgrass habitat losses with decreasing world fisheries resources, the role of seagrasses and mangroves in conserving shores during extreme weather events, and the connections between land use activities and nearshore environments and about their own responsibility in caring for eelgrass habitats.. They might conduct their research through interviews with scientists within the community as well as by using the Internet. As their understanding increases from the local to the global, they can take their information to other classes within their school, and demonstrate their findings through a multi-media event or by taking another class to the beach at low tide to demonstrate their knowledge. The beach then becomes a laboratory to learn about biology, zoology, ecological patterns and ultimately about the responsibility of humanely living in the global biotic community. We as educators can help our students face environmental challenges by encouraging them to take the time to observe, reflect, ask questions and find answers within their community. Eelgrass meadows offer one way into that window of inquiry.

Capra, F. (2005). Speaking nature’s language: principles for sustainability. In Stone, M.K. & Barlow, Z. (Eds.), Ecological Literacy: Educating our children for a sustainable world (pp.19-29). San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.
Den Hartog, C. (1971). The dynamic aspect in the ecology of seagrass communities. In Thallassia Jugoslavica, 7 (1), 101-112.
Durance, C. (2002). Methods for mapping and monitoring eelgrass habitat in British Columbia. Vancouver: Environment Canada.
Gough, R.L., & Griffiths, A.K. (1994). Science for Life, Toronto, Harcourt Brace & Company.
Green, E.P. & Short, F. (2003). World atlas of seagrasses. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Harrison, P.G. & Dunn, M. (2004). The Fraser Delta Seagrass Ecosystems: Importance to Migratory Birds and Changes in Distribution. Chapter 15: (pp. 3-4) In B.J. Groulx, D.C. Mosher, J.L. Lutemauer & D.E. Bilderback (Eds), Fraser River Delta, British Columbia: Issues of an Urban Estuary, Geological Survey of Canada Bulletin 567.
Krapfel, P. (1999). Deepening children’s participation through local ecological investigations. In G.A. Smith & D.R. Williams (Eds.), Ecological education in action: On weaving education, culture, and the environment (pp. 51-53). Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.
Phillips, R.C. (1984). Chapter 4: Components of the eelgrass community-structure and function. In The ecology of eelgrass meadows in the Pacific Northwest: A community profile (pp. 34-56). Seattle, Washington: Seattle Pacific University.
Phillips, Ronald. C. (1984). The ecology of eelgrass meadows in the Pacific Northwest: a community profile. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service FWS/OBS-84/24. 85 pp.
Sanford, D. (2006). Personal communication.
The web site for more information on the educational, conservation and restoration activities of the author’s organization is:
This article was originally written for the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research, Konan University, Kyoto, Japan. It is reprinted here with permission.

Ear to the Ground – Rus Higley

Ear to the Ground – Rus Higley

An Interview with Rus Higley

2016 Marine Education Classroom Educator of the Year

higley-with-whale-skeletonRus Higley has worked as Manager at the Marine Science and Technology Center at Highline College since its opening in 2003. He was born in Alaska, but grew up in Des Moines and graduated from Western Washington University with a B.S. in Marine Biology. He then went on to get his M.S. in Curriculum & Instruction from Old Dominion, and Master of Marine Affairs from the University of Washington. Besides managing the MaST Center, Rus teaches classes at Highline College in Marine Biology, Environmental Sciences and Oceanography, and teaches Environmental Sciences at the University of Washington, Tacoma.NAMElogo

Rus Higley was recently named the 2016 Marine Educator of the Year by the Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators (NAME).

Congratulations on being named the 2016 Outstanding Classroom Educator by NAME. So what led you to becoming an environmental educator in the first place?

After college, I joined Peace Corps where I taught science to high school students and worked at a catfish hatchery. While doing that I learned that I enjoyed teaching and so have continued to develop opportunities. When I returned to the Northwest, I had a non-teaching position with Highline College. Shortly, after I started, I got a call from the VP for instruction who knew my background and had an oceanography class without an instructor…the catch was it started in 3 days. 17 years later I’m still teaching!

Did you have a specific experience as a child that connected you to the natural world?
I’m originally from Sitka, Alaska and spent most of my childhood summers up there. My friends and I always played on the beach looking for animals, getting stuck in the mud, and fishing. It always seemed like the only choice.

What are you working on right now?
In addition to everything else, I’m working with Washington SCUBA Alliance on the creation of an artificial reef for divers here in Redondo, WA. A recent meeting with Senator Karen Kaiser gave us a lot of hope for this to move forward. Part of the motivation for this is that the state is removing toxic materials, such as pilings and tires, from the Puget Sound. Although a long term gain for the health of the Puget Sound, it is a short term loss of some beautiful habitat and dive sites. This reef would use natural materials to build appropriate structures for local marine life. One big aspect we are working on is the research that is needed to show that this in truly a “good” idea, so we are working to develop a suitable research program to look at the diversity of life both before and after it is built.

higley-with-eel-fishWhat is your favorite part of your job?
If you’d asked me 10-15 years ago to describe my perfect job, except for the warm and tropical part, I’ve got it. Not only do I get to teach oceanography and marine biology to college students, I get to run an amazing community sized marine aquarium. The MaST Center is a 3,000 gallon aquarium facility for Highline College that not only has college classes but brings in thousands of school kids and thousands of visitors every year. Our small crew of staff and volunteers have done so many amazing things and continue to push the limits.

Can you share a story about a project that worked really well, or a particular student you remember?
Over this fall quarter, as the technical advisor, I am working with the Foss Waterway Seaport and Tacoma Public Schools to articulate a 23 foot gray whale skeleton. We started this project last Christmas, when it was found dead on the beach. Since then, we’ve conducted a necropsy, flensed the meat off, composted the bones, and are now articulating the skeleton. The work is being done by 15 Stadium High School students who during the quarter have talked to an engineer about the structural limitations including a proposed “pose” for the animals, an ethical conversation on whether it should or should not be named, a naturopathic doctor to compare human and whale bones, the lead scientist for the necropsy to help determine why it died. While all of that has been going on, the students are literally putting the whale together.
[Note: Check out The Tacoma News Tribune article on this project]

What are your biggest concerns about the state of marine/aquatic education today?
Most kids have a passion for the ocean but it is limited to whales, sea turtles, and Nemo. My biggest concern and goal is taking that passion and using it to grow them into educated citizens and maybe even a scientist.

You’re a strong advocate for environmental justice. How do you incorporate that into the work you’re currently doing?
Highline College is one of the most diverse colleges in America and serves in South King County one of the most diverse populations. Helping people realize that they are a part of the environment and need to take ownership for their choices is really important. Much of our outreach is focusing on the non-traditional “student”. As a teacher, working with students to explore ideas like internal and external cost. For example last year, one of my classes dug really deeply into a proposed methanol plant in Tacoma which was eventually cancelled before being built.

Do you have any advice for someone starting out in this field?
Build your résumé. My daughter is a sophomore in college where it is easy to get lost especially at the larger schools. Being in the top 10% of a class of 500 students does not stand out. What else have you done? Referring back to the whale, imagine the resume of the Stadium High School students who took all these great classes AND BUILT A WHALE! Get connected with your teachers and professionals as they often know of opportunities that you may not have heard of. Also, find your dream job(s). If you don’t know where you want to be in 10 years, it’s hard to work for that. Even though I’m not looking for a new job and in fact love my job, I have literally over a hundred job descriptions of possible jobs for me in the future. Every time I see a job description that sounds interesting, I save it in my file. Also get on professional organizations and look for their job boards. For example, if you want to work in an aquarium, the Association of Zoos and Aquarium job/internship board has opportunities from all over.

Where do you find inspiration for the work you do?higley-and-octopus
The students are an obvious answer and are some of my biggest inspiration. Seeing them make the connections, seeing them open their eyes to a new thing or way of thinking, is amazing. Also, I try to keep current in the field to help motivate me to continue to push myself.

What is your favorite resource or tool for teaching marine science?
The web has so many real time, global sized resources. One of my new favorite visualizations for the planet is which has a nearly real time model of wind, temperature, ocean currents, etc.

What’s your favorite marine creature?
Like a lot of divers in the Pacific Northwest, I love the octopuses. Any dive that finds an octopus is a good dive. At my marine center, we have the opportunity to work with several animals for long periods of time. Watching them grow, learn how to recognize people, and play is amazing. Last year, I even took an octopus to prison for a talk on octopus intelligence. I also generally dive with our octopus during our Octopus Graduation event where we release them back into the Puget Sound and follow them with a streaming camera so the audience can watch real time on the surface. Google “octopus graduation” and you can find some of the old videos.

Where do you go when you want to recharge your batteries?
I’m a river rafter and have been guiding for over 20 years. Getting on the river feeds me. This past August, my wife and I, along with a group of friends, spent 18 days rafting the Grand Canyon. Although a challenging experience, living on “river time” changes the way I look at things.

Do you have a favorite place to visit in the Pacific Northwest?
We love to go camping and two of my favorites are Cape Disappointment which is down by the mouth of the Columbia River and Salt Creek Recreation Area up by Port Angeles. Both feature the ocean but are significantly different environments.

higley-with-octopus-and-daughtersAre you reading any great books at the moment?
I’m currently working on Energy for Future Presidents by Muller. Although I don’t agree with everything he says, he really works to try to make honest comparisons and has me reevaluating some of my opinions. For example, how does solar power compare to nuclear to natural gas. I’d really love to have a follow up conversation with him because I think he glosses over some of those external costs.
Another favorite is Shell Games by Craig Welch who explores the illegal trade of geoducks here in the Puget Sound area. It’s a factual book that reads like a crime fiction novel.

And finally, who do you consider your environmental heroes?
Rachel Carson whose work Silent Spring played a role in the start of the modern environmental movement. Her science was amazing and her strength to stand up to all the people who thought women can’t be scientists continues to inspire me.
Nowadays, Elon Musk and his push for game changing improvements in alternative energies. We need people to think big.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us.
Thanks for including me in your great publication. Being recognized for doing the stuff I love is a true honor.

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Open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to the public, the MaST Center,, is located at 28203 Redondo Beach Drive S.—halfway between Seattle and Tacoma and about 5 minutes south of the main Highline Campus.


Ear to the Ground is a regular feature of CLEARING. Check the website for previous interviews.

Coastal Margin Science and Education

Coastal Margin Science and Education

CMOP: The Best Environmental Education Program You’ve (Probably) Never Heard About


Coastal Margin Science and Education in the Era of Collaboratories

by Vanessa L. Green, Nievita Bueno Watts, Karen Wegner, Michael Thompson, Amy F. Johnson, Tawnya D. Peterson and António M. Baptista



I-bluenterdisciplinary science is needed to make big decisions when it comes to complex and fragile ecological environments such as the Columbia River estuary. Effective communication of that science is necessary to engage students and to work across scientists, educators. policy-makers and the general community. For these reasons, the Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction (CMOP) has developed a “coastal margin collaboratory,” which brings together sensor networks, computer models, cyber-infrastructure, people and institutions to better understand the Columbia River coastal margin ecosystem as a whole (Baptista et al. 2008).

CMOP scientists study the Columbia River and transform the openly shared data and tools into a better understanding of current conditions and into the anticipation of future trends from increasing climate and anthropogenic pressures. Many types of users access CMOP data for their own needs and/or collaborate with CMOP on joint scientific and educational efforts. Through the collaboratory, CMOP enables a common understanding among interested groups such as natural resource managers for local, state, federal and tribal agencies, enabling effective discussions and long-range planning.


noaa_animation_800x390_screenshot02Coastal margins, broadly defined as the interface between land and ocean, contain important and highly productive ecosystems. They often mitigate the negative impacts of human activities from local to global scales, for example ‘filtering out’ excess nutrients that enter watersheds from fertilizer applications. Coastal margin environments are naturally variable because of tides, seasons and year-to- year differences in the forcing from rivers, oceans, and the atmosphere. Ecosystems adapt to that natural variability, but are often less well equipped to adjust to major shifts caused by population growth, economic development and global climate change. CMOP seeks to understand how biological and chemical components of the Columbia River interface with and are affected by physical processes, with the ultimate goal of predicting how they might respond to climate change and increased regional development.

A recent study (Frontier Economics Limited 2012) estimates that the world’s ten most populated river basins account today for l0% of the global gross domestic product, and that by 2050 that share will grow Io 25%, which will be more than the combined gross domestic product of the United States, Germany and Japan. This type of growth could be ecologically devastating, locally and globally, should it not be managed in a perspective of long-term sustainability and with the support of sound science. The datasets and predictions provided by the CMOP collaboratory can serve as useful examples that can be “exported” to other similar river and estuary systems worldwide.


virtualcrThe Columbia River watershed extends across seven states in the United States and two provinces in Canada, and contributes about 70% of the freshwater input to the Pacific Ocean between San Francisco and Juan de Fuca (Barnes et al. 1972). Big decisions are needed to determine policy about the hydroelectric dams, protection and regulation of the migratory salmon, and changes in water quality such as ocean-driven estuarine hypoxia and acidification. All of this is set in the context of continued population growth, economic development and climatic change-and amidst a complex regulatory environment that includes the Endangered Species Act, a federal treaty between the U.S government and Native American tribes, and a soon-to-be renegotiated treaty between the U.S. and Canada.

CMOP science has already led to the identification of previously unrecognized environmental issues, from a benign but ecologically relevant seasonal red water bloom in the Columbia River estuary (Hertfort et aI. 2012) to the development of seasonal and severe ocean-driven estuarine hypoxia (Roegner et al. 2011) and potential acidification- and is showing how those apparently distinct processes are tied together. CMOP science is also contributing to an understanding of anthropogenic and climatic changes to estuarine and ocean processes, which affect salmon habitat and life cycle.


Progress towards our scientific goals has opened exciting opportunities to entrain a new and diverse workforce in coastal margin science. CMOP offers an educational pathway that includes a broad range of age-appropriate activities for students and teachers. Our pathway includes short courses; camps; sustained professional development programs for teachers; curricula for high school classes; individualized research experiences through high school, undergraduate and teacher internships; interdisciplinary graduate curricula through Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and affiliated degree programs at partner universities; and lifelong opportunities for scientists and natural resources professionals to incorporate outcomes of CMOP science in their activities and decision-making processes (Figure 2).


From left, Sam Case third-grade teacher Fanny Drews, Newport Intermediate fifth-grade teacher Christie Walker, Taft Elementary fifth-grade teacher Valerie Baker and sixth-grade teachers Beth Parsons and Kara Allen identify microbes that live on marine debris. Photo courtesy of NewsGuard of Lincoln County, Oregon.

Teachers and informal educators engage with CMOP in a variety of ways. Teachers access data through user-friendly modules that can be used to plot time series and explore correlations between estuary variables. As an example, teachers could design an experiment that demonstrates how red water blooms influence dissolved oxygen levels, using CMOP’s models to explore various scenarios. CMOP offers a regularly updated activity archive on the CMOP website (Science Activities and Curriculum URL). Lessons are designed for adaptability between age groups and data are appropriate for math, science, and social science classrooms. These lesson plans align with the essential principles of Ocean Literacy and the Next Generation Science Standards (Ocean Literacy Guide URL) and were generated through an interactive teacher professional development workshop. Teachers can engage in individualized internships of their own, conducting original research within CMOP teams and incorporating their experiences into their classroom curricula.

A three-year collaboration of the Oregon Coast Aquatic and Marine Partnership (OCAMP) consisting of CMOP, the Lincoln County School District, Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon Sea Grant, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife/Oregon Hatchery Research Center, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and the Bureau of Land Management’s Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area aimed to provide teachers with the tools needed to carry out meaningful field experiences and inquiry driven learning while improving ocean literacy during sustained, year-round professional development colloquia as well as summer workshops. A follow-up program, entitled the Oregon Coast Regional STEM Center, extended OCAMP’s partnership to include Tillamook School District, Western Oregon University, and a variety of local businesses and agencies, and seeks to support teachers in their use of problem-based learning to improve student outcomes in STEM disciplines through engagement and the incorporation of 2lst century skills. The latter program is being carried out in a blended model of professional development, with in-person and web-based activities. CMOP can also engage with an entire school community through the CMOP- School Collaboratories (CSC) program. Cohorts of teachers from CSC partner schools can engage with CMOP to develop an integrated curriculum that emphasizes an inter-connected environment (Hugo et al. 2013).


CMOP remote sensorsThe structure of the National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center program (NSF STC) has greatly enabled the development of this educational pathway through the decade-long investment in exploratory yet rigorous, potentially transformative science. lt is this structure that allows CMOP to expose students to a multi-disciplinary approach, engaging scientists from a broad range of relevant fields and from several collaborating universities, as well as practitioners from many state, federal and tribal agencies and from industry. The longevity of the STC investment has also contributed to our ability to effectively engage in sustained efforts to broaden participation among Native American, Alaska Native (Bueno Watts and Smythe 2015) and other groups underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines.

The synergy among anchoring academic partners (OHSU, Oregon State University and University of Washington, in the case of CMOP) is critically important to the success of a STC. Also critical is the engagement of regional stakeholders, which offer a natural, realistic, enriching and often pressing context for our science and education programs. For instance, Native American tribes of the Columbia River have historically been active and effective stewards of the land, water and natural resources in the basin. The Columbia River lnter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) has partnered with CMOP to identify potential threats to salmon and lamprey through investigation of factors that influence habitat quality. This collaboration has effectively engaged several Native American students in the CMOP education pathway and has also educated non-Native students on tribal cultures and natural resource management strategies.

student-datareviewCMOP students are engaged at all levels of the collaboratory. They participate in the development of sensors and models, and take active part in oceanographic cruises that might range from research to mariner-training vessels, autonomous underwater vehicles (Figure 3) and even kayaks (Rathmell et al. 2013). CMOP students, from high school to graduate, conduct research projects that relate to important biological hotspots, attempting holistic descriptions of their underlying physics and biogeochemistry that cover gene-to-climate scales. Students learn, shoulder-to-shoulder with researchers and practitioners, how to characterize, predict and inter-relate processes driving estuarine hypoxia and acidification. plankton blooms, and the biogeochemistry of lateral bays and of estuarine turbidity maxima (ETM)-turbid water regions located at the heads of coastal plain estuaries near the freshwater/saltwater interface. CMOP students also gain an understanding of broad topics that provide context to CMOP research science initiatives, such as global nutrient cycles, climate change, managing natural resources, mitigating natural hazards, and protecting fragile ecosystems.

Within the curriculum or with their mentor teams, students conduct fieldwork in the Columbia River estuary and in the coastal waters of Oregon and Washington using a variety of approaches, ranging from simple cmop2river-front water sampling from a dock to participation in major research campaigns aboard University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) vessels. Students gain hands-on experience within laboratories, using state-of-the-art equipment such as imaging flow cytometers (FlowCAM), an Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), a Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth Sensor (CTD), or a Scanning Electron Microscope. Students also gain exposure to the “Virtual Columbia River,” a data-rich simulation environment that offers multiple representations of circulation and ecological processes, including their variability and change across river-to-shelf scales (Virtual Columbia River URL). The models that form the Virtual Columbia River simulate estuarine conditions, enabling predictions of changing physical properties (tides, currents, salinity and temperature) and biogeochemical cycles (e.g., nitrogen and carbon) important to ecosystem management. Comparisons between field observations and model simulations allow for continued learning and refinement of the process.


Ocean Literacy & OCAMPCurricula available on the CMOP website combine elements of coastal oceanography, environmental microbiology, biogeochemistry, computational sciences, and information technology. Student participants in K-12 activities have continued working with CMOP, ‘graduating” to more sophisticated, longer-term participation as undergraduate interns. Likewise, undergraduate interns have continued their research by matriculating into the CMOP-affiliated M.S./Ph.D. Environmental Science and Engineering degree program offered through the lnstitute of Environmental Health (IEH) at OHSU. IEH graduates have gone on to related careers in academia, private research, and with related federal and state agencies. To date, CMOP has served over 800 K-l2 students, over 70 teachers, over 100 undergraduate students, and has graduated 28 M.S. and Ph.D. students. CMOP students have graduated from the Environmental Science and Engineering Program at Oregon Health & Science University; the Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Program at Oregon State University; the Computer Science program at Portland State University; the Marine Estuarine Environmental Sciences program at the University of Maryland; the Computer Science program at the University of Utah; the Physical Oceanography Program and the Biological Oceanography Program at the University of Washington. Students who have engaged in the CMOP Education “pathway” have become citizen scientists with a nuanced knowledge of coastal-margin science issues, and many have gained expertise and skills that have enabled them to contribute to a growing professional workforce in coastal margin science.

For middle- and high-school students, CMOP offers classes. day-camps and high-school internships in partnership with Saturday Academy, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing hands-on, in-depth learning and problem-solving activities. Past topics have included microbiology, marine biology, oceanography, and ocean technology. The curriculum is designed to enable students to easily identify the importance of coastal-margin related issues to their own academic interests and personal lives.

Undergraduate interns join CMOP mentor teams, which include a “Frontline Mentor” and a “senior Scientist.” The Frontline Mentor-typically a graduate student, staff member or post-doctoral fellow-establishes a project relevant to one or more CMOP research initiative. The Senior Scientist mentor provides guidance and ensures academic caliber. Over the course of the ten-week program, interns gain autonomy within their mentor teams as they gain contextual knowledge and skills. lnterns regularly interact with each other and with other CMOP participants through professional development seminars encompassing scientific themes, career opportunities and scientific ethics. lnterns visit sites along the river from Bonneville Dam to downtown Portland and to the mouth of the Columbia River estuary, to gain a first-hand understanding and appreciation of the complex interactions of biological, chemical, and physical processes. lnterns document their work through a daily lab notebook, a weekly blog (Undergraduate lnternships URL), a final presentation and a synthesizing paper. lntern research projects have been thoroughly incorporated into CMOP research; interns have co-authored CMOP publications in peer-reviewed journals (Publications URL) and have presented at national and international conferences (Presentations URL).


The CMOP Education program seeks to make full use of the resources available to this NSF STC to enable a wide range of teachers, students, and other users to learn more about and contribute to place-based knowledge of coastal margins. The University of Washington’s Office of Educational Assessment regularly evaluates the effectiveness of our program. Evaluations include surveys and focus groups with each participant cohort as well as follow-up surveys for longitudinal data. Data analyses demonstrate that high school and undergraduate participants in CMOP programs have increased interest in STEM education; increased confidence in their ability to engage in STEM research; enhanced relevant technical and professional skills, and, for undergraduate students, clarified research foci both within their degree programs and related to their decision of graduate programs. Eighty-seven percent of undergraduate survey respondents who obtained bachelor degrees went on to matriculate into STEM graduate programs, 4O% in fields related to their internships. All of these graduates agreed or strongly agreed that “Being part of the [CMOP] summer internship strengthened my application to this graduate degree program.”


CMOP is primarily supported by the National Science Foundation, through cooperative agreement OCE-O4246O2. Crant CEO-I034611 extended our CSC program to Native Alaskans.


Baptista, A., Howe, B., Freire, J., Maier, D., & Silva, C. T. (2008).

Scientific exploration in the era of ocean observatories. Computing in Science & Engineering, l0 (3),53-58.

Barnes, C. A., Duxbury, A. C., and Morse, B. (1972). Circulation and selected properties of the Columbia River effluent at sea. ln: The Columbio River Estuory and Adjocent Oceon Woters: Bioenvironmental Studies, edited by A.T. Pruter and D.L. Alverson. Seattle: University of Washington Press, pp. 71-80.

Bueno Watts, N. & Smythe, W F. (2013). It takes a community to raise a scientist:A case for community-inspired research and science education in an Alaska Native community. Current: The Journal of Morine Educotion 2B(3).

Frontier Economics Limited. (2012). Exploring the links between woter ond economic growth: A report prepared for HSBC. London, England: Frontier Economics Limited.

Herfort, 1., Peterson, T. D., Prahl, F. C., McCue, L. A., Needoba, J. A., Crump, B. C., Roegner, C. C., Campbell, V., & Zuber, P. QO12). Red waters of Myrionecto rubrq are biogeochemical hotspots for the Columbia River estuary with impacts on primary/secondary productions and nutrient cycles. Estuories ond Coqsts,35 (3), B7B-891.

Hugo, R., Smythe, W., McAllister, S., Young, B., Maring, B. & Baptista, A. (2013). Lessons learned from a K-’12 geoscience education program in an Alaska Native community. Journal of Sustainability Education,5 (SSN 2-51:7452).

Ocean Literacy Cuide URL http:,/www.coexploration.orgl ocean literacy/documents/Ocea n LitC u ide_LettersizeV2.pdf

Presentations URL http://www.stccmop.orglknowledge_transfer/presentations

Publications URL http://www.stccmop.orglpublications

Rathmell, K., Wilkin, M., Welle, P., Mattson, T., & Baptista, A. (2015). A very smart kayak. Current: The Journal of Marine Education QB)3.

Roegner, C. C., Needoba, J. A., & Baptista, A. (20I). Coastal upwelling supplies oxygen-depleted water to the Columbia River estuary. PLoS ONE, 6 @), e18672.

doi:1O.137 1 /journal.pone.00l 8672

Science Activities and Curriculum URL

Undergraduate lnternships URL

Virtual Columbia River URL


Vanessa L. Green M.S. serves as Director of Student Development and Diversity at the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction. Having earned a M.S. in Higher Education Administration she has focused her career on broadening participation and increasing engagement, persistence and retention among first-generation and underrepresented students in high school, undergraduate and graduate programs. She served as a founding faculty member and Dean of Students at the King George School in Vermont and served as a member of the Board of Trustees at Marlboro College. She currently serves on the Education and Outreach Steering Committee for the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere lnvestigations (C-DEBI).

Nievita Bueno Watts Ph.D. is a geotogist, science educator and Director of Academic Programs at the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction. She conducts research on broadening the participation of underrepresented minorities in the sciences and serves on the Board of Directors of the Geoscience Alliance, a national organization dedicated to building pathways for Native American participation in the geosciences.

Karen Wegner MSW was rhe first Director for K-12 Education for the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction. She brought years of experience as a wildlife biologist and environmental educator to CMOP. Along with education partners Saturday Academy and the SMILE Program she developed K-12 programs initially offered at CMOP. She credits the success of the K-12 program to the fantastic support offered by CMOP researches and students. Karen is now a Palliative Care Social Worker and Program Manager in Montana.

Michael Thompson Ph.D. is the Education and Outreach Coordinator at the NSF Science ahd Technology Center for Coastal Margin and Observation. He has an M.S. in Biochemistry and a PhD in Chemical Education with a focus in Engineering Education. He has been instrumental in the establishment of the EPICS High-school program, development and implementation of teacher training workshops, STEM learning communities for undergraduates, and service-learning experiences for high-school and undergraduate students.

Amy F. Johnson M.S, serves as the Managing Director for the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction. Having earned an M.S. in Management in Science and Technology, she has years of experience managing in science and technology companies and education institutions. Prior to joining CMOP she was the Assistant Dean for Craduate Education at the OCI School of Science & Engineering at the Oregon Health & Science University.

Tawnya D. Peterson Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Institute of Environmental Health at Oregon Health & Science University. She holds a Ph.D. in Biological Oceanography and carries out research that seeks to identify the factors that shape planktonic community diversity and function in aquatic systems. ln addition to scientific research, she is interested in the development and implementation of professional development programs for K-l2 teachers.

Antonio M. Baptista Ph.D. is a professor and director of the lnstitute of Environmental Health, Oregon Health & Science University and the director of the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction. He has 25 years of experience in team science and graduate-level teaching, and uses leading edge coastal-margin science and technology as a catalyst for informed management decisions, workforce development and broadening participation.


All Photos: Courtesy of CMOP staff member Jeff Schilling

Reprinted from Current, the Journal of the National Marine Education Association


Incorporating Traditional Ecological Knowledge into Geoscience Education

Incorporating Traditional Ecological Knowledge into Geoscience Education


It Takes a Community to Raise a Scientist:

A Case for Community-Inspired Research and Science Education in an Alaskan Native Community

By Nievita Bueno Watts and Wendy F. Smythe

The quote, “lt takes a village to raise a child,” is attributed to African tradition and carries over to Alaskan Native communities as well (Hall, 2000). Without the support of their community and outside resources, Alaska Native children have a difficult time entering the world of science. Yet increasing the awareness of science, as a tool to help a tribal community monitor and maintain the health of their environment, introduces conflicts and misconceptions in context of traditional cultural practices. Rural communities depend upon traditional food harvested from the environment such as fish, wild game, roots, and berries. In many Native Alaskan villages the health of the environment equals the health of the people (Garza, 2001) . Integrating science with culture in pre-college education is a challenge that requires sensitivity and persistence.

cmopThe Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction (CMOP) is a multi-institutional, National Science Foundation (NSF) Science and Technology Center that takes an interdisciplinary approach to studying the region where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific Ocean. Two of CMOP’s focus areas are biogeochemical changes affecting the health of the coastal margin ecosystem, and socio-economic changes that might affect the lives of people who harvest and consume fish and shellfish.

The Columbia River waters touch the lives and livelihoods of many people, among them a large number of Pacific Northwest lndian tribes. These people depend on the natural and economic resources provided by the Columbia River. Native peoples from California through Alaska also depend on resources from their local rivers, and, currently, many tribes are developing-a workforce trained with scientific skills to manage their own natural resources in a way that is consistent with their traditional way of life. The relationship between Traditional Knowledge (TK) and practices, which are informed by centuries of observation, experimentation and carefully preserved oral records, and Western Science, which is deeply rooted in the philosophies and institutions of Europe, is often an uneasy one.

National progress is being made to open pathways for individuals from Native communities to Western Science higher education programs and back to the communities, where tribal members are empowered to evaluate and monitor the health of their environment. CMOP is part of this national movement. CMOP science is developing tools and techniques to observe and predict changes in the river to ocean system. CMOP education, an essential element of CMOB supports American lndian/Alaska Native students in pursuing academic and career pathways focusing on coastal margin sciences (Creen et al., 2013). One of CMOP’s initiatives is the CMOP- School Collaboratories (CSC) program.


The CMOP-school Collaboratories (CSC) program is based on the idea that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) pathway development requires an intensive and sustained effort to build relationships among science educators, students, school personnel, and the tribal community. The over-arching goal is to broaden participation in STEM disciplines. CMOP educators developed the CSC model that includes integration strategies for a community, development of appropriate lessons and field experiences and student action projects that connect local and traditional knowledge with science. Educational experiences are place- based, multi-disciplinary and culturally relevant. The objective is to open students’ minds to the reality of the need for scientists with many different world views and skill sets working together to address our planet’s pressing problems in a holistic manner. CMOP seeks to encourage these students to be part of that solution using both Traditional Knowledge and STEM disciplines.

The program encourages STEM education and promotes college preparatory awareness. This CSC program has three unique characteristics: it introduces coastal margin science as a relevant and viable field of employment; it integrates STEM learning with Traditional Knowledge; and, it invites family and community members to share science experiences. The example presented in this article describes a four-year program implemented in a small village in Southeast Alaska, 200 miles from the capital city of Juneau.

Figure 1: Students, scientists, a cultural expert. and a teacher with scientific equipment used to collect data from the river.


hydaburg sign1Wendy Smythe, a CMOP doctoral candidate and principal investigator for an NSF Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences (OEDC) award, is an Alaska Native Haida. As she advanced in her own education, she wanted to share what she had learned with the youth of her tribal community, striving to do so with the blessing of the tribal Elders, and in a way that respected the Traditional Knowledge of the Elders. Dr Bueno Watts is a mentor and expert on broadening participation. She acts in an advisory capacity on this project.

The village school consists of l5 staff members and 50 K-l2 students, with the school experiencing high administration turnover rates. ln the first two years of the program we recruited non-native graduate students to participate in the CSC program. This effort provided them experience working in Native communities. ln the last two years we recruited Native American undergraduate interns to teach lessons, assist with field activities and provide students with the opportunity to become familiar with Native scientists [Figure 1]. lnterns formed part of the science team.



The community must support the concept to integrate science education with traditional practices. Even for this Alaska Native (Smythe), the process of building consensus from the tribe and gaining approval from the Elders and school district for the program was a lengthy one. The first step required letters of support from school district and tribal leaders. The difference in geographical locations proved difficult until Smythe was able to secure an advocate in the tribe who spoke for her at tribal meetings. Face-to-face communications were more successful than distance communications. Persistence proved to be the key to achieving success at getting the consensus of community leaders and school officials’ support. This was the top lesson of l0 learned from this project (Table l).

Traveling to the school to set up the program is no small feat and requires extensive coordination of transportation and supplies. A typical trip requires a day-long plane ride, overnight stay in a nearby town to prepare and gather supplies, a three-hour ferry ride, acquisition of a rental truck and a one-hour drive. Accommodations must be made to board with community members.

The development of appropriate lessons for the curriculum engaged discussions with tribal Elders and community Ieaders on an individual basis. Elders agreed to provide videoed interviews and were given honoraria as a thank you for their participation. Smythe asked the Elders what scientists could do to help the community, what stories can be used, where students and educators could work in the community to avoid intruding on sacred sites, and what information should not be made public. Once Elders agreed to provide interviews and share stories, other community members began to speak about their lives and concerns. This included influence of boarding schools, Iife as it was in the past, and changes they would like to see within the community. This was a significant breakthrough.

Table l . Lessons Learned: ten things to consider when developing a science program with Native communities

1. Persistence is key.

2. Face to-face communication is vital and Lakes time.

3. A community advocate with influence and respect in the community is critical.

4. Consult with the Elders first. They have their finger on the pulse of the community and are the center “of the communication network. Nothing happens without their approval. Find out what it is okay to talk about and where your boundaries are and abide by them. lnclude funds for honorariums in your proposal. Elders’ time and knowledge is valuable and they should be compensated as experts.

5. Partner with individuals or groups, such as the Department of Natural Resources.

6. Find a relevant topic. Be flexible with your curriculum choice. It must reflect the needs and interests of the community and the abilities of the teacher you are working with.

7 . Be prepared, bring supplies with you. Ship items in advance if going to a remote location

8. Have the ability to provide individual instruction for students who need it to prepare projects and practice giving presentations.

9. lnvolve the community. Hold events in a community center to encourage everyone to attend.

10. View your involvement as a long-term investment in a committed community relationship.

fieldnotesNBln addition to the Elders, support was needed from a natural resources representative who functioned as a liaison between our group and the community members. This person’s role is found in most villages and could be the head of the Department of Natural Resources or a similar tribal agency that oversees fish, wildlife, and natural resources. This person provides a critical link between the natural environment and the community. The next step is to go in the field with the natural resources representative, science teachers, EIders, and interested students to identify a meaningful focus for the community. lnitially we focused the project with a scientist’s view of teaching microbiology and geology of mineral deposition in a river ecosystem. However, the team found community interest low and no enthusiasm for this project.

Upon our return to the village, the team and CMOP educators found the focus, almost by accident. We were intrigued by “boil water” notices posted both at the home in which we were staying and on the drinking fountains at the school: The students were all talking about water, as were the Elders. It was clear that the community cared about their water quality. The resulting community-inspired research educational plan was based on using aquatic invertebrate bioindicators as predictors of water quality (Adams, Vaughan & Hoffman Black, 2003). This student project combined science with community needs (Bueno Watts, 2011).



The first classroom lessons addressed water cycle and watershed concepts (Wolftree, 2OO4), which were followed by a field lesson on aquatic invertebrates. Students sampled different locations in an effort to determine biodiversity and quantity of macroinvertebrates. While students were sitting at the river’s edge, the site was described in the students’ Alaska Native tongue by a cultural expert, and then an English translation was provided. This introduced the combination of culture and language into the science lesson.

students-dataloggerFigure 2: Students use data loggers to collect data on temperature, pH, and location.

The village water supply comes from a river that runs through the heart of the community. Thus, this river was our primary field site from which students collected water for chemical sampling and aquatic invertebrates using D-loop nets. Physical and chemical parameters of the river were collected using Vernier LabQuest hand-held data loggers. Students recorded data on turbidity, flow rate, temperature, pH, and pinpointed locations using CPS coordinates (Figure 2].

labquestAquatic invertebrate samples were sorted, classified, counted, recorded, and examined through stereoscopes back in the classroom. Water chemistry was determined by kits that measured concentrations of alkalinity, dissolved oxygen, iron, nitrate/nitrite, dissolved carbon dioxide, and phosphate.

Microbiology assessments were conducted in an effort to detect fecal coliform (using m_FC Agar plates). Students tested water from an estuary, river, drinking fountain, and toilet. Results from estuarine waters showed a high number of fecal coliform, indicating that a more thorough investigation was warranted While fecal coliform are non-disease causing microorganisms, they originate in the intestinal tract, the same place as disease causing bacteria, and so their presence is a bioindicator of the presence of human or animal wastes (Figure 3).

net-collectionStudents learned that the “dirty water” they observed in the river was actually the result of a natural process of acidic muskeg fluids dissolving iron minerals in the bedrock, no health danger. The real health threat was in the estuarine shellfish waters. Students shared all of their results with their families, after which community members began to approach the CMOP science team with questions about the quality of their drinking water. The community was relieved to find that the combined results of aquatic invertebrate counts and water chemistry indicated that the water flowing through their town was healthy. However they were concerned about the potential contamination as indicated by fecal coliform counts in the local estuary where shellfish were traditionally harvested.

ln the second year, a curriculum on oceanography developed by another STC, the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) was introduced (Bruno, Wiener, Kimura & Kimura, 2011). Oceanography lessons focused on water density as a function of salinity and temperature, ocean currents, phytoplankton, and ocean acidification, all areas of research at CMOP. Additional lessons used local shipworms, a burrowing mollusk known to the community, as a marine bioindicator (CMOP Education, 2013). Students continued to conduct bioassessments of local rivers and coastal marine waters.

Hydaburg1Figure 3: Students sort and count aquatic invertebrates as a bioindicator of river health.

Students used teleconferencing technology to participate in scanning electron microscope (SEM) session with a scientist in Oregon who had their samples of aquatic invertebrates. Students showcased their experiments during parent day. Five students (l0%) had parents and/or siblings who attended the event.


As a reward for participation in the science program, two students were chosen to attend the American lndian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) 2009 conference in Oregon. Travel expenses were shared between the school, CSC program, and the tribe. ln the following three years an additional ten students attended the AISES conference and presented seven science research posters in New Mexico. Minnesota and Alaska. ln 2012, one student won 3rd place for her shipworm poster presentation (Figure 5). These conference presentations enabled some students to take their first trip out of Alaska.

ln May 20ll the first Science Symposium for grades K-12 allowed students to share their science projects with parents, Elders, and tribal community members. Both students and teachers were prepared on how to do a science fair project. Work with students had to be accomplished on a one-on-one basis, and members of the team were paired with students to assist with completing projects and polishing presentations. Students were not accustomed to speaking publicly, so this practice was a critical step.

The event was held at the local community center, which encouraged Elders and other community members to attend.

Elders requested a public education opportunity to teach the community about watersheds and the effects of logging. Our team incorporated this request into the science symposium. Students led this project by constructing a 5D model of the watershed for display. People could simulate rainfall, see how land use affects runoff and make runoff to river estuary connections. Scientists conducted hands-on demonstrations related to shipworms, local geology, ocean acidification and deepsea research. Language and culture booths were also included. During the symposium, a video of one of the interviews we had conducted with an Elder was shown as a memorial to his passing. The symposium was considered a huge success and was attended by 35 students and 50 community members.



The CSC program garnered results that could not have been predicted at the outset. For example, the tribe requested our input when deciding which students should attend a tribal leadership conference and summer camp. Three student interns participated in a collaborative project with the tribe to conduct bio-assessment studies of local rivers and a key sockeye breeding lake. lnterns operated a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) for data collection, resulting in video documentation of the salmon habitat. ln addition to the bio-assessment, the interns conducted interviews with Elders about the rivers in the monitoring project. The results of this study were used to stop logging around sockeye spawning habitat and to ban the harvest of shellfish from contaminated parts of the estuary. Now the tribe is monitoring rivers on its own. ln the near future CMOP plans to install a sensor that can be monitored remotely, and to train people to read and interpret the data.


Community-inspired research often produces a ripple effect of unforeseen results. ln this case, inclusion of Elders in the design and implementation of the project produced large scale buy-in from community members at all age levels. Consequently, in a village where traditionally students did not think about education beyond high school, we have had two students attend college, two students attend trade school, five students receive scholarships, and eight Native interns conducting science or science education in the community. And, given the low numbers of Alaska Natives pursuing careers in science, we find those numbers to be remarkable.


Adams, J., Vaughan, M., & Hoffman Black, S. (200i). Stream Bugs as Biomonitors: A Guide to Pacific Northwest Macroinvertebrate Monitoring and Identification. The Xerces Society. Available from:

Bruno, B. C., Wiener, C., Kimura, A., & Kimura, R. (2011). Ocean FEST: Families exploring science together. Journal of Geoscience Education, 59, 132.1.

Bueno Watts, N. (20,1 1). Broadening the participation of Native Americans in Earth Science. (Doctoral dissertation).

Retrieved from Pro-Quest. UMI Number: 3466860. URL http :// / 9 438

Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction. QO13). Shipworm lesson URL http://www.stccmop”org/ education/k1 2/geoscience/shipworms

Carza, D. (200.l). Alaska Natives assessing the health of their environment. lnt J Circumpolar Health. 6O@):a79-g6.

Creen, V., Bueno Watts, N., Wegner, K., Thompson, M., Johnson, A., Peterson, T., & Baptista, A. (201i). Coastal Margin Science and Education in the Era of Collaboratories. Current: The Journal of Marine Education. 28(3).

Hall, M. (2000). Facilitating a Natural Way: The Native American Approach to Education. Creating o Community of Learners: Using the Teacher os Facilitator Model. National Dropout Prevention Center. URL http://www. n

Wolftree, lnc. (200a). Ecology Field Cuide: A Cuide to Wolftree’s Watershed Science Education Program, 5th Edition. Beavercreek, OR: Wolftree, lnc. URL http://www.



The educational resources of CMOP are available on their website : U R L http ://www. stccm o p. o rg / education / kl 2



CMOP is funded by NSF through cooperative agreement OCE- 0424602. Smythe was also supported by NSF grant CEO-I034611. We would like to thank Dr. Margo Haygood, Carolyn Sheehan, and Meghan Betcher for their assistance and guidance with the shipworm project. We would like to thank the Elders and HCA for their guidance, advice and encouragement throughout this program

Nievita Bueno Watts, Pn.D. is a geologist, science educator, and Director of Academic programs at the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction (CMOP). She conducts research on broadening the participation of underrepresented minorities in the sciences and serves on the Board of Directors of the Geoscience Alliance, a national organization dedicated to building pathways for Native American participation in the Earth Sciences.

Wendy F. Smythe is an Alaska Native from the Haida tribe and a Ph.D. candidate at the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction. She runs a geoscience education program within her tribal community in Southeast Alaska focused on the incorporation of Traditional Knowledge into STEM disciplines.

Teaching Climate Change (and other resources you should know about)

Teaching Climate Change (and other resources you should know about)


1. Climate Change: Connections and Solutions

Facing the Future offers this free two-week curriculum unit for middle school and high school which encourage students to think critically about climate change and collaborate to devise solutions.  Students learn about climate change within a systems framework, examining interconnections among environmental, social, and economic issues.

2. Climate Change Teacher Resources

Windows to the Universe provides interlinked learning resources that support a variety of topics, including online content for browsing or to support an introductory online course on climate change, teacher professional development resources, classroom activities, and online interactives.

3. ClimateChange LIVE! – Resources and Online Webinars

The U.S. Forest Service and partners offer this website to bring climate learning to you through a series of webcasts, webinars, and online climate education resources.  The materials include climate education resources and programs gathered from 17 federal agency and NGO partners.  The National Wildlife Federation is hosting a series of six webinars in connection with the ClimateChange LIVE! materials; you may register for one or more webinars at a time.

4. Teaching Climate

Teaching Climate offers a searchable database of reviewed K-12 climate education resources.   The resources have been reviewed by subject experts for scientific accuracy, pedagogical soundness, and usability.  Topics include Climate Systems, Measuring & Modeling Climate, Human Responses to Climate, and more.

5. Citizen Science: Project FeederWatch

Those interested in citizen science can join the thousands of FeederWatchers across North America who count the birds at their feeders from November through early April.  All participants receive the project’s annual summary publication and the Cornell Lab’s quarterly.  New project participants receive a bird-identification poster, bird-feeding information, and instructional materials.

6. CMOP: Studying Coastal Margins

The Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction, an NSF Science and Technology Center partnership of Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon State University, University of Washington and others, focuses on coastal margins.  The website offers a collection of activities and curricula that can help you use their data resources.  Check out the materials on coastal hypoxia, vertical density gradients, drifters and currents, and more.  Some of the materials are available in both English and Spanish.

7. Urban EE Resources for High School Teachers

The LEAF Anthology of Urban Environmental Education is available online.  The anthology  is a collection of lessons and activities designed to help high school educators infuse urban environmental themes into their curriculum.  Sections include Natural Cities, Human Cities, and Evolving Cities.