Hands were thrown upward toward the classroom ceiling when sixth-grade students answered whether they have visited Potter Marsh, Connors Bog or took a trip on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. These public recreational sites are either adjacent to waters of the United States or are local wetlands within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District’s regulatory program.
As regulatory specialists in the Regulatory Division, we visited Turnagain Elementary School to promote the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to two sixth-grade classes on April 23 in Anchorage, Alaska. In particular, we emphasized the importance of wetlands and the Alaska District’s role sustaining their nature.
After explaining to the children that our mission is to balance the protection of wetlands with the need for development, it was apparent that most students had frequented one or more of the local wetlands found in Anchorage. The youth gained a better understanding of the different types of wetlands and their importance having visited them for themselves.
Topics that were discussed included the different wetlands and ecosystems found in Alaska and how the district considers species’ habitats when making permit decisions. Students were able to see and touch a beaver pelt and skull; Steller sea lion skull and American Widgeon preserved by a taxidermist. These animals either live in or near wetlands and waters of the United States.
The room filled with excitement when the youth began a wetlands science experiment. While gathered around a miniature-scale model, students placed objects representing homes, shopping centers, factories, a farm and golf course to visualize a city much like their own complete with streams and an ocean. The children then placed “pollutants” made of powdered juice, cooking oil and cocoa around each structure. With spray bottles, the group “made it rain” on the tiny town and witnessed what happened next. The responses were emphatic and on point.
“Pollutants get into our drinking water,” said one student.
“Homes and businesses can flood,” said another.
The experiment was duplicated, but this time the group placed sponges between the structures and the water downstream. We explained that wetlands act like a sponge and filter water so that it is clean for us to drink.
After spraying water on the miniature city for a second time, the youth were astonished at how little amount of pollutants made it into the water resources.
Clearly, the children enjoyed the interactive presentation from their enthusiasm and participation. The next time they spend an afternoon at Potter Marsh or Connors Bog, perhaps they will now look at those wetlands a little differently.