Teachers join fight to help protect
Lake Michigan waters
By Stacy Tornio
West Bend Daily News
Milwaukee - A new invasive species is threatening the
waters of Lake Michigan, but not without a fight from
Fourth-grade teacher Randy Watts joined 11 other teachers
from southeastern Wisconsin in a summer research project
to protect the lake from such species.
Last week, teachers studied with scientists from the
Great Lakes Water Institute as they examined the water
in which zebra mussels, and the lesser-known quagga mussels,
live. They learned first-hand how to collect water, soil
and animal specimens while aboard the Water Instituteís
research boat, the Neeskay.
"We can take this information back to our classrooms
and teach our students about zebra mussels and quagga
mussels," said Watts, who teaches at Davidís Star
Lutheran School in Jackson.
"Weíve allowed (the mussels) to come into our Great
Lakeís system, and now we have to manage them."
Zebra mussels have recently caused problems in the waters
across Wisconsin because they eat most of the plankton,
leaving little or no food for fish.
Quagga mussels just began showing up in Lake Michigan
in the past few years. Scientists believe them to be similar
to zebra mussels with the ability to survive in colder
"Itís very exciting to think weíre out here collecting
data on stuff most people havenít heard about yet,"
said Hartland Middle School teacher Merry Beth Gerschke.
Jim Juech is a fourth-grade teacher at Saukville Elementary,
and he said this kind of hands-on learning opportunity
for teachers is rare.
"Youíre seeing what the scientists really do, and
youíre doing it with them," Juech said. "You
want your kids to learn by doing, and thatís what weíre
Aboard the Neeskay
Friday morning. Twelve teachers ranging from elementary
to adult education clambered aboard the Neeskay with sweatshirts,
cameras and backpacks. They chatted eagerly among themselves,
talking about the research they had done earlier in the
This was the last day of their weeklong research project.
They would soon collect their $600 stipend before returning
in August for follow-up research.
On a perfect sun-filled morning, the Neeskay made its
way through Milwaukeeís harbor, leaving behind the Summerfest
grounds and a perfect skyline view of downtown.
Anchored just a few miles from shore, the teachers and
scientists didnít waste any time. They dropped the underwater
camera and began collecting samples.
"Oh wow, thatís cool! We havenít seen this many
fish before," one teacher said, gazing at the underwater
"This is fun. Itís doesnít seem like work,"
another teacher said as she hurried equipment to the front
of the boat.
Cause and effect
Scientist Carmen Aguilar said the teachers are studying
stations that are part of the Water Instituteís monitoring
program. Aguilar works side-by-side with scientist and
husband Russell Cuhen. Together, they helped get the research
grant needed to make this research project possible.
"Itís a pity that a lot of people donít get interested
in why Lake Michigan is such an important resource to
keep," Aguilar said. "The idea is after this
project that we would have sparked their (the teachersí)
interests in Lake Michigan."
Aguilar hopes the teachers participating in the research
will develop programs to educate their students, communities
and other teachers about issues related to Lake Michigan.
Even though zebra and quagga mussels wonít be eliminated
from Wisconsin waters completely, Watts said research
like this is an important step in maintaining control.
"Itís all part of the greater food chain,"
Watts said. "The way you can help control the mussels
is to be aware of what climates they live in."