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Great Lakes Article:

Teachers join fight to help protect Lake Michigan waters
By Stacy Tornio
West Bend Daily News
07/01/03


Milwaukee - A new invasive species is threatening the waters of Lake Michigan, but not without a fight from area teachers.

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 temperatures.

"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 doing."

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 week.

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 cameraís screen.

"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."


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