Georges River Environmental Education Centre (GREEC) in collaboration with Elisa Bone, have been working with Bonnet Bay PS and Como PS to engage the students in the study of the health of their local waterways and to investigate ways that shellfish populations might be restored.
Elisa Bone, has worked as a science adviser on an NSF-funded grant to the Billion Oyster Project with middle-school New York students. This project used restoration-based education to create hands-on marine science and stewardship curriculum. Elisa has previously worked as a lecturer , a marine researcher and a scientific editor and publisher .
During 2016, Elisia and GREEC staff have been working to pilot some activities with these schools, with the hope that we can expand a program to other schools next year. The program forms part of a science enrichment program at Bonnet Bay.
An introductory session, talked about the ways that the local rivers have changed since European settlement, about the roles that oysters and other coastal resources played in Aboriginal lifestyles, about the ecological role that oysters fill within these waters, and about their decline and potential restoration.
Elisa gave an introduction to the role of oysters in New York and talked about the work she was invloved with doing with schools there to restore oyster populations to the harbor.
Students were shown the filtration capacity of oysters; set up tanks (filled with local river water) with and without oysters and students observed how the oysters filtered the water.
Following the session, students were asked to record their thoughts and questions on a 'wonder wall' at Bonnet Bay.
In the second session students, from Bonnet Bay PS worked with different types of natural materials to build substrates ('oyster houses') to test in the Woronora River.
Field trips included visiting Carss Park, Dover Park and the oyster farmers in Woolaware Bay. Along the way, we observed how oysters grew on different types of substrate, did some water quality testing, looked at some of the associate organisms such as algae, bryozoans, worms and snails under field microscopes, and discussed the ecological goals of the seawall modifications at Carss and Dover Parks.
We finished up this session by visiting "Lakewood City Reserve", the students' 'home river' site, and placing the student-built oyster houses in to the water. We plan to monitor these later in the term and examine any settlement of oysters or other organisms.
Our NY links are provided specifically by three BOP partner schools (one in lower Manhattan, one in Brooklyn and one in Queens), where the teachers are keen to work with us. So far, we have informally kept in touch but we are working on compiling a photo gallery and video journal to send via a Google+ group, with the expectation that we will receive similar updates from these schools. As part of our evaluation of the program, we have surveyed all students on their experiences with science content and their attitudes towards science. These surveys mirror those distributed in the US program, thus providing a first step towards formally linking the learning outcomes from this and the NY program.
Our initial planned program for the schools has been modified and reduced after we encountered several logistical and time constraints that have limited what we are able to do. However, we would like to do ongoing work with Bonnet Bay and this term with them will also serve as a great pilot for expansion into other schools.
With additional resources, we would like to expand the program, increase the number of sessions and schools and to formalize both the program and the links with other organizations working in shellfish restoration, both here and in NYC.