Cameron Ennis, 7, has the workings of a hydrophone explained to him by Sarah Dudas, a marine ecologist from the Pacific Biological Station, who paid an Earth Week visit to the Grade 2 class at Fairview Elementary School on Wednesday. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Nanaimo elementary school students get Earth Week visit from ocean scientist

Class invites ocean ecologist to speak to Fairview students about protecting oceans

One Grade 2 student’s idea led to another, which led to a Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientist paying an Earth Week visit to a Nanaimo elementary school.

Sarah Dudas, a marine ecologist who works at the Pacific Biological Station, came to Fairview Elementary School on Wednesday to help children learn about the ocean environment and how pollution such as emissions from hydrocarbon fuels and discarded plastics harm marine environments and the sea life they support.

It was Grade 2 student Cameron Ennis who brainstormed inviting outside expertise to help his class learn more. Ennis, 7, had already come up with the idea for Blue Shirt Day – because the ocean is blue, he said – to support protecting the planet’s oceans, an idea he came up with after his mother let him watch a video about ocean trash and its effects.

“The whole point, when I got the idea, is when I saw a video about all the garbage and plastic in the ocean,” Ennis said.

His teacher, Christina Renneberg, followed up on his proposal by contacting DFO, which got in touch with Dudas who spent Wednesday morning with the children.

Dudas covered a gamut of topics that included explaining the basics of what oceans are and how the creatures that live in them are interconnected with each other and other things that support life, such as the sun and atmospheric gases. She said too much carbon dioxide in water makes it acidic and hinders the ability for everything from plankton to barnacles and crabs to form their shells. She also talked about habits that can save energy to cut down on carbon emissions and ways to avoid single-use plastics such as water bottles and shopping bags and managed to keep the children engaged for more than 90 minutes.

Dudas said she became concerned about microplastics – tiny plastic fragments and fibres that come from many sources, even clothing, and are ingested by marine organisms – as scientists started to learn more about them. Dudas said she worked in environments such as shellfish farms where there were lots of shellfish and plastics.

“My graduate students started to ask questions and so we started to ask more questions about, these shellfish are growing up in a plastic environment, what does that mean for them?” she said.

Dudas said she doesn’t give as many talks as she once did, but makes exceptions when it comes to educating children who can grow up to make a difference in protecting the environment.

“It’s something I feel passionately about,” Dudas said. “I used to work at the Vancouver Aquarium and I believe really strongly in public education and I really, honestly do believe that children are our future, as cheesy as that sounds. I think our kids are the ones who are going to innovate ourselves out of the problems that we’ve created. I really do believe that, so it’s important to me to make time to reach out to younger students because their habits are much easier to change than older people who are more set in their ways … It’s important and kids are hungry for knowledge.”
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Sarah Dudas, a marine ecologist with the Pacific Biological Station, has Fairview Elementary School Grade 2 students, wearing cards that represent different species in the marine food chain, hang onto string as she connects them in the food chain. The resulting web of string illustrates how species in a marine environment are interconnected and dependent on one another. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

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