Our Estuary: Squamish Outreach 2017

The Squamish Watershed Society has completed another successful school program! This year the program was held in the beautiful Squamish estuary, right where the Squamish River meets Howe Sound. With Shannon Falls rushing in the background, over 500 kids were lead through 4 stations emphasizing the interconnectedness of all life within the estuary. For the fifth year, The BC Wildlife Federation Wetlands Education Program lead one of the stations over the 6 day program.

Station #1 was “Plastic is Forever”, and taught the kids how to help reduce the effects of plastic. Every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists today, and poses dangers for wildlife. Station #2 was “Species at Risk?”; where they learned the endangered species native to Squamish. The kids were stewards of the land and planted native species to help restore the estuary and improve wildlife habitat. We lead Station #3, and Station #4 – “Save the bats, save the world!”- demonstrated their physiology and dispelled the blood-sucking stereotype and other myths about these fuzzy creatures.

This year our station was “Mightus Detritus”, or as the kids called it, “the super awesome mud station”. We lead groups of 6-12 kids, parents, and teachers through a brief introduction into the world beneath your feet. When standing in a mud flat, there are over a billion microscopic organisms underneath you at all times, which makes the estuary a hot-spot for biodiversity! Detritus is decaying plant material, composed of water, soil, fecal material, plant material, and microscopic organisms that serve as the foundation for the estuary food chain. As we spoke, the kids spotted a nearby robin’s nest and redwing blackbirds perched in trees, leading us to an inquiry into what they eat. These kids were well-versed on their food chains, and were able to tell us the connection from bird to worm, worm to smaller invertebrate, invertebrate to microscopic organism until we reached the all-important detritus. If the estuary food chain was stacked like a pyramid, detritus would be the foundation. Without the foundation there would be no support, and all life within the estuary would not exist. The children were able to grasp this connection and carry that understanding through to the other stations; they made the connection between bat and prey, species at risk and their planting conditions, and plastic and their impacts upon these critical living things.

Kids were taught to carefully dip net within the brackish water of the mud flats for invertebrates such as isopods, amphipods, lug worms, and small clams. They had to use their eyes very well to spot the aquatic swimmers, but all groups were successful in their collections. Some groups gave the BCWF Wetlands crew a run for their money, and caught several species of fish such as sticklebacks and migrating Chinook salmon! All species of salmon are dependent upon estuaries, in addition to a long list of other invertebrates, reptiles, and avian species. An estuary is found where brackish water is present: a constant mixing of salty ocean water and freshwater through changing tides and stream runoff. The salinity of the estuary acts as a buffer zone for salmon, allowing them to acclimatize to saltier water before entering the ocean.

The weather was true to the Squamish valley: bright and sunny, forcefully windy, and pouring rain over the span of the two weeks. The rain only made the flats muddier, and the kids loved it! With each group we promised they would leave our station wet and muddy, and they held onto that promise with their slipping and sliding along the banks of the stream. Many rescue attempts had to be made, resulting in both kids and our Wetlands Intern being pulled from the mud!

The kids learned the importance of the bottom of the food chain, and how small lives are just as important as bigger mammals. The food chain was demonstrated well by the Garter snakes swimming around the ponds, on the hunt for fish and larger invertebrates. Some lucky groups were able to touch the snake caught by volunteers, and helped their leaders release it further away so it could hunt quietly. Other interesting finds were an owl pellet, jellyfish along the shore, and the biggest amphipod our BCWF crew had seen so far!

Overall the program was very successful in allowing the kids the hands-on experience that sparks interest in our wetlands. Our BCWF Wetlands Education Program crew is thankful for the work being done by the Squamish Watershed Society towards environmental education and restoration. Thank you to all of our partners and volunteers who organized and helped run the event, we are looking forward to seeing you in 2018!

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