Teens4Oceans and River Ecology

Beaver Study and River Ecology Day with Teens4Oceans

by Ryan Sparzak, Lead Educator

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This past weekend my family and I spent some time with Global Travel Alliance partner Teens4Oceans, and students from Ralston Valley High School, Kent Denver, and Monarch High School helping with a Beaver Habit and River Ecology Monitoring Project.  I use the term helping loosely because the students and staff involved seemed to have everything under control when we arrived.  Except for maybe one high school boy who was struggling with keeping his kayak upright.

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There was one question running through my head as our double stroller made it’s way (more like cleared a path) down the winding trail that cut through fallen limbs and wetland plants that hang onto the edge of the South Platte River.  What would lead a group of students that are part of a marine science club to give up an entire Saturday to work on a freshwater ecology project?

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The latter question was answered with little delay by some of the students and Teens4Oceans Executive Director MIkki McCoomb-Kobza.  Our rivers have everything to do with the world’s oceans.  Ultimately human and animal behaviors upstream have an effect on the conditions of our Oceans.  Little changes along the way can have huge impact downstream and in this case the Atlantic Ocean where Teens4Oceans conducts much of its marine research.

The Platte River travels North for a little while (yes, north) and then flows East into the Missouri River just South of Omaha, Nebraska. From there, the Missouri River meanders across the middle of the United States until it intersects with the Mississippi River in St. Louis which eventually spills into the Gulf of Mexico. Don’t believe me, you can Google it yourself. Yes, I traced the path much like I probably did during a 6th grade social studies class when I was once again dreaming about being out in the wild, and not confined to a composite wood desk and rigid metal chair. Sorry Ms. Cook, you were a much better Language Arts/Writing teacher, as I hope this post proves.

Their work has tremendous value when you realize that just over 500 miles Southeast of the Mississippi River Delta in Dry Tortugas National Parks lies one of Teens4Oceans partner research stations and another one of their View into the Blue cameras.  Annually, Teens4Oceans leads students from their high school chapters to the Florida Keys & Dry Tortugas National Park (along with many other locations in Mexico, British & U.S. Virgin Islands, Channel Islands, and the Grand Cayman Islands – find out how you can get involved here). Chapter members participate in expeditionary learning experiences that include scientific research, field studies, and service learning, often to protect the reefs affected by human and animal behaviors upstream.

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Once the freshwater-marine questions were sufficiently answered, I began thinking about the students that volunteered to assist with this project.  And much like my “Aha” moment when I traced the path of the Platte River from Denver to the Delta, I had another revelation.  These students weren’t here to satisfy service hour requirements, or to improve their chances of getting into elite colleges – although I’m sure that is an added benefit.  They were here to to be stewards of the worlds natural resources like true scientists.  I often get locked into thinking that service learning should include either travel to a foreign country or urban location and include working in a soup kitchen, teaching English, or painting a school.  Although these are a few of the manifestations of service learning, there is far more to it then humanitarian work, or work in a foreign context.  Service learning can happen in our own back yard, and it can include the work of real scientific protocols and study.  A scientist must be committed to the accurate use of instruments, reasoning, and inquiry, but also he or she must use that knowledge to steward this worlds resources, which these young scientists were doing right before my eyes.

As Pascal says “The least movement is of importance to all nature.  The entire ocean is affected by a pebble.” Perhaps these seemingly small efforts by the young people from Teens4Oceans will go a long way in protecting our oceans and bettering our world.  Let’s hope their work Saturday is only the beginning.

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Global Travel Alliance would like to recognize and thank the following companies for supporting this project through funding, support, and logistics:  Teens4Oceans, The Gates Frontier Fund, View into the Blue, Chatfield State Park, Audubon Society of Greater Denver, Colorado Gulf and Turf, University of Colorado, and Ocean Classroom.

lead educator, Ryan Sparzak, student travel educator  student travel costa rica, educational tours american west, science and adventure, educational travel