Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Teachers Take an Expedition to the Sargasso Sea

Over a two day period last week (October 22-23, 2012), 45 teachers from 25 primary and secondary schools in Bermuda took part in "Expedition Sargasso" - the professional development workshop put on every year by the BIOS Education staff.  The theme of workshop activities changes every year to reflect the various explorations conducted over the summer by students in the BIOS Explorer Program.  This year's focus highlights the policy conversations and scientific research taking place in and around Bermuda about various initiatives to preserve and protect the "golden floating rainforest" of the Sargasso Sea.

The workshop kicked off with a talk by Chris Flook, Director of the Blue Halo project - a Global Ocean Legacy project of the Pew Environmental Foundation that is working to establish a marine protected area (MPA) within Bermuda's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).   Teachers learned how they could get their students (and themselves!) involved in voicing their opinions about Bermuda's role in forming what would be the largest marine reserve in the Atlantic.  BIOS has a unique role in this process, serving as a science advisory to the Sargasso Sea Alliance.

Afterward, teachers began their exploration of the Sargasso Sea with a variety of lesson plans encompassing the chemistry, biology, and physics of the region.  Teachers even built a food web with some of the unique and cryptic species that live in the floating mats of Sargassum seaweed.  Next, they engaged in some "gyre science," learning about the ocean currents that form the Sargasso Sea and why this massive body of water moves in a clockwise direction.   The morning concluded with an investigation into ocean acidification and a simple activity using "sea monkeys" to give students an opportunity to learn ocean chemistry and practice their data collection skills.

Creating a food web of Sargasso Sea organisms

Sea Monkeys!

Counting sea monkeys for the ocean acidification activity

After lunch, the day concluded with a field trip to Cooper's Island Nature Reserve, which is a great place to bring students on a school outing.  BIOS, in partnership with the Bermuda Marine Debris Taskforce, has been collecting data on plastics at designated beaches on the island to measure how much plastic washes up on Bermuda's shores.  Teachers learned that Sargassum seaweed is an important fertilizer and contributor to dune formation...as well as a trap for many pieces of floating plastic in the ocean!   As part of their investigation, teachers worked along a 2x25m transect line to record the plastics washed ashore during the last high tide.

Recording plastic debris found along a transect

A sample of some of the plastic items found washed ashore

Kaitlin Baird educating teachers about Sargassum seaweed

Participating teachers gave the workshops positive feedback, including one who said, "I just learned so much, I couldn't even write it all down. I never thought I liked science but my experience with BIOS has changed my mind."  On a funny note: the workshop evaluation forms asked whether teachers would recommend the workshop to their colleagues - some participants checked "no" because they didn't want future workshops to fill up and not be able to attend themselves!

BIOS thanks all of the teachers who participated in the 2012 workshops!  Stay tuned for the 2013 Explorer Program dates so your students can take part in next year's Expedition!