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Latest News from ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center
- Welcoming a New Community of Sea Stars to ECHO December 8, 2016
By Anna Eekraw, ECHO high school intern, student in STEM Academy at Essex High School We recently received a new, vibrant group of sea stars that are happily settling into their new habitat. Community members have been quick to spot the new group of echinoderms, marine invertebrates with radial symmetry and hard, spiny surface, due to their bright coloration.The new sea stars have been seen displaying light-hearted behaviors in order to adjust to their new home. One of the critter was found hanging off the wall of the tank by just one arm. Biologists aren’t sure why they do this, but a theory suggests that they’re trying to get use to their new environment. A young sea star hangs off of rock, getting a feel for its new home, a peculiar behaviorSea stars are a much loved member of the ECHO museum. Families love them, and children love to observe them. Visiting here as a young kid, the Champlain Sea Tank was always my favorite. It satisfied my curiosity as a little kid to see live animals and to interact with them. And the most interesting part of the sea tank? Although, all the animals are interesting and important. My favorite were always the sea stars. Their bright colors and quirky personalities were fun to learn about. The species of sea stars at ECHO are Forbes’ Sea Star Sea stars are a favorite among other children as well since they’re the only animal that can be touched in the sea tank. However, volunteers and children have to be very careful with them. When asked what the most challenging part of caring for sea stars at ECHO is, animal care expert, Jen said, “Getting them here is the hardest part. Transportation takes a long time, and getting them used to the water takes a while. We also get them from the wild.” Currently, massive die-offs of sea stars are occurring due to Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD). The first observation of this disease was in 2013. Similar die-offs of sea stars have occurred before (possibly due to other factors and not SSWD) during the 70s – 90s, but not at this magnitude.SSWD is a deadly disease for sea stars, able to rapidly cause damage in just 3 days. It is currently affecting a large population of sea stars on the west coast. Little is still known about SSWD. Scientists aren’t sure if the disease spreads from species to species, if some take longer to express symptoms, or if some species are immune. However, humans have made an impact on the conservation status of sea stars as well, such as harvesting and pollution. How YOU can help sea stars:According to the Smithsonian Ocean Portal, there are 5 general things you can do to help the ocean. This, in turn, will help sea stars. These tips will help Lake Champlain as well!Water – be water wise, such as using as little fertilizer as possible to avoid phosphorus runoffs, avoid foods with pesticides, and be conscious of where your food comes from. Trash – avoid littering and reuse or recycle containers whenever possible.Fish – try to harvest sustainable fish when needed as food and pets (consuming or keeping fish that are at a healthy population in the wild); buy sea-friendly souvenirs.Carbon – reduce energy use; reduce your carbon footprint.Recreation – when on the beach, boating, or scuba diving avoid touching and harming the animals in the wild and avoid disturbing their habitats.In a greater sense, the sea stars and other animals in the sea tank represents life in the Champlain Sea 13,000 years ago. In addition to representing the significant history of Lake Champlain, sea stars are important and vital to the ecosystem. Therefore, conservation actions are much needed to keep sea stars in the ocean. Not to mention, they are a fun addition to the ECHO animal community.
- Where is everyone? Kill Kare and Burton Island State Parks, Saturday in July July 29, 2016
By Phelan Fretz, ECHO's Executive Director ECHO's Executive Director Phelan Fretz paddles on Lake Champlain. We needed to check for ourselves. At May’s annual Friends of Northern Lake Champlain dinner, many folks were wondering if this was going to be the “big” year – a winter without snow and spells of spring warmth – for a bloom like no other, blue-green algae in Missisquoi and St Albans Bays. The kayaks slipped into the warm, clear, shallow water. It was early Saturday, with the shore’s trees reaching out into St Albans Bay with their jagged shadows. Drybags in place, cockpit organized, we headed into open water. As we skirted along Mosquito Island, a Canada geese flock dominated the rocky beach with nearly full-grown young. The Lake’s bottom is always present. Silver reflections catch the eye – probably the pearly inside of native mussels that have lost their battle. The map tells of a rocky reef, with a human-made cut marked by two buoys. This is where the Burton Island ferry slips through as it carries enthusiastic “islanders.” Lake level is very low, so we make our way over the reef near the cut. Now on the southern, windward side of Burton, a breeze has built some chop and keeps us working. We are glad for the long, sleek hull of a touring kayak as it slips through the waves. The bottom is less apparent now, hidden below the sun’s glint off the turbulent surface. A mile later, we round the island’s southern tip and head into calmer waters. It’s hot. With the leeward breeze pushing us, beads of sweat now moisten our backs against the seats. The Lake’s calm surface now reveals a carpet of green algae covering all the rocks below. A couple of swimmers from the Island’s campground are lazily floating, but most folks are chair-bound on the rocky beach. It feels as if we have the Lake to ourselves.Just ahead of us is a blue and white lake cruiser, bikes upfront and laundry hanging off the stern. We follow the cruiser into Burton Island’s marina and head for what looks like the beach. We can hear the two-story, all-aluminum ferry’s safety announcements as it pulls away from the dock. Not many folks on the upper deck.We are greeted with more algae at the water’s edge at the beach. One elderly couple is reading in the shade. No kids. No families. Is it really a July Saturday afternoon? We disembark and discover a huge marina hidden behind a tree covered hill. Three boats tied up. A bistro stands longingly across the meadow. Where is everybody? While we never found any of the dangerous blue-green algae, the regular green stuff was everywhere. Invasive millfoil too. Recent storms had churned up the waters, distributing any floating algal masses that typically include blue-greens. We all hear about how the health of our waters are struggling. I just witnessed it. It’s bad, real bad. And what about the folks that make their living on “beautiful waters”? They must be struggling. As we left Kill Kare Park, we passed the St Albans town beach. Two football fields of beach with shaded picnic and parking. No one, but for three kids playing at the water’s edge. The mats of washed-up algae that I have seen in the past were not present, but the word is out, “Don’t go there – it stinks and is unsafe.” If you listened, you could almost hear the throngs of St Albans “townees” that must have converged 50 years ago, enticed by the clear waters and cool lake breezes. What have we done?
- Meet: Muslim Girls Making Change July 5, 2016
By Jessie Forand/ECHOMuslim Girls Making Change visit ECHO to perform their slam poetry. Photos: Jessie Forand/ECHOOn a sunny spring afternoon, four young women stood in ECHO's Champ Lane, near a mural where some of them were depicted, to perform an inspiring, moving, and important piece of slam poetry. Kiran Waqar, Hawa Adam, Lena Ginawi, and Balkisa Abdikadir are better known around town as Muslim Girls Making Change, working with the Young Writers Project to tell their stories with the world around them. And they are about to take their story national. The young women will attend the Brave New Voices Festival & Slam Competition July 12-17 in Washington, DC, after a local send-off at Maglianero Cafe this Friday. What you may not know is that 3/4 of this incredible group are members of ECHO's E-Team, a teen leadership program for area high school students. Listen to "Wake Up America," performed in ECHO's Champ Lane: Can you tell me a little bit about yourselves/your group? What school(s) do you attend? What grade(s) and age(s) are you right now?Kiran Waqar, Muslim Girls Making Change (MGMC): Muslim Girls Making Change, or MGMC, for short is a group we started a while ago to fight stereotypes. Originally we would volunteer our time at organizations such as the Ronald McDonald House, Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, Building Bright Futures, etc. Over time this evolved into the group we are today. We now use our voices to fight injustices or things personal to us. Lena and myself go to South Burlington High School while Hawa and Balkisa go to Burlington High School. We are all currently in 10th grade.What inspired you to start to writing/performing poetry?MGMC: I began to write and perform poetry so that my voice could be heard. Our first poem, "Wake Up America," is really what got us started. In this poem we address the hidden crimes against Muslims. We really wanted to bring light to these stories swept under the rug and since no one else was doing it, we decided to. We really hoped that this piece would allow others to see Muslims as humans rather than strange and foreign. (Go home they said, go home where/The hospital where I was born/ The city where I was raised/ We aren’t just Muslims/We’re American Muslim/Equal in every way).Muslim Girls Making Change, in Champ Lane. Photos: Jessie Forand/ECHOWhat challenges have you faced while working on this project?MGMC: One of our biggest challenges is the fact that we are such great friends! As you could see during our time with you we get very off topic and it can be difficult for us to ground ourselves and really get started. Another issue we deal with is being brave enough to perform poems that may not be popular. This is an ongoing issue and one we are still dealing with when we perform.How did you get involved with the Young Writers Project?MGMC: Hawa had actually seen videos of Brave New Voices and wanted to get involved. She contacted myself, Lena and Balkisa and we began to write. It almost seemed to be fate, but soon after (maybe a couple of days) we found out that Young Writers Project had an audition for BNV! We tried out and ah we got in!!In what ways has poetry/expressing yourselves helped you grow as young adults? Have you learned anything about yourselves through this art form?MGMC: Writing and expressing myself through poetry has really had a profound effect on me. Not only have I been able to better myself as a writer and in speaking/performing, but I have been able to reflect more and develop a deeper sense of empathy. Through slam poetry I have been able to really think about certain issues and how deep and far reaching they are when you really look at them. I have been able to feel much more deeply about issues and realize parts of me I hadn’t before. For example, in "American Dream," Hawa and I briefly mention how we assimilated in middle school and were ashamed of our culture. Until I wrote the poem, I hadn’t even thought about that. When we wrote it, I hardly knew what it meant until I was forced to examine the meaning behind our words. In this way poetry has allowed me to learn about myself and to think about others in my shoes, or who may have been put in worse situations.What would you say to other people your age looking for a creative outlet? MGMC: I would tell other people my age that there is always a way to express yourself, whether it is through science or spoken word. To those who look to writing, there is no wrong way to write. There is only your way of writing and you can only get better. I would also suggest that if writing is your calling that you look into Young Writers Project, they are there to help you. For those of you in E-Team, what does this program mean to you? Why do you do it?MGMC: Lena, Hawa, and myself are part of E-Team. I do E-Team because it is a way to get to meet people from all over Vermont and other parts of the world, to improve my science knowledge, and to a have a varying skill set. Through E-Team I have met people from all over allowing me to hear new stories, experiences, and viewpoints without leaving Vermont. This to me, is amazing. Through E-Team I have been able to improve my science knowledge which has been very helpful in biology class this year. E-Team taught me many other skills such as how to interact with guests, how to make an interactive and fun lesson on the spot and how to be flexible.What are your goals for MGMC/poetry/this community?MGMC: My first goal as of this moment, is to raise enough funds for our trip to DC ($4,500). Through our poetry, I hope that we can make positive effects in others’ lives. I hope that our poems resonate with people and increase their empathy and possibly create even bigger shifts!Can you explain what doing to the Brave New Voices Festival means to you? That’s a huge deal!MGMC: We are all very excited for Brave New Voices this summer! We are unbelievably thankful for this platform and we want to use it to make a change (thus the name Muslim Girls Making Change).Anything else you would like to say? MGMC: Thank you to Momin for being the best brother ever.Learn more about Muslim Girls Making Change (and donate to their fundraising effort) at http://youngwritersproject.org/bnv2016
- Science Loves Art: Burlington High School Year End Study June 16, 2016
By Jessie Forand/ECHOEditor’s note: This is the third in a series discussing public art at ECHO. This summer visitors along the Burlington Waterfront will witness art in action, with engaging pieces created by artists, sculptors, and students all with a strong point of view.Photo Gallery by QuickGallery.com Photos: Jessie Forand and Chris Whitaker/ECHO About a dozen students from Burlington High School spent the last two weeks of the academic year at ECHO. The Year End Study program brings young minds off their campus and into the community, working with a wide range of experts to learn something new and, in this case, make something incredible.The students were interested in ECHO after hearing that the offerings would be outside, that the subject matter would combine science and art for full day courses.During their time with ECHO STEM Education Coordinator Chris Whitaker, the students imagined, developed, and created two engaging public art pieces, focusing on issues currently plaguing Lake Champlain – invasive species being the hot topic on their minds.The students said they learned about the concept of “not in my backyard,” where people are less likely to take action unless something affects them directly, and based on that they chose to showcase with their public art pieces how the problems in Lake Champlain affect everyone in the region. “This is our water source, it’s what we’re going to swim in,” said senior Eva Paradiso. They also learned that while some invasive species pose only a nuisance, others are downright harmful. They decided to use their work to make a lasting impact, they explained. Part of the challenge was how to convey a message to a diverse audience, which took careful planning but was a lot of fun, said student Ena Ibrisimovic. The two final pieces are as impactful as they’d hoped – one features three figures, each progressively more covered in harmful invasives and the other a sliding viewer to showcase a few of the species themselves. As the two weeks went on, the projects evolved a great deal. “It was nice to see the progress we’ve made,” said Kaysi Herrera‐Pujols, who explained the students began with the concept of a tree and ended up with something completely different. Plus, she said, “I like painting and drilling things.” In addition to their time with Whitaker, students worked with Generator to use the creative space and its innovative tools to construct their art pieces. They even ventured onto the lake with the University of Vermont Rubenstein Lab, in the research vessel the Melosira. An in-progress public art piece by students from Burlington High School (Photo: Jessie Forand/ECHO)See the students’ artwork at ECHO’s Dealer.com terrace and in Hoehl Park, but free spaces open to the public.This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services MA-20-15-380.
- Science Loves Art: Tyler Vendituoli June 15, 2016
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series discussing public art at ECHO. This summer visitors along the Burlington Waterfront will witness art in action, with engaging pieces created by artists, sculptors, and students all with a strong point of view.Artist Tyler Vendituoli stands before an still-in-progress "Bait Ball" at Conant Metal and Light. (Photos: Jessie Forand/ECHO) Those driving on Pine Street in Burlington might have seen a structure being built at Conant Metal and Light. Called “Bait Ball,” this piece of public art from Tyler Vendituoli is now positioned front and center, greeting guests as they enter ECHO.Created in just two weeks, the concept came from the materials. Vendituoli had a large ball frame and a wheel attached on the bottom.The final product is simply incredible – metal fish, appearing to continuously move in a swarm. Cutouts and attachments create depth and a kind of positive and negative view. The size of the sculpture draws in passersby.Each fish is slightly different, but related, Vendituoli said.His inspiration came from a National Geographic documentary about bait balls, the instances of fish sticking closely together to deter predators from trying to eat them.ECHO's Steve Smith and artist Tyler Vendituoli examine the newly installed "Bait Ball" Wednesday. There is no doubt that Vendituoli falls into the “maker” distinction. He makes things. A lot. You can find him working at Conant on a myriad of different pieces, and he finds the STEM/STEAM education concept interesting because he said he has always made things.With a contractor father, Vendituoli has long had access to tools.“Making things for more is always part of who I’ve been and what I do,” he explained.Asked how he might encourage others to follow in his maker footsteps, Vendituoli said those interested should take different elements and make them into something new; alter an object to create something from it, and absorb information heard and seen in the world, applying it into created pieces.Vendituoli hopes those walking along the waterfront and visiting ECHO alike will feel bemused engagement; it’s not heavy and maybe not thought-provoking, he said, but it is there for visual enjoyment, to make people smile.Other pieces from Vendituoli can be seen around town – balloons at the Burlington International Airport, a jaguar on Lakeview Terrace, a posing form near the Winooski River, and of course at Conant Metal and Light.Learn more at www.vendituoli.com/.Fish cutouts featured on "Bait Ball."
- Science Loves Art: Robert Hitzig June 14, 2016
By Jessie Forand/ECHOEditor’s note: This is the first in a series discussing public art at ECHO. This summer visitors along the Burlington Waterfront will witness art in action, with engaging pieces created by artists, sculptors, and students all with a strong point of view. Artist Robert Hitzig installs his piece "Box of Courage" outside ECHO Tuesday afternoon. (Photos: Jessie Forand/ECHO)Montpelier artist Robert Hitzig on Tuesday constructed just outside the building his piece “Box of Courage,” a colorful shape consisting of wood, paint… and a strong message for passersby. This is meant to be interactive, Hitzig said – it becomes art only when someone is inside the structure. The box creates courage and security for those inside, and the mere act of climbing inside in fact takes courage, a sort of childlike inhibition. "Box of Courage" sits, partially installed, at ECHO. In order to overcome what scares someone, Hitzig explained, they must think like a kid. The artist hopes those walking by on the waterfront will engage with the piece, getting inside to truly experience the feeling of becoming a part of the artwork, and to feel the courage it is meant to inspire. Hitzig’s spirit is precisely what ECHO hopes to stir in its guests. He is a doer. A creator. “I’m a maker – I just make things every day,” he said. For more information about Robert Hitzig and his work, visit roberthitzig.com, woodisart.blogspot.com, or facebook.com/roberthitzig Hitzig's provided artist statement: Box of Courage is an interactive work of art designed to engage the public. The title refers to the effect boxes have on us. The act of climbing in boxes give us a feeling of safety which, in turn, gives us courage. Additionally, though children are uninhibitedly drawn to boxes, and climb in without hesitation, adults tend to repress the urge. As a result, the title also refers to the courage it takes to let that uninhibited child within all of us express itself. Theoretically, that courage would then become self-reinforcing, generating more strength, safety, and security by being inside the box. Consequently, the work is not complete without human interaction. The art isn't just the box, rather, it is the box with courageous people of all ages inside, popping their heads out of the holes, and having uninhibited childlike fun. I hope you enjoy!Artist Robert Hitzig.
- ECHO's Executive Director Speaks at All Souls Interfaith Gathering June 2, 2016
Phelan Fretz, executive director of ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, addresses the crowd gathered at the opening event of Lake Brite data visualization project. (Photo: Jessie Forand/ECHO) On May 22, ECHO Executive Director Phelan Fretz joined the congregation at All Souls Interfaith Gathering, a Spiritual Center in Shelburne playing an integral role in the Voices for the Lake 2 project. If you haven't heard of it, Voices for the Lake 2 and this partnership together create a rich conversation – one that honors faith and science-based environmental stewardship perspectives. Through the ongoing project, we are harnessing the passion and commitment of people who respect the Lake Champlain Basin’s web of life, and are working on meaningful system change to create a culture of clean water. Below is the full text of his talk, please read and reflect on your own love of water: All Souls Interfaith GatheringGathering of the WatersHomily – For the Love of Water May 22, 2016, 5 pmFirst Reading Margaret Atwood, part of the Canongate Myth series (the Penelopiad) Periboea, a Naiad water nymph, wife of King Icarius of Sparta, and mother to Penelope, spoke of a life lesson before her daughter’s wedding to Odysseus.Here is what she said: “Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.” ACT 1 I marvel at the properties, impacts and uses of water. Here’s a few wonders… Water is the only substance that expands when frozen and contracts when heated 68.9% of freshwater is trapped in glaciers 400 billion gallons used daily in USA, ½ to generate electrical power Water can dissolve more substances than anything else. It takes 6,800 gallons to grow food for family of 4 for a day. Takes 20 gallons to produce a pint of beer and 250 gallons to produce a bottle of wine Leaky faucet of 1 drop per second results in 3000 gallons per year Unsafe water kills 200 children per hour Jellyfish and cucumbers both are 95% water Same amount of water on earth as there was millions of years ago In USA, we drink over a billion glasses of water a day There have been 265 recorded water conflicts from 3000 BC to now Over 90% of the world’s freshwater is in Antarctica If we used 1 gallon less per shower, we would save 85 billion gallons of water a year We lose a cup of water daily when we exhale The list of the wonders of water can go on and on…- ACT 2 Classroom story As an educator, here’s one of my favorite stories. I walked into the classroom. They were expecting me, but I didn’t know what to expect. Beautiful windows looked out onto downtown Burlington. It was a sunny day. On each table, with clusters of 6th grade students, stood a microscope. The students stared at the scopes as if they were some type of foreign object – from China, or maybe Mars. The class started with the basics. Where to look. How to focus. Be careful.Then the scholars, that’s what my wife calls them, plucked a hair and spent, what seemed like hours, figuring out how to hold the hair under the scope, focus, drop, share, giggle, with friends. There was the occasional gasp, as students discovered a tiny world. A world they had no idea existed. Some students began looking at other objects, paper, letters on paper, fibers from their shirt, dirt from their shoe.Enough practice, now the real deal.Ms Botte had them scrape some cells and saliva from the inside of their mouth. Eew!!! – rang out across the room. At the same time, clouds darkened the sun – almost as if the darker, more ominous room was planned as the students delved deeper into the microscopic world that unknowingly surrounded them. Saliva was as much about touching body fluids as discovery under the microscope. Now we had two reasons for students to swirl. You could see the momentum building as the reality of the power of the microscope began to take hold. They ran between scopes and friends to share. Many needed to explore the scope itself. Looking up into the stage. Where was the light coming from? Going? What did the objectives look like from the non-ocular end? How did this thing work? What made stuff bigger?, one student asked me. Unknown to the scholars, this was only the appetizer. Sitting innocuously on the windowsill were three small dishes of water, slightly brown in color, with a few floaters. No one had even noticed them. Students were armed with eye droppers and told to go to the dishes and suck up enough water to fill the dropper half way. They all practiced using the droppers first at their tables.Post saliva and the novelty of the scopes, energy seemed to be waning. Some students wandered a bit. Two asked to go to the restrooms. Three girls were distracted by one’s iPad image. Oh, I forgot to tell you. The students had also figured out how to take ipad images of the enlarged hairs, dirt, and cheek cells. With this tool, they could share the ephemeral images from their microscopes. While the novelty of the ipads was a thing of the past, the new images were not. Now back to the brown water. With droppers full, the students returned to their table teams and began the process of placing drops on the slides, and placing a coverslip on top. This took many scholars what seemed an eternity. Then it happened. There wasn’t any advanced notice. The sunlight in the room was back. Most of the students were struggling with the dropper, slide, coverslip. They were all intent. Scarily so. First it was a shriek! Probably audible down the hall, at least in the next classroom. Then another. Four now. The latest not any quieter than the first. There seemed to be a delay of seconds, which seemed like minutes. Some students had rallied around their shrieking friends. Others were intent on their own.The four students had seen what was in the water – diatoms, water fleas, daphnia, tiny beings swimming about in their little worlds – made huge with the power of a microscope. Then the questions started – where did you get this water? Are these in the lake? In my tap water? What about the puddle outside? The shrieks kept coming. New animals and plants were discovered. Some swam, other had “tails”, others looked like monsters – said the students. I can only image what Van Leeuwenhoek said on October 9th, 1676 as he reported the discovery of micro-organisms. Now that’s education. I hope they never look at water the same again. We shouldn’t either.ACT 3 “I complete my “For the Love of Water” with a few of my favorite quotes.Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect us.” Stewart Udall “We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.” Taoist Proverb“The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.” Isak Dinesen“When you are in deep water, it's a good idea to keep your mouth shut.” unknown“How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is clearly Ocean.” Arthur C. Clarke“We're at peak oil, peak water, peak resources, and so either we figure it out and let science lead or we head down a very bad, dark trail to where a lot of people aren't going to make it.” Henry Rollins“Water is to me, I confess, a phenomenon which continually awakens new feelings of wonder as often as I view it.” Michael Faraday“When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water.” Benjamin Franklin“We need a new global culture that finds the existence of millions of thirsty people thoroughly and immediately unacceptable.” Jean-Michel CousteauAnd from Carl Sagan, in these challenging times…“Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.” Carl SaganThank you for your time today.Reading 2 Rachel Carson – The Sea Around Us (1951)When they went ashore the animals that took up a land life carried with them a part of the sea in their bodies, a heritage which they passed on to their children and which even today links each land animal with its origin in the ancient sea. Fish, amphibian, and reptile, warm-blooded bird and mammal – each of us carries in our veins a salty stream in which the elements sodium, potassium, and calcium are combined in almost the same proportions as in sea water. This is our inheritance from the day, untold millions of years ago, when a remote ancestor, having progressed from the one-celled stage, first developed a circulatory system in which the fluid was merely the water of the sea. In the same way, our lime-hardened skeletons are a heritage from the calcium-rich ocean of Cambrian time. Even the protoplasm that streams within each cell of our bodies has the chemical structure impressed upon all living matter when the first simple creatures were brought forth in the ancient sea. And as life itself began in the sea, so each of us begins his individual life in a miniature ocean within his or her mother's womb, and in the stages of his embryonic development repeats the steps by which her race evolved, from gill-breathing inhabitants of a water world to creatures able to live on land.'
- Water Quality Day 2016 May 27, 2016
By Jessie Forand/ECHO Robert Fischer, Water Quality Superintendent for the South Burlington Water Quality Department, holds samples of water taken before (right) and after entering the Airport Parkway treatment facility. (Photo: Jessie Forand/ECHO) As he walked local leaders through his facility, Bob Fischer, superintendent of the City of South Burlington Water Quality Department on Airport Parkway said, “This is the most expensive thing in town.”Despite the fact water treatment is the greatest expense for a South Burlington resident, many have never visited the facility to really see what happens. Fischer’s group tour was part of the Water Quality Day celebration Friday in Vermont, as declared by Governor Peter Shumlin earlier this year. A few dozen third graders were set to stop by later for an inside look. The Airport Parkway Water Quality Facility in South Burlington was one of 10 facilities of its kind to lead tours. Fischer offered information as they about a dozen tour-goers followed him through the expansive facility. For example, the water put out at Airport Parkway is in fact much cleaner than that of the Winooski River, which flows nearby. “We are the boots-on-the-ground environmentalists,” Fischer said, a dedicated crew who takes clean water and the health of Vermont that stems from it very seriously. Robert Fischer shows off bio solids created at the Airport Parkway Water Quality Facility.(Photo: Jessie Forand/ECHO) While Fischer explained that water treatment is one of the most energy-intensive elements of any municipality, the South Burlington plant goes to great lengths to keep usage down. While on the tour, the digester building was actually producing an incredible 40 kilowatts of energy.A methane-powered turbine and a $28 million upgrade in 2011 has helped significantly and the facility now spends less on its operating budget as a result. Class A bio solids are captured, meaning those materials can be used by local agriculture partners instead of ending up in the Coventry landfill. As he walked through rooms containing “a lot of very expensive things,” Fischer explained 99.8 percent of materials flowing in to the plant are simply water – from showers, homes’ use, and so on. Once the water has arrived, the solids are separated and bacteria, aerobic and anaerobic, goes to work in the live facility; it’s really an ecosystem in itself. Fischer imparted some important lessons during his tour – included a tale of baby wipes that didn’t end well. Long story short… don’t do it. Ever. Baby wipes and other cleaning wipes are not intended to be flushed and doing so causes environmental problems and backups, plus could plug a house’s septic system and prove costly. “When it doubt, toss it out,” he said. Tours of the facility are available to the public. To learn more about what is happening in your community, contact Robert Fischer in South Burlington or your local water quality department. A plane flies overhead during a tour of the Airport Parkway Water Quality Facility in South Burlington Friday, May 27. (Photo: Jessie Forand/ECHO)
- Photo Essay – A trip to Conant Metal and Light May 25, 2016
By Jessie Forand/ECHOOn Wednesday ECHO STEM Education Coordinator Chris Whitaker and a group of students from Burlington High School ventured to Burlington's South End to Conant Metal and Light.The well-known maker space is the starting point for custom works of all sizes, repairs, and more. A giant rhinoceros seeming to have poked its head through the wall marks the spot.This particular journey allowed the students, in greats 9-12 continue their work with Whitaker for an end-of-the-year project, in which they too will become "makers." Conant and Tyler Vendituoli, a custom designer and maker at the store, explained how inspiration strikes and the ways in which they create tangible pieces from abstract ideas. Follow along on the trip, with photos from ECHO's Jessie Forand:
- A Day in the Life of Animal Care May 24, 2016
By Bianca Roa At ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, don’t expect to find Jennifer Dean easily. She could be anywhere in the building. Running from one task to another, helping volunteers, talking to guests about the animals in her care. Dean has been a big part of the animal care team for the last couple of years. Her title as an Environmental Exhibit Specialist does not come close to encompassing the full extent of her contributions to ECHO. The list of tasks she keeps on any given day spans from turning on the facility's technology elements to moving ten-foot driftwood for the animals’ “furniture.” Among the most important is educating visitors of all ages about the animals.Daily public programs allow Dean to give individual animals their time to shine. Among her favorites for these demonstrations are Winston the black rat snake and Elizabeth the American eel. She connects with these animals because they have big personalities. They don’t talk to her, but they tell her things with their behavior.“One of the great things about working with these animals is that they are here to be appreciated,” says Dean. The guests love interacting with the hundreds of animals on site. However that means she must care for them and also advocate for them. She stressed that the animals for may be entertaining, but they aren’t here purely for our entertainment. During the day, Dean recalled advice from her grandmother, who owned a Morgan horse farm. “You work with animals, you don’t make them do what you want them to do,” she says. Its obvious how this guides the work that she does with ECHO’s animals.Her grandmother and the rest of her big family shaped her passion for this industry. They lived the farm lifestyle and everyone had animals of some kind. So why did she choose marine science?Her parents unintentionally steered her towards the creatures of the ocean. Dean credited her career to their numerous Florida trips. For several years Dean’s family would make the trek for her parents’ anniversary. There she and her brother fished, snorkeled, and scuba dived. She fell in love with the water and everything in it.Dean’s dedication and passion for animal care is abundantly clear. She is an animal lover through and through, and the list of her animals at home proves it. Beaumont the 12-year-old Boston Terrier that she’s had since he was a puppy. Two sugar gliders she has rescued. A stray cat and her new litter of kittens, not to mentioned the other strays that she regularly feeds.Despite all the effort that goes into caring for these animals, Dean wouldn’t have it any other way. It feels incredibly rewarding to her. “They don’t have a bad day and take it out on people,” she explains. “They seem to have an overall good day and good attitude.” And it goes even farther than that for Dean – animals connect her and everyone else they encounter with nature. “Animals give people a reason to appreciate and care,” she says.All of those passions come together perfectly on her favorite day of the year: the spiny softshell turtle release. That sense of community is infectious. She appreciates how “ECHO employees, guests, and the Fish and Wildlife rally together for these little turtles.”These turtles hatch so late in the year that many wouldn’t have survived. The program is close to her heart because it gives them a chance they might not of had otherwise.”It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it in the end,” Dean said. She even jokes that if it were a movie, “It would be one of those feel-good movies on Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel.”Jokes aside, Dean believes in the work she is doing. She admitted that working in the field of animal care can be hard, but their efforts allow animals that cannot go back into the wild a purpose. Through education programs and relocation exclusively between science centers“What is nice about this industry is that we do a lot of swapping, that way animals that cannot go back into the wild can still have a life that does education," she said. "We also don’t sell them so we can guarantee that the animals will have a good life.” With that attitude, the animals are in good hands.
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