Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Looking at the Bigger Picture

This week at Piers Park we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how the Boston Harbor and its marine inhabitants play a role in our world ocean. The idea came around when one of our Harbor Explorers asked where the Boston Harbor met the Atlantic Ocean. It was a great question and it started a good discussion as the other Explorers tried to come up with an answer. I realized that while we’ve been learning a lot these past couple weeks, from how to identify crab species to how a mussel attaches itself to the side of a dock, we had jumped right to details and specifics. While learning how to differentiate girl crabs from boy crabs is very interesting, understanding how a crab fits into the Boston Harbor food web is equally as important. I decided it was time to take a step back and put these details into the context of a world ocean and the interconnectivity between land and sea.

We started by looking at a map of the Boston area and identifying key places, like Piers Park, the Charles River, Boston Harbor and the Massachusetts Bay. The map was a great visual to show the Explorers how things in the Charles River run straight to the Boston Harbor and from there to the Massachusetts Bay and then on to the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. We then looked at a smaller map that focused primarily on the Boston Harbor islands. The Explorers took turns trying to name as many islands as they could (there are 34 islands!) and we discussed the importance (historical and present day) of the islands. While most of the Explorers were familiar with the “giant eggs” on Deer Island, many of them were quite surprised to find out what was actually going on inside those eggs...

Using the map to see how the Boston Harbor fits into the rest of the world. 

Our second big-picture activity dealt with the interconnectivity of species through food webs. We discussed the differences between producers, herbivores, carnivores and scavengers and tried to categorize some of the species we most commonly find at Piers Park. To illustrate how everything is connected, the Explorers were given nametags that represented different species and environmental elements found in the Boston Harbor (sun, algae, krill, mussels, crabs, fish, humans, etc.). We then used a piece of yarn to map out the links between species. For example, the algae needs sun for photosynthesis; the krill eats the algae; and so on. Once the web was created we imagined different scenarios in which certain species were affected (oil spills, overfishing, etc). The affected species would then tug on the yarn. Each species that felt that tug would also tug the yarn, the idea being to create a chain reaction demonstrating how a change to one species could affect every other species in the Boston Harbor, including humans.

Creating a Boston Harbor food web. 

I’ve been very impressed with our Explorers and their ability to think about things in the larger context. Understanding how the Boston Harbor and they themselves fit into our global ecosystem is not a simple concept, but they’ve showed sincere interest and have been able to connect many of the dots. Its been an encouraging week!

-Sarah C

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