The Great Lakes are facing many threats from pollution to invasive species, and even global warming. Many species of animals and plants call the Great Lakes and the Great Lakes watersheds home. Humans rely on the lakes as a source of clean, drinkable water and as a recreational destination. The threats to the Great Lakes are causing immediate problems and should they continue this valuable resource may be lost!
Toronto Zoos' Great Lakes Outreach Program is a FREE, curriculum-based education program that encourages students, educators and families to "Keep our Great Lakes Great" while learning about five local fish species at risk:
Atlantic salmon Lake Ontario population (extirpated)
Redside dace (endangered)
Eastern sand darter (threatened)
American eel (endangered)
Lake sturgeon (threatened)
Through these examples, the presentations emphasise the importance of water and maintaining healthy aquatic ecosystems for both animal and human use. Outreach presentations are tied to the Life Systems strand of the Ontario Science Curriculum and available at NO CHARGE for grades 1, 2 and 7.
Over 20,000 educators and students participate in our Great Lakes Program annually, including over 700 classrooms, intruding them to good water & energy conservation practices as well as waste reduction.
Reaching beyond the classroom, the Great Lakes Program also has 3,000 public participants annually (camps, libraries, festivals, etc.) and the Program contributes to habitat rehabilitation through community events and tree planting.
Public events both off and on the Toronto Zoo site serve to reach even more people with the message of water conservation through the Great Lakes Program. Some events include. Love at the Zoo, Party for the Planet, water festivals throughout Ontario and water-based workshops at the Royal Ontario Museum, to name a few.
Financial supporters include the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Species at Risk program, the Environment Canada Habitat Stewardship Program and Ontario Streams.
Aqua-Links is an exciting new conservation effort at the Zoo linking students in Ontario with students in Uganda to discuss water conservation. Focusing on these two Great Lakes regions of the world, the program fosters stewardship and appreciation for water as a precious resource, as well as for the fish that call these lakes home.
Highlighted for their ecological and nutritional significance, Atlantic salmon in North America and haplochromine cichlids in East Africa are studied closely by students participating in the program. In North America, students gain hands-on experience raising Atlantic salmon right in their class through the winter, followed by a field-trip to release the fry in the spring. Additionally, the program is supported by multiple in-class visits by the Aqua-Links Coordinator. At the same time, students in Uganda receive lessons by program partners from NaFIRRI (National Fisheries Resources Research Institute) and link to North American students via the internet.
Since January of this year, 10 schools in the Greater Toronto Area, Bowmanville and Peterborough have been raising and monitoring endangered Atlantic salmon right in their classrooms as part of the Aqua-Links Program. The students felt a personal connection to the fish and were invested in the entire process.
From late May to early June, with the help of program partners at the O.F.A.H. (Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters), we released our second cohort of Atlantic salmon into the wild! Students from Churchill Heights Public School - Scarbrough, Captain Michael VandenBos Public School - Whitby, Westmount Public School and St. Anne Catholic School - Peterborough, and Toronto Heschel School released the small fry into the Duffins Creek, Cobourg Creek and the Credit River with enthusiasm and well-wishes.
Internet linking with Ugandan partners will continue until the end of the school year at which point students in both countries will have gained first-hand knowledge of the kind of issues surrounding water conservation in 2011.