Bound To Travel
Aloha Friday

Learning Barge On The Elizabeth River


Tuesday, we joined some fellow homeschoolers for a field trip to The Learning Barge, on our local Elizabeth River.  It was a really great program, and I'm so thrilled that we had a chance to participate. We got there just as it was starting, and we listened to the facilitator talk about the Elizabeth River, its relative health, and what the kids would be doing.



After splitting up into three groups of learners, the kids went to their first station at the heart of the barge. They learned about checking the salinity of the brackish water that makes up the E. River (today, it was 19; ocean water is about 32-33), and they looked for tiny annelid worms using pipets and large petrie dishes. Sophia and Chloë both managed to find some, so they were excited to share that with the group.



They also learned about the oysters growing in the river, along with the types of seagrasses there.


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The Learning Barge is very "green," in that no electricity or gas is used to move it (they rely on tug boats to change location!) or power it, and each child waited in line to use the water pump for the sea grasses. Chloë, of course, found it the most difficult, while Sophia wanted to do it all day long.



Here are the girls pipetting for the tiny annelids.



Jack had a more difficult time finding some. He was pretty grumpy during the whole morning excursion, too. He does NOT like to be awakened, and he doesn't like being on a boat. So I dealt with his mood the whole time, but I didn't let it put a damper on my spirits, which were high at the time. I love being on the water and, of course, learning about marine and estuary life.



After that, they went inside another chamber of the barge to paint what they hope the Elizabeth River will look like in 2020, when the goal is for it to be swimmable and fishable. Chloë did not deign to show me her finished work; she's often secretive about her art projects!


Next, we headed back outside, where the kids were allowed to dunk sampling buckets into the river, in order for us to test whether bacteria from, well, poop was present there. They also listened about how it's important for dog-owners to "Scoop the Poop" instead of letting it sit in the yard, to keep run-off clean and help the river be accessible.


The kids each dumped their collection buckets into an aquarium for testing.


Yup, the water tested positive for the E. coli bacterium. Ick.


Here, they learned about the zones of land that are affected by - and, in turn, affect - the Elizabeth River, and each of its four branches.


Sophia showed me the cool tattoo she received, while waiting to move on to our next station.


The kids were then shown the eight 200 Watt solar panels that are used to harness energy on the barge, and the big battery compartment where that energy is stored.


The barge also uses a wind turbine to collect wind energy, which the facilitator demonstrated with a pinwheel, before pointing out the big mill on top of the boat.


Then, the kids were shown the rainwater collection site, and the 5-gallon gauge there on the wall. Each was allowed to pump some water from the rainwater collection, to see how the sink and toilet operated in the head.


They each washed their hands in the sink - hard to see there, because I didn't have a good photo-taking spot!


Right outside the head, the kids were told that the plants filtered the soap out of the water coming down the drain from the sink, so that it could be of further use. Pretty cool, huh?


The kids were then shown some more grasses and asked if they could find any that were currently pollinating.


Here's some! Once they knew what to look for, each kid was quickly able to find some pollinating plants.


The kids were turned around and shown the barnacles on the pilings where we were moored, and a little bit about their lifestyle was described for the children.



At our next station, the captain showed the kids some critters caught just that morning in the river. Of course, they all wanted to reach in and touch them right away!


There were a few shrimp, which some children decided were delicious and some, not so much. Chloë was a "yum"-mer.


This crab was particularly feisty when I tried to take his picture. I tried to get him snapping at me, but it was too fast and then he wouldn't do it again - 'least not without me sticking a phlange in there, and I wasn't going to do that for you!


And of course, some jellies, which had all of us moms quoting from Finding Nemo, about touching only the tops, because, "...they won't... sting... you!!" 


The captain then lowered a secchi disk, and explained about measuring turbidity to the group of kids, most of whom probably didn't grasp the concept at this point, but that's okay.


It was 4 decimeters, by the way, but they just wrote that down dutifully on their clipboard papers and moved on to the next thing. I tried to tell Chloë that meant 40 centimeters, but she got too easily confused, so I dropped it. For now. 


It was explained to the kids how the old-time sailors used to determine wind speed by looking at the waves and ripples of the water. We only had ripples, so they were told that was about 5 knots.

Oh, and somewhere along the way, we measured the air and water temperature, which were 84ºF and 79ºF, respectively.



Lastly, we all got back together for the "River Rock," a fun little ditty with hand motions about cleaning up the river and making it swimmable and fishable by 2020. Here's to that!


We said our good-byes to the ones we knew and headed home for lunch. The kids were grumpy and hungry by that point, but I was happy and contented about our morning spent learning about the environment of the Elizabeth River.