The Watsonville Wetlands Watch provides many learning opportunities for students, teachers, and community members from our home at the Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center (Fitz WERC), situated on the campus of Pajaro Valley High School in Watsonville, CA, adjacent to 100 acres of fresh-water wetland.
The location of our center provides a unique opportunity for groups and individuals to participate in hands-on laboratory and outdoor activities that foster an understanding of our local wetlands and a respect for nature as a whole.
Through various K–12 programs, Watsonville Wetlands Watch staff, dedicated docents, and interns implement our exclusive California-standards-based curriculum with students of the Pajaro Valley. Students are given the space to cultivate an appreciation of local fauna and flora while developing real-world and academic skills. During the 2009 – 2010 school year, we provided wetlands educational experiences to 950 Pajaro Valley elementary, middle, and high school students. During the 2010 – 2011 school year, we served well over a thousand such students.
The Watsonville Wetlands Watch also collaborates with many local agencies to provide professional development and training opportunities for teachers as well as speaker events for the whole community. Check our calendar.
A group of highly resourceful and dedicated volunteers are creating a professional-level wetlands diorama for the Fitz Wetlands Educational Resource Center. What started out as a simple volunteer project to display wetland animal specimens in a glass display case has since evolved into the creation of an elaborate multi-level representation of life in the wetlands and education tool. This project, spearheaded by docent Cathy Gamble, along with Bill Best and Carol Bennett and a host of other volunteers, is titled “Web of Life in the Wetlands.”
The lowest part of this multilevel display has sliding doors which reveal the creatures that live under the water and underground like the crayfish and shrew mole. On the higher “ground” level we see the many species that live on the ground or on top of the water against a background mural. Included in the highest level is a magnificent red-tailed hawk perched on his killing post, with his eyes on the rodents below.
Much of the detail in the display is a result of the group’s extensive research. For example, the entrance to the tarantula’s burrow is lined with the silky webbing which helps tarantulas climb up and down. The water under the Water Striders’ legs is dimpled to reflect the surface tension that allows them to dance along the top of the water.
The volunteers plan to unveil their project later in the year. Along with the diorama, they are creating an educational guide that will enable teachers and docents to interpret life in the wetlands, using the diorama as a model. This display will provide students and visitors with a range of experiences, from simple enjoyment of the wonder of the wetlands to a deep understanding of the wetlands’ web of life.
Healthy freshwater wetlands are home to hundreds of species interconnected through a web of life. Aquatic invertebrates are the foundation of the delicate wetlands food web and are bioindicators of wetlands health; they can help us determine the health of an environment because they are sensitive to changes. Other examples of bioindicators are frogs and steelhead trout. The presence of sensitive organisms is a sign that the environment is fulfilling at least some of the basic needs for the survival of those organisms and that it may actually be healthy. During the month of October, 2010, every PV High freshman took to the sloughs to monitor aquatic invertebrates as part of their ecology unit for Integrated Science.
With the help of docents, PVHS students worked in small groups to identify each organism they collected. The creatures were placed into sensitivity groups, and at the end of the study students found that on average the water quality at the uppermost part of the West Branch of Struve Slough was “fair” during the month of October. Students and volunteers will continue this study and expand it over the long-term as part of Project Tierra.
Three Pajaro Valley High School classes, during Algebra I and Ecology units, learned to monitor the success of restoration planting and grazing management during April and May, 2010. As part of Project Tierra, the students counted plant populations on parts of the Dept. of Fish and Game property, then returned to the classroom to enter their data and analyze it. This is a win-win experience; students develop scientific skills and the community benefits from information that helps us manage restoration projects most effectively. Click here for more about Project Tierra.