Who would ever guess that a particular and potentially disastrous environmental problem that we face could actually lead to a rich and positive learning experience and one that keeps going on and on?
For three intelligent and inquisitive young people who live on or very near Seymour Lake, that is proving to be the case. Although the extremely invasive plant, Yellow Floating Heart, has continued to grow and form dense mats of growth along the north shore of the lake, the three young people have been busy asking questions, formulating and testing hypotheses and drawing some conclusions that have resulted in three- and four-year-long projects for science fairs in the local school district.
Sebastian Audet, Sacha Fleury-Allen and Lucia Gastiazoro have all worked hard to understand the weed and its growth, as well as its ability to sustain life.
Sebastian, an 11-year-old lake resident, recently gave a presentation to the members of the board and public at the Seymour Lake Conservation Society’s AGM in late July. During the presentation, Sebastian described how in his first Science fair project, when he was only eight-years-old, he discovered what types of fish were in the lake and their preferred habitat.
He found that red shiners and northern pike minnows prefer living in shallow water among native plants, such as water lily and horsetail, while sculpins prefer to live in slightly deeper water.
In year two, his goal was to understand how Yellow Floating Heart affects fish communities. His observations showed that there was less dissolved oxygen and less fish in the shallow areas where there was a thick mat of Yellow Floating Heart. But he learned that things were a little more complex when his observations showed that all fish types showed a preference for being in the shallow site that was free of Yellow Floating Heart.
In his third round of research, which will be over a two year period, Sebastian wants to see how Yellow Floating Heart regrowth is affected by different cutting methods and if it will take over the native weeds in the lake. Sebastian says he couldn’t have done fish surveys or measured oxygen levels without the help, measurement tools and guidance of local scientists Patrick Hudson , Kiri Daust and Karen Price. He also thanks Mark Beere and Troy Larden from the Ministry of Environment for answering his questions and for helping him to get his work published on a government website called HabitatWizard, and last, but not least, his parents.
Sacha Fleury-Allen and Lucia Gastiazoro are into their fourth year of studying Seymour Lake and its characteristics, as well as Yellow Floating Heart, including how it grows and its effect on fish in the lake.
For their first project, they wondered if the lake was healthy for fish and found that it was OK in most parts.
For their next project, they wanted to know if the lake water is safe for humans to drink, and they measured the e.coli and coliform levels in different spots around the lake and at different times, discovering that the lake is really not safe to drink, especially in the area near the swamp on the southeast side of the lake.
Is it due to dog waste from people bringing dogs when they skate in the winter? they wonder. Year three’s project was surveying 73 people to find out if they read the signs by the lake describing Yellow Floating Heart and to not disturb the plant. They discovered that only 29 per cent of those who use the lake actually read the sign about Yellow Floating Heart. They decided it was not perfect, but it was working.
They also did a mini-project to see if a fragment of Yellow Floating Heart picked in November would sprout and it did.
Project 4 was about discovering in what substrate Yellow Floating Heart grows best and what part of the plant reproduces the most easily. After using 15 submerged buckets with four parts of the plant divided among them and using clay, sand, and gravel, they discovered that Yellow Floating Heart reproduces most easily by the stem and in sand. So it is important to be sure when swimming and boating in Seymour Lake not to disturb the plants by the shore so that the stems don’t break loose.
Sacha and Lucia want to acknowledge those who helped them over the past four years (besides their parents): Will Mckenzie helped design the experience for this year; Shane Wadden helped explain water quality; Dave Coates advised about the Hudson Bay Mountain water system; Allen Banner for his enthusiasm and resources about lake ecosystems and lake health; Patrick Hudson for his instrumentation and information; and Johanna Pfalz for her augmented reality sandbox and understanding drainage from above Seymour Lake.
Sacha and Lucia are busy determining now what their next project about the lake will be. Does water depth affect growth? Amount of sunshine? Seymour Lake seems to be the ideal place for many learning experiences, whether they are regarding what affects weed growth, the health of fish or human behavior. Questions, questions, questions.