A group of fifth graders from Citrus Elementary School huddle around Dr. Julien Zaragoza, a teacher with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center in Key Biscayne.
They’re all standing in knee-deep water with seagrass at the bottom of their feet. Each student is getting a glimpse of a male pipefish, which falls under the same fish classification as seahorses.
“See those little things inside here? Those are the eggs, and when they hatch all the little babies go out like ‘pew!’,” Dr. Zaragoza explains, while making a quick flicking hand motion.
About 125 fifth graders from different schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties learned about sea critters like the pipefish Wednesday morning in honor of World Water Day.
The event was put together by the nonprofit EarthEcho International and local organizations like Miami WaterKeeper and the Miami-Dade County Public Schools' Biscayne Nature Center for Environmental Education program.
The students were participants in the launch of EarthEcho’s international water monitoring campaign called the EarthEcho Water Challenge.
The campaign encourages people to contribute to a worldwide water research database by monitoring bodies of water using their water-testing kits that EarthEcho provides online for purchase or through application.
At the event, the kids used the kits to measure a water sample’s temperature, PH and oxygen levels, as well as its turbidity - which indicates water clarity.
“Those are four very basic parameters that gives you an indicator of how healthy an ecosystem is,” said Sarah Piwinski, the manager of EarthEcho’s Water Challenge program. “They kind of feel like chemist and little scientist doing these different tests,” Piwinski said.
Yohanna McFarlane, an 11-year-old at the event, said the morning’s activities helped her appreciate the environment around her.
“You should definitely not pollute because that will endanger species, and you should come outside and not stay indoors all the time because it’s really fun,” McFarlane said.
Key Biscayne and Biscayne National Park act as marine nurseries.
Kelly Cox, an attorney with Miami WaterKeeper, says changes to the water’s quality can impact the ability for some of those organisms to live and reproduce.
“If temperature gets too hot or salinity levels in the water get too high, these organism might not be able to survive,” Cox said.
Philippe Cousteau Jr., president and co-founder of EarthEcho, was the featured guest. The underwater explorations of his grandfather, Jacques Cousteau, led to the invention of certain tools that scuba divers still use today.
“Air is really really important. Without it we’re in trouble,” Cousteau told the group of students. “What’s the No. 2? Water. How long can you survive without water?”