From: Janet McConnaughey, Associated Press
Published February 1, 2005 12:00 AM

Students Worldwide to Learn about Louisiana's Vanishing Wetlands

NEW ORLEANS — Fourteen-year-old Kristen Magee knows all too well about Louisiana's disappearing wetlands. Her family's fishing camp had lots of land around it five years ago. Now there's almost none.

This week, she and 11 other students will appear in daily live satellite broadcasts to teach 1.7 million students around the world about Louisiana's wetlands loss and related topics.

Magee is a ninth-grader at Houma Junior High, an hour's drive from New Orleans. The others are from as far afield as New York, California and Mexico.

Their week in southern Louisiana is part of the Jason Project, an educational enterprise launched 16 years ago by oceanographer Robert D. Ballard.

"Students need to know the scientific process. The best way is to put them right into the field with the field teams -- be assistants to our field scientists," he said Thursday.


One of the first things the students learned to do on the Louisiana expedition was walk through a swamp in waders -- something they need to do to take water samples and do other tasks over the next week.

"I've been in hip-boots before. But waders are a lot different. A lot heavier," Magee said. And, although she'd been in a marsh, she'd never been in a swamp. The water and weeds hide a treacherous surface.

"At one point you'd be on level ground; at another you'd just fall," she said.

Josh Blackwell, a ninth-grader at Bedford High near Cleveland, said he fell many times. Thanks to the waders, he only got a bit muddy. And, he noted, the boots are thick enough to protect him from snake bites.

This week they'll be in three teams, working with Louisiana scientists studying marsh restoration, frogs, nutria and oyster ecology.

For the classes taking part in the Jason Project, the expedition culminates a year of study with Internet-based lesson plans for field "expeditions" on students' home ground and "digital labs" where students can catch animated frogs and tadpoles.

"We tend to cover the major sciences -- the chemistries, the biology, geology. We also like to bring in the social issues we're facing in the disappearance of the wetlands, and where we see it heading," Ballard said.

The five hourlong live broadcasts from will take place in Jean Lafitte National Park, the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium's laboratory at Port Fourchon and its marine center in Cocodrie.

Ballard said he got the idea from kids. After he discovered the wreckage of the Titanic in 1985, he said, he got a flood of letters from schoolchildren asking if they could go on his next expedition.

His Mediterranean expedition four years later was covered with live satellite broadcasts to 250,000 schoolchildren at 13 museums. About 33,000 teachers and their classes are currently involved, some as far away as Australia.

He said that, as an oceanographer, he's known for a long time that Louisiana's wetlands are eroding, but became "acutely aware" of it after being named to the President's Commission for Ocean Policy three years ago.

Source: Associated Press

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