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Students learn about Experimental Lakes Area, pollution

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Have we left the future of climate change in a state which is irreversible or can the planet's current reality be altered by providing our youth with guidance and education for a more sustainable future?

In conjunction with the Fort Frances Museum's current exhibit, “Taking Back Our Natural World,” curator Sherry George brought in Sarah Warrack, an outreach and education officer with International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) in collaboration with Experimental Lakes Area (ELA).

Warrack made a presentation to educate the community and students from St. Francis School about the human impacts affecting the small number of freshwater lakes left in the world.

ELA research examines real-world scenarios by introducing or eliminating a single aspect from an ecosystem and studying how the wildlife and natural surroundings react to the effects.

Part of the process for ELA is to always restore their lakes at the facility to its natural state before the experiments were originally conducted.

Researchers have learned from some of its experiments that the inhabitants and the lake itself were very resilient and recovered to its natural state in a few years. In other incidents, it could take over 10-plus years for the lake to completely recover.

“I hope that people are recognizing that changes are happening and that we are doing a lot of research at the Experimental Lakes Area and just trying to piecing it all together and hopefully try and make some policy changes for the future,” said Warrack.

Discoveries from ELA's research has led to introducing new resolutions for other freshwater lakes which have seen the same impacts from pollution and climate change. These new findings have led to policy changes from the government.

As of June 10, the Canadian Public Health Association welcomed the announcement that the Government of Canada will ban single-use plastics in Canada as early as 2021.

Plastic pollution on freshwater ecosystems was one of the experiments ELA and Warrck were undertaking and they discovered micro-plastic particles were finding their way into the digestive systems of freshwater wildlife.

George also felt resolutions could be made locally.

“Could we look at programs that would eliminate plastic bags or water bottles? I think those are the kind of conversations we want to have," added George. "I really would like to see a committee started this fall and see what we can do locally.”

As for Northern Ontario, it may not be as exposed to the first-hand crisis of climate change and current research happening in the area.

Both Warrack and Jean Bujold, experiential learning lead for the Northwest Catholic District School Board, believe that since the past generation was reluctant to alter the negative effects of climate change, it is important for the youth to take action.

“I think it is the youth of our country that has the future in their hands, so we have to be good environmental stewards. And I think the purpose of the presentation was to make certain that our students can recognize that there is this type of research going on in Northwestern Ontario that can impact how we live in the future,” stated Bujold.

There are all types of things going on in the world, she added, but she believes children must learns the fact and know they can make the world a better place to live.

“So, if they understand what is going on and if they want to become a scientist and do cool experiments," Warrack added. "We need them, and we need them understanding this stuff especially when they are going to be our future and our politicians and creating policies and being our environmental scientists. We are going to need them to be on board to create change.”

ELA is looking for your support and wants students with diverse backgrounds to get involved and take part in ELA's two-week programs which offer a unique experience working directly with scientists on site at ELA.

For more information on education and outreach opportunities for students please visit ELA's website at www.iisd.org/ela/

“Taking Back Our Natural World" will be up at the museum until June 21, at which time it will start coming down to make way for the next exhibit, "Echoes in the Ice.”

Unfortunately, “Taking Back Our Natural World” did not quite result in the success the museum was anticipating and saw its lowest opening and attendance, according to George.

“It's far less than we have ever had for an exhibit, so I wonder why? I feel maybe people are thinking they are doing enough or maybe they are just intimidated a little bit about what they need to do,” said George.

Even though the community has not been on board with the museum's effort, George has seen a lot of support from the school board as they understand the urgency and importance in educating our youth to protect the planet's climate.

“We have had some children come through here, and I think the schools are doing a wonderful job. They are truly on board,” added George.

“So, I think it is the general public more than the schools. We need to get them involved and see what we can do—maybe people are just maybe feeling a little powerless.”

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