Guest post by Symone Barkley

The Baltimore’s inner harbor is a branch of the Patapsco River and is one of the many rivers that lead directly to the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States. The harbor’s forbiddingly murky waters do not seem like an inviting habitat and many Baltimoreans doubt anything could survive beneath its surface.

This fall, 890 sixth graders from Baltimore City ventured to the Inner Harbor with the hopes of dispelling the misconception of a lifeless harbor. Working with staff from the National Aquarium and local college interns, students gathered water quality measurements including temperature, pH, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity. The students then compare their measurements to the relevant habitat parameters of local species. With hypotheses in hand the students investigate habitat cages pulled from the harbor’s depths, identifying American eel, naked goby, grass shrimp and white fingered mud crab galore. Participating in this program inspires our students to look at the world around them with new eyes, challenging preconceptions and digging deeper towards new understandings.

This experience is made even more meaningful when comparing their findings with other participating schools through the EarthEcho Water Challenge. This virtual tool allows students to draw connections and work to develop an action project that serves to improve the health of the harbor. Whether students plant rain gardens or write to inform local policymakers on improving the health of the harbor, students are empowered to make a difference.

In addition to the EarthEcho Water Challenge, we would like to thank the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust for funding the program. In addition, we could not run the program without the support of interns provided by Morgan State University and Towson University!

Editor’s Note: Symone Barkley is the Manager of Education Programs at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD, an EarthEcho Water Challenge partner. We are proud to support the National Aquarium’s work to inspire young water scientists through their “What Lives in the Harbor” program!