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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Riverside Elementary, Cranbury, New Jersey, USA

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Riverside Elementary, Cranbury, New Jersey, USA
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Registered: December 2020
Posts: 1
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Worms. Even just hearing that word is unsettling, calling to mind dirt laden, squirming, writhing anamorphic creatures whose lack of readily recognizable features makes them hard to empathize with. Although I'd had many encounters with worms in my early years, given my propensity for the great outdoors, there was some residual discomfort I continued to harbor against those little alien forms. I have always loved science, especially the natural sciences, because of how learning more about it can shape your entire perception of the world around you, and I am a voracious reader, consuming all forms of literature, but especially scientific writings. One of my favorite scientists is Charles Darwin, and in sophomore year, having exhausted his more famous works, I decided to delve into the last book he published shortly before his tragic passing, "The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms." It was this that finally caused me to recognize the tremendous import of the tiny organisms I had so blithely scorned. Through my job working in a restaurant, I'd seen first hand the enormous food waste that can be produced from just one kitchen. In fact, food waste alone accounts for 30% of landfill material. But while I recognized that this was a problem, I had always felt helpless in helping alleviate, or stop it. But then I learned about the worms, and vermicomposting, the process of composting organic wastes through the help of worms, who then turn the organic matter into a nutrient rich waste called worm castings, which can then be used as fertilizer. Thus, vermicomposting allows you to not only reduce, or even eliminate, your food waste, but also benefits other greenery and organisms. That summer I began researching, watching countless videos on how to create effective vermicomposting bins, how to care for the bins and the worms, and more. By the time the school year had started, I had created 4 vermicompost prototype structures which I continue to use today. Realizing the beauty of being able to witness the nutrient cycle first hand, and the value of getting children familiar with conservancy in an engaging way, I began reaching out to my local elementary schools, looking to see if there were any classes interested in hosting a worm bin. I was happily surprised by the enthusiastic responses that greeted me and chose Ms. Bazin's kindergarten class in Riverside Elementary to be the first recipients of my worm bin in 2020. To prepare the class for the responsibilities that a worm bin entailed, I created lesson plans on the worms, what they ate, how to care for the worm bin, and why conservation efforts like vermicomposting are vital, which I then presented to the class. My favorite lesson was reading "An Earthworm's Life" to the class, and then divvying them up into groups, giving them each one out of the 1,000 red wigglers that would be used in the vermicomposting bin, and then asking them to diagram the worms, and see how they responded to various stimuli -- touch, light and moisture. It was incredible to see how quickly the kids came around to their new wiggly friends, how the exclamations of "ew" and "yuck" turned to "cool" and "let's name them" (all the groups ended up naming their worms, and my favorites definitely have to be Squiggly Diddly and Jeremy). After the elementary school was shut down due to Covid, the worm bin returned to my possession, but I did not want to let that be the end of my project. Each week after, until the end of the school year, I continued to put out update videos on the worms so the kids could track their process, and continued creating videos on topics of environmentalism for the kids. I have also been a Stream monitor for the Sourlands Conservancy, the group which manages the preservation of the Sourlands forest, the largest contiguous tract of forest in Central Jersey, since my freshman year. As a stream monitor, I examine streams and other water masses in the Sourlands domain, writing detailed observations on things such as the microorganisms, amount of vegetation and cover, and run tests and take measurements on things such as turbidity, dissolved oxygen and more, which I then report to the conservancy for use in guiding conservation efforts. In the process of examining the streams, I noticed that a lot of them had an excess of Landoltia Punctata, or duckweed. The growth of the plant was becoming so excessive that it was obstructing sunlight from passing down into the depths of these watersheds, causing plants below the surface to die and eutrophication of the water bodies to occur. After applying and being accepted into the Rutgers Waksman Institute Research program, I worked with Dr. Vershon in order to analyze this duckweed, and was able to sequence and identify a novel DNA strain of the duckweed which was sent, and has since been published, in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) database. From what I learned through my research, I was able to dehydrate the duckweed and use its biomass as feed for my worms, which turns something detrimental to the ecosystem, to something beneficial. Then, during the summer, I was invited to join the Sourland Conservancy's inaugural Advocacy group to call for stricter stormwater management requirements in response to the new statewide directive that required municipalities to implement new stormwater management ordinances, as well as speak out generally against inappropriate development that exacerbates flooding and/or encroaches on wetlands. These ordinances get changed very infrequently, only a few times in decades, so it was important for me to contribute my voice to these efforts, especially as runoff not only harms the wetlands and watersheds, but the organisms existing around them, like my precious worms. For example, Glyphosate-based herbicides which runoff from agricultural sites have been found to reduce the activity and reproduction of earthworms, which then lead to increased soil nutrient concentrations, exacerbating the problems. Our group met every other week to discuss these issues and learn more about them in order to then be able to educate others. As my town, Cranbury, began writing their own water waste management ordinances, I attended every town hall meeting with the writing of the ordinance on the agenda. I also spoke with my town's Environmental Commission and Zoning Committee to encourage them to adopt a stricter ordinance. The Cranbury ordinance that was passed goes beyond the state's basic requirements and has been developed to address flooding and protect and improve water quality. After Cranbury's ordinance was passed, I then attended town meetings for other towns that were still crafting their ordinances. While I have always cared deeply about the environment, it had been a passive type of care because I felt so helpless in the face of such menacing and seemingly insurmountable problems such as global warming, pollution, growing landfills and depleting natural resources. But since then, I've discovered the power of my voice, and my actions, in shaping my community, and the world around me. Because no matter how small, or seemingly insignificant, one person's efforts or contributions may seem, when it is combined with the power of many, they can change the world -- the worms taught me that one.
Date: December 30, 2020 Views: 1275 File size: 19.3kb, 679.9kb : 714 x 944
Hours Volunteered: 250
Volunteers: 1
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 19
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