A group of third-graders from Tahoe Valley Elementary School sat on the bow of a fishing boat Tuesday as Harold Singer, program manager for Marine Research and Education Inc., taught them about the invasive species in Lake Tahoe.
Singer showed them a picture of a goldfish — a species likely introduced to the lake by humans — and asked the children if they knew of better ways to get rid of their aquatic pets.
“You can put them on Craigslist!” shouted an astute third-grader.
Three third-grade classes got a chance to ride out on the lake’s cobalt blue waters this week as participants in the MRE program, which teaches students about the Tahoe watershed and how to protect it.
Along with learning about invasive species, children were given a chance to analyze water samples, observe plankton and help measure water clarity by participating in a Secchi disk test.
They let out a collective “whoa” when they saw plankton squirming under a microscope and leaned over the 45-foot vessel to watch a Secchi disk drop deeper into the water.
On land, the learning continued during a second part of the program, where students were taught about local geology, biology and hydrology from MRE instructors on a nearby beach.
About 20 third-graders participated in each of the three classes Tuesday. MRE has hosted more than 13,500 students in the past 13 years.
Singer said teaching people about the ecosystem at a young age is crucial to promoting environmental awareness and the conservation of the Lake Tahoe Basin.
“The more they learn about it, the better we all will be,” he said.
But the program doesn’t come without a price. It is highly dependent on grant funds to serve more than 400 students per year at a cost of about $450 per class.
Fortunately, Singer said Vail Resorts, the Lake Tahoe Educational Foundation and the El Dorado Community Foundation have stepped up to support the program as sponsors.
Pete Sonntag, vice president and chief operating officer of Heavenly, was on the boat Tuesday to see the program working up close.
“Vail Resorts, through our Echo program, has supported MRE since 2009 and each year we’re really excited to see the program continue,” Sonntag said. “It’s great to see it firsthand and the effect it has on the kids.”
Lake Tahoe Educational Foundation President Nancy Rollston said the program gives many students a chance to get on the lake for the first time, and it also instills good environmental practices.
“It gives kids opportunities they might not have had before,” she said, adding. “This is a great age to get them interested.”