Youngsters get close up with science |

Youngsters get close up with science

South Shore youngsters searched Lake Tahoe Wednesday in the hopes of seeing red, brown and white plankton the size of a comma.

The 30 children from the Boys & Girls Club of Lake Tahoe were aided by magnified view finders of course and led by the nonprofit Marine Research and Education Inc.

The youngsters, ranging in age from 6 to 13, huddled on the Prophet to view the tiny organisms and take water clarity measurements.

The Marine Research group taught the children about the importance of preserving the lake in order to keep a plentiful supply of plankton, which sit at the bottom of Lake Tahoe’s food chain.

April Goodman, Marine Research environmental instructor, said people who go through the educational seminars are usually most intrigued by the boat ride.

“The kids really like to get in there and squish around,” she said. “They like any of the hands-on stuff.”

Hillary McDonnell organized the trip for the Boys & Girls Club last year and said it was worth repeating.

“Since the kids live here they should learn about the environment,” McDonnell said. “A lot of them don’t ever get the chance to even get out on the lake.”

Shouts of “I see it” echoed like a mantra from the research vessel, as the children kept an eye on the white, Secchi disk used to measure the lake’s clarity.

Marine Research volunteer Kevin Monaco, from the Resort Sports Network, lowered down the disk to 71 feet before the group lost site of it.

As Captain John Shearer lowered a net 270 feet to catch plankton, the children crowded around him, trying their hardest to get the first glimpse of the microscopic organisms.

Shearer, president and co-founder of the Marine Research organization, said plankton are usually harder to catch later in the summer because there’s little runoff coming into the lake.

This year’s dry winter also made catching the tiny organisms difficult, he said.

The club members, ranging in age from 6 to 13, had no problem finding the red plankton though.

Eight-year-old Marisol Lizaola looked through her viewfinder for quite awhile but finally found what she was looking for.

“It’s fun looking at them,” she said. “It’s a good experience. I’ve never been on a boat before.”

Shearer, owner of Tahoe Sport Fishing, started Marine Research three years ago. Over that time, Goodman said the organization has taught nearly 2,000 people about Lake Tahoe’s ecosystem.

Although Shearer said the seminars are important to the community, he said he can’t support the $70,000 annual operation by himself for much longer.

Shearer has applied for grants but said the organization will always accept donations.

“There’s some kids in our area that are underprivileged and can’t experience the beauty of this lake,” he said. “So, we try to give back. If we teach the kids about the environment, not only will they spread that knowledge around the world, but they might teach their parents something too.”

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