Conservation Creation: Crafting Corals

Coral reefs are some of our planet’s most beautiful and vital ecosystems. Created by corals, reef systems provide both food and shelter to a large variety of animals. These amazing animals sustain around 25% of ocean life, even though they only make up about 1% of the ocean. Not only are animals able to live in the reefs, but the algae that grows on the corals is an important food source for several different organisms. Corals and algae are in what we call a symbiotic relationship – meaning they both benefit from each other. Corals provide algae with a place to grow; at the same time, corals gain energy through the algae’s photosynthesis.

So what are corals? Corals are tiny animals, called polyps, that group together to form a larger structure. Once an initial skeletal structure is formed, tissue can begin to grow. Once tissue has formed, some corals maintain a rigid appearance (like staghorn coral), while other corals are soft (like waving hand coral). As you could imagine, the appearance and traits of corals are incredibly diverse. As unique as corals are, they all face similar issues in the ocean. Corals have very specific environments that they inhabit. These environments are negatively affected by climate change, but we can help corals by reducing our carbon footprint and fighting ocean pollution.

 

Now, for our DIY activity: here’s how you can craft a coral reef of your own!

What you’ll need: Coffee filters, pipe cleaners, bowls, water, food coloring

supplies

Step 1: Fill your bowls with about an inch of water and food coloring. You can have as many bowls and colors as you would like! Just remember that more food coloring = brighter colors.

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Step 2: Place your coffee filters upside down in the water. Be sure to allow the color to travel throughout the whole filter. (For younger kids, this can be a great opportunity to teach them about color mixing!) Once the color has made its way through the whole filter, set filters aside to dry overnight. Low on time? This process can be sped up with the help of a blow dryer.

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Step 3: Stack 2-4 coffee filters together, then push a pipe cleaner through the center. You will want to twist the end of the pipe cleaner into a small ball to keep the filters from sliding off. This will serve as the center of your coral.

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Step 4: Pinch the bottom of the filters around the pipe cleaner, then wrap the pipe cleaner around the pinched section; this keeps the coral together.

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Step 5: Repeat the process to create as many corals as you would like! In this way, you can create your own reef! Feel free to get even more creative by adding toy animals or whatever else you’d like to see in your reef. For an added challenge, research different types of corals and animals living together in the ocean and try to build your reef based off of that environment!

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Conservation Creation: Your Year at the GSC

We’ve learned a lot together over the course of this year. During our 2018 journey, we’ve created some amazing projects through the Conservation Creation program. If you’ve participated in the program at all, you may have noticed that the majority of projects have been crafted using everyday materials such as old pool noodles or bottle caps. Reusing materials in this way is called upcycling. Upcycling can be one of the most fun ways to reuse things around your home… provided that you’re willing to get a little creative. From small projects like turning an old shirt into a bag to large projects like creating furniture out of wooden pallets, upcycling is not just a way to save yourself some money – it helps the environment, too!

How does upcycling help the earth? When you turn an old shirt into a reusable bag, your upcycled product will save the materials that would otherwise be used to make a new bag, as well as cut down on the pollution emitted as that bag travels to your local store by truck or plane.

With the holidays approaching, why not take a look around your house to see what can be upcycled into something exciting for the new year? To get started, take a look at Pinterest or a similar website, where you’re sure to find project ideas and inspiration. If there’s anything you need for the project but don’t have it on hand, check nearby thrift stores (such as Reconsidered Goods) for local products at an affordable price. You can keep these places in mind, too, if you are looking to clean out your home and donate purged items that could be used by someone else.

Here’s a step-by-step DIY project to get you started:

If you’ve been to SciPlay Bay lately, you might’ve noticed some “new” food items in our Beach Room. These items were handmade by us, using leftover cardboard, craft felt and old pool noodles salvaged from our fort building area. We had so much fun making the tacos, we wanted to share the how-to with you!

What you’ll need:

  • Cardboard
  • A needle and thread
  • A marker
  • Scissors
  • Hot glue and a hot glue gun
  • Craft felt or leftover fabric
  • Something to wedge into the taco to keep it open (we used chunks of old pool noodle, but you can get creative)

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Step 1: Using cardboard, create a base for the food you want to make. (This is the one we created for our tacos.) Trace a slightly larger area than you need over a piece of felt – like we’ve done here – then, cut it out. This will create the inside of the taco.

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Step 2: Using a slice of a pool noodle (or material of your choice), glue the two sides of the taco together with your material in the middle to keep the taco open.

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Step 3: Cut out strips of the felt or fabric and glue them together with one line of glue down the middle. Cut fringe on both sides of each strip, then glue all of your toppings onto the inside of the taco.

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Step 4: Glue your inside piece of fabric to the inside of the cardboard, as we’ve done here. You should have a little bit of fabric sticking out over the sides.

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Step 5: Glue another piece of felt or fabric to the outside of the taco.

Step 6: Sew the two pieces of fabric together and cut off the excess. Use your finger to “mix the toppings” on the inside.

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Get creative. All of these foods were made using this method with varying cardboard templates. Show us what you’ve made by tagging your own Conservation Creations using #greensborosciencecenter and #conservationcreations. Happy holidays, and see you soon!

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Conservation Creation: Jelly Jamboree

Without a doubt, jellies are one of Earth’s strangest animals. They have neither hearts nor brains but have managed to survive on our planet for over 500 million years! Often called jellyfish, they’re not actually fish – instead, they make up their own group of incredibly diverse animals. For example, the smallest jelly, the Irukanji, only grows to about the size of a thumbtack, while the Lion’s Mane Jelly can reach lengths of over 100 feet! Some jellies use stinging for defense and hunting, others can clone themselves, and others still can glow in the dark.

So, what do these diverse animals actually have in common? A jelly’s body consists of a bell (the round top of the jelly), a nerve net (instead of a brain), and a mouth organ.

At the Greensboro Science Center, we house three distinct species of jellies:

moon jelly 01Moon Jellies – typically found in Japan, they’re an aquarium favorite, primarily due to their hardiness and robust lifespan of approximately 12 months. Moon Jellies sting using the small, tentacle-like structures surrounding their bell. However, the Moon Jelly’s sting is so mild that most humans wouldn’t even realize it if they’d been stung. The long, thin structures that extend from the bell of the jelly, called oral arms, move foods such as brine shrimp and small planktons to the Moon Jelly’s central mouth.

blubber-jelly_3770.jpgBlubber Jellies – native to the Indo-Pacific regions and coastal Australia, these jellies have a unique way of acquiring their food. They ram their bodies into the sand to stir up tiny crustaceans and plankton to catch in their oral arms, which contain stinging cells and also act as a mouth. Tiny spaces along the arms process the food (rather than moving it to a central mouth, like the oral arms of Moon Jellies do). Blubbers come in three different color varieties – white, blue and maroon – and have a lifespan of around 10 months.

cassiopea-or-upside-down-jellyfish-shutterstock_173059469.jpgUpside Down Jellies – found in the Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean Sea, these jellies are one of the world’s most unique jellies. They lay on their bells with oral arms pointing upwards towards the sunlight. Bacteria on the oral arms allow these animals to gain energy through photosynthesis… just like plants do! Upsides Down Jellies also eat plankton and small fish, which is warm, sunny waters make for a perfect environment for them to thrive.

At first glance, jellies may not seem to be up to much, but they’re actually doing a lot of good for our oceans! Not only do they provide a food source for many of our favorite animals, but they also help to stir the ocean, keeping it healthy. Unfortunately, climate change and plastic pollution are working against these amazing animals. If you’d like to help jellies and the animals that rely upon them, reduce your plastic usage and your carbon footprint. A couple of easy ways to do this? Switch from single-use plastic straws and bags to reusable options, and buy more local produce and products when available.

And now, it’s DIY time! Here’s how to make your own jelly slime:

DSC_5090For this activity, you’ll need:

– 1 bottle (4 oz) of Elmer’s school glue

– ½ teaspoon Borax (found in the laundry detergent aisle)

– Food coloring

– Plastic wrap

-2 bowls and 2 spoons

-1 cup of warm water

DSC_5093Step 1: Pour all of the glue into a bowl.

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_5100Step 2: Fill the empty glue bottle with warm water, then add it to the glue in the bowl and stir.

 

 

 

 

DSC_5101Step 3: Add the food coloring and mix well.

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_5104Step 4: In a separate bowl, mix the Borax with ½ cup of warm water until the Borax is dissolved.

 

 

 

 

Step 5: Slowly add the Borax solution to your glue mixture.

DSC_5114Step 6: Stir and knead the mixture until you have a bowl of slime!
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DSC_5124To store, place your slime in the middle of a square of plastic wrap. Twist the wrap around the slime, then add a small rubber band or paper clip to keep this in place. Your slime will last about two weeks.

DSC_5126 (1)FUN FACT: After your slime is wrapped up, gently touch the top; it’ll feel very similar to a real jelly!

During the month of November, join us on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30 and 2:30 in SciPlay Bay for a Jelly Jamboree!

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Continuing Our Education

We recently sent our VP Conservation & Research, Lindsey Zarecky, and one of our Herp Keepers, Audrey Stallings, to an ATAG (Amphibian Taxon Advisory Group) Amphibian Field Research Course. The course was taught by eight NC- and AZA-based instructors and attended by 18 participants ranging from researchers and keepers to amphibian enthusiasts. The course focused on amphibian field research techniques, with participants spending time in the field (including the Sandhills, the NC Zoo, Boone, and Grandfather Mountain) everyday for the duration of the course.

Zarecky and Stallings shared with us a few highlights of what they did during the program:

  • Audrey Weighing a SalamanderWe learned how to use PIT (passive integrative transponders) tags. These are similar to the microchips our pets have. Each tag has a unique number so that when scanned, you can ID the individual.
  • We learned how to use VIE (visible implant elastomer) – a brightly colored, non-toxic material that is injected just below the skin layer. This technique is very useful when it comes to headstarting; when all the tadpoles from a particular year’s egg masses hatch and complete metaphasis into a frog or toad, you can place a particular color on those frogs’ legs. Then, you release the frogs. The next year, you select a different color for the next generation, and so on. This makes it so that when you go out into the field and find frogs, you’ll know the year they were born based upon their VIE.
  • We learned amphibian radio tracking techniques. Unlike other animals, amphibians respire through their skin, so it’s not feasible to place a conventional radio tag onto their bodies. Therefore, we made them small belts using monofilament, a very small and flexible tubing, plus the radio tag. The frog wears this tag like a belt buckle (but with the buckle on its back). To test our knowledge, two radio-tagged frogs were released on NC Zoo’s grounds, then we had to use telemetry equipment to locate them.
  • Probably one of the most fascinating techniques we learned was eDNA – the process of collecting water samples and using the sloughed-off amphibian DNA present therein to identify whether a particular species was present in the water. From collecting the samples, to extracting the DNA, buffering it, and even running the polymerase chain reaction technique, it all happened streamside with the use of a backpack eDNA kit.

Zarecky and Stallings learned about each of the nearly 100 species of amphibians that live here in NC, as well as some of the major diseases that can affect them. There was even a test in which instructors laid out 52 specimens that participants then had to identify! Not only were they expected to identify many amphibians by sight but by listening to their vocalizations, too.

Learning how to ID Amphibians

We’re very proud of our staff for continuing their education! Participating in programs like the ATAG workshop ensures that GSC is able to further its mission of conservation and research while offering you, our community, the best science education programming possible.

How Your Small Change Has Made a Big Difference

Each time someone visits the Greensboro Science Center (GSC), they’re supporting wildlife conservation! Twenty-five cents of each general admission ticket is dedicated to conservation efforts. Upon purchasing tickets, guests receive a token that allows them to direct their donation towards one of the three conservation projects represented on our Coins for Conservation machine. The GSC’s Conservation, Sustainable Practices and Research Committees come together to select the organizations and species represented. Over a six-month period, guests have the opportunity to use their tokens to select the organization they would like their $0.25 to support. After that time, three new organizations are selected for representation.

We’re excited to announce we have completed our first six months of the Coins for Conservation program. The following funds were raised in support of species conservation:

Oceana
Funds Raised: $10,000

oceanaEstablished in 2001, Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization focused on ocean conservation. Oceana seeks to find practical solutions to restore our world’s oceans. While not focused on one species, the organization influences decisions to address many ocean issues, including over-fishing and shark finning.

Komodo Dragon Species Survival Plan: Conservation Fund
Funds Raised: $7,000

komodoEstablished in 2007, the Komodo survival plan exists to research and monitor populations of Komodo dragons in the wild in order to conserve the species and its habitat. The organization educates locals about Komodo dragons as well as trains Indonesian conservationists to assist with population management and habitat conservation.

North Carolina Coastal Land Trust
Funds Raised: $6,000

ncEstablished in 1992, the NC Coastal Land Trust conserves natural areas to enrich the coastal community as well as educates visitors about land stewardship. One such natural area is the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden, which was formed through a partnership with the City of Wilmington. The park is open to the public; visitors can learn about carnivorous plants, including the Venus Flytrap. The Trust has a dedicated Venus Flytrap fund whose purpose is to sustain and manage this rare plant.

To learn about the three projects currently being represented, visit the Coins for Conservation webpage.

NEW Animal Encounter Program Coming to the Greensboro Science Center

Opportunities to meet and engage with animals up close have always been favorite experiences for visitors at the Greensboro Science Center. They’re also some of the favorite experiences for our staff and volunteers to facilitate each day. Our Ambassador Animals—small mammals, birds, reptiles, and bugs—interact with children in our on-site school programs and off-site outreach programs as well as in daily encounters with visitors in the Discovery House and Herpetology Lab.

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Beginning September 5, our staff and volunteers will be preparing for a new type of Ambassador Animal program. Starting in early 2018, volunteer members of our Animal Encounter Team will provide opportunities for visitors to meet animals at scheduled times throughout the day. Those encounters will continue to take place in Discovery House and the Herpetology Lab. You may also encounter an Ambassador Animal out in Jeansboro Junction or in the Zoo Plaza. When you arrive each day, you can view the schedule for encounter times on the doors of the Herpetology Lab and Discovery House, as well as the sign leading out into the Zoo where you normally find the listing for Keeper Talks. Scheduled talks with our Keepers in the Zoo and our Education Staff in the Aquarium will continue to take place daily.

These new scheduled Animal Encounters will help the Science Center team better record the appearances our animals make each day and make sure they get days off. We appreciate your patience as our team works together to bring you this new program later this year. In the meantime, although opportunities to touch our furry and scaly friends will be limited, our staff and volunteers will still be available to teach you about them and help you discover the wonder of our natural world.

New Program Coming to the Greensboro Science Center Volunteer Program

Since 2013, the volunteer program at the Greensboro Science Center has grown by 43%:  from 579 volunteers in 2013 to 830 in 2016!  That growth necessitates changes to ensure a more positive experience for our volunteers.  A new change is coming to the volunteer program which will allow us to better serve the volunteers who participate in the program as well as the visitors who benefit from it.

The Center has traditionally operated three summer volunteer programs:  Animal Ambassadors, Exhibit Guides, and Teacher’s Assistants.  Starting in Summer 2018, the Center will operate one summer-only program, the Teacher’s Assistant program.  This program will continue to serve 75 teens each year, with recruitment starting in March.  As always, returning Teacher’s Assistants will be given first priority to gain admission into the program.  Any remaining spots will be filled with new candidates who apply and interview.  That program will start in June and continue through the month of August.

You may be wondering what that means for our Animal Ambassador and Exhibit Guide programs.  At the end of this summer, the two programs will merge to create one new program:  Museum Ambassadors.  The upcoming Museum Ambassador program will combine the best of the two existing programs, with input from current teens about the areas in which they most enjoy volunteering.  This new program will operate year-round, requiring candidates to make a 6 month commitment in order to participate—just as Zoo and Aquarium Docents do currently.  In making this commitment, these teens will benefit from increased exposure to our daily operations as well as continued mentoring from Zoo and Aquarium Docents.  Eventually, they will take on the role of mentor themselves as new volunteers join the program.

So what will Museum Ambassadors actually do?  These teens will rotate through different exhibits, likely to include Friendly Farm, the Aquarium Touch Tank, Destination Dinosaur (and later Prehistoric Passages), Jeansboro, SciPlay Bay, Health Quest, a cart in the Herpetarium, and Coins for Conservation (a favorite of many of this summer’s teens).  Teens will be volunteering on their own as well as alongside other Museum Ambassadors or Docents.  The program will operate on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the school year, as well as on Guilford County Schools workdays and during breaks and holidays.  Museum Ambassadors will complete two, three hour shifts per month.  Shift times are 9:45-1:00 and 12:45-4:00.

The implementation of the Museum Ambassador program is a big change, but one that we feel will be highly positive for our volunteers and our organization.  The target age for Museum Ambassadors is 13-17, meaning that 13- and 14-year-olds will now have three, as opposed to only one*, opportunity to join the Center’s volunteer program.    This change also means that Museum Ambassadors will benefit from smaller training classes in which they’ll receive more individualized attention as opposed to our current summer on-boarding frenzy during which 200 teens join the volunteer program at once.

The Museum Ambassador program will launch in September with a maximum of 55 teens from Summer 2017.  Following a few months of running the new program with current teens, the first new recruitment will take place in January 2018, with a training class scheduled for March.  Those volunteers will make a six-month commitment of March through August.  Another training class is slated for July, with recruitment beginning in May; their six-month commitment will be July through January.  Current teens will be given first priority for training classes, as we understand that some of them may be unable to continue this fall due to sports or extracurricular activities.

Our teen program exists to develop young leaders, with an emphasis on science and conservation.  This new Museum Ambassador program is a great next step in continuing to provide those opportunities.

Please direct any questions or concerns to GSC Volunteer Coordinator Kelli Crawford, kcrawford@greensboroscience.org.

*The Docent program will continue to operate year round, with openings for candidates who are at least 15 years old.