Marine Discovery Center opens at Point Defiance

Editor’s note: Dana Greenlee’s technology column will return next Friday. I’m using my tyrannical powers as editor to bump her column for this story.

Trumpeting the ways people can help protect Tacoma’s waterways, city and zoo officials and others turned out yesterday for the dedication of the new Marine Discovery Center at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.

A five-year grant from Tacoma’s Environmental Services made the discovery center possible.

So far, grant funds have provided seasonal education staff, new interactive murals painted by Edgewood artist Bob Henry and development of a hands-on field trip curriculum specifically designed for fourth-graders in the Tacoma School District.

Future funding will provide for updated educational materials and other projects.

Another attraction in the Marine Discovery Center is the Alien Invaders exhibit, which demonstrates how invasive species cause trouble for the local environment.

Funded by the University of Washington Tacoma and other local agencies, the exhibit opened May 8.

University of Washington Tacoma environmental science professor David Secord said there are lots of things people can do to stem invaders.

Examples of individual behavior introducing alien species to an environment include dumping home aquariums and certain fishing and boating practices.

“We in essence are living in a giant wetland property,” explained Eric Steinmeyer of the Metro Parks Commission. “We are all part of this ecosystem.”

Also helping to dedicate the Marine Discovery Center were seven fourth-graders from Boze Elementary School.

The students – part of a group from Boze who piloted the field trip curriculum this spring – walked attendees through several hands-on activities.

Boze student Kyra George, 10, was the resident starfish “expert,” informing visitors of the various species in a small open container, and encouraging them to touch the multi-legged creatures.

Standing in front of a wall painted by Bob Henry to look like Tacoma, Theresa Suong, 10, discussed pollution of Tacoma’s waterways and how to prevent it.

Some of her suggestions for combating pollution include using public transportation or walking.

“Let’s say you live a block away from school – which I do – you can walk,” Suong said.

She also advised the pulling of weeds, as opposed to using chemical weed killers.

“The chemicals could hurt Puget Sound,” she noted.

“They’re the teachers today,” said Olga Lay, Boze Elementary School principal, of her students at the dedication ceremony.

“We never dampen the enthusiasm of children,” said John Huock, deputy director of the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, referring to talking over the noise of excited children peering down into the aquarium.

“This is what community is all about,” said Bill Evans of the Tacoma City Council, moments before taking part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony with a twist.

Actually it was a kelp-cutting ceremony, with the kelp being constructed from a green balloon and garden hose.

Surrounded by Boze Elementary students, Evans cut the kelp with scissors made to look like a crab claw.

The aquarium expects to bring 900 fourth-graders and 10,000 general visitors to its Simpson Lab during the next school year to talk about the environments of Puget Sound, the plants and animals that live there and the ways that humans effect them.